By Hillel Aron
By Joseph Tsidulko
By Patrick Range McDonald
By David Futch
By Hillel Aron
By Dennis Romero
By Jill Stewart
By Dennis Romero
Some people collect little trains; others heap up stamps and coins in tidy folders. Here in Southern California, hobbies tend to be strenuous: kickboxing, sailboarding, surfing.
But Alan Clayton‘s hobby is political redistricting. “It’s like the world‘s biggest puzzle,” he says.
And he wants to redistrict Los Angeles County -- the nation’s most populous. No, he doesn‘t just want to redraw the five districts of the five sitting supervisors to reflect new population realities. That is supposed to happen automatically after this year’s census.
Clayton -- whose full-time job is with the county Chicano Employees Association -- wants more. He wants the county to be California‘s first to empanel a superboard of nine supervisors -- four more than we have now. The voters have rejected board expansion twice in 20 years.
But there’s a new reason for this reform: It‘s that this year, no one is challenging any of the three incumbents up for election. Hence, the majority of the board members -- Mike Antonovich, Yvonne Burke and Don Knabe -- are unopposed. Which means that our Board of Supervisors has become not just a nondemocratic but an anti-democratic institution.
It’s anti-democratic because when no one runs for office, incumbents become the appointees of indifference. Says Clayton, “This is the best evidence that the considerations of size and money have made the whole [county electoral] system undemocratic.”
According to Clayton, it costs $2 million to run for a board seat. Incumbents keep $3 million war chests. That‘s probably why no incumbent has been ousted in 20 years. “The only kind of person who can win is another Dick Riordan or Al Checchi,” says Clayton, and people that rich usually seek bigger political game. So the supes, generally speaking, are politicians whose greatest shared skill is in raising money from those who most benefit from their tenure. The county’s Marina del Rey tenants, for instance.
But near-doubling the board‘s size would make it more representative, Clayton contends. There’d be two San Fernando Valley districts. There would be a more coherent African-American district; at least one more Latino district; possibly even, in the San Gabriel Valley, an Asian-American district. The game would cost less to get into and be more worth playing.
Board expansion has this time been endorsed by the Times and the Daily News, and there‘s bipartisan support in the Legislature. But the supervisors are dubious. That’s probably why the county bureaucracy recently encumbered the plan with a further proposal for an elected county executive officer. To Clayton, this is a poison pill. Also under consideration are two proposals to give the supervisors the term limits endured by all other state and local officeholders. Clayton wants a maximum of three four-year-terms, as well as a provision that would cap the county‘s administrative budget at its present level, to minimize the additional cost of the expanded board.
But so far, the supervisors have not settled on a specific ballot date on which to put the expansion proposal to the voters. Clayton and his team are backed up by Senator Richard Polanco, who’s prepared a state constitutional amendment that would mandate a nine-member board for any county of over 5 million population. (It‘s been contended that Polanco, who is soon to be termed out of the Legislature, might run for a seat on the new board: Clayton maintains that the planned district boundaries would force Polanco to compete with powerful incumbent Gloria Molina.) So if this county refuses to put its own proposal on its own ballot, the matter may soon be out of its hands. Clayton estimates the Legislature could act next month if the supervisors don’t move first.
So far, however, there is little sign they will.
The Late Unpleasantness
The Tyrant‘s heel is on thy brow, Maryland, my Maryland.
The scent of fresh magnolias, not unmixed with the stink of vintage molasses, rose from the Los Angeles City Council chamber last week. Even on City Hall’s 12th floor, you couldn‘t dodge the reek.
“Face it, we stood up for what we believed in, and we lost,” orated Senator Beauregard Claghorn, D-Miss. No, wait: It says here that those remarks were actually uttered by Councilman Hal Bernson of Granada Hills, who doesn’t even own a gray Stetson hat, so far as I know. But he seemed more in a mood to solemnize the birthday of Robert E. Lee than that of Martin Luther King Jr.
Maybe it was the concurrent South Carolina state-flag crisis that was getting to me. Yet, even minus the bourbon-washed accent, Mr. Bernson did a perfectly credible imitation of a vintage Dixiecrat lamenting the anniversary of Lee‘s Surrender at Appomattox. Several colleagues chimed in with their own sympathies and mourned those lost days of splendor and the destruction of their Hallowed Way of Life. All that was missing, really, was sobbing background music, courtesy of the Charleston Symphony: the theme from Gone With the Wind. And maybe a choral rendition of some poll-tax ordinance.