L.A. County supervisors to expand public access at meetings

The Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors plans to reverse some of the early-pandemic-era rules that limit public testimony and promises to give voters more time for face-to-face discussions with their politicians.

The changes were set out in a statement on Friday from supervisor Janice Hahn, who will take over as chair of the board next week.

“The changes made to board meetings during the pandemic were for the safety of people, but at the expense of full public access to our work,” Hahn said. “As Chair, my goal is to increase the ability of the public to attend our meetings and deliberate in real-time on the policies the Board is considering.”

As many residents isolated themselves during the pandemic, some District Government Observer criticized the board for a similar withdrawal from the public. For several months, the public could only passively listen to remote board meetings, leading Hahn to once equate the meetings to a “strictly conducted conference call.”

By the time the public was able to contact district leaders in real time again, their window to do so had been reduced to an hour and a half at the start of the meeting. The board has since returned to face-to-face meetings, although politicians remain shielded from the public by protective glass placed during the pandemic.

According to a press release sent out by Hahn’s office, starting Tuesday, the public will be able to comment after any significant issue the board discusses. There will also be time to speak on minor issues that maintainers will vote on but not discuss, as well as a general comment period for the public. People can still speak in person or remotely.

Outgoing Chair Holly J. Mitchell, who helped get the board back to in-person meetings, said she thinks it’s important to have those hybrid meetings.

“People don’t always have the luxury of getting off work, going downtown, paying $20 or more to park, and sitting for half a day [day] or all day to get involved,” she said.

She also noted that one benefit of speaking publicly early in the meeting was that people didn’t have to wait hours for the topic they were invested in to be discussed.

Hahn’s changes will take supervisors through next year’s meetings, where they will seek to mend a social safety net strained under the weight of residents in crises in every corner of the county — from Long Beach, where the homeless population is believed to have increased by over 60% in the past two years, right down to Antelope Valley, which has seen a surge in homeless camps living isolated in the desert.

At the same time, the district managers have to deal with the problems that arise internally.

The parole department is in crisis, and officers at the county juvenile facility are refusing to come to work because they feel insecure and outnumbered. The future of the derelict Central Men’s Prison remains uncertain more than two years after the board vowed to close it and find alternatives for the thousands of people locked up inside. And the relationship between supervisors and the sheriff’s department has veered from strained to dysfunctional after four years of feuding with outgoing sheriff Alex Villanueva.

Mitchell said she expects the temperature to come down with the passage of Measure A in November, allowing for that the board to oust a sheriff if it decides he or she isn’t right for the job, and choosing a less divisive sheriff.

Robert Luna, a retired Long Beach police chief who skillfully punched Villanueva in November, has vowed to restore ties between the agency and the politicians who control its purses.

“He has the responsibility of managing his budget like any other department head,” Mitchell said of the new sheriff. “I think he understands it fundamentally differently than his predecessor.”

Board members say they plan to spend 2023 addressing the issues most important to voters: public safety, mental health and homelessness. When the board meets on Tuesday, the five members will vote on what they want the county to do for the coming year.

According to documents detailing the board’s priorities, supervisors plan to advance the Care First, Jails Last initiative, a county-led push to find alternatives to incarceration. They want to increase funding for mental health services and behavioral health providers who are in the process High demand and tight supply across the country. And they want to see more financial and legal help for families who live precariously on the brink of homelessness and are just a missed paycheck from eviction.

There’s a new face next week. Supervisor-elect Lindsey Horvath will be sworn in Monday, just over two weeks after declaring her victory in her bid to represent the 3rd Circuit following Sheila Kuehl’s resignation.

Once officially sworn in Monday noon, Horvath says she wants to start pushing for more alternatives to prison and fundamental changes to the Los Angeles Homeless Services Authority. Horvath had argued for a throughout the election campaign simplification the region’s complex homelessness bureaucracy.

“The top priority is homelessness,” she said. “We will work very closely to ensure that the city and county work hand-in-hand.”

Horvath says she asked Kuehl’s staff to stay for 90 days while she settles into the new role and hires new employees. She said she has just started moving into her new office on the eighth floor of Kenneth Hahn Administration Hall.

https://www.latimes.com/california/story/2022-12-02/la-county-supervisors-public-access-meetings L.A. County supervisors to expand public access at meetings

Alley Einstein

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