GOP majority at South Coast AQMD could be short-lived

The downtown skyline is enveloped in smog shortly before sunset in Los Angeles, California.
The downtown skyline is enveloped in smog shortly before sunset in Los Angeles, California.
David McNew/Getty Images

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A group of Republican officials who control the board that oversees air quality rules in the Los Angeles basin may soon see their recent dominant majority evaporate.

Republicans on the South Coast Air Quality Management District board lose one of their seven controlling votes in December when Los Angeles County Supervisor Michael Antonovich leaves office. The AQMD's 13-member board  has five Democrats and one member who does not affiliate with a political party, but typically votes with the Democrats.

Since January, the GOP-led board has overseen plans to shift the agency's regulatory approach from mandates and fines to one that favors voluntary measures and incentives. The board removed  longtime executive Barry Wallerstein, replacing him with one who had worked as an industry lobbyist. The state Senate responded to the pro-industry tilt with a bill that would have added three members chosen by the legislature. But that bill failed.

Kathryn Barger, Antonovich's successor on the Board of Supervisors, is also Republican. It was not clear yet who would take over the AQMD post or how the selection process would work, said Antonovich spokesman Tony Bell. Barger's campaign office did not return a call seeking comment.

But observers, like attorney Adrian Martinez of EarthJustice, say the four other supervisors, all Democrats, will likely name one of themselves to the AQMD board.

"On the local level, we need the South Coast air district to put our interests as breathers in front of polluter interests," Martinez said. 

Likely candidates for the air board are Hilda Solis, whose east county district includes areas heavily impacted by pollution. Solis had not mentioned plans to take over the post, said her spokeswoman Jessie Gomez.

Supervisor-elect Janice Hahn's district includes major sources of pollution -- oil refineries and the ports of Long Beach and Los Angeles. Her campaign did not return a call Friday seeking comment.