County supervisor candidates press reforms
Several battling to succeed Zev Yaroslavsky would support civilian oversight of the Sheriff’s Dept., bolster foster care resources and rethink development in Marina del Rey
By Gary Walker and Joe Piasecki
Extending light rail service to LAX, bringing civilian oversight to the Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Dept., reforming foster care and reworking development plans for Marina del Rey were among the hot topics discussed at an April 28 forum for Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors candidates that was hosted by The Argonaut.
With term limits forcing Third District Supervisor Zev Yaroslavsky to leave office, eight hopefuls are vying to take over the seat — representing roughly two million people from the San Fernando Valley to Venice — in the June 3 primary election.
Santa Monica environmental activist Douglas Fay, educator Yuval Kremer, former state Sen. Sheila Kuehl, film production consultant Eric Preven and former Malibu Mayor Pamela Conley Ulich answered questions from the newspaper and audience members during the forum at Mark Twain Middle School.
Former Santa Monica City Councilman Bobby Shriver and lighting technician Rudy Melendez were invited but chose not to attend, and West Hollywood City Councilman John Duran was a no-show.
Each candidate in attendance stated that bringing a light rail extension to LAX would be a priority if elected to the board, whose members also sit on the Metropolitan Transportation Authority board.
Preven, a longtime critic of the county’s leadership, called the current transportation disconnect a “devastating failure” of leadership. Kuehl said bringing a light rail stop to Terminal One would be more cost effective than a current proposal to connect to the Tom Bradley International Terminal. Fay agreed with Kuehl, while Kremer suggested diverting air traffic to other regional airports and Ulich criticized Metro’s contracting practices.
Fay and Preven were outspoken in opposition to county plans for intensified commercial, hotel and residential development in Marina del Rey.
“The visioning process that the county is conducting is absurd,” Fay said. “It has not been inclusive, and I am opposing the visioning process.”
Kremer expressed general concern about overdevelopment in the marina, and Ulich said she would seek to make the process more inclusive.
Kuehl said the marina is already “armored with development” and called the county plan a vision for “only more of the same,” adding that she would support affordable housing creation in the marina to counter increasing rents.
Preven also attacked county plans to raise parking fees as an affront to recreational users.
Ulich, Kuehl and Preven committed strong support for formal civilian oversight of the Sheriff’s Dept. in order to address rampant jail violence as well as recent hiring and obstruction of justice scandals.
Supervisors Mark Ridley-Thomas and Gloria Molina have called for a permanent Sheriff’s Dept. Oversight Commission, but Yaroslavsky has criticized the plan as lacking teeth to enforce real change.
The commission “needs to be set up yesterday,” said Ulich, who accused sitting county supervisors of demonstrating “a pattern and practice of failure of leadership.”
Preven said current county leaders have been too quick to approve Sheriff’s Dept. funding with few strings attached.
“The supervisors have enormous authority over [the Sheriff’s] budget yet have failed to wield it at the right time,” Preven said.
“The problem at the Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Dept. has been a culture of violence,” Kuehl said. “What the supervisors can do is be a bully pulpit, a strong voice for a citizen oversight commission — make sure it gets established.”
Kremer blamed retired Sheriff Lee Baca.
“For all these years he’s been a politician instead of a law enforcement guy,” said Kremer, a former Mid City West Community Council member.
Kremer pledged to find funding to transition county animal shelters to a “no kill” policy and described himself as a fiscally conservative Democrat, touting an endorsement by the conservative Howard Jarvis Taxpayers Association.
With Kuehl and Shriver leading in fundraising — Shriver bolstered by a gift of $300,000 to his own campaign — Ulich played up her minimal fundraising as a sign of grassroots political independence.
“I fear that in four years there will only be candidates who are independently wealthy and those who are bought and paid for,” Ulich said.
Each of L.A. County’s five supervisors receives and annual discretionary fund of about $3.4 million, an account Ulich repeatedly referred to as a “slush fund.”
Kuehl said some candidates who decry large discretionary budgets end up utilizing them as elected officials.
“Zev Yaroslavsky helped build a community center and a library [with discretionary spending]. So these funds can be very important, and I would use mine on health care.”
Fay said he’d focus discretionary spending on hiring expert staff, and Preven said he would spend to increase public engagement with the board.
Ulich said she would prioritize discretionary funds to implement recommended reforms to the county child welfare system. Holding up a copy of a commission report criticizing bureaucratic lapses and recommending reforms to improve child safety, Ulich said she “would not wait” to appoint a child welfare czar to streamline foster care.
“I think what is happening now is borderline criminal,” she said.
County leaders, added Preven, “are actually committing a bureaucratic crime by allowing these [departmental] silos to function in opposition to one another so the child gets lost in the shuffle.”
Kuehl also supported foster care reform, Fay said he would push to hire additional social workers, and Kremer said he would consider new hires as well as outsourcing casework overflow.
Ulich, Preven, Kuehl, Kremer, Fay and Duran are scheduled to meet at 2:30 p.m. Monday for a candidate forum at the Burton Chace Park Community Room, 13650 Mindanao Way, Marina del Rey. Hosted by an L.A. County Dept. of Mental Health advisory committee, the forum is focused on mental health and social services issues.
If no candidate wins more than 50% of the vote on June 3, the top two finishers will head to a November runoff.