Steve Napolitano, Janice Hahn and Ralph Pacheco battle to take over for termed-out Don Knabe
By Gary Walker
Representing 10 million people and managing a budget of more than $28 billion a year, they are arguably the five most powerful public officials in Southern California, yet the scope of their authority isn’t widely understood.
Jails, parks, public health, foster care and local infrastructure fall under their control, but they report only to the voters — who haven’t voted an incumbent out of office since 1980, as contested elections were rare until the imposition of term limits in 2008.
They are the Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors, and on June 7 voters in Marina del Rey, Playa del Rey and parts of Westchester are being asked to choose a new one to replace Don Knabe, who has served on the board since 1996 and must bow out due to term limits.
It’s a three-way race for the board’s Fourth District, a winding swath of 458 square miles that’s home to about 2 million people and stretches from the marina to Long Beach and then inland to Diamond Bar.
Congresswoman Janice Hahn (D- San Pedro), Knabe field deputy Steve Napolitano and Whittier Union High School District Board member Ralph Pacheco offer the district’s 480,000 registered voters extensive government experience at the local, regional and national levels.
In a year when voters appear hungry to consider outsider candidates, how each frames his or her experience may be what sets the candidates apart.
Mark Galanty, a longtime Westside political consultant who is not working for any of the three campaigns, thinks Napolitano will give Hahn a tough fight in many parts of the district but expects Hahn to ultimately win the race.
“She has good political skills and she knows how to run a campaign,” Galanty said. “People are amped up about the presidential election, and higher turnout usually favors Democrats.”
As of May 3, Hahn was also the top fundraiser, with nearly $1 million. Napolitano, the lone Republican in the ostensibly nonpartisan race, had raised nearly $800,000, though more than half of it was in loans to his own campaign. Pacheco, late to enter the race, has not reported any fundraising.
Napolitano and Hahn are each tied to men who cast long political shadows.
Having worked for Knabe for about a decade, Napolitano comes into the race with his boss’ endorsement but realizes he must also clearly establish his own political identity in order to win.
“Don Knabe is Don Knabe and I’m Steve Napolitano. I’ve got my vision for the county, but we do share the philosophy of putting the residents first. He’s a local government guy and I’m a local government guy,” he said.
Hahn’s father was former L.A. County Supervisor Kenneth Hahn — a legendary figure in L.A. politics, particular in South Los Angeles — and her brother is former L.A. Mayor James Hahn.
“My family has a long history of delivering results for the public,” said Hahn, who can boast plenty of her own experience: 10 years on the Los Angeles City Council and five years in Congress.
Napolitano, formerly mayor of Manhattan Beach, draws a contrast between his and Hahn’s political experience.
“She comes from Washington D.C. and Los Angeles, which is totally different from a lot of the smaller cities, where you’re really on the front lines and in the trenches, providing services to people who you meet all the time,” Napolitano said. “Putting people in local communities first is what I share with [Knabe], and I will absolutely continue on with that philosophy.”
Hahn said that her experience in Congress combined with her experience on the council, including the city commission that created neighborhood councils, gives her a broad vision of the many aspects of governance that cross paths with the Board of Supervisors.
“The charter review commission created neighborhood councils, which are grassroots democracy in action and provide a voice for everyone. And I would carry that same spirit to the board as a county supervisor,” Hahn said.
Underfunded and the least-known candidate throughout the district, Pacheco has the toughest challenge in reaching voters but points to his 30-plus years of experience on school boards and community councils.
“There is one candidate who is in the hip pocket of the supervisor, another who is in the hip pocket of the special interests,” Pacheco said. “The question will be: ‘Who do you trust, someone who is courageous or someone who is in the hip pocket of special interests and the status quo?’”
Despite the massive size of the district, the race is of special significance to unincorporated Marina del Rey, which is governed directly by county officials and is one of the county’s most lucrative revenue generators.
The LAX Coastal Chamber of Commerce is backing Napolitano.
“Steve has been very visible in Marina del Rey and with our chamber for many years. He has been involved in almost all of the important issues in Maria del Rey, including dredging the harbor and the visioning plan,” chamber President Christina Davis said.
But that visioning plan and the overall scope of growth and development has been a major point of contention between marina residents and county officials.
Napolitano attributed the pace of development to the expiration of long-term leases and said he’d seek to strike a balance between pro- and slow-growth advocates. Hahn framed the matter as a quality of life issue and said the county could do more to mitigate traffic congestion. (For more, please see the table on the opposite page).
Beth Holden-Garland, a Silver Strand resident in Marina del Rey, said traffic congestion should be a top priority.
“It is at a critical mass. You cannot get across now to local businesses because traffic is at a standstill on Lincoln and Washington boulevards and Admiralty Way,” she said.
A resident of Supervisor Sheila Kuehl’s district, Holden-Garland can’t vote in this election but is rooting for Hahn.
“This election will deeply impact our neighborhood and our daily lives,” said Holden-Garland, who opposed the county’s recent approval for construction of a hotel on a parcel of undeveloped land on Admiralty Way. “We hope that the newly elected official who replaces Don Knabe is someone of character and backbone, and not someone who only watches out for developers’ interests here in the marina.”
Some locals have also expressed concern about the county potentially pricing some boaters out of the marina by calculating slip fees according to market rates. Napolitano supports the market-rate fee structure, Hahn has expressed concern, and Pacheco would set slip fees according to the cost of creating and maintaining them.
Voters in lower Playa del Rey have been vocal about maintaining a winter beach berm, which all three candidates support and Napolitano pledged to build every year.
While outsider campaigns have been drawing national attention, Galanty doesn’t expect that trend will impact this contest.
“People are concerned about their own local issues. That’s usually where these type of races are won,” he said.