By State Sen. Tony Mendoza
Senate Constitutional Amendment 12 is about the future of California. The laws governing the way counties are structured were written in the 1850s and were left alone after passage. To put that into context, Los Angeles County was home to five thousand people at that time. Today, the same county is home to over 10 million people and has a larger population than 42 individual states! Imagine a state like North Carolina with a five person governing committee without a governor or legislature.
Beyond Los Angeles County, however, the concern for how counties are structured is a state-wide issue. In 1850, the California Constitutional Committee created 18 counties in the new state of California. In the years since then, the general shape, guidelines and format of a Board of Supervisors has been unchanged. Our state is very different today and will continue to change in the coming years. The demographics, economy, and scale of everyday life in California have changed dramatically since 1850. A form of government that worked for cattle ranchers pre-Civil War cannot adequately address counties larger than most states.
It has become clear that effective, accessible, and accountable government is nearly impossible when a single County Supervisor serves over two million constituents. Los Angeles County is the first to rise above five million, but others will as well in the coming years. It is simply foolish to ignore the future in order to preserve a system of government that is over 150 years old.
Senate Constitutional Amendment 12 is a simple plan to ensure better, fairer representation with clear lines of executive authority. This Amendment brings Los Angeles County closer to our common system of government. It would add two seats to a Board of Supervisors, an elected County Executive, and better utilize employees and county resources. County government should be local, accessible, accountable, and personal.
This Amendment will ensure Supervisors serve no more than two congressional districts worth of constituents. Supervisors will be accessible and closer to the people they serve while having a stronger connection to voters. If the law has determined that representatives who vote on a broad range of national issues should serve a fraction of the number California Supervisors do, a change must be made.
Accountability has been a problem for Los Angeles County. We have seen scandals in the Jails, in the foster care system, and with the County Assessor’s office. Currently, the Board of Supervisors is in control of the budget, administrative duties, and ensuring County organizations remain accountable. In 2016, the LA County Grand Jury made it clear that, at minimum, the Board of Supervisors needs two more seats and an empowered executive position to manage the county.
Senate Constitutional Amendment 12 is a bipartisan effort to ensure that large counties can accommodate and adequately address the needs of their constituents. An administrator who has the dual responsibilities of drawing up an effective budget and professionalizing management would facilitate healthy, organized growth in counties. Additional seats on a Board of Supervisors means we would see vibrant tapestry of our community reflected in local government.
The Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors has done little to encourage diversity and representation of minority communities in County government. Of the 33 department heads in the county, none are Latino. There are no Latino Chiefs of Staff for the Board of Supervisors. In a county that is over forty percent Latino, that’s unacceptable and a reflection of the limited number of opportunities in county government. While 20% of the Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors is Latino, there are no Asian-Americans on the Board.
This bill is about the future of California and finding a way to avoid the growing pains Los Angeles has encountered from happening again. We are a state that is growing and our policies should develop alongside. To preserve the power, prestige, and finances of a few at the expense of California’s future, the choice is simple. Our children, our people, and our state are too valuable to let political preservation derail the long-term potential of the Golden State. Our shared future is too important to set aside for the benefit of a single Board in a single county.
Senator Tony Mendoza, a Los Angeles native and former elementary school teacher in East Los Angeles, represents the 32nd Senate District encompassing portions of Los Angeles and Orange Counties.