The 5 top things to look for in LA County governance in 2022 (and a couple of honorable mentions) – Daily News

It probably doesn’t take a fortune teller to know what’s coming in 2022 for Los Angeles County — unless you’ve been living under a rock for the last two years.

Yup — COVID-19 redux.

Yet, even in the context of an epic public health crisis and its enduring tragic toll, there’s much to keep an eye on.

Here are five things that are sure to make headlines and underpin, if not define, L.A. County governing in the new year.

New year, same pandemic 

With the new daily cases skyrocketing to above 20,000 in L.A. County on Thursday,  Public Health chief Barbara Ferrer wasn’t going to play forecaster for 2022.

“There’s no crystal ball,” she said. “It’s becoming harder and harder to really predict the future with this pandemic. So I don’t want to go there and say where I think we will be in 2022. I do know we have a rough patch in front of us. But I know we have tools we didn’t have last time to help us get through this.”

Going into its third year, COVID-19 continues to batter the county of 10 million, where many remain unvaccinated and daily case rates are surging to some of the highest on record.

The new year will no doubt include ramped-up efforts to vaccinate as the omicron variant cascades across the region. Beefed up mass testing efforts are also likely, both with the distribution of at-home test kits to more than a million county students and on-site centers that already dot the region.

Nurse manager Edgar Ramirez checks on IV fluids while talking to a COVID-19 patient at Providence Holy Cross Medical Center in Los Angeles, Monday, Dec. 13, 2021. At the medical center, just 17 coronavirus patients were being treated there Friday, a small fraction of the hospital’s worst stretch. Nurse manager Edgar Ramirez said his co-workers are weary but better prepared if a wave hits. (AP Photo/Jae C. Hong)

In the meantime, public health and health services officials are bracing for a difficult January.

Of utmost concern is the stress of increased cases on the region’s healthcare system and essential services. Will be able to handle the increased caseloads and for how long? Even if the Omicron variant is less severe, experts warn that its known swift rates of transmission could cancel out any benefits of it being less potent. And the number of vulnerable people still remains in the millions, experts say.

Officials also have not ruled out further mitigation, including revising the health order, if things get really bad.

That said, there’s hope that 2022 could be the beginning of the end in the battle with the disease. There are glimmers  that the virus will cross over into an endemic phase, where society can navigate the disease as we do the flu.

Supervisor Holly Mitchell, chair of the Board of Supervisors, signaled that hope this week.

“Herd immunity. That’s my vision and desire, and wish for 2022. Herd immunity,” she said.

But again, don’t expect that any time soon, as omicron rages and case counts spike as the new year begins.

Homeless crisis

2022 will bring back the annual point-in-time homeless count in L.A. County, after being shut down by the pandemic in 2020.

The annual count, administered by the Los Angeles Homeless Services Authority, will put a new number on the toll of unhoused in the region.

The count — the results of which are released closer to mid-year — comes in a major election year, where the city of L.A. will be deep into a mayoral campaign and county supervisorial election campaigns will be in the works.

The results of the census will no doubt shape the debate over how to deal with the crisis next year and beyond. Concern over the crisis already is driving the debate in the race to succeed Mayor Eric Garcetti.

U.S. District Judge David Carter checks out homeless encampments along the 170 Freeway while visiting the construction site of the Alexandria Park Tiny Home Village in North Hollywood on Thursday, February 11, 2021. This is the second site to use Pallet homes for transitional housing for homelessness in City Councilman Paul Krekorian’s district. (Photo by Sarah Reingewirtz, Los Angeles Daily News/SCNG)

With Garcetti on the cusp of an ambassadorship to India and former supervisor and current Councilman Mark Ridley-Thomas battling federal accusations of bribery, there’s a question of who will emerge in 2022 as the point person to forge a solution.

A newly seated Blue Ribbon Commission on Homelessness is examining the region’s existing aid network. Does it need to be reformed? Do cities need more input on Measure H dollars are spent?

In introducing the motion for the commission in 2021, Supervisor Kathryn Barger envisioned a system that was more “accountable” across the county.

At issue, for the commission, is whether the county should renegotiate or withdraw from the LAHSA Joint Powers Authority, the lead agency in the Los Angeles Continuum of Care. It manages funds for the programs that serve the region’s homeless population.

The Commission will present its report to the Board of Supervisors in the first half of the year and then sunset.

Finally, expect to see more headlines surrounding a high-profile federal lawsuit demanding local government find shelter for the thousands of people camping on sidewalks and near freeways. For months, the lawsuit in front of federal district court judge David O. Carter has in itself shed light on the unhoused as the judge himself has traveled to homeless hotspots to see the situation for himself.

In November, The L.A. Alliance for Human Rights — plaintiffs in the lawsuit — filed an amended complaint after the U.S. Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals struck down Carter’s court order that would have required the city and county of L.A. to offer shelter and treatment to all unhoused people living in downtown’s 50-block Skid Row within six months.

The city and county have moved to dismiss the case — which will be the topic of a hearing early in the year in Carter’s court.

Voting season

It will be a busy election year at all levels of government, from city councils to Congress.

Sheriff Alex Villanueva, endlessly in the headlines for his epic battles with county supervisors, is up for re-election. Are voters willing to live with Villanueva’s often fractious relationship with the board, or will a contender emerge to patch up the partnership?

Among the supervisors, so is Supervisor Hilda Solis. Solis’ newly drawn District 1 remains highly Latino, and the odds appear to be in her favor. But in the redraw she did lose a chunk of support from Southeast L.A. communities that are no longer in her district.

Supervisor Sheila Kuehl — not seeking a new term in her newly redrawn District 3 — will leave the door open for new candidates for the seat redrawn by the county’s first-ever citizen’s independent redistricting commission.

Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors Chair Hilda L. Solis (2021 Photo by Hans Gutknecht, Los Angeles Daily News/SCNG)

County map-crafters also redrew District 3. Given its new boundaries, a candidate from the San Fernando Valley could emerge as a contender.

State Sen. Henry Stern, D-Woodland Hills, will be joining a field that also includes West Hollywood Councilwoman Lindsey P. Horvath, Los Angeles City Controller Ron Galperin and Assemblyman Richard Bloom, D-Santa Monica.  Sen. Bob Hertzberg, D-Van Nuys, confirmed recently  to the political news website Politico that he is “seriously considering” running for the seat representing the San Fernando Valley and Westside.

Much is at stake, observers say. Kuehl, a progressive supervisor who has championed criminal justice reform from the dais, worried that under the redraw a more moderate supervisor could emerge, setting back the movement in the county for such reform.

The redrawing of county supervisorial district maps will have implications in all districts:

  • In 2022, Supervisors Janice Hahn has a whole new constituency in her District 4, which now encompasses heavily Latino Southeast L.A. communities.
  • Supervisor Holly Mitchell’s District 2 now extends to the coast.
  • Supervisor Kathryn Barger’s District 5 district now encompasses such areas as the Hollywood Bowl and the La Brea Tarpits.

They’ll spend 2022 getting to know their new constituents and assessing how that impacts their own electoral prospects for 2024.

Sheriff v. Supervisors 

The tensions between Sheriff Alex Villanueva and the Board of Supervisors appear to likely spill over into 2022.

Those tensions range from the Board’s demands for transparency in deputy-involved shootings to conflicts over cuts to the Sheriff’s Department’s $3.6 billion budget.

Los Angeles County Sheriff Alex Villanueva (Photo by Hans Gutknecht, Los Angeles Daily News/SCNG)

Will Villanueva heed demands by the board and the county’s inspector general to allow greater access to investigations?

Villanueva says his department has been transparent. The county’s inspector general, and the Board, say otherwise.

Villanueva contends the Board is imposing financial cuts on his department at a time when it can least afford it. Supervisors, however, contend he’s got to be more willing to share how his department works to earn that funding.

The Ridley-Thomas case

In October 2021, a federal grand jury indicted Ridley-Thomas, now an L.A. city councilman, along with a former USC dean, Marilyn Louise Flynn. The allegation: Ridley-Thomas relative received substantial benefits from the university in exchange for the politician’s support of multimillion-dollar contracts favorable to USC while he served on the county Board of Supervisors.

Both have vowed to fight the allegations and clear their names. A trial date has been scheduled for August. Look for pre-trial motions to be filed in the case by summer.

Even if they do clear their names, the case has put a dent in trust in county government.

Shortly after the indictment, the Board of Supervisors unanimously approved an investigation — and a sweeping review of what could be thousands of county service contracts approved by the board over several years.

Honorable Mentions​

Board Meetings: Throughout 2021, the Board of Supervisors has continued to hold its meetings virtually, citing public health concerns. There’s no indication that will change in the early part of 2022 as Los Angeles County remains in a highly transmissible state. But stay tuned.

Board Expansion: The county’s first-ever independent citizens redistricting commission demonstrated just how difficult that process can be in a county of 10 million. Squeezing 2 million people each into five districts in a region of such tremendous diversity was a herculean task. It prompted questions — and the commission’s own recommendation — for a more formal look at whether the Board of Supervisors should be expanded.

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