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Alex Villanueva says he’ll challenge Hahn in supervisor race

Former Los Angeles County Sheriff Alex Villanueva, who lost his bid for reelection in November after a single term marked by scandal and controversy, said Wednesday he plans to challenge county Supervisor Janice Hahn in the March 2024 primary.

“The Board of Supervisors has a responsibility to provide for the health, safety and welfare of the county — all the residents. In that regard, they have failed absolutely miserably,” he said to a small audience of supporters and journalists inside a Whitter deli where he discussed his return to L.A. politics.

During an hour-long news conference, the former sheriff gave a preview of his pitch to voters: That crime is out of control — and that the Board of Supervisors is responsible.

He said going to a supermarket had become a “life or death struggle” and called Los Angeles the “homeless capital of the entire nation.” Under the leadership of Dist. Atty. George Gascón, whom he attacked for failing to go after violent crime, he said the D.A.’s office was a “raging dumpster fire.”

In a statement, Dave Jacobson, Hahn’s campaign consultant, called Villanueva “a fraud and a failure.”

“L.A. County voters — including District 4 — resoundingly rejected the man known as the ‘Donald Trump of L.A. County’ last November for his incompetence and corruption. L.A. County became less safe under Villanueva’s reign,” the statement said. “L.A. County voters won’t be fooled again.”

Before he lost re-election to now-Sheriff Robert Luna, Villanueva regularly clashed with the supervisors, who controlled his agency’s budget.

He accused them of sabotaging the department in litigation by having their lawyers drive up litigation costs to drain money from his budget. He attacked them with misogynistic language. Perhaps most memorably, his deputies raided the home of Supervisor Sheila Kuehl, considered one of his harshest critics.

Now he wants to be their colleague.

“If they’re doing something ethical that advances the public’s interest, I will be shoulder to shoulder with them, “ he said. “Problem is that doesn’t happen very often.”

The majority of the all-female Board of Supervisors is up for reelection in 2024 with Holly Mitchell and Kathryn Barger also running for another term. Villanueva encouraged others to run for the seats, calling for a return to the political center on the five-member board, which is nonpartisan.

Rancho Palos Verdes Mayor Pro Tem John Cruikshank is a third candidate in the 4th District race. Cruikshank, the president and chief executive of an engineering firm, has said he’s running because the supervisors aren’t focused on issues that matter to the public, including public safety and homelessness.

Villanueva, who announced his candidacy Tuesday night on Fox 11, will likely face an uphill battle against Hahn, a longtime elected official from a Los Angeles political dynasty.

The Assn. for Los Angeles Deputy Sheriffs, which represents roughly 8,000 deputies, said in a statement Wednesday it had done “head-to-head polling” and did not believe “recently defeated Sheriff Villanueva” could make much headway in the race.

It “would be an understatement to say the former sheriff faces significant challenges if he expects to make any kind of contest of this race,” union President Richard Pippin said in an emailed statement.

The 4th District — home to over 2 million residents — spans more than 400 square miles in the southern and southeastern portions of the county, including the cities of Torrance and Long Beach.

While Villanueva portrayed crime as out of control, recent Sheriff’s Department data shows a more nuanced picture in the 4th District.

Crime has risen in the first part of this year in the areas patrolled by the sheriff’s Norwalk and Cerritos stations compared with the same time period last year but dropped in the Avalon, Lakewood and Pico Rivera station areas and remained flat in the Lomita station area.

The city of Los Angeles, meanwhile, has seen crime drop moderately in 2023. Through May 20, the city saw a dip of more than 10% in violent crime compared with the same period in 2022. Property crime fell a bit more than 1%, and arrests were up 4.4%, The Times reported.

Data from the California Department of Justice’s Criminal Justice Statistics Center show that violent crime in the county increased 13% from 2019 to 2023, compared with a 13.5% increase in California overall. That’s about the same as the increase seen in San Diego and less than the increase in Orange County, said Magnus Lofstrom, policy director of criminal justice at Public Policy Institute of California.

“We’re not really seeing big differences where L.A. [County] stands out in terms of violent crime,” Lofstrom said. “These are disturbing numbers we’re talking about — a 13% increase is notable in itself — but it’s not that L.A. stands out [compared] to other large counties.”

Hahn’s district changed substantially in 2021, when, for the first time, an independent 14-member commission oversaw redistricting — a process that happens every 10 years to redraw political district lines.

The commission moved the wealthy beach cities Hahn had represented to Mitchell’s 2nd District, combining coastal areas from Marina del Rey to Redondo Beach with parts of Mid-Wilshire and South L.A.

Communities including South Gate, Huntington Park and Lynwood were redrawn into Hahn’s district, making it the second with a Latino majority — Supervisor Hilda L. Solis represents the other.

For decades, advocates had pushed the supervisors during redistricting to create a second Latino-majority district on the board to better reflect the demographics of L.A. County, which is about 50% Latino.

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