My Final Words

Dear Friends and Colleagues,

As I mark the end of my time on the Board of Supervisors, I do so with tremendous gratitude and thanksgiving. It has been the honor and privilege of a lifetime to represent the residents of the Second Supervisorial District.

I leave the County with a deep confidence that government should and must be a force for good, and can lead the way in creating more equitable and inclusive communities. The journey we have taken together has proven as much.

When I took my oath of office  in 2008, the world was a much different place.  The economy was in a deep recession. The nation’s first Black president had just been elected to office. And my own community of South Los Angeles was in turmoil after the closure of the Martin Luther King, Jr. Hospital—an institution ravaged by years of neglect and disinvestment.

I campaigned with a mandate to reopen that hospital, and I am proud that today it stands as a monument to our collective efforts, pride of place, and fidelity to the ideals of justice, equity and progress.  We have not only established an award-winning community hospital, but transformed the entire Martin Luther King, Jr. Medical Campus and the Willowbrook community at-large by investing over a billion dollars in state-of-the-art medical facilities, affordable housing, transportation, and in recreation and community-based amenities.

I leave here with great pride in what we have accomplished together. This year we broke ground on the SEED School of Los Angeles, the nation’s first public boarding school that will prepare at-risk youth for careers in the transportation and infrastructure industries on long-blighted land at the corner of Vermont and Manchester. We established a bioscience hub at the Harbor-UCLA Medical Campus that will spur medical innovations to benefit the globe. We have also fought for and secured more than $3.7 billion to improve parks, libraries and community centers, as well as a rail line that will open next year and finally connect the Metro system to the airport along the Crenshaw Corridor.

Throughout my tenure on the Board, I have been both awed and humbled by the tremendous work that can be achieved when we align our resolve and our ingenuity to improve the conditions for those that need us most. I believe we have shown, in countless moments, that the commitment of this County through its leadership and hundreds of thousands of public servants, remains unrivaled. And this service and perseverance has only been more apparent in the face of an unrelenting public health crisis.

I sincerely thank the incredible leadership among the County’s 39 distinct departments, special districts, and commissions. They have each made their respective mark in advancing an agenda that improves the public good – and this has become more challenging and critical over the past year. We owe each of them, and their teams of essential workers, a tremendous debt of gratitude.

Thanks to the efforts of our dedicated civil servants, along with countless non-profit and civic organizations, business groups and labor partners, we have made an impact. We have instituted long-awaited accountability and reform with the establishment of the Office of Inspector General, the Sheriff’s Citizens’ Oversight Commission, and the Probation Oversight Commission. We have built hundreds of units of affordable housing and passed Measure H to ensure more revenue is dedicated to transitioning thousands of Angelenos out of homelessness each year. And we have strategically promoted economic development and job creation opportunities by leveling the playing field for small businesses to participate and establishing project labor agreements with local hiring requirements that have now become the region’s gold standard.

Ours is work that we are blessed to own for a season, and then to pass on. I have no doubt that hope will endure, and that progress will continue because the pursuit of equity and justice is greater than any one of us.

As my successor is sworn into office, again in the midst of an economic recession and new national leadership, our communities are not faced with the public health consequences of a shuttered hospital, but with a global pandemic that has taken the lives of family and friends and still threatens the health and safety of our loved ones. Yet this crisis has done something more— it has shed light on the deep structural inequalities prevalent in so many of our socio-economic and governmental systems.  In light of this complex reality, I respectfully offer the following insights and hopes for the future Board of Supervisors:

  • Address Systemic Racism. Los Angeles County must continue leading the way in implementing an anti-racist framework for governance. So much of what we have done, how we have invested, the services we have provided, are a reaction to the systemic, race-based inequalities that have for far too long defined our society. The County can redefine, reinvest, and rethink its approaches – to fundamentally address race-based poverty and its devastating impacts.
  • Reimagine Law Enforcement. As the County does this difficult work, the drive for full transparency, oversight and accountability over our justice system is of paramount importance. This must begin with a sweeping reform of the Probation Department so that all youth are provided the services they need to course-correct their lives instead of being marked punitively in a manner that will haunt and stigmatize them forever. And this extends to oversight over the Sheriff’s Department and investing in alternatives to incarceration. Effective community policing, and moreover, community safety, will not come until this imbalance of power is corrected, the culture of our law enforcement department shifts in a manner that creates more community trust, and we invest in the proven solutions that help our community members rehabilitate and redefine themselves, instead of languishing in a jail cell.
  • Invest in the Built Environment. The impact of one’s physical environment on their sense of dignity and worth should not be underestimated. It is our responsibility, as custodians of public spaces, to ensure that we wield our capital to improve and upgrade these assets – ranging from administrative buildings to community centers – in a manner that improves and uplifts the quality of life for all occupants and the surrounding communities. The County must continue to re-invest its assets to ensure they meet the needs of a 21st Century constituency and think innovatively about how to redevelop and revitalize underutilized property for its highest and best use.
  • End Homelessness. Homelessness, plain and simple, is the moral crisis of our time. No man, woman, child or veteran should ever have to resort to living on the sidewalk, in a dilapidated vehicle, or in a tent. While the County redefines its most essential responsibilities, ending homelessness must be at the top of the agenda for both the County and the City. It is my intention to strengthen the collaboration between these two governmental entities for this purpose. While Measure H was a tremendous victory that created previously unimagined resources to support this effort, we know it is simply insufficient to address the pressing need. There must be a renewed commitment to prevent the persistent onslaught of Angelenos becoming homeless, and support the development of more affordable housing, including units coupled with on-site supportive services which is critical for many who are transitioning from the streets, to enable them to thrive on a long-term basis.

No matter the turn of the electoral wheel, this work remains urgent and important. I chose to pursue a position on the Los Angeles City Council for one simple reason – I am not yet done. I want to use my insight, experience, and know-how to make more meaningful progress on these critical issues and many others. In this next chapter, I recommit to shouldering my part of our collective responsibility to fight for the common good and invest in the next generation of leaders and public servants who will pursue a fairer, more equitable, and more just Los Angeles, and I ask the same of you.  We must create a better future, to forge lasting change, and push towards a brighter day. Far too much remains at stake.

With hope,


County Data At Your Fingertips


Ushering in a new era of transparency and accountability, Los Angeles County launched an Open Data website Thursday that will serve as a user-friendly one-stop shop for the public to access vast troves of data – from neighborhood crime statistics to restaurant inspection grades, and many more.

“We are now offering more information in an accessible and unprecedented way to our county residents,” said Supervisor Mark Ridley-Thomas, who authored the motion creating the county’s Open Data Initiative. “We will continue to ask for transparency and to encourage innovation with the information that our county collects.”

Click on the image to access

Previously, the public had to sift through hundreds of pages of files on different county websites to obtain information.

With the new website, they simply click an icon on the their computer screen to look at the county budget, expenditures, employee salaries, election results, and the largest online collection of property assessment records in the U.S.

The data is also in a form that entrepreneurs can use to develop mobile apps, potentially leading to further innovations. The county has created a task force to identify even more datasets that can be added to the website after the initial launch.

Los Angeles County is the largest municipal government in the nation to make data easily accessible. It follows a 2013 executive order by President Barack Obama declaring that information is a valuable national asset whose worth can be multiplied when made accessible to the public.

Crenshaw/LAX Rail Line: Construction On Track

Construction of the $2-billion, 8.5-mile Crenshaw/LAX rail line continues to move forward, with another round of excavation underway for an underground train station.

The Los Angeles County Metropolitan Transportation Authority has been working on the project for just over a year, tackling challenging feats of engineering while also supporting businesses in the hard had areas.

Once completed in 2019, the Crenshaw/LAX rail line will have eight stations, the northernmost connecting to the Expo Line, and southernmost to the Green Line, not far from one of the world’s busiest airports. Funded through Measure R, a half-cent sales tax approved by voters in 2008, it is projected to have a daily ridership of 13,000 to 16,000.

Los Angeles County Supervisor Mark Ridley-Thomas, vice chairman of Metro’s Board of Directors, said the importance of the Crenshaw/LAX rail line cannot be understated.

“This rail line will transform neighborhoods by allowing people to get where they need to be, and quickly,” he said. “It’ll also cut air pollution and traffic congestion, and boost businesses along the route by carrying customers almost to their doorstep. In short, it will change the landscape of Los Angeles for the better.”

Freedom Schools End with Grand Celebration

Freedom Schools Finale - Ladera ParkEight-year-old, Laci Martin of Compton enjoyed attending her summer literacy enrichment program, so much last year she couldn’t wait to return to Read Lead’s Children’s Defense Fund Freedom School in Lynwood this year.

“Last year I wasn’t a good reader, but now I can read 141 words a minute,” Laci said enthusiastically. “I’ve read so many books this summer, I can’t count how many books I’ve read.”

Laci was one of more than 450 Freedom Schools scholars, ages 5 to 18 celebrating the end of their summer Freedom School program, a six week long program created by the Children’s Defense Fund to prevent the effects of summer learning loss. Throughout the summer, six Freedom Schools sites throughout the Second District, provided these young scholars with a curriculum that was both challenging and entertaining, with activities that included reading, art, dance, music, field trips, athletics and community service.

The model is based on an idea born 50 years ago this summer, during the crucible of the civil rights movement. In 1964, in what came to be called the Mississippi Freedom Summer, when college students from around the nation descended on the state to help African-Americans register to vote and to teach black children as an alternative to Mississippi’s underfunded and segregated school system. For many pupils, the Freedom Schools provided their first introduction to literature by and about black people, encouraging them to both read about and write their own stories.

Freedom Schools Finale - Ladera ParkFast-forward to 2014, and students in today’s Freedom Schools received similar encouragement. As it did 50 years ago, a love of reading blossomed in these young ones too. That’s crucial, because studies have shown that students from lower socioeconomic backgrounds suffer a significant learning gap during the 11 weeks of summer vacation.

For the nearly 500 children of the Second District Freedom Schools, however, much of that gap was filled with mentoring, lessons and field trips. At the program’s end, children and their teachers gathered at Ladera Park in Los Angeles recently for a special culmination party. In addition to singing, chanting and celebrating their newfound love of reading, they were treated to a reading from Donzaleigh Abernathy, actress, author and daughter of the legendary civil rights leader Rev. Ralph Abernathy.

She read from her book, Partners to History and told the children how during slavery, reading was not an option for many and in fact, slave owners punished blacks who tried to learn to read.

Freedom Schools Finale - Ladera Park“I wanted to share that history and that’s why I decided to read the book today,” Abernathy, who knew Martin Luther King, Jr. so well he was like an uncle, said. “ I wrote the book because I love my dad and I love Uncle Martin and they made it possible for me to be free in the world.”

In addition, the students were treated to a special baseball clinic by the Los Angeles Dodgers. They learned about earthquake safety, climbed aboard a fire engine and stopped by the Los Angeles County Public Library’s Urban Outreach Bookmobile.

Freedom Schools Finale - Ladera Park“All children are entitled to a strong learning environment,” said Los Angeles County Supervisor Mark Ridley-Thomas, who has sponsored 16 sites over the past five years. “Freedom Schools instill an unstoppable love of learning and reading that positively affects every child. It is always an honor to see the desire to learn passed down to generations.”

As part of the program, college students serve as “Servant Leader Interns” who are trained to work as reading tutors and role models, motivating children to develop positive attitudes about themselves and their abilities. For first-time Freedom Schools Community Coalition Servant Leader Intern, Yvette Aragon, 23 of Los Angeles, the finale was bittersweet.

“I’m happy to be here with my scholars but to see the program end makes me sad,” Aragon said. “I’m so proud of them, not just my scholars but all the scholars here. They are dynamic and I know they are going to be future leaders.”

Hellen Keller Read Lead Servant Leader Intern Crystal Leon, 26 agreed with Aragon: “It’s a lot of hard work, dedication and long hours but at the end of the day when you make a difference in someone’s life, it’s all worth it.”


Local Worker Gets Second Chance

Homeless and recently released from prison in 2011, Blair Martin knew she needed a big break to get back on her feet. Little did she know that her opportunity would happen so near her hometown of Compton.

Martin had worked all sorts of jobs that were either short lived or uninspiring — like driving a truck for her uncle’s now defunct trucking business or manning a cash register at McDonald’s for eight dollars an hour. So when she was given a chance to interview for a spot on the construction crew of the new MLK outpatient center in Willowbrook, she jumped at it.

The 23-year-old knew she had to make a good impression at the interview and prove that despite her past, she was ready for new future. Martin convinced the hire ups at Sharpe Interior Systems that she wanted a career—not a job and her enthusiasm, broad smile and willingness to work were persuasive. She was hired.

Martin is one of nine women on a crew of more than 130 working on the construction of the MLK outpatient center. When it opens in 2014, the center is expected to provide state of the art outpatient care including primary, specialty and urgent care for those not needing an overnight hospital stay.

Martin benefitted from the local worker hiring program, which Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors Chairman Mark Ridley-Thomas has championed on all construction projects in the Second District and the county. On most county jobs, at least 30 percent of the workforce must come from the area and some must be “disadvantaged local workers” meaning that they are homeless or parolees, like Martin.

It is not an easy job. The days are long and arduous.

Her shift begins before 6 a.m. On any given day, Martin, like the men on the job, carries wooden beams and 12-foot-long sheets of wallboard; saw dust and fine particles of dirt swirl in the air, covering the skin in a dusty film. The constant noise from saws, hammers and drills is deafening. Paying attention to her surroundings is key—there are holes in the ground, people walking around with long steel beams and dangling wires everywhere.

Larry Shufelt, the general foreman on the project who hired Martin, estimates that only 1 out of 5 apprentices make it through the end of the three-year training program to become journeyman-or a full union member.

Trainees such as Martin get both on-the-job training but also grounding in job skills important to all employers: “We talk to them about punctuality, attendance and discipline,” he said. “Blair’s work ethic is top notch.”

For Martin, much is at stake: a new life.

“Prison made me change a whole lot,” she said. “I realized I didn’t need a job—I needed a career that I can do for the rest of my life and that I will actually enjoy doing.”

So, while her new career is tough, it has provided a new path and Martin has embraced it fearlessly, said Shufelt.

“In this job, you have to climb high on scaffolding and some don’t like it,” he said. “She is not afraid of heights.”

But in order to climb, she needed a custom made harness for her petite frame. When the order was placed, Shufelt’s boss asked if Martin was worth the investment.

“I looked at him and said, ‘yeah, she is worth investing in,’” he said. “She is going to make it.”