Q&A: Kathryn Barger. Making Progress on Homelessness Despite Legal Handcuffs

9 mins read
a woman seated and leading a discussion during a government meeting
Kathryn Barger. Photo: Campaign
This entry is part 5 of 22 in the series 2024 Primary Election Candidates

Kathryn Barger is the Los Angeles County Supervisor for District 5. She has been elected twice and thus limited to one additional term on the Board of Supervisors.

Q– I want to start with a question about the Women in County Leadership Program you participated in last week. How do you recruit newer and younger members to leadership? Do you have any strategy for getting people to get engaged and volunteer?

A– I really do believe that leading by example is the best way to do it, and when you are a Supervisor, you’re in the public eye 24/7, good, bad or indifferent. That’s just the reality. And for me, actions speak louder than words. I like to volunteer in different activities in community districts, and show how important it is to contribute. I join in cleanups and mentoring; I talk to people who are interested in public service.

It’s really about giving back to your community. We’re always looking to mentor and build up, especially young women, because when I started to work for the County, that wasn’t the case. There were more men working in County government, especially in leadership positions. Some of that has to do with the fact that women would put their careers on pause in order to start a family and then come back, and they’d be behind in terms of promotion opportunities.

In the program that I attended with Supervisors Mitchell and Horvath, we talked about the experiences each one of us has had and the different paths that got us to where we are. But I wanted to encourage (especially to the young ladies in the group) that nothing is impossible if you put your mind to it. You’re going to have pitfalls along the way. That doesn’t mean that you can’t pick yourself up and continue to move on. We shared experiences about what happened to us and made us who we are because of collectively all those times that we tripped and got up and recognized that it was just one obstacle. You have to continue to fight for what you want.

Q– Are there any new programs or policies you hope to share or implement again for District Five?

A– I’m always looking to collaborate with the cities in my district. Right now, we are working with the City of Pasadena to purchase the Kaiser Permanente property on the corner of Villa and Lake. The goal is to make it a community benefit for that area, which we found lacks health services and medical services. It’s about collaboration. It’s about cultivating strong relationships not only with the city but also with stakeholders. It’s about looking where we have opportunities to either expand what they’re doing or create new programs in the community.

I think because I come from a policy background, having started in the County and working on policy issues, it allows me to understand the nuances of going through bureaucracy, setting up programs, and looking where we have funding opportunities that they might otherwise not have recognized.

I especially love Pasadena. While the City of Pasadena has its own elected City Council, they are still my constituents, and we have to work together. It benefits unincorporated Altadena, Chapman Woods, and East Pasadena when we work together to bring programs and services to the community.

Q– When working on those programs, what would you say is the most challenging part to pull together? Is it the money or the collaboration or…?

A– Money is always the issue because you have many different partners. That’s why I think I come with the understanding of how to navigate the bureaucracy.

Working with our State partners, like Anthony Portantino, who has been an incredible champion working with us on areas where it benefits his district but also benefits all of our constituents. I would say funding is the most difficult when it comes to collaboration.

You have a lot of people, especially nonprofits in Pasadena and also the elected, that recognize that collaboration really does help to bring ideas and progress.

Q– Can you discuss the importance of civic participation and supporting local news? Do you have any thoughts about how local news might be saved?

A– Local news is extremely important. And I always say that people like you have your finger on the pulse of a community because you are community-focused. You tap into what matters most in the community and the members who work and reside in the community that you’re covering.

That benefits the County because it helps us to really laser focus on what issues are needed. It is not a one-size-fits-all. When we talk about homelessness, what we are doing in Pasadena is not going to mirror what we’re doing in Antelope Valley.

“When we talk about homelessness, what we are doing in Pasadena is not going to mirror what we’re doing in Antelope Valley.”

Kathryn Barger

I believe local news is important to educate people and the elected officials who are representing those areas. I think it’s very important community members support their local news sources.

Q– Do you have any opinions about some of these federal laws trying to work through Congress to save local news and journalism?

A– I am not familiar with any of the legislation, but I will say that now, more than ever, we do have to support local news. As you know, it is very competitive as it relates to the financial implications of running local news, whether it be a newspaper or online. So, I would support looking at how we can maintain and ensure that they exist because, again, the LA Times is not going to cover some of the things that local news covers. After all, quite frankly, for them, that’s not going to build their readership, especially in Pasadena.

Pasadena residents like to know if a tree was planted on Lake Avenue and was dedicated; they want to know where it was planted. I’m exaggerating, but not by much, and I think you would agree with that.

Q– What do the voters need to know about you?

A– I started working for the County in 1989, and I have to say that I’ve always taken pride in the fact that this is a nonpartisan office. It should be a nonpartisan office. It should not be about party politics. It should be about what is right for your constituency. I feel that I bring the voice of common sense to this office because I look at things from the standpoint of taking in all sides of the issue.

I always ask to give my best advice, especially to those in our community centers who add something different I have not considered. That sets me apart from many politicians. I always say if you do the right thing, the politics will work out, and that’s the way I conduct myself.

I’m not a lifelong politician. I moved from policy into this elected position when Supervisor Antonovich termed out, and with term limits, with time certain, I’ll be done. Once my third term is over, then I’m going to volunteer. I’m going to go back to doing what I love to do, and that is working in the community.

“I always say if you do the right thing, the politics will work out, and that’s the way I conduct myself.”

Kathryn Barger

Before I started working with Mike Antonovich, I volunteered for Five Acres in their emergency shelter. I want to go back and give back to the community. I’m not looking to run for another political office. This is my passion. This County is my passion. That’s why I’ve been here and worked for this County for 30 years.

I am committed to being a voice for my constituency as the representative that will address their top concerns. I know that when I go out and talk to my constituents, their top concerns are homelessness and public safety. Those two are neck and neck because people want to address the homelessness issue in a compassionate, empathetic way but also recognize these are quality of life issues and public safety. They feel that having a safe community is important to them.

That means supporting law enforcement and understanding that there are bad accountants, bad lawyers, bad doctors and bad law enforcement. That doesn’t mean you indict the whole industry. That means you weed out the bad. And I think that is consistent with the fact you need to hold everybody accountable, including politicians.

Map of Los Angeles County’s 5th District. Courtesy: County of Los Angeles

So for me, you know, my track record is something that I’m proud of. I’m far from perfect, but anyone that promises you they’re going to solve something as a result of being elected is being disingenuous.

Because when I look at the history of homelessness, I have truly collaborated with my cities, and we make headway, but it’s not just about housing. It’s about mental health and addiction. And if we don’t address those two components, we’re not going to fix this problem.

I’ve been appointed to a commission for mental health and well-being. I’m a co-chair with others from all over the country to address the fact that we need to look at federal, and in this case, the State of California, changes that need to be put into play to address the mental health needs of those languishing on the street.

That means putting more beds in place but also housing them once they are stabilized so they do not end up back on the street. I have been committed to that, and I will continue to be committed to that because housing is not the complete answer. It is important, no doubt. But housing alone is not going to resolve the homeless crisis on the street.

Q– Are your policies about homelessness in sync with Mayor Karen Bass?

A– Probably five years ago, I brought in a motion to challenge the Boise decision, which was a decision that was made as a result of a lawsuit filed against Boise, Idaho, regarding the enforcement of encampments. The ruling was basically that if you don’t have beds for every single homeless person, you are not allowed to clean out encampments. You have to guarantee a bed for everybody. So I actually felt we should challenge that at the Supreme Court.

And people were appalled. Why would you challenge that? You’re criminalizing the homeless, which nothing could be further from the truth. If you visit Twin Towers right now, many of those people there are homeless. They are in jail because they have been decompensated on the street, committed crimes and ended up in jail. My goal has always been to do enforcement, recognizing that we have to offer beds. But we must also recognize people have a right to quality of life in their communities.

It’s interesting now that you’ve got the Governor of California and the Mayor of San Francisco both saying that the Boise decision needs to be challenged because this is handcuffing us. We cannot effectively address homelessness on the streets unless we’re allowed to enforce the laws on the books as it relates to encampments. So it interesting that it took longer than I would have liked. But I’m glad that we’re finally coming back to common sense and recognizing that in order to fix the issues of homelessness, you have to look at the root cause.

While housing is clearly a problem for those who are priced out, I can tell you that when we offer housing to those who have been kicked out of their housing, they are the first to say yes, please, where, thank you. The ones that are the hardest are the ones that languish on the streets, have mental illness, and are substance abuse users who don’t comply or conform to rules. Therefore, they continue to say no.

“When we offer housing to those who have been kicked out of their housing, they are the first to say yes, please, where, thank you.”

Kathryn Barger

And when they say no, they’re allowed to stay where they are in these encampments. Then I have in my district people calling up saying, “I want to walk my child to school. Why can’t you clean it up?” The Boise decision was always an impediment for us.

I’m hoping that it does get reviewed by the Supreme Court and overturned because you have to recognize that if we’re offering a bed to a person, that should give us cause to say, okay, you’ve been offered shelter…if you’re not going to take it you can’t build a shelter right here on the sidewalk, where people are no longer able to use that sidewalk.

Q– Whenever I get your newsletter, I really enjoy reading the section about animals. What’s your passion for animals?

A– I love animals, and during COVID, our CEO would bring her dog in every day. I have to tell you those news conferences were really pressure cookers. I would literally go down either before or after the news conference and play with her dog, and it had a very calming effect on me.

I’ve had an animal my whole life. Growing up, we always had dogs and cats, and for those who don’t think they can coexist, they coexist very well. My passion has always been animals, and I have a dog that I adopted from the County, and she just turned 15. She’s a Boxer/Shepherd mix, my pride and joy. And when I get home, she’s just happy to see me. It’s a good stress reliever. Yeah, so I love animals.

Q– Last chance for comment.

A– I appreciate what you’re doing. I say that NextDoor.com tried to fill this local news vacuum with community info. It is not by any means news. But people subscribe to NextDoor.com to find out what’s going on.

I recognize that people want to know what’s going on in their community. While they care about what’s going on downtown, they want to know what is happening where they live. And local news is the only way really to get that word out, because you’re hyper-focused on what means the most to the people in your community.

Series Navigation<< Q&A: Alex Balekian. Meaningful Community ChangeQ&A: Judy Chu. Best Intentions, Meet Political Reality >>
The short URL of this article is: https://localnewspasadena.com/l0hz

Sheryl Turner

Sheryl is Local News Pasadena's Publisher and Pasadena Media Foundation's Founder. When not saving local news, she devotes her spare time to finding the best meatloaf in town.
Email: [email protected]

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