Large counties could be required to increase number of Supervisors

The idea of increasing representation by having fewer constituents per elected representative is getting some attention. On the state level, an initiative filed by John Cox proposes to reorganize state governance by molding a Neighborhood Legislature whose goal is to reduce campaign costs and improve the democratic process by decreasing dramatically the number of constituents per elected legislator. On the county level, Senator Tony Mendoza, D-Artesia, has proposed a constitutional amendment, SCA 8, that would increase the number of county supervisors from the constitutional minimum of five to seven in counties that have 2 million residents or more.

Mendoza says California’s population and demographics have changed significantly since the formation of counties and by increasing the number of supervisors from five to seven, residents of California’s largest counties will get a more representative and responsive county government.

Cost of increasing government has always been an obstacle to changing the number of supervisors. Mendoza’s legislation tries to confront that issue by declaring that the cost of seven supervisors shall not exceed the cost of five supervisors at the time the measure takes effect after the 2020 census.

With California’s huge and diverse population, the suggestion that county representation be improved makes sense – but who should decide, state voters or local voters?

los angelesLos Angeles County, the largest county in the state, would be directly affected by this measure if it becomes law, along with the counties of Orange, San Diego, Riverside, San Bernardino and perhaps Santa Clara if it crosses the 2 million population threshold before the initiative takes effect.

In Los Angeles County, four times voters were asked to increase the size of the Board of Supervisors. Four times the voters said no.

In 1962, 1976, 1992 and 2000, Los Angeles County voters rejected increasing the board to either seven or nine members from the current five. In the most recent vote, the proposal was defeated by nearly a two to one margin.  Mendoza argues that a statewide measure is needed to prevent local county officials from defeating any local measure to expand the board. Indeed, the bill analysis for the Senate Committee on Elections and Constitutional Amendments argues that Los Angeles County Supervisors responded to a legislative attempt to expand the Board in 2000 with a cynical approach of the supervisors putting an expansion measure on the ballot with weak cost controls then working to defeat it. 

Be that as it may, the fact is that voters in the county have four times defeated an effort to change the number of supervisors. If Mendoza’s measure receives a two-thirds vote in the Legislature and appears on the ballot, all the voters in the state will have a say, not just the voters in the most populous counties. In fact, many voters who do not live in the affected counties will help to decide the issue. 

Under such circumstances, local self-determination could be lost to a state requirement.

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