Five candidates on the November ballot — Mayoral Candidates Rick Caruso and Karen Bass, City Council District 5 Candidates Sam Yebri and Katy Yaroslavsky, and CD5 Councilmember Paul Koretz, who is running for City Controller — spoke to about 150 residents and others at the Hancock Park Annual Meeting on Tuesday evening. The unique format, which provided 20 minutes for each candidate to speak directly to residents, with each answering the same questions, revealed among the candidates remarkably similar answers and approaches to solving some the city’s most challenging issues.
Despite Mayoral candidate Rick Caruso and CD5 City Council candidate Sam Yebri each repeatedly calling themselves the “change candidates,” they offered very similar solutions without much substantive differentiation from their opponents Bass and Yaroslavsky. All the candidates focused on addressing the homeless problem and improving public safety. Readers can listen to the full recording of the meeting at this link.
“No one has done it this way,” explained Cindy Chvatal-Keane, Hancock Park Homeowners Association President told the Buzz. “We wanted a concise, fair presentation by each candidate, focused on why we should for vote them, and they were each asked the same questions. We deeply appreciated that all the candidates made time to speak to us in this final stretch of the campaign.” (Candidate Caruso was quite literally between campaign stops, taking the call from his car…but he was not driving!)
CD5 City Council candidate Sam Yebri started off the candidate presentations describing his decision to run to improve the city, which he said is suffering from a crisis of leadership of corrupt or racist politicians. (Yebri starts speaking at 31 minutes on the recording.)
“I’m not from a political dynasty, not a career staffer. I’m a nonprofit leader and business owner and litigator,” said Yebri. He added that he was building housing, has served as a board member of Bet Tzedek, the free legal service, as well the Friends of Westwood Library. Yebri said he was proud to have won the endorsement of the city’s firefighters and police officers. He added that he built up the police force as a civil service commissioner under Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa. Yebri said it was time for a change and he would bring his business and non profit leadership skills to address the city’s pressing problems.
To the question posed from Debbie Alpers, an HPHOA Board member and filming committee chair, who asked, “at the end of you first term what will your top three accomplishments be?” Yebri said he would reverse the trend of homelessness, and would achieve a 50% decrease in the rate of homelessness by building more shelters, getting people out of encampments, and keeping people falling into homelessness. Moving on to public safety, Yebri said he’d like to see a year with no homicides and, finally, he said he would make massive investments in libraries and parks.
“I am going to make our local parks safe for everyone,” said Yebri.
When asked what reforms he would support to make the city council stable and more transparent, Yebri said he would support increasing the size of the city council and would remove the some of the discretion city council members have on land use issues in their districts.
Those answers were strikingly similar to answers to those provided by Katy Yaroslavsky, who is also running for CD5. Yaroslavsky began by presenting her own qualifications and campaign priorities. (Yaroslavsky starts at 49 minutes on the recording)
“I’m a climate policy maker, an environmental attorney, and a mom. My husband Dave and I have three little kids, 7, 4 and 2, and live in South Carthay,” said Yaroslavsky. “I am running because I’m frustrated with the state of our city. I think the way we bridge the gap between where we are and where we need to be is by electing effective, ethical and proven people into these seats of local power.”
Yaroslavksy said it was her work for Supervisor Sheila Khuel, organizing the development of Measure W, the Safe Clean Water proposition that was passed overwhelmingly by voters in 2018, that inspired her to see how government could get things done.
“We created an iterative public policy process, bringing all the various stakeholders to the table, and in the end we had no funded opposition,” said Yaroslavsky. The program is now building local storm water capture, creating hundreds of jobs and serves as national model for green infrastructure, she explained. It was also a valuable learning experience working on a large complicated regional issues. Yaroslavsky said the most challenging issues facing the city are also regional issues, including homelessness, public safety, housing and climate change. And she said she believes she has a track record and the experience to address them.
“I will come in day one and know how to do this work…and I don’t need to get the credit. I’m here to do the work,” said Yaroslavsky.
Addressing homelessness, public safety and climate and sustainability are her top priorities, Yaroslavsky said. To address homelessness, she said we need to be doing many things all at the same time. First, she said would focus on prevention, looking upstream to keep people in housing, implementing better coordination with the county, which already provides service to many of these people to prevent them from becoming homeless, which she said more cost effective and really works. She also said she would act with urgency to get people off the streets, and utilize an “all of the above” approach to create more housing. She said her office would focus on filling in the holes to help find more housing for people until a new coordinated governance structure is created. And she committed to closely collaborating with the county supervisors, whose offices deliver the services…and would also work to create more mental health and addiction beds.
“We need weekly check-in meetings for every unhoused person in the district,” said Yaroslavsky. “I know this works and I know how to do this.”
Yaroslavsky also said she supports a well-funded, well-staffed, well-trained, accountable police force, and hiring mental health professionals to handle homeless calls, to free up police officers to do the work they were trained to do. She said she would address our city’s climate and sustainability goals by using the city council’s extensive land use authority to plan proactively. And she said she supports increasing housing density by updating the district’s community plans and working with neighborhoods to decide where the housing should go. She also favors putting new housing near transit and job centers.
When asked to list what she hopes will be her top three accomplishments after her first term, she answered: a noticeable decreases in homelessness, which can be achieved by the doing upstream work. She called for a reduction in the rate at which people fall into homeless by at least half. And she cited the upcoming opening of four new metro stations, saying that should be done right so they are safe and clean and she wanted her office to be known for excellent constituent services.
On the question of city council reforms, she said she supports a completely independent redistricting commission and proposals to increase the size of the city council. She said she also supports creating a truly independent ethics commission that is fully funded, and finally said she thinks the city council’s land use authority is at the root of a lot of the corruption. She said she would work with the community to update the various community plans and remove the city council’s discretionary authority in land use by essentially saying to developers, “This is what the community agreed to, this is what you can build.”
Congresswoman Karen Bass told residents she decided to resign her Congressional seat to come back to Los Angeles because she is deeply concerned about the “crisis we have on our streets, homelessness and public safety, and our city has become unaffordable to live in.” Bass said her number one priority is to get people off the streets and into housing. She referred to a press conference she held earlier that day on a city lot in the 9th district, where the council office has agreed to build housing. (Bass starts at 1 hour and 9 minutes on the recording.)
“We have a model for building housing quickly and we need to do that. I would declare a state of emergency on day one of my administration,” said Bass. She also promised to put more police officers on the streets, even though the police department is struggling to hire officers. To do so, she proposed moving officers who are able from behind the desk into the community. And she proposed to invest in community strategies on crime prevention. She also said she wants to build more housing by working with communities to put the housing where they want it, citing Sherman Oaks as an example of supporting building housing on commercial corridors.
When asked what her top three accomplishments at the end of her first term would be, Bass said first, an end to encampments, and then a streamlined centralized process so that housing development can be expedited, and neighborhoods that feel much safer.
“I want people to be optimistic, to see the city cleaner, safer…and they will if they don’t see encampments,” said Bass.
Chvatal-Keane cited observations from two political commentators that people have lost hope, and that leading LA now is like taking over England after World War II. She asked Bass how she would restore hope.
In response, Bass cited her skills as a legislator leading the effort to keep the state from defaulting in 2009, following the Great Recession, and closing a 40 billion dollar budget deficit.
Given current scandals at City Hall, Bass was asked if her administration would be more of the same. Bass said she’s never worked at City Hall and considers herself outside of what is going on. She said does not bring “more of the same.” Instead, she said, she bring years of leadership and asserted the only way we are going to the city around is to align the levels of government.
“You have to work to bring people together who have been elected in their own right to the table, said Bass. “You have to have skills and nuance to do that, and you have to have deep relationships to be successful,” said Bass.
When asked about dealing with mentally ill homeless people, she said she is hopeful that the newly passed Care Courts will work, saying it is criminal to let people die on the street. She said she believes that with proper care, people can be stabilized and retuned to their families or a lower level facility.
When asked how she would address the city’s lack of services, Bass said she would work to increase staff for city services and would go outside the city for funding. As a member of Congress, Bass noted that Los Angeles “leaves a lot of money on the table.” She said she would create a development department that would bring more federal funds to the city.
When asked about the most important, real action she could take to improve the city, Bass replied that she would declare a state of emergency on day one to get get people off the street. Bass said we need a regional approach to get people off the streets and making Los Angeles safer. She said that as a non-profit executive, with a history of working in communities, she brings a lot of experience to the table to address the crises facing the city. She also pointed out that many people don’t realize she ran for public office for the first time at the age of 50.
“I was born and raised in Los Angeles and I am very concerned,” said Bass. “I’m a “constructive disruptor” who can get the job done.”
Developer Rick Caruso joined the Zoom meeting from the car as he was driving to another event. Caruso said he is running to serve the city he loves and has served for more than 40 years. He said people should vote for him because of his experience in the city. (Caruso’s comments start at 1 hour and 30 minutes on the recording).
“Unlike my opponent, I have been in charge of two city departments,” said Caruso. “I understand the city.” He cited recent scandals at City Hall and said someone needs to come in and clean it up. “I can do that,” said Caruso.
Caruso said he has studied programs that address homelessness, so “we know what works. The problem is solvable and it’s going to take a proven track record of management experience, and I have that.”
Caruso said he isn’t looking to change his career, but he does want to the serve the city he loves. So he wants to be mayor and then go back to private life.
Chvatal-Keane asked he hopes his top three accomplishments will be at the end of his first term. Caruso replied “getting the homeless off the streets and taking care of them with great dignity, humanity and compassion. The encampments will be gone. There’s no doubt I can do that. And crime will drop. I will make the city more affordable and cleaner.”
Asked the same question Bass was asked about how to restore hope and confidence, Caruso replied that he is ” a very positive person. I am full of confidence and hope.” He said he is excited and motivated by the challenge. He said once people see things moving in a positive direction and that there’s real leadership, the hope is there and it will come out. Caruso said he believes that people are ready for change, not more excuses.
Asked about dealing with mentally ill homeless people, Caruso cited the Care Courts as a big step to getting people off the street. He said he believes that everyone has to come into shelter and housing. He said his plan is to bolster the work of groups already doing this work.
Caruso was asked what made him think his private sector skills would translate to the public sector when the city is so obviously corrupt and dysfunctional…and he said that was the answer to the question.
“The last thing we need is someone who is product of the system trying to change the system. lt’s impossible,” said Caruso. “The management of the city is horrendous and suffocating the city.” He said someone who understands executive management is what is required to manage the fifty city departments that fall under the Mayor’s office.
When asked what is the most important real action you can take to improve the city, Caruso said he could name about fifty of them but he would first start by asking a question: “If you like your city today, then you should vote for Karen because you are going to get more of the same. If you like change, then you should vote for someone who can be a change agent in the city.”
He continued, “But the first three things I would do, [declare] a state of emergency on homelessness, meet with the chief of police to start allowing officers to enforce the law to make our streets safer, and – number three – get the street cleaners back in business so the city looks good and we can take pride in it and businesses can thrive.”
Caruso wrapped up by saying he really appreciated the opportunity to speak to Hancock Park. He said he considers the neighborhood a jewel in our city, and one that has also been very good to him as the home of The Grove, which has allowed him to step back and donate his time to city. He said this is not fear mongering, but asked everyone to think about all the things we can’t do anymore, like walk in the neighborhoods and feel safe,. And he said we shouldn’t have to sacrifice those things.
Caruso closed his comments by saying his is spending a lot of money because he doesn’t want to be beholden to anyone but the residents of the city of Los Angeles. He said he wants to wake up every day and do what is best. He said that’s how he worked on the police commission and he wants to bring that same skill to the city to make it more livable.
Hancock Park HOA Business
Before the candidate presentations, Hancock Park Homeowners Association President Cindy Chvatal-Keane opened the meeting with board introductions and reports from board members beginning with a report by Security Committee chair Marty Beck, who invited residents to meet with the security committee to review safety measures to make their homes safer and improve neighborhood safety.
Next, board member and Land Use Committee Chair Mark Alpers reported on the successful efforts of the association to work with the developers to reduce the height of the office building proposed at Melrose and Seward, as well the neighborhood’s negotiations with the developers of the mixed use development proposed at Highland and Wilshire Blvd. Work on both projects has taken the association the better part of the year, said Alpers.
Deb Trainer, chair of the Tree Committee, reported that the committee is working with the city to remove 29 dead trees, and will soon plant new trees. Neighbors can check the association’s website for more information on the trees that are assigned to each block.
HPOZ Committee Chair Susan Grossman said the trees and streets are part of the HPOZ, which is the historic fabric of the neighborhood. Grossman said the city requires residents to have 60% live plant material and 40% other material, like mulch, in their front yards. Plastic grass is not allowed. She urged residents to speak to the committee before they begin any work on their homes, even before they invest in drawings and plans.
“We invite you to come talk to us about your project even before you have any drawings,” said Grossman.
Highland Median Committee chair Bill Newby reported on efforts to keep the median mowed, the trash collected, the sprinklers on and remove illegal street vendors.
Association Secretary Jen Devore thanked everyone for paying their dues and supporting the neighborhood, explaining that the dues are used to plant trees and for other projects that make the neighborhood a better place for all.
Devore announced the election of the following candidates to the HPHOA board for 2-year terms: Debbie Alpers, Mark Alpers, Cindy Chvatal-Keane, Jennifer DeVore, David Gajda, Joel Kozberg, Clif Lord, Pam Newhouse, and Benny Rosenberg.
Chvatal-Keane invited Joaquin Macias, Senior Deputy for CD5, to address the residents, thanking him for his service to the neighborhood as the primary contact for the neighborhood leaders and the various city departments. CD5 Chief of Staff Joan Pelico added her commitment to serving the neighborhood in the time remaining in office and commended Chvatal-Keane for her excellent leadership.
“We have really appreciated working hand in hand with the council office,” said Chvatal-Keane, as she introduced City Council District 5 representative Paul Koretz, who is now running for City Controller. (Koretz’s comments start at 10:00 in the recording.)
“This is bittersweet, as it might be the last meeting where I represent you,” said Koretz. “I am proud of the work we have done together since Hancock Park became part of the district. We have worked together to reduce scale of the Seward office building. I have asked LAPD to provide extra focus on Hancock Park from the LAPD, and provided $250,000 from my discretionary funds. I will continue to provide services and represent you until the last day in office.”
Koretz said he decided to run for the office of City Controller because of his experience on the City Council. In particular, Koretz cited his work on the council during the 2009 recession, during which he proposed various ideas for costs savings and efficiencies. And he added that he would continue the polices and program audits begun by current City Controller Ron Galperin, who has endorsed him, along with all the other former City Controllers. Finally, he also pledged to build on Galperin’s transparency work, including improving and simplifying the website Galperin established. In closing, Koretz said his opponent (Kevin Mejia) is a very different candidate, with a very different philosophy, and voters have a clear choice.
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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