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Nine--Lucky Number for L.A. County? : Supervisors wisely place board expansion plan on the November ballot

August 02, 1992

The Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors made the right move when it voted 3 to 2 last week to remove from next November's ballot a proposal that would expand the board to seven members from five. Instead, voters will get a chance to expand the board to nine members.

Expanding the board would increase county government's responsiveness and possibly revive its capacity for representation. Both responsiveness and representation are qualities that have been notably short in Los Angeles County government lately.

In theory at least, local government puts government closer to the people. In small towns, government often works on a first-name basis. That's not how it works in Los Angeles County, where five supervisors represent nearly 9 million people. That's obviously not adequate. The majority of governors, U.S. senators and congressional representatives across the country have fewer constituents than each of L.A. County's supervisors.

A majority of the supervisors wisely scrapped the option that would have limited expansion to seven members. The action may have saved the board from an expensive court battle, because the smaller expansion might have diluted the strength of Latino voters; such a situation would have been considered a violation of the Voting Rights Act and could have prompted federal intervention.

The county lost a federal lawsuit in 1990 that challenged district boundaries drawn after the previous census. A federal judge ruled that those district lines diluted minority voting power and violated federal voting rights laws. That court battle, which resulted in the creation of a predominantly Latino district, cost county taxpayers more than $6 million, a major waste that should not be repeated. Persisting in that lawsuit was far from the only act of arrogance by the clubby, old guard that dominated the board for much of the last decade.

County voters should give serious consideration to the board expansion proposition and also to a proposal to elect a chief executive officer for the county. A bigger board could better reflect the huge diversity within the county's growing population. For decades, white men dominated the board. Last year Gloria Molina became the first Latino elected to the county board in this century. No Asian or black has ever been elected to the board, although two black women are currently in a runoff to replace retiring Supervisor Kenneth Hahn.

We will concede that bigger government is not necessarily better government. The expansion proposal should be written to keep the cost of county government equal to what it is now. Local government that is more responsive and more representative is better government.

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