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Steve Lopez / POINTS WEST

Supervisor Math -- They Give, You Pay

September 29, 2004|Steve Lopez | Steve Lopez can be reached at

If you live in Los Angeles County, you're probably a far more generous person than you realized. Unbeknownst to you, your hard-earned cash has been scattered around to causes great and small, some of which you've never even heard of.

Sandbaggers Golf Club? You gave.

Daniel Murphy Catholic High School? You gave.

NAACP Holy Hip Hop? You gave.

How did this happen without your knowledge?

Each year, members of the L.A. County Board of Supervisors get far more money than they need to run their offices. The extra dough -- which can top $1 million for each of the five supes -- goes into discretionary funds, and the supervisors spend that money as they see fit.

When the Disney Concert Hall opened last year to great fanfare, one of the more generous donors listed in the program was Supervisor Zev Yaroslavsky, who kicked in a cool $1 million.

His money?

No. It came from Yaroslavsky's discretionary fund, so it was your money. Unfortunately, you did not get your name in the program, or on the wall, as he did.

A Yaroslavsky aide argues that the boss offered that $1 million as a challenge to private donors, who ultimately matched the $1 million.

Fine. But we still didn't get our names in the program. And that donation of public funds was made around the time the county was shutting down healthcare facilities.

Now obviously, $1 million is a lot of money to throw at a pet project. But it's chicken feed compared to what Supervisor Gloria Molina has been doing.

For several years, as my colleague Sue Fox pointed out this week, Molina has been stashing money from her discretionary fund for the project of her dreams -- a Mexican American cultural center near Olvera Street.

How much?

About $15 million.

That's a lot of discretion, no?

It's hard to argue against such a project in Los Angeles, given our history. But it's fair to ask whether it's appropriate for a supervisor to squirrel away millions of tax dollars for a pet project without any input from you or me.

And so on behalf of 10 million county residents, I did.

"Whether it's appropriate or not," Molina responded as we sat in her office, "is up to you to decide."

OK, thanks.

I've decided it's not appropriate. I say we kill the funds, how's that?

I don't want supervisors playing hero with my money, even if the cause happens to be worthwhile. We can make our own charitable contributions.

The supervisors are imperial and untouchable enough without the added advantage of what East Coast wags call "walking-around money." You know, take care of friends, plant seeds for the reelection harvest.

"I don't see any challengers being given any money," says Bob Stern of the Center for Governmental Studies. "I could understand $50,000 or some small amount of money to send flowers for funerals or something like that. Maybe. But when you get to this amount of money, with no oversight.... "

In the 2003-2004 fiscal year, Yaroslavsky spent $3.17 million in discretionary funds. Supervisor Don Knabe handed out $1.26 million, Mike Antonovich scattered $719,828, and Yvonne Brathwaite Burke dropped $657,341.

What, you didn't get any?

Call (213) 974-1411 today and ask for your L.A. County supervisor. They've got cash to burn.

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