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HODG “Looking Local” Candidate Series: Bob Hertzberg

LA County Supervisorial District 3 candidate (and current California State Senate member) Bob Hertzberg, in conversation with the Hang Out Do Good organization on Sunday, May 22.


The Hang Out Do Good advocacy group recently concluded a series of “Looking Local” conversations with candidates currently running for local offices including Los Angeles Mayor, the Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors, LA County Sheriff, Los Angeles City Attorney, and several Los Angeles City Council seats. The conversations took place on Sunday afternoons, via Zoom, and were open to the public. This conversation with Bob Hertzberg, a former member and Speaker of the California State Assembly and representing California State Senate District 18, was held on Sunday, May 22. The conversation was structured as a Q&A with HODG hosts, and covered the following topics:



Hertzberg said he’s a native Angeleno, born at Temple Hospital, and his father was a constitutional lawyer who taught Hertzberg to challenge the status quo, fight for social justice, and always try to get a sense of people’s character.  Hertzberg has now also been a lawyer for 43 years.  He said he didn’t run for office until he was 45 years old, but came into elected office with specific goals and achieved them.  He said he came into office during the energy crisis and left in 2014 better informed on things like green energy and emissions…as well as the huge gap between the rhetoric on those topics and how to get things done.  After leaving the Assembly, Hertzberg said said traveled the world to learn more about energy issues, and then returned to state government to work on renewable energy, climate change, and social justice issues.  He said he’s running for LA County Supervisor now because he’s frustrated that “we keep writing checks,” but nothing seems to be happening at ground level.  In other words, “deliverables” are “gigantically important,” and he’s not someone who governs via press releases.


How would you provide strong leadership on homelessness?

Hertzberg said that as a politician, he knows how politicians work – many of them like to point fingers, but people need to take responsibility for the issues.  He said he would like to create an MTA-style, multi-organizational board on homelessness, on which he would like to serve, and which could be held responsible for progress on the issue.  For example, he said, the recent LA County Blue Ribbon Commission on homelessness noted that all cities are paying into a fund to deal with homelessness, but not all cities received the services they should have.  “At the end of the day, it’s responsibility,” Hertzberg said.  “And I’ll do that.”

Hertzberg also said he’ll use his skill and contacts at the state legislature to ask for funding to create that new board, just for LA County…though it could also serve as a pilot for other counties since it’s easier to understand the relationships among multiple agencies, governments and other organizations in a more limited area than a statewide program would provide.


What kinds of improvements would you make in mental health services for LA County, and how would you get it done?

Hertzberg said you don’t need a psychologist to run a mental health department, and it it’s actually better to have an administrator who knows how to manage systems…so we need to change the department management.  Also, he noted that there’s currently $1 billion in the bank for mental health, but we’re not spending it, which is “crazy.”  Hertzberg said this money could also be used for housing for the mentally ill, and – in addition – we’ve had $116 million available since 2019 for a program modeled after one in Italy, but nothing’s happened with that one yet either.  “There are resources everywhere and nothing’s being done,” he said.  But he promised he would change that.  “I’m a homework person,” he said, “a policy wonk to the extreme.”


Do you support the 988 mental health emergency response system as an alternative to 911…and how can you ensure it will be supported?

Hertzberg said the 988 system is “brilliant,” and we shouldn’t have people responding to mental health calls with a gun, which is a misuse of resources and treats people poorly.  He said he would like to make the 988 system “a giant priority,” and that it needs to be available everywhere, 24 hours a day.  He said there’s a pilot program in Santa Monica right now, but it’s currently available only between 6 a.m. and 3 p.m., which presents significant challenges outside those hours.  He said he prefers a 24/7 model from San Francisco…which would cost more, but we do have the money.  Also, he said, there’s the problem of where to put people who need help.   One option might be a hospital in Sylmar that could be used for mental health patients, but we’d have to waive a local law that says there can be no more than 16 mental health beds in any single facility.


Where do you stand on public safety?

Hertzberg said he was the chair of the Assembly’s Public Safety Committee in the 1990s, when everyone wanted the “three strikes” law.  But he said we “overcooked it,” and criminalized everything, which was wrong.  So he said reform is definitely needed now, but so far the implementation of certain reforms hasn’t gone well.   For example, he said, 63% of the people in Men’s Central Jail don’t need to be there while awaiting trial.  So he said he does believe in a lot of things that District Attorney George Gascon is trying to do, but he also knows that people are scared right now, and things like the recent spate of follow-home robberies are both real and terrorist acts.  He said he’s the only person in the current race who has actually governed during an economic downturn (and he thinks we’re on the way to another one right now), so he would increase the number of police officers while also supporting certain reforms.  “You can go in both directions in a way that works,” he said.


57% of the electorate voted for Measure J to provide funding for social services and community investment – how would you get things going with this money?

Hertzberg said that what’s changed since that vote are the increases in certain kinds of crimes, and people are afraid now.  Public perception is important, and it’s changed in a big way…and when the public says one thing, and courts say another, then the public loses confidence in the justice system.  Hertzberg said we have to get some people out of jails, but we have to keep others in.  Some of the good change has been stopped by changing public opinions, he said – like how people wanted to defund the police until crime started to go up.  But he also said confidence in government comes from actually getting things done, which he believes he can do.


Do you support the current recall effort targeting District Attorney George Gascon?

Hertzberg said he doesn’t support the recall, even though he didn’t vote for Gascon (he supported Jackie Lacy, with whom he’d worked for 10 years).  But he said Gascon’s position on the state Supreme Court’s Humphrey decision, which overturned a law on cash bail, has created challenges.  That said, however, Hertzberg said he still doesn’t believe in recall efforts unless an official has committed a crime or other serious malfeasance, which doesn’t apply to Gascon.


What is your position on the climate crisis, and what’s your plan to get us off fossil fuels?

Hertzberg said this is the biggest reason he’s running for County Supervisor, and that he wants to help us move from point A to point B on this issue.  And “god is in the details, not the devil.”  He said he wants to build new infrastructure, and that he’s big on green hydrogen (but thinks lithium ion batteries create too many problems).  One big goal in promoting clean energy he said, would be to do convert existing systems to clean energy, another would help keep people in their jobs, and third would be to help the economy, though it takes attention to detail and experience.  But he says he has these qualifications, and started his first “green” company in 1984.


If you’re elected, what are three things you’d do on day one of the job?

Expanding this to four items, Hertzberg said that first he would invite all of his current opponents to his swearing in, to starting building relationships with them.  Second, he’d settle the court case in which LA was ordered to clear skid row within six months.  Third, because he thinks people are feeling disconnected from LA County, he’d send invitations to meet with all local community groups and organizations, communicating to them that “we will listen to you.”  And fourth, he would reach out to whoever the LA County Sheriff is (“if they’re elected, you have to work with them”), because he doesn’t want there to be fights between the various levels of county government.


Creating new beds for the homeless takes time…so what would you do immediately to help people and get them off the street?

Hertzberg said it doesn’t really take all that much time, and that we can start using our $1 billion immediately to get people off the streets. For example, we can start hiring people to do outreach, and get them trained and on board as soon as possible…we can start building more tiny homes…and we can start deploying the 988 mental health emergency system 24/7.


Would you support the creation of a special board to deal with homelessness, maybe with representatives of both the city and county, like LAHSA?

Hertzberg said it would not be like LAHSA, because LAHSA has no elected officials on it, so it is not responsible to the voters or anyone else.  He said he would instead like to create a board like Metro’s, which includes a combination of elected and non-elected officials.


Would you join with the other supervisors who support closing Men’s Central Jail?

Hertzberg said he would, but not in the way that’s been proposed.  Instead, he said, the jail should be smaller, with a more limited purpose, and not house people with mental health issues.  He said he doesn’t like the LA County Blue Ribbon Commission’s comments on this because they give some advice on what to do, but then suggest the County take 39 months to do it, which is way too long.


If we remove people with mental health issues from the jail, where would they go?

Hertzberg said we do have open beds for many mental health patients, but our funding streams are screwed up.  But we also need an additional 5,000 beds for mental health treatment, and he has ideas for how to expedite their creation, especially on government-owned land.


Why has no one yet declared a state of emergency regarding homelessness?

Hertzberg said that there was a bill to fund such an emergency in the state legislature last year, but it didn’t pass.  But this is one reason, he said, that he hopes he can win election with more than 50% of the vote in this spring’s primary election, rather than waiting for a run-off contest in the fall, so he can start several months earlier putting together a plan for the board he’d like to form and the groups he’d need to do it (including the Board of Supervisors and some non-profit organizations).  He said he wants “collaboration, collaboration, collaboration” on this, which hasn’t happened yet because the County hasn’t been involved.


Is it true that mentally ill people are not interested in diversion programs (only 17 have used them)?

Hertzberg said this is one reason he believes we need the “care courts” proposed by Gov. Gavin Newsom, which would be similar to what we did with drug courts years ago – if a judge says someone needs help, they can be held for treatment.  He said we’d need to train judges well for it to work, but letting people die on the street is inhumane, so we should do anything that works, and put more money into it, too.


Have you read the LA County Blue Ribbon Commission on Homelessness’ report?

Hertzberg said he has read it, and doesn’t support its conclusions.  “My blood was boiling when I read it,” he said.  He said it just made 38 recommendations and asked for another study, but there were no action steps, and the County and Mayor said they wouldn’t participate.  So whoever is Supervisor here, he said, needs to take responsibility to work with the city, which has been a complete failure of the 3rd Supervisorial District so far.   The relationship between the city and county is really critical, he said, and he will try to build that bridge – “I’m not here to be a potted plant…I’m here to get things done.”


Closing remarks

Hertzberg said that public service matters to him, and he’s never been involved when that service is as hard as it is now…but he’s someone who can take the heat and get things done.  At the same time, however, he said he’s also never seen outside groups so “brazen” about telling officials what to do, and he doesn’t respond well to that…but “this is a really serious endeavor for me.”

Finally, Hertzberg said he’s not going to run for any other office after this, and didn’t originally intend to enter this race either…but when he looked at the candidates running up to that point, he found them nice, honorable people, but lacking the skills for tough decision-making and seeing the larger picture.  “I’ve fought the fight and I’ve bled for this stuff,” he said, promising to fight for the big issues, take responsibility, not shy away, and always share credit for what succeeds.


To learn more about Hertzberg and his campaign, see


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Elizabeth Fuller
Elizabeth Fuller
Elizabeth Fuller was born and raised in Minneapolis, MN but has lived in LA since 1991 - with deep roots in both the Sycamore Square and West Adams Heights-Sugar Hill neighborhoods. She spent 10 years with the Greater Wilshire Neighborhood Council, volunteers at Wilshire Crest Elementary School, and has been writing for the Buzz since 2015.

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