Interview with Holly Mitchell in the Run-Off with Herb Wesson for Supervisor of District 2

Holly Mitchell discusses running for Supervisor of District 2, managing budgets, child and family services, homelesseness, working with City Hall, mental Illness and addiction, SB50, corruption at City Hall, transparency and Coronavirus


Herb Wesson’s knew his 13 year reign as Councilmember for District 10 and City Council President (eight years) was coming to an end but he was not yet ready to give up the reins of power.  Mayor or Supervisor? Wesson chose Supervisor for District 2 (the seat Mark Ridley-Thomas is termed out of) when he realized it gave him more power and freedom than Mayor.  Only problem?   The competition. He was up against two women with experience and grit, Holly Mitchell, a member of the California State Senate and Chair of the Senate Budget committee and Jan Perry who successfully represented the 9th district of the Los Angeles City Council from 2001 to 2013 and helped usher in the development of downtown LA turning it into a world class city. She was also President Pro Tempore of the Los Angeles City Council.

Sure enough, all of his years of City Council power, support, backers and huge infusions of campaign cash, couldn’t get him past the 50% finish line during the primaries. He got 29.9% of the votes (90,597) with Ms. Mitchell breathing down his neck at 29% just 2,683 votes behind This forced them into a run off in November.  

It probably helped that the LA Times endorsed Holly Mitchell, over Herb Wesson claiming “he had a backroom style better suited to an earlier decade” (read too old school) while praising Ms. Mitchell claiming “Her background and experience have put her in the best position to carry on the county’s work in improving justice and human services.”

When The Neighborhood News heard through the grapevine that Ms. Mitchell was a fan of the magazine we felt comfortable in approaching her for an interview, which she graciously accepted.  We found her measured, thoughtful and deeply informed about District 2’s pressing issues, as well as enthusiastic, sincere and friendly in her participation.


The Neighborhood News:

Why do you think with all his connections, his campaign money, his endorsements, his position, Herb Wesson couldn’t quite reach 50% of the vote? Your vote count was hot on his heels and forced him into a runoff.


Well, first of all, thank you very much for engaging with me in this race. I appreciate that. I have said from the very beginning I am not running against anyone. I’m running for a seat and for me that’s what I fundamentally believe.

There were seven of us in the race, and I think the voters in the Second District deserve and should have a competitive race. It shouldn’t be a slam-dunk for anyone.  People really want to probe and ask tough questions like, “Why you?” I think people are engaged and are really paying attention and they expressed through their votes, their interests in a variety of different characteristics that all of us as candidates have got.


TNN: What motivated you to run for this seat?

HM:  I made the decision to run because of what my professional experience and my life experience brings to the table which I believe is particularly relevant now, not only for the Board of Supervisors but for the second supervisorial seat specifically. The way I have organized my entire professional career, not just my elected career, is resonating with the voters and particularly now.

I proudly represent the 30th Senate District today, and nearly a million Californians. Parts of the 2nd supervisorial district is contained within my senatorial district. So, talking to residents in this community is not new and something I’ve done for years. When we talk about issues like gentrification, the unhoused, and health disparities that are displayed in the Second Supervisorial District, the root issue is that people are really afraid of all the rapid changes and want genuine leadership.


TNN:  From 2017 to present, you’ve overseen the adoption of three consecutive state budgets, totaling nearly 250 billion dollars each. Do you think the county is spending its money efficiently overall and what about our district, what would you change?

HM:   I have to say in all fairness, you don’t know what you don’t know until you have the opportunity to be in the seat and see the numbers and understand it in a meaningful, in-depth way. I don’t think it’s fair for me to express an opinion about the budget when I’m not in the position to be able to roll up my sleeves and really see it. I feel very strongly about that. I chaired the budget subcommittee that oversees the largest proportion of the budget, health and human services, which allowed me to roll up my sleeves and understand the inner workings of those programs. This was a real benefit when I became budget chair. So I think it’s easy for candidates to say what the sitting people aren’t doing and I don’t think that’s fair.

Nor am I going to say the county is broken, because the county every day provides critical life-sustaining services to county residents from mental health to public health to probation to our kids in foster care to our county court. But could it be done more efficiently? Of course, every operation could operate more efficiently. And I think that’s a matter of being in there, understanding, bringing my lens to the table.

TNN:  What about your experience will benefit the position of Supervisor.

HM: Chairing the budget committee allowed me to be very comfortable with large numbers. I also learned that the main thing is the main thing and to avoid getting caught up in what we affectionately call in budget land, “budget dust”. I had to make sure that as a leader in that sphere, I stayed the course, established a vision based on core values and created a culture in which we would talk about budget issues and develop budget strategies that reflect our core values as Californians.  As Supervisor I want to make sure we have a county budget that reflects our core values as county residents. And that means what we prioritize and what we fund.


TNN: You have also been a champion for child and family services. Do you have some thoughts and feelings about things that you would like to bring to child and family services in this district?

HM:  Oh, without a doubt. I definitely have a vision and plan about how to make sure we are providing appropriate services to LA County families who are at risk. Our foster care numbers are down and yet a disproportionate number of the kids in the county’s foster care system come from the Second District. We have to look at that. Is it economic? Is it lack of support services? We have to figure out why a disproportionate number of the unhoused in LA County are from the Second District. We have to figure out why the people who live in the Second District have health disparities that far outnumber people in other areas of the county. So, as we talk about funding and program implementation, it’s also an issue of equity. Are we providing appropriate services to the people who live in the Second District to meet their chronic health, foster care and chronic homeless challenges?


TNN: Clearly, the issue of homelessness is at the top of everyone’s agenda. What do you think the county should be doing to improve their handling of the homeless crisis? How should the county be working with the city?

HM:  I think people are yearning for a simple magic bullet to “solve our homeless crisis”. The hard part of public policymaking is it is not that simple. And I’m not going to suggest to people that it is. I think we all have to confront the hard reality that this issue didn’t happen overnight. I compare it to what I would call a slow boil that we slowly continued to turn the heat up on and now, we have a full-on boil. We have to recognize what actions or lack of actions we took over a course of years that led us to this point. For many people on the streets in Los Angeles County, it’s an issue of affordability. Groups or departments will disagree on the exact number of the unhoused who are mentally ill, the number I’ve seen consistently is 20% of that population. So, we have to fashion government interventions and support for the mentally ill, but what do we do for the other 80% who just can’t afford housing or can’t find housing for other reasons?

For instance, an eviction is a bad mark. If you’ve been evicted once, finding someone who will be willing to rent to you again is very hard. I’ve also talked to women on the streets that were victims of domestic violence. There are so many different circumstances that contribute to a woman, a family, whoever it is, to be on the streets. And our solutions must be equally as diverse and varied.

We also have to figure out how we stabilize our different at-risk communities and stop the growing number of new homeless every day. The city of LA will house 112 one day and 125 will become homeless the second day. So, we have to stem the tide by stabilizing these communities. We can’t build our way out of it fast enough so we have to keep people where they are and shore up our existing housing infrastructure. That’s why I carried Senate Bill 329 this past year to stop people from experiencing discrimination based on their source of income.

If you are a veteran or if you are a low-income person and you have a veteran’s voucher or a Section 8 voucher it’s become difficult to find anyone who will honor it and that’s a problem. That’s a federal program with federal dollars. And LA County, you know it’s an eight to 10 year waiting period to actually get your Section 8 voucher. And then, 70% of those people who had it couldn’t find a place to take it and the voucher would expire. So, those are issues that while they’re not sexy like a ribbon cutting at the construction of a new building, are equally as important to help people to get and stay housed.

TNN:  What about temporary structures like other cities have done where they’ll create tiny homes or convert motels?  Where people can at least get off the street quickly until they find something more permanent

HM: That was going to be my next bullet, number two. We have to scale up all of those kinds of models that are happening both in LA County and outside of LA County from motel conversions to per unit construction costs. Converting two motel rooms into a two-bedroom apartment are pennies to the dollar compared to new construction. We also have to look at home-sharing programs. There’s an amazing nonprofit home-sharing program in Santa Monica for seniors who may still live in a two or three-bedroom house and who can stay in their home if they had other seniors who could share the space and share duties and responsibilities. There are also programs around safe parking in church parking lots.  All of these ideas need to be scaled up in a significant way to meet the growing need of LA County.

And I think my third bullet is we have to build for all. We have to build for every group of homeless. We have to build across the spectrum for economic levels, because the pressure of California being half a billion units short of our need creates pressure across the board. The young family who 10 years ago might be ready to buy their first home, are still renting, because they can’t afford it. That would take that rental unit off the market for a longer-term renter.


TNN:  Does the city plan and the county plan to address homelessness come together?

HM:  I am so proud to be a policymaker in California today because, yeah, historically that may not have been the case. But with the passage of H and HHH, [one initiative is to build, the other initiative is to fund the service] LA City and LA County have come together, in my opinion, in a historic way.. They are here in Sacramento, partnering together, and bringing a very aggressive budget proposal asking for additional dollars from the state to continue the work they’re doing.

Phil Ansell, Director of the County of Los Angeles Homeless Initiative and Mayor Garcetti have been to Sacramento twice this year with the big 13 city mayors who’ve come together to talk about the investment they’re looking for from the state to help them in their cities. And so, I got to tell you, the city and the county are truly working hand in hand and coming up to Sacramento together as a unit to say, “These are our needs for LA City and County, and this is how you can help us.” And so, it’s a wonderful thing. It makes me proud.

TNN: And how’s that going?

HM:  It’s going well. The governor has one idea about how he wants to do funding for the un-housed and the state budget. This coalition of the city and county is up in Sacramento walking the halls, educating members of the LA County delegation about ways in which a state investment could best be used for the residents of LA County.


TNN:  I want to focus a bit on addiction and mental illness among the homeless, because there are different thoughts about how to handle that. And as you know, they’re very difficult to house. They don’t like to stay or there’s a lot of drama. And so, what are your thoughts on dealing with the addiction and mentally ill population?

HM:  First we have got to look at the Prop 63 dollars. [the Mental Health services Act which provides increased funding, personnel and other resources to support county mental health programs] I have some concern along with many counties across the state, about the level of reserve. The county is sitting on millions in Prop 63 dollars and we have to look at that.

We also now have a new Director of Mental Health and he is a forward thinking, very progressive leader, Dr. Jonathan Sherin. Since his arrival maybe three or four years ago, he’s been very proactive in making sure that money is spent and used wisely in mental health services.

I think we as a government have to step back and evaluate the kind of programs and facilities we have built to figure out if they really are appropriate, if they are truly meeting the needs of the mentally ill and substance abuse that people are suffering from today. Then we have to build and create programs that are appropriate.

This problem, again, didn’t happen overnight. Decades ago, we closed our state mental health facility (which many people attribute to Reagan, but it actually began at the federal level) with the promise and the understanding that community-based mental health facilities would be built and that federal government dollars would be available. That we would build more humane community-based mental health facilities where people would be close to family which was keeping with current modern research about what an appropriate facility would be. When you know better, you do better and we stopped frontal lobotomies and stopped treating mental health conditions in arcane violent ways. So we closed those hospitals, because they were unpleasant places. However, they did not build the community-based mental health facilities that they said they would. And now, decades later, we don’t have the appropriate facilities to house people. LA County doesn’t have enough up-to-date facilities, enough mental health beds.

You talk to any hospital and any emergency room doctor and they’ll tell you that too many of their beds are occupied by people who are really having a mental health crisis but have no place to go.

TNN:  And that includes prisons.

HM:  And that includes our county jail. Our previous sheriff would tell you that he was running the largest mental health facility in the country, because if someone was on the street having a mental health crisis, who do you call? The police. When the police show up, what do they do? They take them to jail, because there’s nowhere else to take them. So we have to change that paradigm.

TNN:  What can the county supervisors do? Is it on their agenda? Is that a priority? Is it on their radar?

HM:  It is on their radar, because they have the county mental health department. And so, the county supervisors along with the state, along with the federal government, have got to prioritize building facilities to meet the needs of our mentally ill population. And it’s got to be across the board. Many of my opponents in this race like to talk about, “Oh, we need to treat people at school and catch them early.”  And they want to talk about autism or they wanted to talk about dementia. Well, we also have to talk about people with extreme cases of severe mental illness, paranoid schizophrenia, and textbook mental illness. And those require different kinds of facilities for them to be safe and receive treatment and care. The Second District has fewer beds than many of the other supervisorial districts.  Kedren in South LA is one of the few facilities in South Los Angeles that has a mental health residential treatment facility. We have to build more.

TNN:  And is that on the top of your agenda? Is that one of the things you want to focus on?

HM:  Absolutely, we have to. We can no longer afford to ignore it. We have to.


TNN:  So, what are your ideas for increasing the needed funding for the county’s efforts towards the homeless, an increase in taxes or a charter amendment to allocate the existing funds towards the homeless?

HM:   I’m not sure yet that additional funds are needed. I think for the first time, thanks to the voters passing Measure H and HHH, we do have resources available. I think it’s an issue of working with LAHSA, the LA Homeless Services Authority, to make sure that those dollars are being allocated efficiently and well. Again, I mention the Prop 63, the Mental Health Services Act, dollars.

[Measure H—a companion measure to Proposition HHH. Part of the $355 million generated annually by Measure H’s quarter-cent tax hike will pay for services at the 10,000 permanent-supportive units slated to be built for LA’s chronically homeless population under Proposition HHH. Developers of those homes would be unable to move forward, however, until services are in place—making Measure H critical to fulfilling the goals of HHH is in place.]

LA County has many of those dollars in reserve. We have to figure out why and if those dollars could be utilized more quickly, more efficiently. And so, I’m not ready to say, “Oh, we need to tax,” or, “We need more money.” I think that we need to continue to look at how we’re using the dollars the voters have recently appropriated, in the most efficient, effective way.

TNN:  Speaking of which, what do you think of Assemblywoman Buffy Wicks’ two billion dollar proposal to provide homeless housing?

HM:  It’s not just hers. She is a co-author along with Assembly Member Miguel Santiago. In fact it is the exact proposal that the city and county came together to bring to us. So, it is really sponsored by the city and county of Los Angeles. Miguel Santiago is the lead author and Buffy is a co-author.

I think it’s a great proposal but as budget chair, I have to say, considering that the coronavirus is going to impact our overall economy and economic health and wellbeing, we’re going to have to wait and see if that kind of investment is even feasible this coming year. I’m hoping that it is, but this is going to force us into interesting economic times for the general public and the government.

SB 50 

“The bill would “upzone” many areas previously dedicated to single-family housing, allowing for the construction of multistory apartment complexes near transit routes and fourplexes in single-family neighborhoods.”

TNN:  What is your position on SB 50?

HM:  I voted no on SB 50. When I spoke on the floor I said, “Some people perceive single-family homeowners as a monolithic group and they’re not.” I represent large communities of single-family homeowners who quite frankly are holding on by their teeth. And we need to figure out a production bill that’s not detrimental to current residents of LA City. Because I’m also clear that my no vote on SB 50 wasn’t the end of the conversation. I, along with my fellow legislatures who represent residents throughout LA County, are involved in working on a housing production bill that would work in an LA City and County kind of environment.

I told many constituents who I’ve met with over the past two years, who were adamant about a no on 50,  “If we say no to SB 50, what can we and must we say yes to?” because that’s been my attitude, to figure out how we develop a production bill that doesn’t decimate the city and county of LA as we know it.

I have voted, for example, on many bills that my colleague, Bob Wieckowski from Northern California has introduced.  He’s carried several bills around ADU, (Accessory Dwelling Units) to make it easier to finance and build additional units on ones property to help relieve some of the pressure of our housing construction needs.

TNN:  Granny cottages.

HM:  Yes, the official name of a granny cottage is an Accessory Dwelling Unit, so yes, granny cottages.


TNN: I’m sure you’re aware of the current corruption scandals at City Hall involving Mitch Englander and Jose Huizar. Just a year ago in February 2019, Forbes Magazine pegged the California Central District in Los Angeles as the second most corrupt city in America with 1,534 corruption convictions between 1976 and 2016.

Jack Humphreville, a reporter from CityWatch LA said this happened on Council President Herb Wesson’s watch and he should have known what was going on and take some responsibility for this.

The Los Angeles Times described you as the legislature’s moral compass. Do you think that the city should hire an independent council to investigate pay-to-play corruption that the Feds say is rampant in Los Angeles?

HM:  Law enforcement should continue to do their due diligence around investigating inappropriate activity.

In the State legislature we certainly have had numerous FBI investigations where members have been charged, and convicted and have paid the price. I think that’s the appropriate role of the FBI and they should continue to do their job.

TNN: Well, the feds come in after the crime has been committed. This is not the first time LA has been in the top 10 list of corrupt cities, based on lawsuits and convictions, so there’s clearly an issue with corruption in City Hall. Shouldn’t there be some internal way of keeping an eye on things to avoid the FBI investigations?

HM:  I have supported the independent commission overseeing the sheriff, to have more power and have subpoena power. I think shedding light in government is an important thing. The question always is how independent these oversight commissions can be and what kind of power they truly have to do investigations and get to the root.

When you say, “To prevent these things from happening,” the city already has an ethics commission that establishes a practice of standards and  that we all have ethics training. So, if you want to talk about prevention, the ethics commission already exists.

At some point, maybe we as voters need to ask different kinds of questions of the people we elect, because we can’t legislate morality. We can have whatever this oversight entity is you want and give them all the power they need. That won’t necessarily prevent a person from doing wrong. You know what I mean? So, we have ethics standards. We have signs. We have rules that we’re supposed to abide by. And yet, people continue to engage in wrongdoing. So, we have to take a step back and figure out what’s the deal. What do we need to do to address an issue that you’ve said LA has suffered from for many years. I don’t know if yet another layer of another oversight entity is the answer. It may be, but I just think that we all have to stop and think about it a little more deeply.

TNN: I think the larger point is that it’s an ongoing relentless problem. And it exists in this city hall. Who knows what the solution is, but with the recent convictions and arrests and investigations, the issue is clearly front and center.  For instance, let’s say I’m aware of and have proof that a Councilmember has behaved unethically or illegally, is that when I could call the ethics commission and file a complaint or an anonymous complaint, and would it really get investigated?

HM:  Absolutely, that’s my understanding. That’s certainly the way it happens at the state level around anything, workplace violence, sexual harassment. Every level of government now has some kind of entity, an ombudsman or someone who’s job is to engage in that conversation, a place where you can report safely and confidentially.


TNN: Pensions are a big issue in LA. The county has significant unfunded liability for its pension and other post-employment benefits, OPEB plans. The LA 2020 Commission recommended an independent review in 2014, but nothing came out of it. Would you support the formation of a pension commission to review and analyze these liabilities and come up with recommendations to make these plans more sustainable or eliminate the liabilities? This would increase transparency.

HM:  Yes, I would support that. I think the issue of public pensions is going to be an ongoing issue that we have to talk about. We need to create a sense of balance for government workers, public sector workers and their ability to pay into a defined compensation system as well as the general public who pay their salaries. And so, I think any level of both scrutiny and oversight as well as transparency and creative thinking about how we enter this new economy and develop a pension system that will continue to be solid, is welcome.

We’ve worked very hard at the state level to create ways to pay down past debt and to really make sure we shore up CalPERS and CalSTRS. And I think every level of government has a responsibility to do that.


TNN: Supervisors get $3 million a year for staff, cars, office expenses and pet projects. Would you be transparent and accountable on how that money is spent on staff funding and discretionary funds [pet projects]?

HM: As elected officials our salaries are public for good reason and I will continue to be transparent and not wasteful with tax payer dollars. Like any government entity, the county also has job titles with specified salary ranges that are measured and are comparable to what other people pay, other legislatures pay their chief of staff and other key staff positions.

You’re given a defined budget by which you have to build a staff who’s job is to be in the community and have access to constituents, because there’s only one me and two million residents in the Second Supervisorial District.

I am committed to being transparent. Public employees do public work and, if you’re paid by the county, that’s the work you do. You don’t do my campaign work. You don’t do any side work. That’s the way I’ve engaged in my practice. I have a separate campaign team.  I don’t co-mingle.  I believe in public service and people are paid by the public to do public work and that’s what I would continue to do.


TNN:  One last question. The Coronavirus. The city’s going to suffer from the loss of tax revenue and the increase in expenses. What are your thoughts about what’s coming down the pike with the coronavirus?

HM:  So, I am working every day alongside our governor. I carried the two budget bills on the floor at the Senate on Monday that appropriated a billion dollars to help for school districts, a variety of areas where through the governor’s executive order, we wanted to allocate funds immediately to empower him to provide support to small businesses, to the nonprofit sector, education across the board.

I support his executive orders that prevent people from being evicted at this point in time and to help homeowners with their mortgages. This is just the very beginning, but I’m proud of the work we’ve been able to do at the state level to provide immediate response. I think people need to adhere and follow the directive of our elected leaders. Stay home, don’t be out and about, we’ve got to get ahead of this tsunami that’s impacting the entire world.

We’re doing all that we can as fast as we can to be supportive and to be responsive. We have to make sure our healthcare infrastructure is ready and equipped to provide the services and the care California residents are going to need. And I’m working very hard to be a part of the solution.

TNN: And what about the loss of tax revenue from these businesses? I know the restaurants are really suffering. I mean, a lot of them will go out of business.

HM: Unfortunately, I agree. We’ll have to figure that out.  There’s nothing we can do about that loss of revenue. It is our reality and it’s government’s responsibility to now respond

appropriately. And we’re going to work as fast as we humanly can. And so, our job now is to try to act as aggressively and proactively as we can to stop it and deal with the repercussions.

TNN: Right, okay. Well, sounds good. I know we’ve gone a little over time and you’ve been very, very generous with your time and your answers so thank you so much for participating.  

HM: I think it was a great series of questions. I appreciate the opportunity to be able to share my perspective and opinion on the issues that interest the readers of your publication. I thank you for the opportunity.


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Established in August of 2008 by writerartist Dianne V. Lawrence, The Neighborhood News covers the events, people, history, politics and historic architecture of communities throughout the Mid-City and West Adams area in Los Angeles Council District 10.

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