LA County Board Of Supervisors: The Race For The 2nd District

Published Sep 22, 2020

It's a rare open seat on L.A. County's governing board with a ton at stake. State Senator Holly Mitchell and termed-out City Councilmember Herb Wesson both want to join the mighty Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors -- a group only half-jokingly dubbed "five little kings" and, more recently, "queens," for the scope of their powers and safety of their seats once elected.

The two political heavyweights are facing off to succeed termed-out 2nd District Supervisor Mark Ridley-Thomas, who has his sights set on rejoining the Los Angeles City Council.

The 2nd Supervisorial District includes cities such as Carson, Compton, Culver City and Inglewood; all or part of L.A. neighborhoods including Crenshaw, Koreatown, La Brea, and Mar Vista; and other unincorporated areas of the county. Roughly two million residents call it home. Los Angeles is the largest county in the U.S., and the five members of the Board of Supervisors are stewards of a $35-billion dollar budget.

Wesson took a plurality of support in the March 3rd primary election, winning 29.9% of votes cast, but Mitchell was close behind with 29% -- a difference of less than 2,700 votes. Former City Council member Jan Perry finished a distant third. No candidate came near the 50%-plus-one needed to avoid this top-two contest in November.

The candidates attended our live virtual debate on Oct. 14. You can watch a replay of that below, followed by a breakdown of their stances on the issues.



Herb Wesson, with his wife Fabian Wesson, on the night of the March primary. (Annie Lesser for LAist)

Herb Wesson was elected in 2005 to represent City Council District 10, which includes parts of central and South L.A., including a lot of area overlapping the 2nd Supervisorial District.

Before he stepped down from his leadership role in December, Wesson headed the council for nearly eight years, setting its policy agenda, scheduling items for votes, and making committee assignments. He was the first Black person to serve as Council President, and he counts among his proudest achievements shepherding the city through the last Great Recession, building up the reserve fund, passing Proposition HHH to fund more housing for the homeless, consolidating city elections with state and national races, and raising the minimum wage to $15/hour in the City of L.A. (He's proposed Uber and Lyft drivers should get $30/hour to compensate for gas and car maintenance).

By many accounts, Wesson also wielded more power with the Council President's gavel than his recent predecessors.

One example: he presided over a redistricting process in 2012 that left some council members -- and the L.A. Times -- accusing him of rewarding political allies and punishing his rivals. One ally was CD 14 representative José Huizar, who picked up a large swath of downtown in the process. Huizar has since been charged by the U.S. Department of Justice with accepting lavish gifts, trips, cash bribes and campaign donations from downtown developers.

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As a result, former council members Jan Perry and Bernard Parks have called for the Council President position to rotate yearly to defuse its influence.

Wesson also represented the 47th Assembly District in the state legislature, and rose to Speaker of that body in 2002.

State Senator Holly Mitchell on the night of the March primary. (Annie Lesser for LAist)


Holly Mitchell was the CEO of the child and family development nonprofit Crystal Stairs before joining the State Assembly in 2010 -- motivated to run for office, she says, because of budget cuts in the wake of the 2008 financial crisis.

In 2013 she won a special election to represent California's 30th State Senate district, which includes about a million constituents and, geographically, makes up a large chunk of the 2nd Supervisorial District.

Many of Mitchell's key accomplishments in the Senate involve help for children and families: she led the successful effort to eliminate the Maximum Family Grant rule in CalWorks, which formerly denied cash assistance for food and housing to babies who were born while their families were already receiving state aid. Mitchell also preserved the CalWorks childcare subsidy for 13-year-olds and authored a bill that increased CalWorks grants to at least 50% of the federal poverty line.

Mitchell has chaired the Senate's Budget and Fiscal Review Committee since 2016, the first African American to hold the powerful post. She's shepherded four California budgets into law, managing state spending in excess of $200 billion a year.

Most recently, under her leadership as COVID-19 decimated tax revenues, the legislature dipped into the rainy day fund and made tough cuts to subsidized preschool and environmental protection, but mostly preserved social safety net programs and K-12 spending by deferring those education costs to future years.



Policing & Criminal Justice Reform

The 2nd District has seen two high-profile police killings in recent months: Andrés Guardado and Dijon Kizzee, both shot by deputies with the L.A. County Sheriff's Department.

Wesson and Mitchell each say they are the correct choice to send to the Board of Supervisors to reform L.A. County law enforcement and fix systemic problems in the criminal justice system. Here's what their records show:

Following the killing of George Floyd and rising calls to "Defund the LAPD," Wesson worked behind the scenes to bring Black Lives Matter-LA and other community organizers to City Hall to present their "People's Budget" plan that moves funding away from law enforcement and toward social services.

Thanks to a motion Wesson helped introduce, the Los Angeles City Council voted to cut $150 million from the LAPD budget, and much of that funding was redirected to programs that support marginalized communities. Los Angeles is also moving ahead with a plan, which Wesson championed, to create a program for unarmed response to some non-violent 911 calls in the city.

"Right now I am ... the tip of the spear in reimagining public safety," Wesson said at a recent candidates' forum hosted by Carson stakeholders. "Not just here, but in the entire United States of America."


At the same event, Mitchell suggested Wesson's recent work was the result of political opportunism. She said she has spent her legislative career authoring criminal justice and juvenile justice reform bills. For example, Mitchell co-authored a law that bans life sentences without the possibility for parole for juveniles, among others.

"Not just now when it's cool and everybody's done it," said Mitchell of her record. "Back when it was difficult. When the police unions and the District Attorneys' association fought me every step along the way."

Mitchell also authored legislation to shrink the sentencing difference between powder and crack cocaine, and to limit what police can seize from people who haven't been convicted of a crime.

Wesson has drawn criticism for getting a change to city law that relaxed police accountability on the May 2017 ballot: Charter Amdendment C, which was requested by the union that represents LAPD officers. It allows officers accused of misconduct to choose to have an all-civilian review board look at their case, instead of one including high-ranking members of their department. Civilians rule in favor of officers more often than experienced commanders and captains.

Both Wesson and Mitchell support Measure J, a county charter amendment on the November ballot that would require supervisors to spend a minimum of 10% of unrestricted general funds on community investment. The County CEO estimated the move would siphon more than $100 million from the Sheriff's Department budget.

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Housing and Homelessness

More than 66,000 people in L.A. County are homeless, according to the best available data collected before the coronavirus pandemic. L.A. County Supervisors manage the social safety net that serves more than 10 million residents, including homeless services and mental healthcare.

Measure H, the county's quarter-cent sales tax hike passed in 2017, has raised hundreds of millions of dollars for supportive services and sped up housing efforts, but more people fall into homelessness every day, overwhelming those efforts.

Mitchell and Wesson agree the most efficient way to combat homelessness is to solve that pipeline problem -- keep people in their homes through programs such as rental subsidies.

"We have to do all we can to keep people housed, Mitchell said. "Because currently we can't build our way out of this crisis quick enough."


Both candidates have voiced support for overhauling the Los Angeles Homeless Services Authority, or LAHSA, jointly run by the county and city.

Wesson defended the city's efforts to build more housing during his time as City Council President, including passing the $1.2 billion bond measure Prop. HHH in 2016, though the city's homeless population swelled under his tenure.

"I'm proud of what we've done in the city to try to address this concern," Wesson said.

In January, Mitchell took a stand against a high profile housing bill, SB 50, that would have relaxed local zoning rules across the state to allow for taller buildings near transit. Supporters argued the legislation was necessary to jump-start the construction of more affordable housing in transportation-rich areas. Mitchell joined community groups in South L.A that were concerned about gentrification and the loss of local control -- though SB 50's author tweaked the bill to add displacement protections and a five-year window for low-income communities to create their own blueprints for increasing housing production. It ultimately failed. (Wesson also opposed the bill.)

Early in the campaign, Wesson's released a video titled "Searching for Doug," which shows him looking for his son, who has experienced homelessness and addiction to crack cocaine. Wesson told the L.A. Times last year he was seeking to personalize the struggle many local families face -- not exploit his son's troubles for political gain.