The rain has finally come, feeding a parched Malibu and putting some green into our fields and ducks into our ponds. It’s also brought its usual stream of disasters — hillsides slipping, roads with sinkholes, overhead wires no longer overhead, debris turning normally benign roads into a slalom, oil oozing from the road surfaces and drivers without a clue as how to drive on anything but a clear fast track.
If you were raised anyplace but Southern California, you can remember digging your car out of the snow, learning how to steer when you hit an ice slick, dealing with tires that lose contact because there is water all over the road, where not to leave your car or the snow plows will bury you, and, worst of all, putting on tire chains.
Winter storms and weather are something many of us were raised with, unless you had one of those rarefied Southern California upbringings. I can remember watching the Rose Bowl, with people in the sun and shirtsleeves, and we in New York in snow up to our chins. I didn’t know it then but that’s when I became a Californian. So, if I have to put up with an occasional inclement day, well, what the heck, life is not always roses.
The map of L.A. County is about to be redrawn. Two longtime supervisors — our own Zev Yaroslavsky and Gloria Molina — are out, via term limits, and two new players have entered the game: Hilda Solis, a longtime legislator and former U.S. Secretary of Labor, and Sheila Kuehl, a longtime legislator in both the Assembly and Senate, who is now taking charge of the 3rd district — our district — which covers the Westside, West Valley and Santa Monica Mountains. The Santa Monica Mountains have long been a source of conflict between the various stakeholders, environmentalists, homeowners, developers, horse owners and ranchers, grape growers, and the hills alive with the sound of drug rehabs. Additionally, the stakeholders are not just individuals. They include a variety of Federal (like the National Parks Service), State (like State Parks and Santa Monica Mountains Conservancy), local, county and city agencies, and regulatory agencies, like Regional Water Quality and the California Coastal Commission. Any problem in the mountains and the foothills involves a minimum of 10 conflicting stakeholders.
In the larger picture, L.A. County currently operates with a strong county administrator form of government. The current County Administrator Officer (CAO) — the highly regarded William Fujioka — is also retiring and a battle is brewing among the Supervisors over the transfer of some of the powers of the CAO back to the individual supervisors. At some point in the past, the County Department heads reported directly to certain Supervisors, which led to all sorts of charges of favoritism. The Supervisors opted for a more civil service approach and after that, the Department heads reported to the CAO and not particular Supervisors, but that could change back. We’ll soon know what direction the county will take.
In our own district, the clearest indication of the direction Kuehl is going to take is in the appointments she is making to her own staff. I’m very pleased to see that she has taken some of the best of Yaroslavsky’s staff and appointed them again, including Susan Nissman as Senior Field Deputy in the West Valley/Mountain Communities (which includes Malibu), Maria Chong-Castillo as Deputy for Public Works and Joel Bellman as Deputy for Media Relations. Her two top spots are Lisa Mandel as Chief Deputy and Tori Osbourne as Principal Deputy for Strategy and Policy. Kuehl has apparently culled from the staffs of Yaroslavsky, Molina and others and come up with a knowledgeable, experienced and diverse group, which looks to be a very good start.
On the county financial side, the fear among many, including myself, is the unions would be calling the shots and, for many of them, that means money issues. Both Zev and Molina were politically liberal and fiscally conservative, which is one of the reasons why LA County is in pretty good financial state, but that could change. Kuehl is going to have some tough decisions coming in the near future on the fiscal side, which may require saying “no” to some of her friends, which is never easy.
The tough financial decisions are probably down the road a bit.