Park Offers Contrast to Barger in Battle for L.A. Board of Supervisors Seat

Altadena entrepreneur Darrell Park has won a place in November’s runoff election to replace Michael Antonovich on the Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors, finishing second to frontrunner Kathryn Barger.

On Tuesday the Board of Supervisors declared the results of the June 7 primary election official. Barger, who currently serves as Supervisor Antonovich’s chief deputy, led the way in the eight-candidate race with 29.64 percent of the vote.

Darrell Park, candidate for the fifth district seat on the Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors
Darrell Park, candidate for the fifth district seat on the Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors

Park won 15.5 percent of the votes cast for position representing the fifth district on the Board of Supervisors, a sprawling area that includes parts of the Santa Clarita and Antelope valleys and parts of the San Gabriel and San Fernando valleys.

Initial election returns showed Park only 417 votes ahead of state Senator Bob Huff, his closest competition, but after hundreds of thousands of outstanding provisional and vote-by-mail ballots were processed and verified, Park earned 2,826 more votes than Huff.

According to the terms of the county election process, Barger and Park, the top two vote-getters, will face off in the Nov. 8 general election.

Advocates, community members and interested voters got a glimpse of Park’s views on child welfare and juvenile justice thanks to a forum for fifth-district candidates on May 10 hosted byFostering Media Connections, The Chronicle of Social Change’s parent organization.

At the May 10 event, Park took a strident tone in repeatedly describing the county’s child-welfare system as failing.

“What we have in L.A. County—we have to be honest with ourselves—we have a system that’s much more like [that in] a third-world country,” Park said. “We can wave our hands and say it’s not, but it is.”

Park says he was raised by “hippyish” parents who took in 19 foster children while he grew up. But today the system no longer works for foster parents, according to Park.

He places the blame for the county’s foster-parent recruitment problems on the poor experiences many foster parents have had with the county. These experiences have discouraged many other potential foster parents from signing up, a situation he hopes to reverse.

“As the kids get treated better and the parents have a better experience, your next door neighbor will want do it,” Park said. “They see all the fun and happiness that’s going on. They say, ‘We want that.’ They don’t want what they see now. Who in their right mind would want that?”

Unlike his opponent Barger, Park believes that the solutions to many issues faced by the county can be found by embracing cost-saving ideas within the county instead of encouraging private-sector approaches to government.

“It’s great that we have a lot of these public-private partnerships,” Park said. “[But] we have a county budget of $30 billion. We have the money to properly take care of every single child.”

Park, a former staffer with the federal Office of Budget and Management, recommended that the county employ creative solutions to the problems faced by the child-welfare and juvenile-justice systems.

When it comes to increasing the productivity of Los Angeles County social workers, Park suggests having law enforcement officers pitch in through a new program that he dubbed the Sheriff’s Department Pony Express.

“You have all these people in the Sheriff’s Department and you’ve paid lots of tax dollars to teach them how to drive fast,” Park said. “They have cars that go fast. Rather than that caseworker being stuck in their little Toyota Corolla trying to do four appointments a day, when they’re in the back of that Sheriff’s car, sirens on, 85 miles an hour, they can do between six and eight appointments [a day].”

Park has been quick to suggest that many fixes for the county’s issues could be addressed in a simple and cost-effective way by adopting what’s worked in other places, both across the country and internationally.

He drew attention to European and Japanese models for juvenile justice that are much less expensive than the nearly $234,000 it costs Los Angeles County to incarcerate a youth in one of its juvenile camps or halls.

“[For] $70,000 in Scandinavia, about $65,000 in Japan, these kids [can] get lessons playing musical instruments, they build robots, they talk for hours with counselors about their trauma and all the bad things that happened to them,” Park said. “They work out their anger issues rather than being in some freaking boot camp where the guards beat them up when nobody’s paying attention.”

In the wake of the death of 8-year-old Palmdale boy Gabriel Fernandez, whose murder set off reforms that led to the county’s Blue Ribbon Commission on Child Protection, Park sees hope that the county can implement meaningful changes to its child welfare system.

“We have an opportunity here to make this a system that is not only a system where you don’t have kids dying in horrible ways but that is a model for the rest of the country,” he said. “It’s not a pipe dream.

“We can do this, and it’s been done elsewhere. We just have to implement it here.”

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Jeremy Loudenback
About Jeremy Loudenback 303 Articles
Jeremy is the child trauma editor for The Chronicle of Social Change.