Hugo Soto-Martinez was officially sworn into office on Sunday, along with his other newly-elected colleagues on the Los Angeles City Council, at the swearing for Mayor Karen Bass. City Attorney Hydee Feldstein Soto and City Controller Kenneth Mejia were also sworn in at the event by City Council President Paul Kerkorian.
Soto-Martinez joins the city council at what Bass called “an inflection point” in the city’s history. He said when the Buzz spoke with him last week that his election was part of the shift Bass described. And since today is his official first day in office, we wanted to share that interview with our readers today.
“I am very mindful of all the reasons we were elected, ” said Soto-Martinez. “We were elected with 58 percent of the vote, running a campaign that brought in the community and attracted people who were looking to see their issues addressed. Now I have to live up to those expectations, and I feel a ton of responsibly and urgency to reflect that what we campaigned on is really reflected in people’s lives and their interactions with the city.”
Soto-Martinez told the Buzz he’s starting with how he plans to set up his office.
“For example, we will have a director of homelessness in the office. This will be a high-level senior person, and that’s all they will do,” said Soto-Martinez. “We are looking to hire the most qualified candidates we can find,” he said. At the time, he had just announced the hiring of Patricia Castellanos, as his chief of staff, on Instagram. “I didn’t know her personally but I’m excited that we found the best qualified candidate.”
“Patricia Castellanos’ career embodies the values we fight for. She’s a true organizer, rooted in LA institutions like SCOPE and LAANE. She’s crafted policy centered on economic justice for Supervisor Kuehl. She’s a leader. We couldn’t be happier to have her as our Chief of Staff,” said Soto-Martinez in his Instagram post.
Though Castellanos has never worked in City Hall, she served as Senior Workforce & Economic Development Deputy for LA County Supervisor Sheila Kuehl since 2017. Previously, she was Deputy Director for the Los Angeles Alliance for a New Economy (LAANE), a policy advocacy organization committed to building a new economy rooted in good jobs, thriving communities, and a healthy economy. Castellanos is a resident of San Pedro. She has been appointed by both Mayor Eric Garcetti and Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa to commissions on the LA Harbor. She began her career at SCOPE-LA, a grassroots organization working for economic justice for low-income, immigrant women.
Soto-Martinez said he would follow the traditional district office structure, with staff assigned to various areas of the district and the important difference of having a senior staff person focused on homelessness throughout the district, reflecting his top priorities.
Homelessness and housing are giant priorities, said Soto-Martinez, noting that he’s already been in touch with Bass’s team and feels they have a very similar approach. Both are aligned in having a sense of urgency, he said, and wanting to find bold actions on how to address homelessness. He also said he looks forward to having a conversation with her soon.
The challenges facing the city are daunting, but Soto-Martinez said he’s optimistic.
“I have worked intimately with the poorest of the poor,” said Soto-Martinez. “This is the most optimistic I have ever felt. It truly feels like there’s a groundswell of support to make the city more equitable. I am hopeful that can translate that optimism into policies.”
Often governments fail people, explained Soto-Martinez. Everyone wants housing for unhoused people, everyone wants to be able to walk and bike safely, etc., but the actions of our government don’t reflect that because of decisions that city council members are making every day, he added.
“The energy of the public is being expressed and I want to make sure the policies we implement reflect that,” said Soto-Martinez.
Asked how neighborhoods can help him, Soto-Martinez said he’s excited to work with all the diverse neighborhoods in his district – which includes Larchmont Village and Windsor Square – because he sees the city as interconnected.
“Housing policy in Hollywood has an effect on housing in Windsor Square and Larchmont Village,” said Soto-Martinez. “We need a broader vision of how policies effects everyone; bike lanes, housing, neighborhood safety, they are all connected.”
He cited the Livable Communities Initiative (LCI) as an example of this. The LCI proposes gentle density along commercial corridors, offering incentives for 3-5 story housing projects with commercial ground floor uses without parking requirements, while transforming the street with a bike or bus lane. Most recently, the measure, developed by Hang Out Do Good, the Windsor Square-based grassroots organization, has won support from city council to work with city departments to develop implementation rules.
“I really like what [LCI creators] Lindsay [Sturman] and Jennifer [Levin] are doing,” said Soto-Martinez, saying they are recognizing there is a role for them to play in addressing the climate crisis and the housing crisis. “I am very excited about working with Lindsay. This is a good example of how it’s all connected and I’m really excited about working with grassroots leaders, it’s an exciting example of how the will of the people can be reflected in the policy.”
Soto-Martinez pledged to make himself available to residents who want to get involved. He said he plans to make meeting with groups of people a priority.
“I truly love working with organized groups in the community,” said Soto-Martinez. “I want to meet with folks that are passionate about the community and doing it as volunteers. I want to connect with community leaders.”
He added that “we are also reaching out to meet with business groups, like the Hollywood BID and others. I think people are tired of the divisions in the city; they just want to work together to get things done, and our office will reflect that.”
While he was officially sworn in Sunday, Soto-Martinez told us he decided to hold his own swearing-in celebration at the Echo Park united Methodist Church on December 17th.
“This was a very conscious choice to select a church that is progressive and very spiritual,” said Soto-Martinez. As the second oldest of six children, he said he wants to make sure his parents and siblings who are in town will be able to participate. He promised to share more details with the Buzz for us to pass along to readers.
About Patricia Lombard
Patricia Lombard is the co-editor and publisher of the Larchmont Buzz. Patty lives with her family in Fremont Place. She has been active in neighborhood issues since moving here in 1989. Her pictorial history, "Larchmont" for Arcadia Press is available at Chevalier's Books.
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