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West Hollywood Councilmember Wants to Bring Grassroots Government to L.A. County

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By Jason Islas
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January 8, 2014 -- It’s time for the Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors to start thinking locally, says West Hollywood Councilmember John Duran.

With less than six months before the June primary, Duran is one of three candidates who are officially running to fill outgoing 3rd District County Supervisor Zev Yaroslavsky’s seat when he terms out at the end of this year after 20 years in the position.

Yaroslavsky will be the first of the five County Supervisors to step down due to a term-limit law approved by voters in 2002, ushering in what Duran hopes will be an era of reform for the powerful governing body.

“To the greatest extent possible, the County should marshal its resources down to the local level,” said Duran, a criminal defense lawyer.

Advocates for reforming the Board of Supervisors have long called for breaking the five districts, each home to about 2 million people, into nine smaller districts.

“I think having five Supervisors in a county of 10 million people is unmanageable,” Duran said. By comparison, California State Senators represent on average, about 950,000 people each.

But voters have consistently rejected the idea.

The next best thing, Duran said, is for the County to give nonprofits and city governments more control over County resources.

Duran, who has served on the West Hollywood City Council since 2001, looks to his city as a model for reforming the County.

“West Hollywood is a local community where the government works well,” he said, noting that even when resources were scarce during the recent recession, “We didn’t have to cut one program.”

Part of the key to that success, Duran said, is to contract with nonprofit agencies that have a better sense of services needed on the ground.

The County oversees a vast network of vital social services that serve the region’s neediest people, including child foster care, hospitals and homeless services programs.

As a result, the County has more than 100,000 employees on its payroll, about half of whom are represented by SEUI 721, the Southern California Public Service Workers Union.

That can be “too cumbersome to be effective,” said Duran, who wants to see the County work closely with local nonprofits that, he says, might be able to more effectively leverage scarce resources.

“Smaller government is much more beautiful and functional,” he said.

Duran said that for too long, the County Board of Supervisors has taken a “top-down” approach to governing.

The 3rd County District, which stretches from the coast to Koreatown and north into San Fernando, encompasses a wide range of geography and a diverse population.

During a recent County anti-smoking campaign in his city, Duran said he did not a see a single LGBT (lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender) face among the County officials.

“If you want to talk to the LGBT community, you have to have LGBT voices,” Duran said, himself an openly gay man.

He also wants to see changes to how the L.A. County Sheriff’s Department, currently mired in controversy over allegations of prisoner abuse, is run.

Sheriff Lee Baca announced Tuesday that, after 15 years in the post, he would step down, making way for potential reform of the system.

Duran wants to see a citizen oversight committee established to which the next sheriff would be accountable, an idea Baca has resisted.

“Most of the sheriff's deputies are good, hardworking people,” said Duran. “There are some bad apples.”

More transparency and accountability, he said, would help win back public trust lost amid recent scandals.

“(Sheriff) Lee Baca is a good man and a friend. But I think that his decision to step aside for the good of the department is the right call,” Duran said.

If elected, the other major issue Duran wants to tackle is transportation.

“It's a mess,” he said. “I think L.A. will only become a world-class city once transportation is handled.”

County Supervisors also sit on the Los Angeles County Metropolitan Transportation Authority (Metro).

Duran said that he wants to “help lay the groundwork for the 20 year plan” to expand subways and bus lines and to create walkable cities.

That means “giving incentives to local jurisdictions to make wiser decisions in urban planning,” he said.

In the past 10 years, Los Angeles County has seen vast improvements to its public transportation network, partly due to the work of Yaroslavsky.

Plans to extend the subway under Wilshire Boulevard from Downtown L.A. to Westward are currently moving forward.

Construction on the Expo Line, which will connect Santa Monica to Los Angeles by train, will finish in less than two years.

But Duran wants a subway under Santa Monica Boulevard and he wants a train that connects the west Valley to LAX, considered by public transit advocates to be the Holy Grail of public transit.

“I was a child in the 60s when we used to have smog alerts,” said Duran, a Los Angeles native. “We've made a lot of strides, but we've built a city completely dependent on the automobile.”

Duran, who announced his candidacy last month, is optimistic.

“This is the kind of campaign that's going to require a lot of resources,” he said. “I've managed to raise $50,000 in 30 days.”

Former State Senator Sheila Kuehl has been gunning for Yaroslavsky’s job since March. In that time, she said she has raised more than $400,000. ("Santa Monica’s Sheila Kuehl Racks Up Cash, Endorsements in County Race," January 6)

While Kuehl has a few months of campaigning on Duran, he thinks that his years working in local government give him an edge.

“I think there's a difference governing on the local level than, say, when you are sitting in the state capital,” he said.

“When you're sitting up in Sacramento, you're not going to get people stopping you in the grocery store,” Duran said.

Duran, a Los Angeles native, has a history of activism in his home town.

“I was one of the angry kids protesting in the street against the government before I became the government,” he said. At the time, Duran was focused on HIV/AIDS.

While the candidate pool officially includes only Duran, Kuehl and former Malibu mayor Pamela Ulich, it's expected to get more crowded very soon. ("Former Malibu Mayor Wants to Bring Creativity to County Government," January 7)

Former Santa Monica mayor Bobby Shriver -- a member of the Kennedy clan -- is expected to announce his candidacy any day and former Los Angeles City Controller Wendy Greuel is also expected to throw her hat into the ring in the near future.

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