With two new members aboard, the Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors convened its first meeting with a super-majority of female members Tuesday, and the panel prepared to address a host of big-ticket issues, including a proposed tax hike to fund programs to combat homelessness.
Janice Hahn and Kathryn Barger were sworn in Monday as the newest members of the board. They replaced 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.
Supervisor Mark Ridley-Thomas, the board’s new chair, began the session with videotaped congratulations from Sen. Dianne Feinstein, D-California.
“For the first time in history, I can’t believe it, four out of five supervisors will be women,” Feinstein said of the historic moment, recalling her own three terms as a San Francisco County supervisor.
Supervisor Hilda Solis noted that the county’s chief executive officer, Sachi Hamai, and lead county counsel, Mary Wickham, are also women and pointed to a comparison with other powerful posts.
“Women aren’t always given the privilege of serving (at) Fortune 500 companies,” Solis said.
Ridley-Thomas said the new board fulfilled the promise of democracy.
“Those who didn’t have the right to vote … now constitute the super-majority of the largest county government and arguably the most powerful local elected officials in the entirety of the United States of America,” Ridley- Thomas said.
Women have shaped his life from the start, Ridley-Thomas said, from his grandmother and two older sisters to the sisters at Immaculate Heart College, his alma mater, and the students at an all-girls high school where he taught for five years.
“Let me simply say, I love my sisters,” Ridley-Thomas said.
Barger joked that the first meeting was so packed with issues it would serve as “a baptism by fire.”
Ridley-Thomas has teamed up with Hahn to submit a motion to the new board for a quarter-cent sales tax to fund the fight against homelessness. Ridley-Thomas had pushed hard for such a 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.
Hundreds of people were in the audience to show support for the fight against homelessness, including billionaire philanthropist Eli Broad and Los Angeles City Councilmen Gil Cedillo, Marqueece Harris-Dawson and Jose Huizar.
Organizers who assembled a crowd outside on Temple Street before the board meeting said more than 75 organizations had joined together to press for a March ballot measure on the issue. It took more than an hour for everyone to clear through security and enter the board room.
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, Supervisor Sheila 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.
All five supervisors were optimistic about the board’s ability to effect great change.
“This is the place where the rubber meets the road, both the executive branch and the legislative branch,” Kuehl said.
Hahn said it was a “thrill” to join the board and recalled when her father, longtime supervisor Kenneth Hahn, would let her sit in his board chair as a child.
“I’ve probably had this dream for the entirety of my life,” Hahn said, adding that she never quite believed it would come true.
Barger remembered working next door to Kenneth Hahn as a county staffer and praised his compassion as an example.
“I will always listen, my door will always be open,” Barger promised before telling her colleagues, “Let’s get on with the show.”