Last Wednesday, the Santa Monica Democratic Club invited Third District County Supervisor Lindsey Horvath and 51st Assembly District Representative Rick Chavez Zbur to address the club. Each elected leader received almost an hour for opening remarks and then took questions from Club leadership.

The Club has been successful lately with the use of a “hybrid” meeting format, offering in-person meet-ups with a local tablet near the podium recording meeting speakers for Zoom participants, whose Zoom squares could be seen by those attending live. All told, Horvath and Zbur addressed nearly 90 local Democrats, split fairly even between formats.

Santa Monica Councilmember Caroline Torosis, who works for neighboring Supervisor Holly Mitchell, opened by introducing Horvath (in person), who was effusive in her thanks to the club, which endorsed her run for Supervisor last fall.

“I just want to thank you from the bottom of my heart for all that you did to help us get there. I’m incredibly honored to be here also because I know the record and legacy of activism and leadership many of you individually have demonstrated as well as your leadership as a Democratic Club.”

She recounted a very busy first eight months on the job, one for which she had little time in transition. “So for those of you who didn’t know, it was about eight days. Between the time I found out from my opponent that he was conceding the election to the time that I actually was sworn into office, it was eight business days, I think. So it was a bit of a whirlwind to ramp up and get into the office. In those eight days, I had to close down my city council office, I had to close down my business and figure out what I was going to do in terms of having staff and being prepared to do the work.”

She quickly pivoted to the issue of homelessness, stating that her very first motion as a Supervisor pertained to the issue. She said, “My overall intention is to use this time in a State of Emergency to identify where we’re getting in our own way on this issue. And to stand up a system of governance that makes much more sense; that’s intelligible not just for us in the building, but for everybody who needs to access it. So right now we’re expediting hiring and contracting. But we’re also working to look system-wide.”

Horvath did say she had herself appointed to the board of the Los Angeles Homeless Services Authority (LAHSA), responsible for assisting the unhoused. Later in the meeting, during Q&A, LAHSA has a challenge in helping local governments understand what they do and how they do it. Said Horvath, “I know when I met with the city manager and the mayor, your city manager expressed to me that if he called LAHSA, he wouldn’t even know what to ask them for, and that he didn’t have an ongoing relationship with the folks at LAHSA. So if a city manager in a city like Santa Monica is unclear about what sort of benefit a sustained and engaged relationship with LAHSA would provide to your community, we’re in a world of hurt. And so I think we might need to do a much better job of not only standing up the services in a more intelligent way but actually communicating with people what services exist and how they can access them.”

But the Q&A began with questions on the county needle exchange program for intravenous drug users and shutting down men’s central jail. And for those thinking political activists are without a sense of humor, Horvath drew laughs when she said, “And this is why I love the Santa Monica Democratic Club, because like right out the gate, you guys are talking about needle exchange and shutting down the jail!” She supports the needle exchange program but hopes like many activists it can spend more time with addicts and users for longer periods of time in service areas.

On Men’s Central Jail, Horvath is determined that it be shut down and is frustrated with the pace of doing so. She said, “The issue to close the jail, the issue to address the humanitarian crisis that’s going on in our jails in L.A. County, has been going on for an embarrassing number of years. And the most recent court order under which we are ordered to come into compliance was actually issued all the way back in 2015. In 2018, The board voted to actually shut down the jail, and yet here we are in 2023 and that still hasn’t happened.”

Horvath also signaled there are dangers to local control if the county can’t successfully shut down Men’s Central. “It is the right thing to do, it is the humanitarian thing to do. And it is essential that we do this work not only for those moral reasons, but if we don’t, we will not only lose control and authority over our facilities, we will also lose control and authority of the dollars that go to fund those services. We do not want the Federal government coming in and taking over our facilities and our money.”

She rejected media reports of recent months that contend the county is trying to manage the shutdown without consulting law enforcement, suggesting some argued the supervisors were practically throwing open jail cell doors. “Even if you think we are the kind of people who would do such a thing, we don’t have the authority to do so by ourselves. In fact, the Sheriff’s Department, the district attorney, and the courts have the ability to release people from jail, which is why we have to work in partnership with them. So what we’re doing is identifying the appropriate alternatives to incarceration.”

Also with regard to law enforcement, Club leadership noted that Horvath was the only member of the Metro Board to vote against renewing its contract with local law enforcement to police the Metro lines. She contends that unarmed responses to incidents of distress are more appropriate, and she supports the program of unarmed Security Ambassadors that is being piloted now, hoping it expands system-wide. She also says police stations that are closest to Metro stops with reported incidents are often the ones that respond to calls, not law enforcement that’s supposedly staffing and walking the Metro lines or riding trains or buses. That creates a double dip in billing for law enforcement.

Horvath was also asked about her co-authorship of a major governance reform effort, along with Supervisor Mitchell, that would, in part, expand the number of supervisors from its current Five-member board. Horvath said she and Mitchell were able to get their motion passed on the second try, and that now, “What it’s making possible is the county investing and actually hiring the expertise to understand what other forms of government we could be looking at, what sort of representation makes sense for a county of our size with the kinds of needs and responsibilities we have. There is no other county government like this in the country I can safely tell you.” Horvath, Mitchell, and their colleagues each represent more than two million residents. So we’ll hear about this study and effort for months to come.

Asked about right-wing court decisions and states restricting rights to abortion care, Horvath said the Board of Supervisors declared the county an abortion safe haven even before she took office. She also spoke of the county’s efforts, under board direction, to stock up on mifepristone, a drug that helps prevent a pregnancy from continuing, which has also come under right-wing and Supreme Court threat. “The idea that medication, which has been deemed safe by the FDA and is accessible to people is now being restricted, is absurd,” Horvath said.

Horvath also spoke of her work on behalf of renters, for which she is the only one among the Board of Supervisors, as well as her and her colleague’s efforts in support of striking entertainment writers and actors.

Photo provided by then Supervisorial candidate Lindsey Horvath

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