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LA’s Four Kings and a Queen: Real Power Ignored

ALPERN AT LARGE - Having lived in LA County most of my life, I am too aware of where the collective mindset of voters is with respect to county politics:  a big yawn, and a big "whatever". Even growing up in Long Beach (a pretty big city in its own right), the average person knew who the mayor of Los Angeles was--and perhaps a few prominent LA city councilmembers--but he/she didn't really know (or care) who their own city political leadership was.  Ditto with the county supervisor.

So we've got a pretty decent awareness that Washington and Sacramento helps set the political and economic tone of our regional and local lives, and when the subject of county politics comes up most folks’ eyes glaze over or roll heavenward with a nonverbal and implied sentiment of “Loser!” or “Nerd!” as the usual response.

And so we’ve got those funny names out there, like “Yaroslavsky” and “Antonovich” and we hear about the County Board of Supervisors doing this or that, and every once in awhile Gloria Molina says something inflammatory (usually from an in-your-face, pro-Latino, screw-the-rest-of-the-world point of view) that pisses most of us off (including no shortage of Latinos).

But we really don’t know or care what they do, and the five LA County Board of Supervisors get re-elected with virtually no competition despite the fact that they each control more taxpayer dollars (federal and state and property taxes) than many governors in our nation, and have virtually only President Obama as an individual who has more direct discretion of government spending than they do.

And they almost always run unopposed, despite the fact that their salaries, input and power at both the local and state/federal level is a force to be reckoned with and one that makes the average LA City Councilmember look Lilliputian in comparison (despite these City Councilmembers each having more voters to answer to than the entire population of smaller cities like Santa Monica, Culver City and West Hollywood).

Want to have power over our growing light rail and subway system?  Be a county supervisor.

Want to have power over our public hospital network?  Be a county supervisor.

Want to have the overwhelming majority of your property tax check?  Be a county supervisor.

Want to prevent the horrible overdevelopment of Marina Del Rey (which makes projects like Playa Vista, Bundy Village and other projects under the jurisdiction of the City of L.A. look tiny in comparison)?  Be a county supervisor.

Want to have the biggest political salary in the region?  Be a county supervisor!

The “Five Kings” of LA County (now dubbed the “Five Kings and Queens”) have flown under our collective political radar for decades, and both they and our own ignorance of who they are have prevented reform (such as from my colleague Cary Brazeman in his recent CityWatch articles, who advocates for a diminution of their geographic turf into seven offices) and maintained the status of the County Board of Supervisors into a veritable Olympic Pantheon of the Gods over how we live our lives.

And, as the Olympic Gods would be expected to behave, they are jealous when other demigods, such as the Mayor of LA, step in and claim either the spotlight or the name recognition they want so badly.  The Five Kings and Queens see the at having the Mayor of LA be able to control four seats on the Metro Authority Board, and they have thrown out the idea of having themselves get the title of “Mayor of LA County” just to assuage their hurt feelings and achieve a sense of hubris throughout the region.

So folks like Steve Lopez are spot-on when they point out our collective ignorance of who the county supervisors are and what they do. (Link)

And the fight over redistricting and boundaries goes on based on political party and even race, and for those of us who’ve paid attention to this debate, the sound of cacophony fills our ears and the smell of brimstone fills our noses.

And the Westside and San Fernando Valley are on the verge of being separated from longstanding political relationships and ties with their neighbors.

And people have no idea of where the heck the majority of our property taxes and our allotted federal and state dollars go to, and who controls those funds.

And while most of us are just trying to live our lives, trying to sleep easy in these economically nerve-wracking times, we’re just sheep to be controlled and manipulated for the egos and political power trips of people we don’t even know.

And for those of us who are aware of the ethereal battles of the gods up high, we fear for our future, and for the welfare and benefit of future generations in the County of Los Angeles.

(Ken Alpern is a former Boardmember of the Mar Vista Community Council (MVCC), previously co-chaired its Planning and Outreach Committees, and currently is Vice Chair of its MVCC Transportation/Infrastructure Committee. He is co-chair of the CD11 Transportation Advisory Committee and chairs the nonprofit Transit Coalition, and can be reached at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. . The views expressed in this article are solely those of Mr. Alpern.) –cw

Tags: Washington, Sacramento, County, LA County, County Supervisors, LA County Supervisors, Supervisors, Five Kings, Five Kings of LA County, Gloria Molina, Zev Yaroslavsky, Mayor of LA, Long Beach






CityWatch
Vol 9 Issue 72
Pub: Sept 9, 2011

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