Listen: LA County Supervisors Debate

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Bobby Shriver and Sheila Kuehl face off in a debate on Which Way, LA?

The LA Supervisors are a powerful bunch, running a $26 billion budget for a county of 10 million people, and overseeing county employees in public safety, public health and social services. Two candidates on the November ballot are hoping to win a seat at that table: Santa Monica Mayor and councilman Bobby Shriver and former State Legislator Sheila Kuehl. They’re campaigning to represent L.A.s Third District, which stretches from the San Fernando Valley to Santa Monica and from Westlake Village to Hollywood and is home to 2 million people.

Kuehl and Shriver came to the KCRW studios for a debate moderated by Which Way, LA?’s Warren Olney. After a primary and 22 debates, they know each other well and seem to be friendly.

Shriver: “I don’t think I could say anything bad about Sheila.”

Kuehl: “I don’t go negative.”

They agree on a lot. Both have been on record saying they are not in favor of a current plan to build a $2 billion jail, which would also house the mentally ill. They both agreed that a child welfare czar could help coordinate services for children in need. They both support motion picture tax credits.

Ultimately, the debate was a battle between Santa Monica and Sacramento, with Kuehl claiming more experience and Shriver saying he has the financial background and discipline needed to be an effective supervisor.

Listen here:

A transcript follows. KCRW has partnered with Pop Up Archive to use their automatic transcription service. (This is not a perfect transcript. Please leave a comment if you find any issues).

WARREN OLNEY: How badly do you want this job?

BOBBY SHRIVER: Very badly, Warren, I think there’s tremendous opportunity do stuff here. Job creation. This tremendous opportunity do a water plan for the county of Los Angeles. We don’t have a water plan. I’m excited to get the subway out to the west side to ride it downtown. I’ve been riding the train from Culver City to downtown and that’s just a terrific terrific thing. It will be a lot of investment following the transportation infrastructure. And as you know I have talked to before about veterans and homelessness issues that I got interested in Santa Monica. I think the county can do a lot. And its mental health department there and it’s treating with veterans a coronation with the federal government to get to a much better situation for the vets who are still living in dumpsters and sleeping under the freeway. So I want to work on those issues. I want to work hard. I think I have a background in expertise to do it.

WO: Sheila Kuehl, how badly do you want this job?

SHEILA KUEHL: Well do you mean like really bad. I really want to assure you of this. I really want it and I’ll. Tell you I think I can prove it to some extent. When I was termed out of the state Senate in 2008 a number of people encouraged me to run right away for a statewide office. And as you know those are very sought after, secretary of state was going to be open, controller, treasurer. We didn’t know at the time that Henry Waxman was going to leave Congress. But I was encouraged to think about running for Congress. And those are all very attractive. But the only job I really wanted to run for was this one. And the reason is that it covers so many of the areas that I spent fourteen years worrying about thinking about and trying to legislate about including health care on such a wide scope. Out of the ten million people in L.A. County one million of them get their health care through the county court of a million people get mental health services. And of course the county oversees foster children as well. And as chair of the Health and Human Services committee. Foster care was in the human services part of that committee. There’s also natural resources and as Bobby indicated water, a very big thing, and I chaired the natural resources and water committee.

WO: So you’re answering the question  really the same way that I that Bobby Shriver did. I asked sort of a personal question but what I got from those of you was a list of issues. How important is this to you?

SHRIVER: I understand the question a little better now. Thank you. I have spent my own money, a significant portion of my own money running. And I think that the biggest cost for me is I’ve spent a lot of time away from my family I have a young daughter of five and seventeen year old daughter who’s like any seventeen year old – having you know her last year at high school so not being with them and my wife is you know, that’s a big sacrifice for me and I really feel that they’ve complained a little bit to me. So I think if you do a thing where you pay that kind of a price for. The amount of debating and traveling that we’ve done I think we’ve done twenty two debates so far in this race in the primary and now in the general both of us have traveled all over the district. I’ve been. around so to do that. I would have to want something pretty bad. I would have to really believe I could get something done.

WO: Sheila Kuehl, you making a sacrifice?

KUEHL: I would say so. I mean if I had my own money. I would have put it in as well. And I actually have a contract with Santa Monica College. I started the Public Policy Institute there. And essentially. The salary is about half of what I had been earning with doing consulting teaching at U.C.L.A. and the public policy school etc. And when I started running. I really gave that up except for Santa Monica College. So in a way it’s a financial hit because you know you don’t get paid to run for office. As a matter of fact we kind of spend a lot even if you don’t have your own wealth to spend you know you’re really, I pay for my own gas. I pay for my own meals. Like I never have the campaign pay for anything personal. So yes it is a sacrifice. But I think, I think Bobby would agree. You don’t want to complain. I mean you choose this.  This is the tunnel that you go through like a football team does before you break out on to the arena and do your work.

WO: voters want to know not just what’s good about you. But what’s bad about your opponent, what are your thoughts?

SHRIVER: Well I don’t think I can say there’s anything bad about Sheila.  I think she’s had a great career and she’s a smart distinguished person. I think a lot of changes of emphasis are important. I’ve had my local government experience she’s had Sacramento experience. That’s a very different type of job. Running a local government here in Santa Monica. We run a bus system. So I worked on bus systems. One of the things a supervisor does is sit on the M.T.A. board. I’ve got a lot of experience with transportation budgets. I’ve had to balance budgets. People in Sacramento, they have to balance the budget at the end of the day but they can make pretty draconian cuts. It’s a different kind of system in a different kind of background. I’ve had private sector experience and job creation experience. Which I think is different. So I would say more than I would I would distinguish myself in my emphases that I’ve  brought to bear on my career and to my. Story in going into you know public office. I ran because I got into a fight with the city of Santa Monica about which turned into an arrogant government thing. And I felt my neighbors were being bullied and I ran for office to stop that. And there I was and I learned some stuff and I decided to go and continue running. But it’s a different type of person I would say it’s not a bad person.

WO: Sheila Kuehl,  same question to you. And I’m not trying to get you to insult one another. And that’s not the kind of program this is. But why would it be a bad thing if Bobby Shriver were elected and you weren’t.

KUEHL: Well I tell you Warren, that’s not what anyone’s asking me. Essentially people are saying what’s good about each of you? And what distinguishes you? And why would you be better? I think that the whole idea of casting a race for an important elected position as a war has always been the wrong thing to do and I don’t go negative. I think when people go negative. It simply shows the weakness n their own campaign. So I would say just as Bobby did there are differences between us. And the difference for me is, though the city of Santa Monica where I live is a distinguished city. It’s a small city with a part time city council. That county has a full time set of supervisors who are both the executive and the legislative branch. I think my experience though people refer to it as Sacramento. It’s really with state law. And that’s what the county does. The County carries out state law. The County carries out. State and federal funding. And even in its own unincorporated areas where it acts like a city that experience would be relevant. But in the Third District. We don’t have the kind of incorporated areas where we have development as a matter of fact we shouldn’t have because it’s the Santa Monica Mountains. So I think the difference really is experience.

WO: You said that they got the supervisor has executive as well as legislative experience Mr Shriver just said he does that he does have executive experience or was running the bus system. But you don’t you’ve been a legislator.

KUEHL: I think the big blue bus system would be surprised to hear that he ran it.

SHRIVER:Well remember I didn’t say I ran it. I said that we approve their budget. We hire people who run it and I never said I ran it. I have run things in the private sector. I’ve generated budgets and attracted capital hired people and so forth. But you do have a strong supervisory role over the big blue buses budget when you’re on a city council in that part time angle I never accept because I think look at Santa Monica. We take forty two million people on the big bus every year we run an airport. We’ve given general fund money to the schools. And during the day Santa Monica is three hundred fifty thousand people during the week on the weekends in the summer commute five hundred fifty six thousand people. It’s not the city of Los Angeles. But it’s a big enterprise.

KUEHL: And it’s certainly not the state of California one of the things that you do as a legislator especially serving on the Budget Committee as I get in chairing two of the budget subcommittees is you have oversight over all of the State Departments. They must appear in front of you. You review their budgets. You generally have to say to them change this, don’t do this. And it is in the exact areas that we’re talking about for the county. Overseeing the health care budget which is billions and billions of dollars in the state budget one hundred billion dollars county budgets twenty six billion. So the scope of it is so different. But I don’t want to say that being on a city council is a bad thing or a small thing it’s not. It simply is not what is needed as much for running a county of ten million people which is the size of the state of Ohio and actually does everything that a state does.

WO: Bobby Shriver, You have the backing of Chambers of Commerce and other business interests. This is a pretty liberal district. It would you be the servant of developers and landlords and others who are looking for tax breaks. No I don’t think so at all. I think people are supporting. You’re worried about the financial health of the county the county has a large unfunded pension liability of a very large unfunded retiree health care liability. And these people are investors in town. They want to make sure that someone with some financial background and some financial discipline is a fiscal watchdog. Remember this is what Zev did , Zev has many legacies. But one of his most important one. was in disciplining the financial process. None of those people come before the county for contracts or certainly if they did. I would recuse myself instantly. Whereas the people who supported Sheila as you know Warren who still has acknowledged to come before the county for negotiated contracts with the county. I think that’s a very different position to be in than the one I am with local private sector investors developers and regular people…

WO: Haven’t you been in favor of tax breaks of different kinds in order to try to encourage business.

SHRIVER: Well I was in favor and I still am in favor of the film and television tax credit that the state recently passed. That will enable us to keep T.V. and film jobs in L.A. I’m very strongly in favor that I’m given favor it. When New York had a four hundred thirty five million dollars tax credit and we had only a hundred million dollar tax credit. That was a terrible situation. I think we need to fight for those jobs. We have a cluster of such people here in Los Angeles. And we need to keep them here. We need to show New York and Louisiana and Florida and all the other people are trying to steal our jobs that we’re willing to compete. I also favored keeping the Tesla factory battery factory in the state. I think it would have led to a tremendous amount of venture capital investment. Allowed investment. So I think it would do what it would have been great. Instead of that. It’s going out of the state. OK So I am in favor of that.

WO: Sheila Kuehl, back to you. You have support to from the public service unions it’s the kind of support that worked against Wendy Gruel when she was running for mayor of Los Angeles. How would you separate yourself from the unions if they helped you get elected especially at contract?

KUEHL: been able to separate myself from the people who contributed more than six million dollars over the years for my election. Some of them were unions. Some of them were not the labor federation has never endorsed me before. And never endorsed me in my primary for the Assembly for the Senate or in this primary. This is the first time. So they must be very worried. I guess just about the ability to negotiate but that you would have to ask them. The Chamber of Commerce or West Hollywood endorsed me. And one of the reasons that one of the most vibrant cities in the district and and seeing the greatest business growth endorsed me is because they think that I would be good in the private sector and we’ve been trying to bring business to the valley very happy to hear Bobby say that he’s in favor of the Motion Picture tax credit because I was the first author of that bill. So clearly that’s an issue for me as well. But most salient if may. The C.E.O. of the county Bill Fujioka, who is very well-known in terms of his concern about the budget and his fiscal conservatism who’s leaving the county after a number of years endorsed me and in his endorsement letter what he said was. That he was very worried about the fiscal health of the county and he thought I was much better placed temperament and experience to take care of that.

WO: Bobby Shriver

SHRIVER: Let me just say that both the mayor of West Hollywood, and the former mayor John Duran who I ran against in the primaries have both endorsed me. And really the growth of jobs and management of that city was done by those folks and some
other folks on that council. So I’m very passionate that —

KUEHL: That’s really not true,  John Heilemann have endorsed me from that council on that and John Duran has had more to do with development.

SHRIVER:  If someone has given you more than a million dollars and you’re elected. Then when you go in to represent the average taxpayer in a negotiation with that person. How likely is it that you’ll be able to represent the average taxpayer when you’re go with the person who gave you more than a million dollars

KUEHL: I say integrity is the it of it. When I was in Sacramento. There was every two years. There was a sort of a contest. And the press and your fellow members and all the staff in the building would vote about the member with the most integrity. And I won it twice in a row. And the reason is although I had just raised a couple of million dollars to be elected. They saw me as one of the most independent people up there and I’m still independent to claims that you’ll have trouble negotiating with the unions if they’re for you. But if you have nothing but developers putting money into your independent expenditure that you won’t have trouble negotiating with them. I think it’s ridiculous. I haven’t said that I worry about my opponent’s integrity. I resent that he says he worries about mine. I think there are least a thousand people that will tell you over the course of my service this has not been an issue for me. To do I know. And it has to realize that there is.

WO: Did you mean to question  your opponent’s integrity?

 SHRIVER: No of course We’re both lawyers and we both and we all know that when you go to negotiate against someone you’re not supposed be in conflict. If the person you’re  negotiating against has put more than a million dollars in your campaign and your job, as you mentioned earlier Warren, as an executive is to negotiate that person’s compensation. It’s a very difficult position to be in. None of the people who have put any money into my campaign, will I be responsible for negotiating their compensation. It’s not about integrity. It’s about a conflict that lawyer would recuse himself or herself in a situation where there’s a conflict or they got to ask for a waiver that have to to negotiate that kind of a contract is just very difficult when you walk in and across the table from you where you’re.

WO: Okay, the point is madde. Sheila Kuehl, you said earlier that you hadn’t had union support in the past. To the extent that you do now. So you don’t really have a record in separating yourself in a negotiation.

KUEHL: Well individually union supported me quite strongly. And the erroneous thing of saying if somebody gives you a million dollars I think Bobby knows the difference between an independent expenditure and people who are contributing to a campaign where you control what’s being said what’s being done. I think he also knows that it’s not the supervisor sitting across the table from the unions that these negotiations are done. And the final agreement is brought to the supervisors to approve. Or perhaps he didn’t know that but I think there it definitely is a way of impugning a person’s integrity have never had any trouble saying no to my friends. I have always done what I consider to be the right thing. I ran for office because I wanted there to be more justice and more fairness in the world. But he ran for office because the city of Santa Monica told him he had to cut his hedges.

SHRIVER: What if I can say there just for the record that although there are other people negotiating employment agreements as Sheila would know, had she served in local government, the person doing the negotiation comes to the supervisors and says what’s your position people? And that iterative process goes on before. So you actually are supervising your negotiators something I learned in my eight years of supervising employment to go stations as a member of the Santa Monica city council

WO: Is there anything you could do as a supervisor about the vast increase in rent in the Los Angeles area by some of the people who are supporting your campaign?

SHRIVER: Well that’s a really good question. And I think the most important thing that can be done is to build more affordable housing to use the boomerang fund show and I have agreed on this in the past to use a significant portion of the boomerang funds which are coming back to the county. Perhaps to partner. We built by the way in our little city of Santa Monica more per capita affordable housing or any other city in the state. Even during the recession when redevelopment exist. So the county and the area needs to get very busy very quickly to construct more housing. That’s absolutely essential.

WO: OK Let me ask you both a question. The current board has voted to spend two billion dollars on a new jail with a wing for the mentally ill. At the same time it’s efforting to reduce the number of inmates partly through the diversion of people who are mentally ill. Would you if you became a supervisor continue the process of building that two billion dollar new jail?

SHRIVER: No, I said widely and everywhere that I would not. I think mentally ill folks should be treated in community settings. So we’ve got a lot of research showing that it’s very very bad to jail them. These are the non-violent mentally ill.

WO: This is a jail for other people as well. Is there a need for a two billion dollar jail?

SHRIVER: No there’s a need for a new jail for bad people. There is not need for a new jail to incarcerate mentally ill or substance abuse people. They should be treating the community. But that’s the current plan. I think it’s important for your listeners to know the current plan. brought forward by Mr Fujioka and others is to build a two billion dollar jail and keep mentally ill people in that jail and completely against them for community mental health care.

KUEHL: I agree. I’m against it as well. The supervisors did not vote uniformly on that jail. And I’m hoping there will be some way to open that up again. Should I be elected. And I know Bobby agrees in trying to open it up. The difference I think between what they adopted and what would be right is the ability to send more people into community treatment not only for mental illness but also substance abuse.

WO: So we can say you don’t agree disagree on that issue in. General

KUEHL: The question that hasn’t been explored is whether the best setting for treatment of those who are incarcerated and have mental illness is in even separate beds in a huge jail or really better residential facilities in a new facility.

WO: So you both agree on that on that issue

KUEHL: In general we do.

WO: OK What about the children who have died while under the supervision of the Department of Child and Family Services. There’s a blue ribbon commission on child protection that says money to reform the system has been held back by backroom politics and a lack of support from the board. Should there be a county child support czar?

KUEHL: There should be a director of child welfare. And I wouldn’t call it as czar, it really would be a director over hopefully a number of the functions in several departments. The problem that the county has and really h the city as well is the siloing of the departments in the county because children are taken care of theoretically in the Department of Children and Family Services in the Department of Health and the Department of Mental Health in the Department of Education. If they’re incarcerated in probation. And what the blue ribbon commission recommended was to bring a lot of those functions together and put it under one person which the Fourth Estate has termed a czar. I support that very strongly. It’s going to take a lot of negotiation to get some of the budget from all of these different silos under the purview of the czar because you can say, oh sure you get to recommend a whole lot of things but it’s still left in the department.

WO: Do you agree? Do you want to consolidate those departments?

SHRIVER: Yes. And I think the point you was making there is the right one which is the budget has to follow the czar, the czar is the creation of a newspaper term. But I think it does communicate the idea which is the most important idea that the blue ribbon commission suggested in my judgement which is that there needs to be accountability. For wrongdoing or misbehavior. Right now there’s no accountability no everybody points the finger when something goes wrong. That’s got to stop. And that’s what those are called.

WO: Let me ask you a specific question about one of the departments. The federal Justice Department is seeking consent decree to give a control of the county jails which is describes as dimly lit vermin infested unsanitary cramped and crowded and that’s they say is one reason for the suicides of so many inmates especially those who are mentally ill abused by sheriffs deputies appears to be part of the problem. But they you don’t control them. The Department of Mental Health has a major presence in the jails. Does it need new leadership?

SHRIVER: It does. It reported to Mr Fujioko by the way. The consent decree will come. And I would not oppose it. I think the management of the jail has just been a disaster. Police officers have been indicted. As Sheriff McDonnell said the other day they’re going to do hard time. So when you’ve got police officers being indicted by the federal government gonna go to jail, you’ve got a situation that needs real aggression.

WO: To what extent is that the responsibility of the board?

SHRIVER: If I were on the board. I would be gnashing my teeth personally.

WO: But what would you be doing?

SHRIVER: I would be examining the budget in a very aggressive way. That is the kind of thing that would drive me crazy. I was not brought up in my family to allow that kind of stuff. If my title is the supervisor of a budget. And that’s the supervisor’s job to supervise the budget. And if you run somebody’s budget you can have a lot of influence over them. And that just wasn’t done here the C.E.O. didn’t do it. The board didn’t do it. And the situation is out of control and needs to be fixed. Thank God. The L.A. Times did report on it and  the A.C.L.U. and cause the ruckus that has led to the consent decree.

WO:  What about the consent decree that’s going to cost a lot of money.

KUEHL: It’s going to cost  a lot of money. The supervisors actually have a great deal more they can do that in addition to the budget. Because their hands are going to be tied a little bit by the consent decree costing so much more. And that’s really about what needs to be done in the jail itself. So the sheriff will come to the  supervisors and say I’ve got to have all this extra money because we screwed up. And the supervisors will have to decide what they can do and what they can’t. But it’s not just budget. It’s a question of can there be a citizens oversight commission? It’s a question of whether the inspector general can have subpoena power because what happened in the past is the supervisors. Everybody says oh they were so lax. But you must have the tools in order to get the information that you need to oversee. In terms of the department of mental health, that is directly under the supervisors and I believe that there needs to be a great deal more done in terms of the interplay between those prisoners in the jail who need mental health services and the Department of Mental Health being much more aggressive. It’s fine to gnash your teeth, it is fine to say it drives you crazy. But you actually have to take action which has been essentially what I have done and tried to do over my entire career. Before I even went to the legislature you.

WO: You mentioned that Mr Fujioka is leaving as the city’s administrative officer. So are other high officials including the county council aboard the existing wars are you appointed a new county council. They want to assume they want to appoint a new tax collector and possibly even a new chief administrative officer. Are you concerned that they will do that before you are able to take office and that you’ll have them to work with somebody that you didn’t help to choose.

SHRIVER: Yes I think it’s a bad idea. I’ve spoken actually to supervisor Alex Solis about about this issue. And I think it’s a very bad idea for the incoming supervisors to not be part of the process to hire the senior staff in the county.

WO: Will the board be divided over this. Do you think. Will it cause trouble on the board as a result?

SHRIVER: No If they wait. I think if they go ahead now and I mean I don’t know Sheila’s view. I wouldn’t be that happy.

KUEHL: I wasn’t so concerned when they appointed county council because it was like an internal bump up. And the same thing in terms of the auditor controller the reason they needed a new tax collector was because they have pointed the tax collector to be that. However I sincerely doubt that they’re going to be able to hire a new C.E.O. in six weeks.

WO: Is ot appropriate for them to do that before all the suits have been filled. Gloria Molina wont be there, neither will Zev Yaroslavsky.

KUEHL: I know it sounds like a bad. thing. But in those two instances I don’t really have that much objection to what I do object to is the conversation about returning the strong C.E.O. model to a county administrators officer. I don’t think that would be a good idea. I frankly don’t think they have the votes for it. I’ve indicated to a few of the supervisor’s obviously it’s up to them. But it’s not something that I think we need to do.

WO: Do you disagree in any way on that?

SHRIVER: No I agree with the strong C.E.O. model. And I would just say the one person they should  appoint very very quickly is the  department of public health with the ebola thing happening.There’s no screening going on at L.A.X.. You can fly from West Africa to London and change planes and fly to . L.A.X. right now. The county needs  to get on that in a very aggressive way and the county needs to make sure that the public health practices that are in place here.

KEUHL: But I don’t think you should scare the public. They have a very strong acting right now and I honestly think taking their time to find someone of the stature of Dr Fielding would be very good for the county.

WO: You want to see have been speeded up I-

SHRIVER: Well I think Mr Antonovich had a hearing on this a couple weeks ago.  think it’s very important that I think that we have to be on very high alert here and I’ve had a lot of experience. So looking at how epidemics have developed and worked very closely on each of the AIDS epidemic. But it’s a dangerous matter. People need to pay attention. The president canceled his schedule. And he’s coming home. I mean people have got to pay attention. This is a serious matter. And county needs to be seriously focused on it.

WO: All right. It appears the clocks are even and that is all the time that way. I have for what’s been a very interesting debate. Bobby Shriver Sheila Kuehl candidates for Los Angeles County supervisor representing the third District. Thank you so much for being here.

Thank you for having us Warren, It’s always a pleasure.