Mon, Jul

Make a Bag or Go Home


ERIC PREVEN’S NOTEBOOK - Students, our county stands at a critical juncture, and your opinions are essential in shaping its future. The proposed governance reform in Los Angeles County, set to be rushed through on the November ballot, raises significant questions about transparency, effectiveness, and genuine improvement. Will expanding the Board of Supervisors from five to nine members solve our issues, or merely add more bureaucracy? Are the proposed reforms a true step forward, or a distraction from the current Board's failures?

Consider the broader implications, as highlighted here, "LA County's Governance Reform: Rushing a Remedy or Reinforcing Dysfunction?" and "Give Young People a Break: Encouraging Careers Beyond 'Making a Bag'." The former questions the efficacy and timing of the proposed changes, while the latter emphasizes the need for young, passionate minds in public service, not just in high-paying corporate jobs.

Moreover, the controversy surrounding Harvard Westlake's lease with the county in Studio City and its pending lawsuits adds another layer of complexity. This situation underscores the importance of vigilance and scrutiny in governance reforms that will shape our community's future.

Your voice can make a difference. Engage in the dialogue, question the motives, and advocate for a reform process that is transparent, inclusive, and genuinely beneficial for all Angelenos. It’s not over until the ballot measure is finalized. Make sure your perspective is heard and counted in this critical decision.  

Here's the agenda, and as you can read in earlier columns, the board and city council want to reduce public input substantially. Yikes. (Agenda) LA BOS 

LA County's Governance Reform: Rushing a Remedy or Reinforcing Dysfunction?

The Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors recently announced a plan to place a measure on the November ballot that aims to reform county governance. The proposal includes expanding the Board from five to nine members, creating a new County Executive position, and establishing various oversight bodies. However, this initiative raises several concerns about its efficacy, timing, and potential underlying motives.

The proposal appears to be a generous move, ostensibly giving away power. However, the timeline for implementing these changes is suspiciously protracted. The establishment of an Office of County Executive is slated for 2028, with board expansion not occurring until 2032, aligning with the census redistricting. This lengthy delay begs the question: why not implement these reforms sooner if they are truly necessary for improving governance?

Public input is another critical issue. With only about 30 days to finalize the language of the measure, the window for meaningful public participation is incredibly narrow. This rushed process undermines the democratic principle of thorough deliberation and robust citizen engagement. Reforming the governance structure of a county as complex and populous as Los Angeles demands careful consideration, not a hasty decision made to meet a political deadline.

Historically, the last significant change to the county's governance structure occurred in 1912, an era when women couldn't vote, segregation was rampant, and labor rights were minimal. While this highlights the outdated nature of the current system, it also underscores the need for a thoughtful and comprehensive approach to reform. Rushing through a measure with limited public input and debate risks perpetuating, or even exacerbating, existing dysfunctions.

The proposed creation of three representative bodies—a charter reform task force, an independent ethics commission by 2026, and a charter review commission to convene every ten years—sounds promising. However, the effectiveness of these bodies remains questionable, especially given the county's track record. For instance, the city ethics commission has often been criticized as ineffectual, raising doubts about whether a new county ethics commission would fare any better.

Furthermore, the plan includes provisions that seem self-serving. The current board members, including the chair could very likely run for the new County Executive position. It smacks of self-aggrandizing politics, where reforms are crafted to bolster political resumes rather than genuinely improve governance.

Representing two million Angelenos is undoubtedly challenging, but the proposal to expand the Board suggests that representing one million would be different or better. Simply adding more supervisors does not guarantee better representation or governance. It could lead to further bureaucratic entanglement and inefficiency..

The timing of this proposal is also questionable. It appears to be a strategic move to shift blame from the current board's shortcomings to the structure of the system itself. By portraying themselves as reformers, the supervisors deflect criticism of their handling numerous critical issues, such as homelessness, which remains a comprehensive fiasco across the county.

Moreover, the proposal to elect a County Executive raises concerns about adding another layer of bureaucracy. This new position could potentially centralize power in ways that may not benefit the public, especially if the officeholder lacks sufficient checks and balances. 

In conclusion, while the notion of reforming LA County's governance is laudable, the current proposal appears to be a hastily conceived plan that prioritizes political expediency over genuine improvement. 

The Board of Supervisors must slow down, allow for meaningful public input, and ensure that any changes genuinely serve the best interests of the county's residents. Getting it right is far more important than getting it done quickly to "make a bag."

Vintage postcard depicts a simpler time. 

TImeline Alternativo:

I asked a colleague (AI) to extrapolate to today a similar two-year timeline that was used when the county last amended the charter in 1912.   

The process will involve several key steps, including voter approval for initiating the amendment, forming a drafting committee, creating the draft, and finally, ratifying and implementing the charter. Here's how the timeline could look:  

Phase 1: Initiation and Nomination (July 2024 - May 2025)   

July 2024: Announcement of the initiative to amend the county charter. The Board of Supervisors enlists a leading local nonpartisan organization, such as the Los Angeles Chamber of Commerce, to lead the process.   

August 2024: The Chamber of Commerce forms a nominating convention to assemble a roster of nominees for a 15-member committee to draft the new charter.   

November 2024: The proposal to form a drafting committee is placed on the ballot for the general election. Voters approve the measure.   

December 2024 - April 2025: The Chamber finalizes the roster of nominees. The committee represents a broad spectrum of the county both politically and occupationally, similar to the historical precedent.   

May 2025: A special election is held to approve the 15-member drafting committee. The nominees are confirmed by voters.   

Phase 2: Drafting the Charter (June 2025 - November 2025)   

June 2025: The committee begins work on drafting the new charter.   

July - November 2025: The committee conducts public hearings, gathers input, and drafts the new charter. Aiming for brevity and clarity, they prepare a concise document with the necessary reforms.   

November 2025: The committee finalizes and files the draft charter.  

Phase 3: Public Review and Approval (December 2025 - June 2026)   

December 2025 - January 2026: Public review period where the draft charter is made available for scrutiny and feedback.   

February 2026: Revisions are made based on public input.   

March 2026: The final draft is prepared and approved by the committee for submission to voters.  

June 2026: The draft charter is placed on the ballot for the primary election. Voters approve the new charter.   

Phase 4: Legislative Approval and Implementation (July 2026 - July 2027)   

July 2026: The approved charter is submitted to the California Legislature for adoption and ratification.   

September 2026: The Legislature approves and ratifies the new charter.   

October 2026 - March 2027: Preparatory steps are taken to ensure a smooth transition to the new governance structure.   

July 2027: The new charter takes effect, with the establishment of the Office of County Executive and the expansion of the Board of Supervisors to follow as per the charter’s provisions.   

This timeline ensures a thorough, transparent, and participatory process, addressing the concerns of public input and avoiding a rushed decision. It balances the need for timely reform with the necessity of careful deliberation, aiming to deliver a well-structured and effective governance framework for Los Angeles County. 

Give Young People a Break: Encouraging Careers Beyond 'Making a Bag'

As students across elite universities increasingly prioritize landing high-paying jobs over public service, society faces a troubling consequence: a significant deficit in young talent where it is desperately needed. From governmental ethics to non-profit work, these vital sectors suffer from a lack of fresh, energetic minds as graduates flock to lucrative roles in finance and tech, driven by the desire to "make a bag"—a slang term for earning a substantial amount of money quickly.

In an era marked by sky-high housing costs, staggering tuition fees, and widening economic disparities, it’s no surprise that students and their parents view college primarily as a stepping stone to a lucrative career. A Harvard senior recently told the NYT about the pressure he felt to justify his parents' $400,000 investment in his education. Turning down a full scholarship at another institution, he felt compelled to pursue a path where he could potentially earn millions. This fall, he will start at Blackstone, a private equity giant, convinced that the experience gained there in six years would eclipse what he might achieve in three decades of public service.

This shift in priorities is disheartening. Many students enter college with dreams of changing the world, only to become disillusioned with the daunting reality of effecting meaningful change. At Harvard, students often concede at parties that their ultimate goal is to sell out, opting for financial security over their initial aspirations.

Some rationalize their choices through the lens of effective altruism. They believe that by maximizing their earnings in corporate roles, they can donate more significantly to causes they care about than by working directly in those fields. However, this mindset overlooks a crucial transformation: the longer one stays in high-stakes finance or consulting, the more one’s identity and values may align with that world. A hedge fund veteran of fifteen years is likely a very different person from the idealistic graduate who first joined.

The ramifications of this trend are starkly evident in sectors like governmental ethics. The absence of young, passionate professionals has left a vacuum that is often filled by seasoned veterans, such as Robert Stern, an octogenarian recently brought back to serve on the Los Angeles City Ethics Commission. Stern, who literally wrote the Political Reform Act, should be enjoying his retirement, not stepping in to fill roles that should be occupied by the next generation. This reliance on older figures underscores a troubling lack of fresh, vigorous voices in a field plagued by scandals and unchecked corruption.

Stern ran the Center for Governmental Studies (CGS), once a leading voice on campaign finance reform. CGS highlighted in a 2009 study how politicians continuously find ways to skirt laws. The CGS shut down in 2011 due to depleted funding. Its closure is emblematic of the broader issue: when young, bright minds choose Wall Street over public service, critical watchdog organizations and ethical governance suffer.

To address this, we need to reframe the narrative around careers in public service and other underfunded but essential sectors. Firstly, educational institutions must emphasize the value and impact of these careers, providing robust support and incentives for students interested in pursuing them. Internship programs, loan forgiveness, and competitive salaries can make a significant difference. Moreover, highlighting success stories of individuals who have made meaningful contributions without a seven-figure salary can inspire students to follow similar paths.

Secondly, societal attitudes towards success need to shift. Parents, educators, and policymakers must recognize that true success is not solely measured by financial gain but by the positive impact one has on society. Celebrating those who choose less lucrative yet profoundly impactful careers can help change the perception that money is the ultimate goal.

Ultimately, we need to give young people the break they deserve—not just a break from financial pressure, but a break from the societal expectations that steer them away from their passions. By doing so, we can cultivate a new generation of leaders dedicated to making the world a better place, not just their bank accounts.

A Call to Action for Students on LA County's Governance Reform.


Bienvenido a Barcelona:

Thousands of protesters marched through Barcelona over the weekend to express anger at mass tourism and its impacts on Spain's most visited city. Bystanders dining in restaurants in the popular La Barceloneta neighborhood were soaked when some protesters sprayed them with Super soakers.  

Carrying banners reading "Tourists go home," protesters called for a reduction in the number of foreign visitors to Barcelona, stopping in front of hotels and restaurants to confront tourists.


(Eric Preven is a longtime community activist and is a contributor to CityWatch.)