Kathryn Barger was racing along in fifth gear, and it had nothing to do with the car she was riding in.
This was about 2:30 on Friday afternoon, and Barger, the newly sworn-in county Supervisor from L.A. County’s Fifth District, had just come from a lunch meeting and talk at the Rose Bowl concerning potential new Alzheimer’s treatments.
She was on the phone to The Signal, then had to run off to a TV interview before … maybe … getting the chance to head home to Pasadena to cap a long, busy and news-making week.
Having worked for her predecessor, Michael Antonovich, for 28 years, the last 15 as his chief deputy, all this running around at warp speed was not unfamiliar to Barger … though this was the first week when she was in command.
The whirlwind week began with her swearing-in on Monday, followed by a marathon meeting on Tuesday that stretched nearly 10 hours.
It was a breakneck pace that doesn’t figure to slow down on a job that is basically 24/7 and 365. And Barger was loving every minute of it.
“This is my passion,’’ Barger said Friday. “I would not have run for any other office. My passion for the county is what pushed me toward running for the seat. It’s not (just) a job for me, it’s something I’m honored to be a part of.
“I signed up for this. The only difference is, I have ‘supervisor’ before my name versus ‘chief of staff.’ ’’
Barger won that supervisor’s title in November by beating opponent Darrell Park with almost 59 percent of the vote.
Antonovich, who had been termed out of the office he held for 36 years, supported Barger in the election as she campaigned as a compassionate conservative, focusing on helping the county’s needy and underserved while not forgetting fiscal responsibility.
And indeed, those were the themes Barger focused on Friday when she discussed her goals for the next four years as the lone Republican on a board with a distinctly leftward tilt.
Homelessness, job creation, job training and improving the foster-care system are big items on her agenda, she said.
“The (homeless) numbers are staggering,’’ Barger said. “And it’s not just the numbers (of people) you see on the street — we’re talking about women and children living in their cars, in shelters down on Skid Row, living invisibly, jumping from house to house, hoping to keep their kids out of the cold.
“We have to do better.’’
In that vein, Barger co-authored a recommendation this week declaring a homeless state of emergency in L.A. County – bringing attention, she hopes, to “one, preventing people from becoming homeless and, two, for those people who are homeless, getting them services’’ ranging from mental-health care to alcohol- and drug-treatment to job training.
Barger also supported a proposal by fellow Supervisor Mark Ridley-Thomas for a special quarter-cent sales tax to fund such homeless-care goals – but, she said, not before working with Ridley-Thomas to tweak his original tax proposal.
Originally, she said, the tax was to be a general levy – something she called “disingenuous.”
“Don’t make it a general tax, some of the money could be diverted to areas not devoted to the homeless,’’ she said. “It should be earmarked only for the homeless. … The money cannot go into a black hole.”
Barger said the proposal was on this past week’s supervisors’ calendar because the lawmakers were under a deadline to get the new tax question onto the ballot on March 7.
The tax would have a 10-year “sunset” period, meaning a two-thirds majority will be needed to pass the new tax in March.
Barger estimated the county already spends $900 million on homeless services. The new targeted tax is expected raised around $350 million a year.
‘Across the board’ effort
“But the government alone cannot do this,” she said. “This has to come through non-profits, churches, synagogues.”
“This is going to be an effort across the board, and it’s going to be up to the voters whether they trust we will do what we say we’re going to do. … I would make sure it’s transparent.’’
The county’s foster-youth program is another area of concern for Barger.
“I really want to address the caseloads that social workers have,’’ she said, suggesting the best way to do that is, simply, adding more social workers.
“I want the children coming into our system to be supported and helped so they don’t leave the system broken, and in order to do that you need social workers who can spend time with them, and make sure these kids are not placed in multiple (different) homes.’’
She said she also wants to work on “streamlining the paperwork’’ as well as increasing recruitment of foster parents.
On jobs creation, she said, she will focus on “looking at where we’re over-regulating in the county, and working with state representatives on that.”
“Jobs are going to be key for us, and as I move forward, linking that with job training,” she said.
Another issue “near and dear to my heart,’’ she said, is support of law enforcement.
As the wife of a retired sheriff’s deputy, she said, “I’ve seen firsthand the commitment our law-enforcement has in protecting the residents of L.A. County. I want to maintain resources and also recognize their day-to-day contributions.’’
Santa Clarita issues
Under Antonovich, Barger was a driving force behind the proposed new sheriff’s station in the Santa
In addition, she said, she will focus on making sure that funds coming from the recently passed county Measure M – boosting funding for transit – “are expended equitably” in the Santa Clarita area, and that parks and open-space issues remain in the forefront in the area, too.
“I really do take to heart ‘One Valley, One Vision,’ ’’ she said. “My commitment is to work with City Council and city manager make sure those needs are met.”