It can feel like navigating local government is purposely complex to keep working class people from participating in it. Don’t let its complexity discourage you. Understanding how local government works is important because it allows residents to keep elected leaders accountable, and ensure their basic civic needs are being met.

Nowhere is that complexity more obvious than the power vested in the county’s powerful Board of Supervisors. Few people truly understand it, perhaps including even the supervisors themselves. Yet the Board, and its five elected “supervisors,” wields profound power over life in Los Angeles County.

In California, “county” government comes between the state and local “cities.” A county acts as a subdivision of the state government. Its job is to provide, at a local level, state and federal government services like voting and elections, law enforcement, local courts and jails, plus maintaining hospitals and public health infrastructure, and a variety of other public social service programs. Whether you know it or not, if you live in LA County, your life is touched countless times every single day by a facet of the county. 

It’s the Board of Supervisors (BOS) who are in charge of all of it. They make hugely important, county-wide decisions with limited oversight, and little public accountability. 

At the end of the day, it’s five people who have the authority to manage a nearly $50 billion annual budget, larger than most US States. Much of that budget is to provide social and health services for LA County residents who cannot afford to pay for more expensive private service.

Below is a crash course in Los Angeles County government:

a building exterior picture in downtown Los Angeles. Building sign says: "Kenneth Hahn Hall of Administration".
The Kenneth Hahn Hall of Administration is the headquarters for Los Angeles County government, including the Board of Supervisors. (Matt Tinoco)


LA County’s five supervisors are elected representatives who collectively represent the roughly 9.6 million people living in LA County. Each of the five supervisors is elected to represent a single “supervisorial” district of about two million people. LA County’s five supervisorial districts are uniquely gigantic, diverse, and complicated when compared to virtually any other local government structure anywhere else in the country.

LA is known for its geographic diversity. We have mountainous regions with popular hiking trails, 75-miles of coastline along the Pacific Ocean, as well as many valley, desert, and even island communities. The county is also home to many immigrant populations. A third (33.3%) of LA County residents are born outside of the country and more than half of the population (54.8%) speak a language other than English at home, according to the US Census. 

The supervisorial districts include 88 incorporated cities, approximately 140 unincorporated areas, and dozens of communities within the City of Los Angeles, the largest of those 88 incorporated cities. 

LA County is home to some of the richest and poorest communities and cities in the US, sometimes located side by side. Palos Verdes Estates, one of the wealthiest cities in the county has a median household income of $224,766, whereas Cudahy, one of the poorest cities in the county, has a median household income of $49,596, both in the Fourth Supervisorial District.   

Here are the five-current LA County Supervisors:

  1. First District, including Eastern LA County, expanding from Silverlake to Pomona – Hilda Solis
  2. Second District, consisting of West LA, South LA and the South Bay – Holly Mitchell
  3. Third District, stretching from Hollywood to the Ventura County line, includes Santa Monica and the San Fernando Valley – Lindsey Horvath
  4. Fourth District, includes the Southeast LA region, Long Beach, and Palos Verdes peninsula – Janice Hahn
  5. Fifth District, the geographically largest district, covering 2,785 square miles, encompassing LA County’s desert communities, as well as the foothill communities of the San Gabriel and San Fernando Valleys  – Kathryn Barger
A map of Los Angeles County, including the jurisdictional lines for local cities and county supervisorial districts.
A map of Los Angeles County, including the jurisdictional lines for local cities and county supervisorial districts in 2024. Click for a link to PDF original on County website. (Via Los Angeles County Department of Public Works).

The Board has been led by all women since Supervisor Holly Mitchell was elected to the Board in 2020 to replace Mark Ridley-Thomas. In the past, the sheer concentration of power in the Board and its lack of clear checks and balances earned the BOS the title: “the five little kings.” While that title may not directly apply today, the power concentration remains. 

As for who can become a supervisor, campaigning in such large districts requires a candidate to have access to big money. This means LA County Supervisors enter the office with years of political experience from different offices. 

Supervisor Mitchell previously served in the California State Senate, both Janice Hahn and Hilda Solis previously served in Congress, and Solis was the federal Secretary of Labor under President Barack Obama. Kathryn Barger’s entire career prior to her election was spent working for her predecessor, Michael Antonovich. Lindsey Horvath was previously the Mayor of, and a council member for, the City of West Hollywood.  

All of this is to say that it is difficult, and relatively unprecedented, for grassroots candidates to be elected to countywide office. The scale and relative inaccessibility of countywide power complicates the path for those who don’t already know how to play politics.

Today supervisors are limited to serve three four-year terms, but that wasn’t always the case. Until 2002, when voters approved term limits, supervisors were able to serve as long as they kept winning elections. That allowed for some extremely long terms, like Kenneth Hahn’s 40 years, and Antonovich’s 36 years. Each supervisor makes a $232,000 annual salary

Altogether, they ‘supervise’ a population and budget bigger than most US states and many countries.


Maybe it’s more like what don’t they supervise. The Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors is a single governing body that has legislative, executive and quasi-judicial responsibilities. That means they’re responsible for making and implementing laws, and hold some power to ‘determine’ if the law is being followed and assign consequences if it’s not. 

They manage and spend state and federal money through a gigantic payroll across 38 different departments, and virtually countless sub-contractors. And, they’re partially responsible for managing Los Angeles County’s local court and justice system.

When the supervisors are meeting, they sit at these desks inside the Kenneth Hahn Hall of Administration in Downtown Los Angeles. (Ashley Orona)

In their executive capacity, the Board administers local government functions similar to a mayor of an incorporated city. For the roughly 1 million LA County residents who live in an “unincorporated” area – that is not a part of an “incorporated” city – the supervisors are like your mayor and city council in one. That means they’re responsible for establishing policies and providing municipal services such as law enforcement, trash collection, road maintenance, library services, and parks.

But because they are county representatives, they have additional responsibilities to protect the public health, safety, and welfare of LA County residents, and especially during emergency situations. This was abundantly clear during the COVD pandemic, where the Los Angeles County Department of Public Health (DPH) was the responsible agency for wide-ranging local public health rules and response. DPH also is in charge of regulating food safety and a myriad of other health and safety codes, and it’s just one department of 38. 

Listing out everything the County does could literally fill libraries (one of their departments). If you want to go deep on all the departments, a good place to start is the county’s own website. Here are a couple of the big ones: 

  • The Department of Health Services operates the four public hospitals and 26 health centers across the county. It also provides health care to incarcerated youth and adults in county jails. 
  • The Department of Public Social Services manages programs and services such as cash assistance, food and nutrition, health care, and job services.   
  • The Department of Mental Health conducts case management, crisis intervention, medication support, and other rehabilitation services to people who experience mental illness. The department provides its services in schools, hospitals, juvenile halls and camps, mental health courts, and even people’s homes. 
  • The Department of Public Works is responsible for ensuring the infrastructure is safe and up to date. It manages much of our storm and water infrastructure, transportation infrastructure, environmental services, municipal services for unincorporated areas, and construction of large public projects.

The Board also oversees, along with the independently elected County Sheriff and District Attorney, court, jail, and law enforcement infrastructure in Los Angeles County. The Board approves the Sheriff’s Department’s yearly budget, but elected Sheriffs have historically had the liberty of managing their department as they wished with little to no oversight from the supervisors. Years of limited oversight led to countless problems within the department such as rampant deputy gangs and deplorable conditions inside the county jails.

With all of this responsibility vested in just five people… it’s kind of a mess!!

It’s virtually impossible for each supervisor to be on top of what each community they represent needs when they have about two million constituents. Unless residents are reaching out to the county offices or showing up to town halls, it’s likely that issues in their community are overlooked. 

Youth advocates rally outside the LA County Board of Supervisors meeting (Ashley Orona / LA Public Press).


Being that each supervisor has such a large district and so many responsibilities, it’s often difficult for constituents to get a hold of their supervisor to raise a concern. The relative inaccessibility of county government to LA County residents is a known problem, and last year the supervisors began studying what it would take to expand the board, and potentially make county government, at least a little bit, more representative. 

This is especially important for the one-million residents who live in unincorporated parts of LA County. If you live in an incorporated city such as Los Angeles, Pasadena, Huntington Park, or Inglewood, you have a city council that passes laws and provides municipal services. If you live in an unincorporated area in the county, then the supervisors are your direct elected official.

Many people might not even realize that they live in an unincorporated area because their mailing addresses reflect a city adjacent to them. This can be confusing when having to request a service or trying to express a grievance to your local municipality. Because the county has many departments with over 100,000 employees, constituents are met with endless bureaucracy trying to get to the right person that can help them solve their problem.

For people who live in incorporated cities, if they have a question or need a service, they can visit their city hall and find someone who can help them. For people living in unincorporated areas, many don’t live near a local county office where they can directly reach a person for help. So, they are often forced to make a long trek across Los Angeles County to locate the correct county office, wherever it may be.  

Each supervisor’s office has staff to respond to constituent concerns, as well as manage county department activity within their own districts. The links above will link to general contact forms for each office. But because the county is so large and diffuse, it’s sometimes faster to go straight to the department if you know which you need help with.

The county maintains a list of Public Information Officers for the supervisors, as well as each individual department. You don’t have to be a journalist to ask a question. 

The supervisors hold meetings on most Tuesday mornings at the Kenneth Hahn Hall of Administration in downtown Los Angeles at 500 W. Temple St. These weekly meetings are where the supervisors discuss and vote on a dizzying number of official government actions. 

the interior of an auditorium-like public meeting room. blue seats are about half filled with people. Big room with maybe 150 seats.
The public seating area inside the Board’s meeting room at the Kenneth Hahn Hall of Administration. The seats are comfy. (Matt Tinoco).

Meeting agendas can be found online and outline all the issues the Board will address at the meeting, including any supporting documents and public comments submitted. Agendas for scheduled meetings are published on the Wednesday before the meeting and supplemental agendas are published Friday evenings, right before the weekend. As you may notice, agendas are jam packed and it’s not guaranteed that every agenda item will be discussed at the meeting. 

Many agenda items are passed in a cluster and collectively voted on as part of the “consent calendar.” Taking an item “on consent” typically means approving it unanimously, and without discussion.       

People are welcome to attend the meetings in person or virtually. Folks can either listen-in by phone or watch the live broadcast online.

Community members are also encouraged to voice their opinions and concerns by making public comments. Public comments can be made in person by signing up on the kiosk right before entering the meeting room, or by calling into the meeting. The board also accepts written public comment.

Ashley Orona is a journalist and community organizer from South Central Los Angeles. She loves spending time with her family, supporting local businesses, and finding new scenic views around LA.

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