Sheriff Alex Villanueva: Reforms are needed to ‘Democratize’ Los Angeles County government starting NOW
By Alex Villanueva, Sheriff of Los Angeles County
January 23, 2022
The Citizens Redistricting Commission for LA County did what few other “citizen redistricting” bodies have done – stay independent. Despite a last-minute intervention by two members of the Board, the commission created more equitable districts by mixing income levels with existing working-class seats. A debt of gratitude is owed to the commission for standing above partisanship, the pressures of incumbency, and the status quo. The new districts are a step in the right direction of establishing electoral boundaries more in line with the demographics and thinking of our diverse County population.
That said, more reforms are needed to democratize LA County government. More diversity is one need. LA County is home to over 10 million residents, half of whom are Latino. Yet, only one of the five supervisors’ seats is held by a Latina. Additionally, there are sizable Asian, Armenian, Muslin, and Mideastern populations without representation on the current Board of five. These are working and middle-class communities that have been hit hard by the recent uptick in crime. Yet, the current and recent Board have “defunded” our Sheriff’s department by over $100M they are currently gifting to their friends in the nonprofit.
With each representing 2 million residents in LA County, defeating incumbent Board of Supervisors is nearly impossible. This creates a lacks accountability. Take for example the County’s poor record during COVID. As COVID first spread across the region, LA County was doing an abysmal 200 tests a day. Local businesses have told me that to this day they have received little or no communication from the County. During the deadly surge a year ago, the County reported a 1000% increase in deaths among Latinos and shockingly announced on the same day that in-person dining would reopen that week.  The incoherence and indifference for Latinos who dominate restaurant work was shocking. To date, Latino’s account for 62% of COVID infections in LA County where they represent 50% of the population. These discrepancies are not new.
Non-Hispanic whites are 26.1% of the population but have three of the five seats on the Board. More importantly, most of the supervisors have pandered to the “woke” extremism that is decaying the Democratic Party. The White liberals on the board fear being labeled a racist or too “pro police.” As a lifelong public servant for public safety, it bothers me that critiques of law enforcement provide the false choices of being pro or anti police. We can have accountability, oversight, and improved public safety – together. We need a Board that represents all of LA County and not just the woke friends among an emerging power base in the Democratic party – wealthy donors and their heirs, ambitious party lefties, out of state woke influencers, elite academics, and nonprofit / foundation managers and executives.
We need a more diverse and accountable board that will do the right thing and not just appeal to the handful of woke noise makers. Here is how we can get there.
- It is time to expand the board of supervisors from five (5) elected members to seven (7) or even nine (9) seats so more even voices can be heard. Currently each supervisor represents 1.9 m people. That is far too many.
- It is also time to create a county-wide elected executive, like a mayor, who can be independent of the legislative function of the supervisors. Currently, and quite harmfully, the board is both the legislative and executive branch of county government, way too much power and authority with zero checks and balances.
- This is also an opportunity to appoint more diverse boards and commissioners. To take one example, currently no Latinos serve on the politically contentious civilian oversight commission.
- The same can be said of the lack of diversity of thought and class on the LA Metro Public Safety Advisory Committee or Alternatives to Incarceration commissions. The lack of public transportation riders, native foreign language speakers, public safety professionals, political moderates and working people has created slanted and elitist approaches to core issues like rising crime, transit safety, and quality of life.
- It is also time appointed commissioners be required to file statements of fiscal interests and disclosures which none now have.
- In addition, ALL organizations, for profit or nonprofit, that advocate and lobby for grants, service contracts, or “seed money” should be required to register as lobbyists. This would also help bring to light the explosion of unreported and unlimited donations to the 501c4, better known as ‘dark money.’
Having new districts with diverse communities of interest is a great first step but more can be done and should be done quickly. The public is increasingly frustrated with the inability to reduce crime, end homelessness, and take down violent and dangerous vagrant encampments that not only are a public safety hazard, but are negligent of our duty to help the homeless. It is time we reformed the County government, but we citizens must do it. An elected Inspector General with the authority to provide independent oversight of all of county government would be another improvement for accountability and transparency. I have never known an establishment politician to give power back, we must take it.
Note; Sheriff Alex Villanueva is not only the first Spanish speaking Latino Sheriff since 1890, he is also the first challenger to defeat an incumbent Sheriff in Los Angeles County in over a century. Villanueva’s 1.3 million votes are more than the combined votes of all five sitting LA County Board of Supervisors in their last elections. Sheriff Villanueva is seeking reelection in 2022.