By The Signal Editorial Board
Kathryn Barger was the lone voice of reason on the L.A. County Board of Supervisors this week as the board took steps toward both defunding the Sheriff’s Department and extending the county’s commitment to allocate millions of county tax dollars to provide legal representation for illegal immigrants.
Both decisions do not work in the best interest of county taxpayers, and it was Barger, whose 5th District includes the Santa Clarita Valley, who cast the lone dissenting vote on each.
The headline-grabbing decision of the board’s Tuesday meeting was a move to place an initiative on the November ballot that would amend the county charter to mandate 10% of the county budget to be spent on social programs designed to benefit low-income communities. The programs would include rent assistance and affordable housing, youth development and job training, along with programs aimed at finding alternatives to incarceration.
There’s nothing wrong with such programs, except that some of them are already in place, and the initiative, if approved, would leave future incarnations of the Board of Supervisors hamstrung when it comes to making budgetary decisions that effectively respond to the circumstances of a given time.
Sheriff Alex Villanueva — no stranger when it comes to locking horns with the supervisors — said he endorses those kinds of programs, but that this measure really amounts to partially and permanently defunding the LASD.
“No one is against that — those are no-brainers,” Villanueva said, referring to those programs. “However, when you try to dismantle law enforcement and the primary source of public safety services to the community, you’re endangering the public… This is going to impact the people that can least afford a lack of law enforcement protection.”
Further, Barger pointed out, such a charter amendment would tie the hands of county supervisors who are, after all, elected to make such budgetary decisions on an ongoing basis. Further, she noted, the majority of the county’s budget is already spent on health and social service programs for at-risk residents.
“The voters voted us into office, and by doing so, they put confidence in our ability to make decisions based on what we believe is right, not only for our residents within our district, but also the county as a whole,” Barger said. “To put a charter amendment on (the ballot), to me, is irresponsible, and quite frankly, I believe that it is taken away from our duty and responsibility as board members.”
Barger added in a prepared statement after the meeting: “This motion proposes a charter amendment, which would permanently tie the county’s hands on any budget decisions in the future, regardless of the fiscal and policy issues that may be present at that time — this is especially concerning now as we have had to act quickly and nimbly to serve our 10 million residents facing the COVID-19 pandemic. This motion threatens the county’s ability to provide ample protections and continue to fund crucial programs and services should the county face another catastrophic event in the short or long term.”
The supervisor is right — and she was also right about the supervisors’ decision in the same meeting to extend the county’s commitment to the L.A. Justice Fund for one more year. The fund is a public-private partnership that provides legal counsel to illegal immigrants. The county has already given $3 million to the fund.
Again, Barger cast the lone dissenting vote in the 4-1 decision to move forward with continuing to spend county funds on legal counsel for illegal immigrants fighting deportation.
After that vote, Barger issued a statement on it as well: “I empathize with the plight of the thousands of individuals who are impacted by the broken immigration system. It is the responsibility of the federal government to support states and counties in their efforts to address the costs of illegal immigration, and we should focus our energy on supporting comprehensive immigration reform at the national level. Furthermore, given the enormous financial constraints placed upon the county by the COVID-19 public health crisis, now more than ever we must be fiscally responsible to our taxpayers.”
Immigration, as Barger correctly pointed out, is a federal issue. Particularly with so many of L.A. County’s residents reeling from the COVID-19 crisis, now is not the time for this kind of county expenditure.
The supervisors in general seem to agree on most things. But on issues like these, Barger faces the same kind of uphill battle that the few Republicans in Sacramento face: Democratic and liberal supermajorities abound in California.
Barger is to be commended for standing up on behalf of taxpayers and expressing dissent when it’s warranted. Even if she’s the only one.