By Dorothy Holzem.
Despite the diverse and unique nature of California’s 58 counties, what they share in common is of great importance. This includes how they determine their governance structure, as authorized by the state constitution. And this very issue is up for debate before the State Legislature.
Currently, all counties with the exception of San Francisco have five supervisors serving on the board. That’s regardless of population, region or geographic size. Senator Tony Mendoza would seek to change that in a way that overrides local control and would hamstring representation, despite the intent of the bill to make representation fairer.
SCA 8 would require counties with more than two million residents as counted in the 2020 census to add two or more additional County Supervisors. Currently, this would affect five counties; Los Angeles, San Bernardino, Riverside, San Diego and Orange. Santa Clara County could be impacted by the time the 2020 census is certified, and Alameda County would be next in line.
On the surface, this makes some sense, and we appreciate Senator Mendoza’s goals. Adding more supervisors in the most populous counties could help increase representation and make local government more accessible. But the methodology is simply wrong. As a Constitutional Amendment, it would take a statewide vote to make this change, and to be blunt, we believe strongly that each county should determine its own governance structure rather than have it passed down by people unaffected by the impact of their vote.
Our belief stems from the fact that the California Constitution already clearly gives counties this level of self-determination. Charter Counties are already empowered with the ability to change the size of their governance structure. And that’s exactly what two of the impacted counties have sought to do through county-based ballot measures. None of the previous attempts to increase board size have succeeded.
We have some other issues with SCA 8. It arbitrarily limits how much counties can spend on administration—that too should remain a local decision. As it’s written, the timing is bad. Voters won’t really know what they are voting on in 2016 since conceivably, by the census of 2020 when this takes effect, a couple more counties might have more than 2 million people.
But the main issue remains local control over governance. The state Constitution grants that to counties, and sets up a process by which the number of Supervisors can be changed. For most counties SCA 8 is unnecessary, and grants decision-making authority to voters who will never be impacted by the change. What’s worse, SCA 8 sets a dangerous precedent by allowing voters from outside jurisdictions to determine the fate of other counties future. We think that’s fundamentally unfair.