In the 76 seconds it took to take an oath of office, Lindsey Horvath transformed himself into one of the most powerful players in California politics. In fact, few positions in American local government have as much momentum as those Horvath suspected on Monday.
This is what it means to become a supervisor in Los Angeles County.
At 40, Horvath will be the youngest woman ever to take on the role. The former West Hollywood councilman will represent the 3rd Ward, a vast 431-square-mile swathe of Los Angeles County that includes parts of the San Fernando Valley. It represents one of the smallest cities in the county — a population of about 35,000 residents spread across just 1.9 square miles — to a district representing nearly 2 million people.
This is a jurisdiction with an economy larger than Argentina, a constituency larger than Austria, and a budget larger than some US states.
Sheila Kuehl, the recently retired supervisor replacing Horvath in the 3rd Circuit, said of the position, “It’s like five people are the governor of Ohio with no legislature.”
At her inauguration ceremony, Horvath pledged to use her newfound power to free LA County’s younger residents, plagued by rent and student debt.
“There will be those who doubt us – and wonder if a millennial is ready to serve their country. But the median age in Los Angeles County is 38,” Horvath told the packed boardroom. “We know damn well that if we continue down the path we’re on, the world we inherit won’t exist.”
As one of five superiors, she represents a district that stretches from the coast Malibu and Santa Monica to the San Fernando Valley. If District 3 were a city, it would be America’s fifth largest city, just below Houston.
In other words, it’s a position that comes with immense power. But it’s also a job that most outside of county government don’t fully understand — even some of the people who served on the once-all-male board that’s earned the nickname “the five little kings.”
“I’ve been here for 20 years and there are some things I couldn’t figure out,” former CEO Zev Yaroslavsky said of the “strange” bureaucracy he helped run.
Yaroslavski said the county was essentially run by a “five-member executive.” As the youngest of its directors, Horvath will wield tremendous executive authority, working with her peers to award contracts, hire and fire department heads, and establish the county’s more than $40 billion budget, much of which comes from federal and state government funds. She will also have legislative power and be able to make laws – as long as she has the support of at least two of her peers.
This unique form of government gives a district head the power not just to draft new legislation or initiatives, but to actually get them through the finish line, she said.
“The power of superiors is more the power to enforce it,” said Kuehl. “Getting people into apartments, getting them off the streets, getting them mental health services — not just saying they have to have them.”
In terms of ability to exert influence, a single borough leader has much more to offer than any elected official in the City of Los Angeles, where political power is divided among the 15 members of the city council and the mayor. However, in terms of visibility, the county can sometimes seem more comparable to that of the region rarely heard special districtsthe specialize in a particular service such as cemetery care or mosquito extermination.
“People can tell you a lot about how the LAPD is doing, how the mayor is doing, what’s happening with the city council,” said Raphael Sonenshein, executive director of the Pat Brown Institute for Public Affairs at Cal State LA. “When things go really badly with the City Council as the record released is not just local news but national and international news.”
Much more is needed for the district board to attract international attention.
“When you become a district leader in LA, sometimes you trade visibility for the power you get,” Sonenshein said.
Along with her four supervisors, Horvath will be responsible for high-level oversight of dozens of county departments and agencies that together make up most of the region’s social safety net. Under the umbrella of the LA County government is essentially every social service residents could need at any point in their lives, including mental health care, child protection services, food help and help for seniors. As a result, the district is most directly involved with the region’s poorest residents.
Horvath noted in her remarks that the board has “a tremendous impact on the health, justice and future of our region,” and vowed to care about LA County’s “ignored or marginalized” voters.
Yaroslavsky, who made the same move as Horvath from city council member to district leader, had similar goals when he joined the board two decades ago. But he said it was difficult at first to tell constituents on the outskirts of the county exactly what the little-understood government agency should do for them.
“In the city, the phones never stopped ringing non-stop. You know, potholes need fixing. The trees are not pruned. Lights out on Fairfax Avenue,’ he said. “And in the county, no, no. The phone didn’t ring.”
https://www.latimes.com/california/story/2022-12-07/supervisor-lindsey-horvath-sworn-in L.A. County Board Supervisor Lindsey Horvath begins new term