Supervisor (D1): Hilda Solis

Former U.S. Secretary of Labor Hilda L. Solis, 56, previously served in Congress, the California Assembly and the California Senate.

Public safety

Two supervisors have proposed setting up a permanent citizen’s commission to oversee the Sheriff’s Department. Are you in favor of that?

I am supportive of, and look forward to working closely with the Inspector General. I would support a citizen’s commission that would provide public input and greater accountability – ideally a commission that has statutory authority.

What role should the supervisors play in the management and operation of the Sheriff’s Department?

Although there is a need for more independent oversight, management and operation should continue to be the role of the Sheriff. Until the voters decide otherwise and a change to State law is executed, collaboration between Inspector General, citizens and Supervisors should continue. However, since the Board of Supervisor’s is accountable for the budget, there needs to be better collaboration with the Sheriff’s Department on risk management, and I’m hopeful that the newly created position of Inspector General will facilitate that.

Former Sheriff Lee Baca has proposed replacing the Men’s Central Jail complex. What do you think should be done with the facility? If you believe it should be replaced, how large should it be?

I don’t think it should be replaced at this time, but in the future as a comprehensive reorganization of the custodial responsibilities of the County. It is important to treat and divert the mentally ill, improve addiction treatment and expand diversion programs and work with split sentencing to reduce the need for replacing MCJ with another facility that is even larger.

Some officials believe the Sheriff’s Department should use vacant jails outside the county to relieve crowding and reduce the need to release inmates early. Do you agree?

The County has several options before them, including split-sentencing which would help reduce the time “non-violent” offenders serve in the jails and “split” their time between jail and community-based supervision and education programs that will curb recidivism, hence reducing population in the jails and saving the County money. I believe we should look at all these options carefully and make a decision based on the best interest of the residents of Los Angeles County.

What would you do to improve the juvenile detention system, which is under federal review following the misuse of force against children?

Children are the most vulnerable members of our society. I will work hard to ensure that every measure is taken to protect those that need our protection the most. As Supervisor I will work hard to implement the remaining recommendations of the federal monitors. While there has been significant improvement since the agreement was entered in 2008, juvenile facilities are still understaffed, health care is inadequate particularly for females, and training needs to be improved. I will also work for more resources to reduce recidivism through education, job training and drug treatment efforts.

State prison realignment has shifted more felons to local law enforcement oversight. How well do you think it has worked? Would you do anything to alter it? Has the program had any impact on public safety?

The County is still experiencing historically low crime rates. However realignment has impacted the County’s ability to provide the best quality services due to the bigger caseloads across our social service and law enforcement networks. As Supervisor I would focus on resources available to increase our training and efficacy of this system and re-enter these men and women back in to our communities, as more productive citizens. I would also focus on wraparound services and work with community providers and organizations that can offer support to help curb recidivism.

Is the Sheriff’s Department doing enough to lower the cost and frequency of use-of force, harassment and traffic-related lawsuits against the agency? If not, what should be changed?

In my opinion we still need to augment training and education for our deputies. I also believe that keeping the Academy open continuously would help avoid having to train larger, less-qualified classes of future deputies.

Would you support state legislation that would give more authority to Sheriff’s Department civilian monitors? Would you support legislation that would make county sheriffs less autonomous and more accountable to county supervisors?

In concept, I would support legislation to allow for the creation of a civilian oversight commission with the authority to be truly independent and effective. I’m aware of the spot legislation by Assemblymember Bradford and will monitor it as it is drafted and considered. By State Law, the Sheriff is an elected official. Changing this authority would take action by the voters. We need more review of the impact that would have in how our department is managed. In the meantime, I support working with the Inspector General and bringing stakeholders to the table to help find solutions.

Child welfare

What would be your top priority in improving the county’s child welfare system and how would you accomplish it?

It is clear to me that a great deal of attention and focus is needed to improve the county’s child-welfare system. The county child-welfare agency is faced with a number of problems that need to be addressed collectively. It is clear that there are problems when DCFS social workers are burdened with large caseloads, inadequate training, technologies that are not up to date and a need for better coordination with local law enforcement and other agencies charged with caring for our children.

The Los Angeles County child welfare system has been criticized for mishandling victims of abuse or neglect. Many experts say social workers are insufficiently trained to know when to separate a child from a parent. Do you agree, and if so what would you do to improve the system? Do you believe social workers should be required to hold a master’s degree in social service, as some others counties require?

I believe that there are opportunities to improve in many areas of our county’s child welfare system. If training is an area that experts say is lacking, then we most certainly should look at that component of our system. We must find best practices and apply funding where it is needed most. Additional training and education is something I would advocate for along with providing a career ladder from our current labor pool of social workers. As we wait for the final report of the Blue Ribbon Commission, I support the implementation steps that the Board has taken.

The Children’s Special Investigations Unit looks into problem cases and recommends ways to prevent the deaths of juveniles under the oversight of county workers. Because findings in each case have been declared confidential, the public and front-line case workers never learn what happened and how it might have been prevented. Would you support making the unit’s final reports public?

It is a difficult balance between accountability and confidentiality, but I tend to agree with Judge Nash. I believe that we can find that balance, through legislation, that gives judges discretion, allows social workers to provide input and includes legal representation to protect the interests of the children.

A special commission on child welfare is expected to recommend overhauling the child protection service and imposing greater oversight on private foster care providers. The group also wants to create a child welfare czar to coordinate services. Would you support such recommendations?

Yes. And I believe coordination of all the agencies involved in the welfare of children and using the county’s system of specialized clinics to screen all children entering foster care as well as babies who may be victims of abuse are two of the most important recommendations. I understand that other States have found that higher accountability led to lower children fatalities and higher rates of reported “safe children.” If it is found in the final report that having a welfare “czar” would help coordinate services from the 36 DCFS departments, I would support this recommendation.

With more than 36,000 children under county supervision, social workers complain that they have too many cases to effectively handle. The special commission was recently told that 683 caseworkers oversee 31 or more children and that some even have more than 60. Do you believe more workers should be hired? What would you consider a proper caseload? And if more social workers are needed, how do propose to pay for them?

I do believe more caseworkers should be hired. A recent report showed that cities like Tampa Bay have lowered the homicide rate of children under care dramatically by implementing a number of changes. Some changes included partnering with community organizations and other community groups to address their issue and early health assessments for children. I do not suggest privatizing or outsourcing this service, but I welcome the exploration of all options to find solutions to the obvious high caseloads which have proven to be ineffective, even disastrous. I do not have a number identified, of appropriate cases for workers but we can look to experts and their recommendations to begin the change that is needed. What I do know is that the current situation is not working.

What is your view of the job being done by Department of Children and Family Services Director Philip Browning and would you support his retention?

As with any other top management or employee holding a highly responsible position Mr. Browning’s performance must be assessed. He oversees a very delicate department and measures and goals are in place to determine effectiveness. I also recognize the recent progress made under Mr. Browning, and welcome his advocacy of a rapid implementation of the Commission’s recommendations.

Homelessness

A $100 million plan to regionalize homeless services by placing a stabilization center in each supervisor’s district was shelved after community opposition arose in 2006. Should that plan be revived? How should the county deal with the homeless?

There is a real need for shelter for homeless members of our community. And we do need solutions that include permanent supportive housing, leveraging existing available funding, integrating and prioritizing services across all departments to prevent and address homelessness, and yes, quickly addressing homelessness in overburdened communities.

The county periodically assigns the Los Angeles Homeless Services Authority to move people off the streets, offering assistance and shelter. Many who go in for treatment, however, quickly leave. How should the county close this revolving door while making sure money is not wasted?

LAHSA has done a good job in getting out into our community to provide services and assist folks get out of such situations, but we have to provide services that provide access not just to healthcare, but job training and permanent homes. We also must foster our relationships with Cities the way the County has with the City of Los Angeles to access Emergency Solutions Grant dollars as well as maximizing the use of President Obama’s HEARTH Act which will have a great impact in the way the County measures performance and accountability.

About 60% of those on welfare are homeless. Some say they remain on the street because their monthly check of around $250 is far less than what it costs to rent. How would you address this issue? With federal housing vouchers frozen and rents continuing to go up, would you support raising the general relief amount? If so, how would you pay for it?

Leveraging and aligning resources including federal and local sources as well as philanthropic leads, I believe will help save money and find solutions to provide permanent supportive housing for our homeless. We must assist in making folks self sufficient by giving them the tools they need to strive, including access to mainstream services from the Department of Public Social Services, Department of Children and Family Services, Department of Mental Health, Department of Public Health, Workforce Investment Act, Early Head Start Program and LAUSD resources, and employ a greater roll of the Department of Military and Veterans Affairs, as well as providing referrals to short-term housing and access to rental assistance.

Healthcare

As the Affordable Care Act increases the number of people with health insurance, a once-captive client base for county hospitals and clinics will be free to seek care elsewhere—and to take their newfound insurance coverage with them. What can you do as a supervisor to insure that county facilities don’t lose these now-paying customers?

I believe the Affordable Care Act’s goal to insure more people will also help reduce the burden on our county hospitals and clinics. The more uninsured people access our emergency rooms and safety net for issues that can be taken care of with low cost preventive care, the higher the costs to our system. Insuring more uninsured folks will help curb the costs to our already overwhelmed system. The county can focus on higher quality care and facilities like the new state of the art LAC-USC Medical Center and MLK Community Hospital, that not only provide a place for healthcare but also where patients can access a myriad of other services in one location.

County health officials have said they will continue to care for people who remain uninsured, including immigrants without legal status. Do you agree with this policy? Should there be limits to this care?

Yes, I support this policy. Our economy is dependent on a healthy workforce, and we cannot afford to have families untreated for illnesses regardless of status. Further, we have a moral obligation to serve those in need of health care, which should not be privilege. We need to address immigration policy at a national level, but unfortunately a partisan House leadership has blocked comprehensive immigration reform.

The projected $237 million cost for rebuilding Martin Luther King hospital rose to $281 million last summer. Its reopening has also been delayed for months. Do you think the delays and increased costs are justified? Is there more county officials should be doing to get the project completed; and, if so, what?

The leadership and healthcare advocates made a commitment to those served in that area to bring a quality facility staffed with experienced professionals to a community that was left without a hospital. The collapse of the King-Drew Medical Center was a great loss to the South Los Angeles community, and replacing it with quality care is a complicated process. I do believe in greater accountability and oversight, and will work with stakeholders to help complete the project.

Studies suggest emergency room use is likely to increase at least initially as newly insured people drop their reluctance to seek care because of cost. Given that most county emergency rooms are already overcrowded, what would you do to manage this growth?

I support expanding education efforts so that residents learn how to use and navigate the health care system – and reduce unnecessary flow to emergency rooms and trauma centers. That involves a continued investment in community-based care, preventative care and urgent care centers – and partnering with community organizations and health care advocates to help alleviate this (hopefully) short term burden. Incidentally, the San Gabriel Valley, a substantial part of District One, does not have a trauma center, and should be considered in long-term planning..

Finance/Labor

Do you have any concern about the amount of influence business or organized labor groups exert in county politics and this race specifically?

In this race specifically, I’m proud to have the support of unions representing the working families of Los Angeles County, and many local business leaders including former L.A. Mayor Richard Riordan.

Supervisors boast of having maintained the county’s fiscal health by keeping purse strings tight during the recession. In that same period, the jails have been overcrowded and fallen under federal investigation; the child welfare system has been accused of failing abused kids due to heavy caseloads; public hospital emergency rooms have overflowed with patients, and programs to move tens of thousands of people off on the streets have seen limited success. What would you do as Supervisor to raise new revenue or free up existing resources to address these budget challenges?

The Board of Supervisors indeed has maintained fiscal health by making difficult decisions. Unfortunately, California’s laws regulating revenue generation and distribution leave the County at the mercy of the State government in particular, but also the federal government. I think my experience at the state and federal level can help leverage L.A. County’s dollars, and perhaps develop revenue sources such as alcohol taxes that can directly offset related expenses to the County, such as health care and emergency care. I believe through healthcare reform and realignment we must find opportunities to bring revenue back to the local level. And we should always be looking for ways to make government more efficient – all savings count.

The county currently requires many contractors to pay a “living wage” that amounts to $11.84 an hour. Given the current national and local movements to raise the minimum wage to a much as $15.37, do you believe the county’s required living wage should be increased; and if so, to what amount?

I do support the “living wage,” but determining to what level it should be changed requires thoughtful planning and research.

Los Angeles County government has the largest workforce in Southern California, with about 101,000 employees. Many went without pay raises during the recession. Would you vote to give county workers higher pay at this point in the economic recovery?

I believe in the collective bargaining process. I’m open to discussing pay increases, but such negotiations require research and should not be conducted via the newspaper.

Los Angeles County is one of the few remaining jurisdictions that does not offer peace officers “3% at 50,” which would mean sheriff’s deputies can retire at age 50 and receive 3% of their highest year’s pay for every year of service. Do you believe the county should move to that standard?

I believe in the collective bargaining process, and such negotiations require research including fiscal and economic impact evaluation.

Current civil service protections prevent the county from moving some veteran employees to posts where their experience may be most needed; for example, social workers who have already spent time in a difficult region of the county cannot be sent back without their permission.

I need to study the extent of this problem. I would consider incentives, and I believe this is part of the collective bargaining process.

Environment / Development

Oil extraction is on the rise in parts of the county and residents fear that some techniques might pollute the air and water. Do you believe it is acceptable to extract oil and gas in urban settings? Do you believe hydraulic fracturing is safe.

Studies have yet to show that hydraulic fracturing is safe. We need further research on the seismic safety of displacing layers of rock to extract oil and gas to make sure hydraulic fracturing doesn’t put our communities at an increased risk.

What is your position on the proposal to develop a 14,000-square-foot San Gabriel River Discovery Center in the Whittier Narrows wildlife sanctuary, which would be equipped with interactive exhibits and a 7,000-square-foot model of the San Gabriel River featuring flowing water?

I am in favor of the development of a discovery center in Whittier Narrows. Our communities have become so urbanized, sometimes we fail to recognize and appreciate the natural beauty and wonder we still have left and that is why I am in favor of such a development. The construction of the San Gabriel River Discovery Center in Whittier Narrows allows us to do just that. We not only provide an enriching and educational experience for the communities of the San Gabriel Valley and surrounding communities but also preserve a space for learning and discovery for generations to come, not to mention the job creation in general.

Should the county make another attempt to ask voters to approve a storm water cleanup fee? If not, how should the county address the cost of cleaning up storm water?

Storm water is the largest source of pollution in the waters along Los Angeles County’s coastline – which serves as an essential recreational resource for all, and an economic engine for our regional economy. I do believe we need to work with stakeholders to develop a strategy and a revenue source to reduce pollution from urban runoff as a matter of health and economic policy. I know that several different revenue strategies have been explored, but that shifting fiscal priorities have affected the timing for placing parcel tax measures on the ballot. I’m confident that we can develop an equitable proposal to place before the voters.

Given the statewide drought, should the county be doing more to conserve water; and if so, what? Would you limit new residential or commercial development?

I will take a closer look at L.A. County’s Green Building Program, and the Department of Public Works’ drought plans to determine how to effectively conserve more water on County grounds and facilities. I think we need to evaluate how to effectively expand grey water irrigation throughout the County, and work closely with local water agencies to evaluate additional conservation strategies, including, smart irrigation system tax credits, drought resistant landscaping programs, and incentives for development that considers native or drought resistant plant selection. I do not think new development should be limited as a policy, but that development should meet standards to minimize the incremental burden on our water supplies.

Open government

The supervisors have been chastised for violating the state’s open meetings law, as they did in 2011 when they met in private with Gov. Brown to discuss state prison realignment. What will you do to improve government transparency and avoid violating the open meetings law and public records act?

I need to learn more about what steps the Board currently takes to comply with public meeting laws, but if there is any doubt I would check with County Counsel. I also would review County policies for sharing information online. The current system for posting campaign contribution information is inadequate, for example – especially when compared to the Secretary of State and L.A. City Ethics websites.

Unlike a standard practice at Los Angeles City Hall, people paid to lobby county officials are not required to disclose the issues they work on, and they sometimes violate existing reporting standards without punishment. Would you do anything to change the county’s lobbying rules?

Yes, I would support requiring paid lobbyists to disclose the issues they are hired to work on.

Each supervisor has a pool of money that can be spent at their discretion and without full board approval. What would you do to insure that the public easily sees how you spend your share?

The allocation of discretionary funds appears to be complicated. I will study what methods for constituent and community feedback work best and provide effective transparency and accountability.

The county’s current campaign finance law is designed to reward candidates who stick to a voluntary spending limit for elections. But critics say the current limit of $1.4 million is too low. Do you believe the campaign finance law should be changed; and if so, how?

I do not think the current limit of $1.4 million is too low. I think one of the greatest weaknesses in current campaign finance law is the relative inaccessibility of contribution information, so that residents can easily see who is contributing to candidates. I also believe that a system of public matches would help reduce the special interest money in county campaigns, and level the playing field. Independent Expenditures also need to be regulated with greater disclosure – though given recent court rulings it may require federal legislation.

Should the supervisors create or seek voter approval of a regulatory body similar to Los Angeles’ City Ethics Commission, which attempts to shape, administer and enforce laws regarding governmental ethics, conflicts of interests, campaign financing and lobbying?

I think the L.A. City Ethics Commission and ethics laws provide a good model as a starting place, but again, we need to solve the problem created by the undue influence independent expenditures have on elections.

Transportation

Supervisors also serve as members of the Metropolitan Transportation Authority board, overseeing billions of dollars in subway, light rail and bus transit services. Do you use public transportation? If so, how often and what routes?

For many years I relied heavily on mass/public transportation. Given the nature of my work my use/reliance of mass/public transportation has changed. However, I come from a working class immigrant family and when I was a young college student, public transportation was the only type of transportation that was accessible to me. I met other public transportation users—specifically the elderly, disabled, and low wage workers, as well as other students. From that experience I learned that mass/public transportation is vital to some of our community’s most vulnerable constituents. Having access to public transportation enabled me to pursue higher education opening opportunities that would not have been available otherwise. I believe it is my duty to make sure that mass/public transportation remains accessible to all members of our communities just like it was when I was a young college student just starting out.

Should Metro’s rail system be extended all the way to LAX; and if so, how?

I believe that an extension of the Metro rail system to LAX makes sense. I know many visitors and residents who were left scratching their heads when trying to navigate from LAX to the San Gabriel and Pomona Valleys. I think it is worth exploring further Councilmember Mike Bonin’s proposal to build a rail spur from both the Crenshaw and Green lines to a new transportation center built on airport land. From there, passengers would board the people mover to the airport.

What do you believe is the most pressing transportation issue that county residents face right now and how would you address it?

In addition to the rail system not reaching LAX, another pressing issue is the lack of parking at Metro stations—especially in East L.A and MacArthur Park. The neighborhood of East of L.A. and MacArthur Park has one the highest rates of ridership, however, these Metro stations have little to no space available for public parking. The lack of public parking in these communities inhibits the potential for increased ridership for people living in those areas but who do not live directly adjacent to the Metro stations. As a MTA board member, I would propose to the MTA board that the issue be investigated further to assess opportunities for expanding stations to include public parking. I also will focus on the construction of the Gold Line extension to Pomona, and expanding MTA service in the San Gabriel Valley.

A sales tax for transportation projects (a new Measure R) will likely be on the 2016 ballot. Do you support a tax increase for transit? If so, what specific projects do you think such a tax should fund?

Yes, I support a sales tax for transportation projects, particularly in the underserved areas between Downtown, the San Gabriel Valley and Pomona.

A year ago, Metro and Caltrans converted the carpool lanes on the 110 and 10 freeways into experimental toll lanes that solo drivers are allowed to use. Would you support a similar conversion to toll lanes on other county freeways, like the 405 or the 5?

I’d like to see more data on the effectiveness of the 110 and 10 experimental toll lanes before making such determinations.

Photo: Hilda Solis. Credit: AFP/Getty Images