LA City Controller: Who's Running In The November General Election And Why It Matters (2023)

What Does L.A.'s Controller Do?

The controller’s job is all about reviewing the way the city spends money. At the heart of that is uncovering the mishandling of public funds and putting City Hall on blast for it.

The city controller oversees about 160 employees — a relatively small number compared to, for example, the city attorney’s office of 500 attorneys. The controller’s office manages payroll for city employees, audits city departments, and issues reports on how those departments are spending city funds. Their work is limited to the city of Los Angeles.

But make no mistake: this is not a routine bookkeeping role. Think of the city controller more as a watchdog. If you’re concerned about corruption in City Hall, this is a race you’ll want to pay close attention to.

What can they actually do? Controllers don’t have a lot of direct power; they can’t make laws or dictate how departments operate. But they can put a spotlight on powerful officials or agencies, and crank up the heat. Their reports scrutinize government programs and departments, call out financial waste and mismanagement, and recommend fixes — all of which can influence public perception and policies.

Current Controller Ron Galperin has been in office since 2013 and is termed out. He’s running for state controller.

You Might Recognize Their Work From...

One high-profile example: In 2008, an audit by former L.A. Controller Laura Chick uncovered more than 7,000 untested DNA rape kits sitting in a Los Angeles Police Department lab freezer, some more than a decade old. The story became national news and mobilized advocacy groups to put intense pressure on the LAPD, mayor and City Council. That ongoing pressure contributed to a push for California to eventually pass a law in 2019 requiring that rape kits be tested within 120 days.

In short, if you’re interested in holding City Hall accountable, this is the office for doing it.

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(Video) 2022 California Primaries: Going over LA and California's races

What’s On The Agenda For The Next Term?

Controllers are expected to eventually audit every department in City Hall, and they have the authority to do so. But how they go about it and what they draw attention to is largely up to the officeholder, so individual candidates’ campaigns and statements might give you a clue as to their approach and priorities.

Some projects require annual audits from the controller’s office, such as Proposition HHH, the $1.2-billion bond measure voters passed in 2016 to build supportive housing for people experiencing homelessness. Previous years’ audits found that the project was far behind schedule, costing more than anticipated, and projected to fall short of its goal of building 10,000 units. Expect more reports on this from the next controller in the years ahead.

The controller will also face pressure to expose corruption within city government, on the heels of a billing lawsuit scandal at the Department of Water and Power and the recent indictments of three city councilmembers over corruption charges.

Where Do They Go From Here?

Serving as L.A.’s controller can position a person for higher, more powerful offices. Former controllers include James Hahn, who went on to become city attorney and then mayor of L.A., and Ira Reiner, who became city attorney and then L.A. County district attorney.

What can I consider in a candidate?

  • If you’re unsure what to consider as you decide who to vote for, here are some qualities that experts say are important for this role.

    • A solid understanding of the job.A controller is not the same as a treasurer. It’s important for a candidate to understand exactly what this role entails, the potential power of the office, and responsibility to the community, says Raphael Sonenshein, executive director of the Pat Brown Institute at Cal State LA.
    • “Do you know that a lot of times people are going to be really mad at you?” Sonenshein says, suggesting questions he would ask candidates. “And do you know that the voters would like you — in a professional, honest way — to shake things up when you need to? Because there aren't too many places in City Hall where that can be done.”
    • Public communication skills. While a major part of the job is uncovering waste and mismanagement, educating the public about it is just as important. “It has to be somebody who knows how to think about evaluating programs in ways the public will understand,” Sonenshein says.

More Reading

Experts we spoke to for this piece:

Raphael Sonenshein, executive director of the Pat Brown Institute for Public Affairs, Cal State LA

(Video) Local Matters: LA city controller candidate Kenneth Mejia on LAPD's budget and misconceptions abo…

The candidates

Kenneth Mejia, who’s centered much of his campaign on criticizing city spending on the L.A. Police Department, received 43% of the vote — nearly double that of his main opponent, longtime City Councilmember Paul Koretz, who represents the 5th District.

Mejia’s lead in the primary surprised many because he’s seen as an outsider in politics, but his rise didn’t start overnight. He’s an active figure in social justice movements in L.A., many of them driven by younger voters who want more transparency and action from city leadership. His billboards calling out city spending on policing have gone viral. Still, Koretz is an established city councilmember with nearly three decades of experience in politics and numerous high-profile endorsements to back it up.

Here are basics on their backgrounds and stances on specific issues, sourced from their campaign websites, public statements, local news coverage and an April 10 debate hosted by the Neighborhood Council Budget Advocates, the most recent public appearance by both candidates.

Paul Koretz

Los Angeles City Councilmember

What He’s Known For

Koretz represents District 5 on the L.A. City Council (which includes communities on the Westside and southern and central San Fernando Valley); his term ends this year. He’s had a long career in local and state government — he served 12 years on the L.A. City Council, six years in the California Assembly, and 12 years on the West Hollywood City Council. He sat on L.A.’s Budget and Finance Committee and the Audits and Government Efficiency Committee, experiences that he says will bring value to the controller’s role.

Koretz has the most public name recognition and the widest lead in fundraising, but he’s also been the target of complaints for campaign ethics violations, such as having an LADWP commissioner host a fundraiser for him and sending campaign emails through the Neighborhood Council roster.

Top priorities: If elected, Koretz says he would:

  • Analyze the programs, processes and costs of the city’s homelessness programs.
  • Analyze LAPD operations to determine how they can be more efficient and cost-effective.
  • Audit the city council’s environmental policies and programs, while suggesting new ones to cover gaps, and push for more implementation and enforcement.

What He’s Running On

On how to reduce corruption in local government: Koretz says inviting the FBI to do stings would serve as a deterrent against bribery and corruption and help restore public trust. He also points to legislation he supported that bans developer contributions to local election campaigns, which takes effect after this year’s primary, as well as his support for an Office of Anti-Corruption and Transparency that, if implemented, would oversee and investigate corruption among city officials.

On affordable housing and homelessness: Koretz says that during his time on the Council he pushed for creating a database to track affordable housing units set aside in market-rate developments. He says we need to prioritize affordable housing projects with city planners and the Department of Building and Safety over other kinds of development. He also supports using prefabricated modular housing to reduce costs.

On the L.A. Police Department budget: Koretz says that proposals to cut 90% of LAPD’s budget aren’t doable without compromising public safety, but that there are opportunities for cost-saving within the department. Among them: allowing more civilians to take over certain tasks from sworn officers, reducing overtime, and opening more local jails to reduce travel time and costs for booking suspects.

Campaign Website:
Endorsements: List of endorsements
(Video) City of Los Angeles General Municipal Election Nov. 8, 2022 Compiled Video Statements

More resources:

Kenneth Mejia

Certified Public Accountant

What He’s Known For

Mejia, a Koreatown resident, is an accountant who previously worked for Ernst and Young. He’s volunteered with several housing-related advocacy groups, including the L.A. Tenants Union and We Can Make A Difference - LA, the latter a community service group he co-founded that provides supplies to unhoused people. He previously ran as a Green Party candidate for the U.S. House of Representatives District 34, making the runoff in 2018 but ultimately losing to Rep. Jimmy Gomez. Mejia has argued that being a City Hall outsider makes him better positioned to hold local government accountable than someone with close ties to power players. He’s drawn criticism from opponents in the controller’s race over deleted tweets from 2020 in which he called then-presidential nominee Joe Biden, along with President Donald Trump, “rapists” and “sexual predators.”

In June, Los Angeles magazine reported that Mejia’s CPA license status was inactive or expired on and off from November 2016 until January 2022, leading to concerns about how he represented his experience. Patrick Ibarra, from the California Board of Accountancy, said public accountants need an active license in order to practice, but private accountants wouldn’t be required to get one. Anyone using a CPA designation with an inactive license is required to note that after the title. Then, there’s knowledge to consider. Active public accountants have to complete 80 hours of continuing education every two years, so in Mejia’s case, that could have been missed.

Top priorities: If elected, Mejia says he would:

  • Audit homelessness funds and programs, including calculating the costs of unhoused encampment sweeps and criminalization. Create maps and tools to help unhoused people connect to services.
  • Create a database of all housing units in L.A. with the city’s housing department with current vacancy information, pricing, and ways to apply. Calculate how much it would cost to build quality public housing.
  • Audit funds and programs that address climate change. Audit Mayor Garcetti's Green New Deal and the city’s fossil fuel investments. Push to eliminate all fossil fuel drilling, refining and infrastructure.

What He’s Running On

On how to reduce corruption in local government: Mejia says his campaign has already made efforts to increase transparency and call out corruption in local government. He points to data he pulled from the L.A. Ethics Commission showing the prevalence of lobbyists’ spouses donating to local L.A. election campaigns in 2022 (campaign donations from lobbyists themselves are prohibited). Mejia also says he would push to increase the number of employees on the Ethics Commission and increase its operating budget.

On affordable housing and homelessness: Mejia says his campaign has created several public data tools to help L.A. residents on housing, spotlighting a map he released showing all the available affordable housing units across the city. He says he would also look at the city’s general ledger to get specific details of the cost of affordable housing development, including contracts, cost of goods, and income statements on projects such as Proposition HHH, and put them on a public dashboard to see how there may be better and faster ways to house people.

On the L.A. Police Department budget: Mejia is particularly critical of city spending on law enforcement, comparing LAPD spending to that of homelessness and housing, releasing a heat map of LAPD traffic and pedestrian stops in L.A, and highlighting that half of the city’s COVID-19 relief funds went to LAPD payroll. He says police budget increases don’t necessarily correlate to decreases in crime, so it’s important to examine how operations actually contribute to public safety.

More resources:

Follow The Money

What questions do you have about the Nov. 8 general election?

Whether it's about how to register to vote or making sense of a candidate's platform, we're here to help you get ballot ready.

More Voter Guides

City of Los Angeles

(Video) Preview of California primary election on June 7

  • Mayor: Learn more about Karen Bass and Rick Caruso, and who is funding their campaigns
  • City Controller: Learn who is running and why it matters
  • Measures: Make sense of Measure LH, Measure SP, and Measure ULA

L.A. County

  • Sheriff: Compare the two candidates for L.A. County sheriff
  • Water Agencies: Learn what they do and what to look for in a candidate

California propositions

  • Propositions 26 and 27: The difference between the sports betting ballot measures
  • Proposition 29: Why this is on your ballot for the third time
  • Proposition 30: Why Lyft is the biggest funder of this ballot measure

Head to the Voter Game Plan homepage for guides to the rest of your ballot.


Who won controller for California? ›

RepublicanLanhee Chen37.22%
DemocraticMalia Cohen22.66%
DemocraticYvonne Yiu15.06%
DemocraticSteve Glazer11.11%
3 more rows

What does LA City Controller do? ›

The Controller oversees 3 divisions: Audit Services, Accounting Operations, and Financial Reporting along with 160 employees who conduct independent audits. These auditors are in charge of managing city payroll and spending, report on city finance, and provide City metrics and data.

Who is California controller? ›

Betty T. Yee, California State Controller

As Controller, she continues to serve the Board as its fifth voting member. Reelected for a second term as Controller in 2018, Ms. Yee is only the tenth woman in California history to be elected to statewide office.

What does a state controller do? ›

The State Controller's Functions

Account for and control disbursement of all state funds. Determine legality and accuracy of every claim against the State. Issue warrants in payment of the State's bills including lottery prizes. Administer the Uniform State Payroll System.

What Does Peace and Freedom Party mean? ›

It is a strong advocate of environmentalism, aboriginal rights, rights to sexuality, government-funded health care, a woman's right to an abortion, public education, subsidized housing, and a socialist-run economy.


1. Voter Registration and General Election Workshop
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2. 2022 Municipal Elections Workshop
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3. LABC 2022 Candidate Forum: LA City Attorney
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5. Video: Bee Editorial Board Interviews California Controller Candidates
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