Expansion of Board of Supervisors to be on ballot 


Los Angeles County is home to more than 10 million residents, with five supervisors overseeing the most populous county in the country. 

That means each supervisor represents approximately 2 million people, by far the largest number of constituents per district across the nation. 

To put that in comparison, New York City has a population of 8.3 million people and has 51 City Council members, while Cook County in Illinois, home of Chicago, has a population of 5.2 million people and has 17 county commissioners. 

In an effort to correct that disproportionality, the L.A. County Board of Supervisors on Tuesday directed county staff to draft the necessary documents to have a proposed charter amendment added to the November ballot that would increase the number of supervisors to nine and make the position of county chief executive officer an elected position. The board voted 3-0, with two abstentions, including one from 5th District Supervisor Kathryn Barger, who represents the Santa Clarita Valley. 

Should voters approve the amendments, the board expansion would begin in 2030 following the census. Seven supervisor seats would be on the ballot in 2032, with two of those serving two-year terms, and four seats would be on the 2034 ballot for full four-year terms. 

After that, the board would have staggered elections of five seats and then four seats in even-numbered years. 

The amendment to the county charter would also include instructions for the county to be more transparent — for both fiscal and legislative matters — and to establish systems to improve the county’s standards for ethics. 

Barger said in a prepared statement on Tuesday that she doesn’t believe the proposed expansion of the board is going to solve everything, but does agree that more transparency would be a welcome sight. 

“This reform proposal isn’t a panacea. Whether our board stays at five members or grows to nine or more, our elected body has a responsibility to lead responsibly, effectively, and transparently,” Barger said in the statement. “Bigger government doesn’t necessarily mean better government — but the matter will be in the public’s hands so they can decide that for themselves come November. 

“I will say that, regardless of size, our board’s decisions repeatedly get stuck in bureaucracy and an unwillingness to make tough decisions.” 

Barger used the example of Men’s Central Jail as an instance where the board’s action has yet to come to fruition. The board voted 4-1 in 2021 to shutter the inmate center that critics described as inhumane. 

A new five-year plan to close the jail was received by the board in January that would also establish additional mental health resources. Barger has been an outspoken supporter of improving the response to the rising mental health crisis faced by the county and the nation as a whole. 

That plan was presented three years after a plan was presented that would have seen the jail closed in 18 to 24 months. 

“This is because there is a lack of political will to approve a plan to securely rehabilitate incarcerated individuals who cannot be legally diverted despite several studies that have all concluded that is the path forward,” Barger said in her statement. 

The proposal to change the county charter came from a motion co-authored by Supervisors Lindsey Horvath, 3rd District, and Janice Hahn, 4th District. Hahn began Tuesday’s discussion with a video of her father, former Supervisor Kenneth Hahn, explaining in 1972 how even then, he saw a need for the board to be expanded. 

“That video of my father speaking about expanding the Board of Supervisors and county government reform from 1972 I think gives some context to the proposal that we have in front of us today,” Hahn said. 

The county has had five supervisors since 1912 when the charter was adopted, and no changes to the county’s structure have been made since then. 

“It’s true that this proposal has been tried and has failed many times before,” Hahn said. “But this time is different. People are ready for the change. They know that a bigger board is not bigger government; it’s better government.” 

Horvath said that as the charter was adopted before women could vote and segregation ended, it is about time for changes to be made. 

“Through our motion, we are proposing reforms to Los Angeles County’s charter, reforms that will create a more representative, effective, accountable and transparent Los Angeles County,” Horvath said. 

The proposed changes to the county charter — despite creating multiple new departments and positions and requiring commissions to be created to oversee the implementation of the changes — is not set to add any funding to the county budget through the levying of taxes. 

As former budget chair of the California Senate, Mitchell said she knows that there are likely to be costs associated with the changes, which she asked of county CEO Fesia Davenport. 

“What would we have to give up or no longer do, based on a guestimate, of standing up these new entities?” Mitchell asked. 

Davenport said there could be one-time costs associated with the creation of some of those committees and positions, something the budget does allow for each year. She added, however, that the ongoing costs associated with the creation of entire departments would add more pressure to a budget that is already being pressed. 

“There would have to be tradeoffs,” Davenport said. “There would be something else on the table. I don’t know what they would be in 2026, 2028 when we would be standing these up, but there would be a tradeoff.” 

Barger and Mitchell both abstained from the vote. 

In her statement, Barger said she believes the board should “concentrate on improving the transparency of our decision making” and use “process, expert opinion and transparency” to guide votes and directives rather than personality. She added that an Ethics Commission, included in the proposed amendments to the charter, should be established immediately rather than waiting for the entire plan to be implemented. 

“I will introduce a motion at our next regular board meeting to accomplish that,” Barger said. “If we’re serious about reforms, let’s enact those now. There’s no need to wait.” 

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