Janice Hahn and Kathryn Barger were sworn in Monday as the newest members of the Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors, giving the five-member panel a female majority and a decidedly progressive bent.
Hahn and Barger replace Supervisors Don Knabe and Michael Antonovich in representing the county’s Fourth and Fifth Districts, respectively. Knabe and Antonovich termed out after a combined 56 years in office.
Hahn gave up her seat in the U.S House of Representatives for California’s 44th District to pursue the powerful local post. She will now be one of five people who control a nearly $30 billion annual budget and oversee services for roughly 10 million people countywide.
Hahn’s father, Kenneth Hahn, served on the board for 40 years and the building in which the supervisors meet each Tuesday is named after him. The former congresswoman often cited that legacy during her campaign and name recognition helped her garner 47 percent of the vote in the June primary.
“My father taught me that a county supervisor is truly at his, or her, best when they leverage their influence to bring everyone together to solve problems,” Hahn said after she was sworn in by her brother, former Los Angeles Mayor James Hahn, who is a Los Angeles Superior Court judge.
Barger was sworn in by Antonovich, for whom she worked as a top aide.
“My staff and I will be stewards of public trust,” Barger said. “This is a great office with great history in the greatest county in the nation. My team and I will uphold the highest ethical standards in serving the people of Los Angeles County. We will also do it with humility.”
Janice Hahn is also a familiar face in local politics, having served on the Los Angeles City Council from 2001-2011. She handily won a November runoff over former Manhattan Beach City Councilman Steve Napolitano, picking up the support of more than 56 percent of voters.
Though Knabe had favored Napolitano, his senior deputy, the remaining board members — Supervisors Mark Ridley-Thomas, Sheila Kuehl and Hilda Solis — all backed Hahn’s bid. And for all the heartfelt emotion and goodwill at the Nov. 29 board meeting bidding farewell to Knabe and Antonovich, it would seem the remaining supervisors are anxious to make some changes.
Ridley-Thomas has teamed up with Hahn to submit a motion at the new board’s first meeting — the day after she is sworn in — for a quarter-cent sales tax to fund the fight against homelessness. Ridley-Thomas had pushed hard for that tax in July, but failed to get enough support to pass it.
The board had also considered a number of other funding alternatives for homeless services, including a millionaires’ tax, a parcel tax and a tax on marijuana, but could not agree on any alternative to put before voters in November.
Ridley-Thomas has also joined with Barger on a proposal to have homelessness declared a county emergency, a move that would pave the way for the sales tax to go before voters in a special countywide election in March.
The board voted in June to press state officials to declare a statewide emergency and direct more funding to the problem. The Los Angeles City Council and state lawmakers have echoed that call, but Gov. Jerry Brown has resisted such efforts.
In another motion up for discussion at the new board’s first meeting, Kuehl and Ridley-Thomas will push for structural changes, arguing that having county departments assigned to specific board offices would increase accountability. A proposed schedule allocates community and senior services, parks and probation to Solis’ office; the district attorney, health services and sheriff’s department to Ridley-Thomas’ office; child welfare, social services and courts to Kuehl’s office; beaches and harbors, the fire department and public health to Hahn’s office; and animal care and control, mental health and public works and regional planning to Barger’s office, among other assignments.
Solis is also recommending protections for immigrants, a motion she previewed two weeks ago but chose to hold for a vote until after Hahn and Barger were sworn in. Her proposal would direct county attorneys to explore whether the county has authority to prevent federal enforcement of immigration laws at court buildings, schools and hospitals or to challenge the constitutionality of any newly enacted immigration laws.
Though the Board of Supervisors seat is a non-partisan post, the ideologies of the supervisors still come into play in setting policy, and Barger will be the only registered Republican on the board for at least the next two years.
Based in part on her 28 years of experience working for the county and her role as Antonovich’s chief deputy supervisor, Barger drew broad bipartisan support for her candidacy. In addition to backing from her boss, she was endorsed by Kuehl, Solis and former supervisors Zev Yaroslavsky and Gloria Molina.
Barger fought her way to the November run-off, emerging from a crowded field of seven other candidates in the primary, then easily outpaced businessman Darrell Park on Nov. 8 with nearly 58 percent of the vote.
During her campaign, Barger named job creation as a priority and said she’d like to improve services for children and families. She also said she believes voters are tired of partisan politics. She is credited with helping Antonovich move toward the political center on some key issues.
Hahn previewed her focus on homelessness on the campaign trail, saying it would take billions to make a tangible difference for the nearly 47,000 people who have nowhere to call home in Los Angeles County. She is also viewed as strong on public safety, a point echoed by endorsements from law enforcement unions.
Given past supervisors’ tendency to defy political stereotyping in championing certain policies and forming alliances, it remains to be seen how the shift on the powerful board will change local politics. But the team of five has the ability to influence issues ranging from criminal justice reform to environmental regulation.
Perhaps the most obvious change will be that four women will constitute a super-majority, something Knabe recently joked about during his last meeting.
“I hope you grew up with a lot of sisters,” Knabe joked with Ridley- Thomas. “You’ve got some work ahead of you.”
–City News Service