L.A. County supervisors used to hold a ‘regular’ meeting every week. What happened?
Good morning, and welcome to our L.A. on the Record newsletter. It’s county reporter Jaclyn Cosgrove, writing about public access, assisted by county reporter Rebecca Ellis and City Hall colleagues David Zahniser, Dakota Smith, Dorany Pineda and Julia Wick (who, as we told you last week, has moved on to a state and national politics beat).
At this week’s L.A. County Board of Supervisors meeting, there was a seemingly innocuous motion on the agenda, easy to overlook as just a planning note for 2024.
In the motion, new board Chair Lindsey Horvath proposed canceling 13 meetings and thus sticking with the board’s most recent schedule of holding what the board calls “regular” meetings every other week.
Big whoop, right?
Before the COVID-19 pandemic, the board held weekly regular meetings with full agendas. But since the start of the pandemic, the most powerful local governmental body in America has switched its regular meetings to every other week.
By comparison, the 15-member L.A. City Council — which has a fraction of the budget of the county — holds public meetings three times a week.
The supervisors’ every-other-week schedule has led to longer meetings with packed agendas. Members of the public regularly leave before they can voice their opinions on their item of interest. Critics see this as overall less transparency for the already slow-turning wheels of government.
Get the lowdown on L.A. politics
Sign up for our L.A. City Hall newsletter to get weekly insights, scoops and analysis.
You may occasionally receive promotional content from the Los Angeles Times.
Before we delve further, it’s important to pause and explain how the supervisors operate.
The board generally holds three types of meetings:
- Regular meetings, open to the public, with an agenda full of motions on a wide range of issues.
- Public hearing meetings, where the public weighs in and the board votes on ordinances, housing projects and other matters that legally require public hearings; there are usually no motions on these agendas.
- Closed sessions, where the supervisors discuss sensitive legal and personnel matters.
Horvath — who at 41 is the youngest board chair and first millennial at the helm — said in an interview that under her leadership the board will have weekly public meetings.
Horvath said the board will have its two regular meetings, and one public hearing meeting with a closed session if needed.
Now Horvath has implemented a new idea, a fourth meeting where the board and public will hear from L.A. County department heads on policy updates, followed by a closed session if needed.
Previously, this fourth meeting slot was for closed sessions, often canceled when the board didn’t need a second closed session in a month.
For years, the board has regularly had a “performance evaluation” scheduled for closed session on its agenda. Any reporter or gadfly worth their salt knew this was actually just a time for the board to call a department head onto the carpet and scream at them behind closed doors. (There was a specific place one could sit in the Hall of Administration to see which department head it was.)
Horvath’s proposal seemingly brings that conversation out into the open (albeit likely with less screaming). Horvath said that because these department heads have five bosses, they sometimes get mixed messages on what the supervisors actually want, as they meet with the board offices individually to follow state meeting laws.
Recently, Rafael Carbajal, who leads the county’s Department of Consumer and Business Affairs, got heat from Supervisors Kathryn Barger and Holly J. Mitchell because $45 million for “mom-and-pop property owners” hadn’t been distributed, despite the supervisors’ approving the money to be sent out nine months prior.
Horvath said part of the problem was that department got different messages from each of the supervisors about what a “mom-and-pop” landlord was.
Her hope for the fourth-Tuesday policy meeting is for the department heads to get clarity from the supervisors and feel safe being honest if something isn’t working. And for the public to see it all play out. It will also shorten the regular public meetings, as these policy discussions often last more than an hour, Horvath said.
“I have the ability to call more meetings,” Horvath said. “This is how we’re going to start it out and see if it helps us have more efficient discussion. I don’t want to say faster meetings — the goal isn’t a time clock. The goal is, are we having meaningful discussions? Are we able to get to everything and are we able to best use people’s [time]?”
Longtime local-government watchdog Eric Preven argued that this move is a bad idea.
Preven has long warned about the impact of the supervisors canceling meetings — including a 2013 debate with former Supervisor Mark Ridley-Thomas where Preven commented on the board’s vote that day to delay a meeting.
“Given that we have a limited number of Board of Supervisors meetings, that does seem like a trend we don’t want to be going in the direction of. What it does is piles up items on the day that the meeting does take place,” Preven said, before being interrupted by Ridley-Thomas, who demanded that Preven give examples of other canceled meetings before claiming there was a trend.
Ten years later, Preven said that before he monitored the board, it used to meet twice a week.
By dropping to regular public meetings every other week, the board has “huge, over-packed” meeting days, he said.
This could be resolved if the board “met three hours on a Tuesday and three hours on the next Tuesday, but what they do is meet seven hours on Tuesday. And then the following Tuesday they go into the back room for two hours,” Preven said. “That is not transparent.”
Janet Asante, JusticeLA media coordinator at the advocacy group Dignity and Power Now, is another regular presence at the supervisors’ meetings with concerns about access.
Asante’s group has successfully fought for criminal justice reforms, regularly bringing formerly incarcerated speakers and other directly affected residents to speak.
But since the board returned to in-person meetings, it’s been challenging for those community members to stay until the motion they’d like to speak on comes up, Asante said.
And these people wait hours — to speak for one minute. Previously, public speakers were allowed to yield their time to another speaker, allowing for one speaker to have several minutes to make their point, or the overall points of a group. That practice has also not returned to the board meetings.
Asante also pointed out that, beyond the long meetings, it’s also hard for most people to attend a meeting during the middle of the week, much less afford $25 parking downtown. (The board does not make free parking available for the public.) There is also a large law enforcement presence at meetings, where armed officers walk up and down the aisles of the meeting hall. Water bottles are not allowed in the meeting, and restroom breaks must be very strategic to not miss your moment.
“The people who we represent are the most marginalized, the most disenfranchised, and the lack of access to Board of Supervisors meetings that happen at 9 a.m. on a weekday is only further disenfranchising the people who need to be heard from most,” Asante said. “The people who have the most access and are the least impacted by the inequity in our county are the ones who are most able to attend.”
State of play
— TWO IN THE 12TH: On Friday afternoon, staffers in the City Clerk’s office were still checking the petitions for some of the candidates seeking to run for council in the March 5 election. But one thing we know for sure: The race in the 12th District, which covers the northwest San Fernando Valley, will have just two candidates on the ballot: Councilmember John Lee, seeking a second four-year term, and nonprofit policy executive Serena Oberstein, a former Ethics Commissioner. Unless an extremely potent write-in candidate somehow gets involved, the race won’t have a second round in November.
— FULL HOUSE: The ballot picture has also come into focus up in the 14th District, where Councilmember Kevin de León will face seven challengers: Assemblymembers Wendy Carrillo and Miguel Santiago, attorney Teresa Hillery, tenant rights attorney Ysabel Jurado, schoolteacher Eduardo “Lalo” Vargas, healthcare professional Nadine Diaz and community advocate Genny Guerrero.
— VYING FOR THE VALLEY: The candidate list is also firmed up in the 2nd District, which takes in North Hollywood and other East Valley neighborhoods. They are former Assemblymember Adrin Nazarian, housing advocate Manny Gonez, small businessman Sam Kbushyan, mental health professional Jon-Paul Bird, small business owner Jillian Burgos, attorney Marin Ghandilyan and laborer/artist Rudy Melendez.
— BUCK STOPS HERE: The City Council supported a ban on rodeos in the city, over the objections of some Latino equestrian groups and others who painted it as an attack on their culture.
— HOMELESS COUNT: Mayor Karen Bass, as part of her whirlwind tour marking her first year in office, announced that, during her tenure, more than 21,000 homeless Angelenos had been moved into interim housing — hotels, motels, tiny homes and other facilities. We explain what all that means here.
— BASS TO THE RESCUE: During a news conference Thursday, Bass jumped in to help a news photographer who collapsed suddenly and hit his head on the ground, KNX News reported. Bass, who was previously a physician assistant, rolled the photographer on his side and checked his breathing and pulse.
— DINING OUT: After more than a year of discussion, L.A. is ready to make outdoor dining permanent.
— SHELTER BED AUDIT: An audit has found that quality issues with the Los Angeles Homeless Services Authority’s interim housing data make it “nearly impossible” for unhoused people and the city to find available shelter beds. City Controller Kenneth Mejia said LAHSA’s dysfunctional system inhibits the city’s efforts to respond to the homeless crisis with urgency.
— WESTSIDE FACILITY: A Westside nonprofit group sued the city over a 33-bed homeless housing facility planned for Midvale Avenue and Pico Boulevard. The lawsuit by Fix the City argues that city officials failed to study the environmental effects of the project and didn’t follow a competitive bidding process. The city attorney’s office isn’t commenting.
— DONE REFLECTING: Former Councilmember Gil Cedillo has rarely been seen since last year’s audio scandal. But he was back in action this week, hobnobbing at BizFed’s holiday party at Central Library. Approached by a reporter while in line for beef birria tacos and asked if he planned to lobby in the future, Cedillo said: “No interviews, I’m with friends.”
Enjoying this newsletter? Consider subscribing to the Los Angeles Times
Your support helps us deliver the news that matters most. Become a subscriber.
- Where is Inside Safe? Mayor Karen Bass’ signature effort to move Angelenos indoors went to Forest Lawn Drive in the Hollywood Hills district represented by Councilmember Nithya Raman. The operation was the first by Inside Safe to target a large RV encampment.
- On the docket for next week: The council’s committee on tourism and trade will meet on Monday to go over the city’s options for expanding the Los Angeles Convention Center — an expensive project that has been in the works for several years.
Start your day right
Sign up for Essential California for news, features and recommendations from the L.A. Times and beyond in your inbox six days a week.
You may occasionally receive promotional content from the Los Angeles Times.