The Hang Out Do Good local advocacy group is conducting a series of “Looking Local” conversations with candidates currently running for local offices, including Los Angeles Mayor, the Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors, LA County Sheriff, Los Angeles City Attorney, State Assembly District 51, and several Los Angeles City Council seats. The conversations take place on Sunday afternoons, via Zoom, and are open to the public (see the remaining schedule below). This conversation with Kate Pynoos, one of five candidates who will be on the ballot to represent District 13 on the City Council, took place on Sunday, April 17. Pynoos is an attorney and a third-generation Angeleno, who has worked as a policy advisor to City Councilmember Mike Bonin, served on the Hollywood Neighborhood Council, and volunteered with the Hollywood Food Coalition and SELAH Neighborhood Homeless Coalition. The conversation was structured as a Q&A with HODG hosts, and covered the following topics:
Please introduce yourself and tell us your understanding of the job of a city councilmember.
Pynoos characterized herself as an attorney and a third-generation Angeleno who has volunteered with Hollywood Food Coalition and SELAH, and worked with current city councilmember Mike Bonin as a policy advisor. She said her reaction to first arriving to work at City Hall was “Wow, this place is really screwed up. No wonder we have the problems we do,” which was part of her inspiration to run for office. Pynoos also said that during her time working with Bonin, she was further motivated to run when she saw current CD 13 representative Mitch O’Farrell make several big mistakes, such as voting against a total ban on evictions early in the pandemic, which would have kept people more people in their homes at that critical time.
As for the responsibilities of a councilmember, Pynoos said the first thing a person has to do is listen to the community, and not just to the loudest voices. To do that, she said, she would convene more events and do more polling, to reach more people and hear a greater variety of voices. The next requirement, she said, is building trust by being straightforward about where you stand on the issues, even when it’s controversial. And third, she said, it’s a councilmember’s job to make sure the city is safe and livable for all Angelenos.
Homelessness is a major issue facing the city. How will your approach to the problem be different from others, and why will you succeed?
Pynoos said she knows how overwhelming the problem can feel, but she lives in Hollywood, has worked with local organizations, and knows what works. She said she has a comprehensive plan on her website, but there are several basic elements:
1. Keep people housed. She said the city houses about 200 people per day, but another 230 more become unhoused every day, so we’ve “got to stop the flow,” and that it’s much less expensive to keep someone housed than to pull them out of homelessness. Also, to do this, she said, we need more affordable housing, and people need the right to lawyers in eviction court.
2. Take an “all of the above” approach to housing, and don’t say no to any options. For example, Pynoos said she’d like to use the former school at Blessed Sacrament Church in Hollywood for housing. She said she would also work with county, state, federal partners to look at other options, such as talking to the FAA about using LAX property in some way. (She said federal rules may prohibit some kinds of options on government-owned properties, but Councilmember Bonin was able to get permission for a safe parking site at the airport.)
3. Use housing that already exists, such as creating a shared housing model in which a social worker would live with two clients in an existing two or three-bedroom home.
Also, she said, housing everywhere should be paired with robust services that are well-coordinated, instead of taking 15 different approaches in 15 different Council Districts throughout the city, as we do now.
And finally, Pynoos said we need to make sure we house people as fast as possible, and that we need a comprehensive street engagement strategy, coordinated with LA County, which is what worked to get 200 people off Venice Beach recently, without intervention from LAPD. (And of those 200 people, she said, 84 are now in permanent housing.) She also said criminalizing homelessness doesn’t work, and is just a waste of LAPD resources.
What is your plan to address the housing crisis – how will you create more affordable housing in CD 13, and why will you succeed?
Pynoos said it’s currently too easy to become unhoused because things like housing and medical bills are so expensive. Also, housing is more expensive than it should be right now because we are 500,000 units short of the number we need to house everyone…so we can’t turn down any options. Pynoos said the Transit Oriented Communities program has had a lot of success, and should be expanded, building denser buildings near transit, with more affordable units. She said this program has provided more affordable units than anything else so far, and it should be expanded. Next, she said she likes the ideas behind the Livable Communities Initiative, and that we should also ask people “how” (not “if”) we can bring more affordable housing to their communities. And finally, she said, we also need better transit, and things like protected bike lanes, which help people get around affordably.
What is your plan for fighting climate change in CD 13?
Pynoos said that as a young woman thinking about starting a family, this question keeps her up at night. But she said we also have an amazing opportunity right now to get off fossil fuels, because the city owns its own utility company. So we need to hold it to the goal of being carbon free by 2035. The key to doing this, she said, is building decarbonization, especially in new construction but then easing into older buildings as well. At the same time, though, Pynoos said it will also be important to make sure we “bring everyone in,” and make it clear to everyone, including plumbers, pipe fitters, and other tradespeople and unions, who are all concerned about jobs, that they won’t be left behind. She said San Francisco did a good job of this by requiring that all new buildings contain purple pipes for recycled water (instead of pipes for natural gas). And finally, she said, we need to reform our transportation system – which is closely entwined with our housing system, and has to be tackled at the same time, improving bus transit, bike infrastructure and more. (LA is flat and sunny, she noted, so people would definitely ride bikes for short trips if it was safe and easy to do so.)
There have been several high-profile crimes in our area recently. What does public safety look like to you, and how can we get there?
“It saddens me how many people in LA don’t feel safe in their neighborhoods,” Pynoos said, noting that she hears this in neighborhoods all across the city. She said LA needs to be a city where you can feel safe walking outside, and safe taking Metro at night. Right now, though, she said people don’t feel safe because of some very notable crimes, and also because the homeless crisis gives people a sense of unease, even when they know their unhoused neighbors. To change things, Pynoos said, we need to tackle crime before it happens, by making sure people have access to things like jobs and education. Also, she said, if someone is having a mental health crisis, they should be able to call 911 for expert help, as they can now with the CIRCLE program currently being piloted in Venice and Hollywood, which should be expanded citywide. This program, she said, would help the police be more efficient by allowing them to spend more time getting both criminals and guns off our streets. In short, she said, we need to make sure that the police don’t spend their time on things they’re not good at (like mental health responses), and that we let them go back to “bread and butter” police work.
What kinds of managerial experience do you have…and what kind of people will you hire?
Pynoos said she used to run a tech company at a law firm, with staff of 10-15 people, and that she loved the job. She noted, though, that a city council office is very different, and staff there would be representing her as a Councilmember, not a company. But a Councilmember has a lot of other responsibilities, too, in addition to managing a staff, so she said she would also look for a chief of staff who’s a very good manager, to lead the team, manage communications, and help communicate her vision to the staff.
If elected, what are three things you would do on day one of the job?
Pynoos said that even before she’s elected she will start assembling incredible team members, who have specific experience in city hall, with conflict resolution, and other specific talents. Then she will begin building and relationships with both community members and her city council colleagues. And because one of her goals is to establish an office of tenant protections for the city, she would also need to make sure that gets funded by lobbying the mayor ahead of time to put that kind of funding in the next budget. And she would also start working, she said, to give the Department of Transportation permission to implement the city’s Mobility Plan and new bike infrastructure…and helping reorient LAPD away from criminalizing homelessness.
You said earlier that current CD 13 councilmember Mitch O’Farrell voted against an eviction moratorium during the COVID-19 pandemic. But wasn’t that because a judge said the a full ban on evictions would be illegal, and didn’t he eventually vote for the more limited moratorium that is currently in effect?
Pynoos said the first version of the ban was designed as a stopgap measure to end all evictions temporarily during the pandemic, and that she thought it was very well thought out. She said the ordinance that was eventually passed wasn’t really a moratorium, but simply a legal defense against eviction if a tenant had lost income due to the pandemic. But she said people were saved from eviction under the ordinance because the courts shut down, so they couldn’t process any evictions. Also, she said, O’Farrell has proposed or backed several other measures (such as not allowing single adults unaccompanied by children near playgrounds), which were on even riskier ground legally, were nowhere near as urgent as the housing situation during the height of the pandemic, and could easily have put the city at risk of being sued.
When a Venice Beach encampment cleanup was done recently, people were able to skip the Los Angeles Homeless Services Authority’s Coordinated Entry System for services. Do you want to get rid of the CES?
Pynoos said the CES, which has been used for several years, starts with a visit from caseworker, who then provides an acuity score…and the higher the score, the more likely get the person is to receive services. But the goal of the system, she said, is to prevent deaths…so many recently unhoused people, who were in better shape than those who had been on the streets longer, weren’t getting help. And that, she said, is like diagnosing someone with stage 1 cancer, and then, instead of treating them, telling them to come back when they’re at stage four. “That’s insanity,” she said. So instead, she said, the Venice beach effort used a different process, “from encampment to home,” to house the whole camp at once. She said the results of that kind of approach are much more visible, and do a good job of demonstrating to the community what works.
Where would you put more permanent supportive housing in CD 13?
Again, Pynoos mentioned the Blessed Sacrament site, because there are already services there. Also the Bridge Home shelter on Schrader Ave., in Hollywood, and several others that could provide the basis of a whole complex of housing and services in one place.
What about using the old St. Vincent’s Hospital building, as many people have suggested?
Pynoos said she, too, likes that idea, but she isn’t sure where negotiations stand right now with the building’s owner. At the same time, though, she also said we shouldn’t be looking just at big campuses, but also small facilities like board and care homes, many of which have been closing in recent years, but many of which she said could also be set up in existing housing.
Would you increase or decrease LAPD’s budget?
Pynoos said she’s not in favor of increasing the police budget. Instead, she said, we need to decide, in a smart way, how to transition some of the work to other kinds of responders, such as specialized mental health responders, and use the Department of Transportation for traffic enforcement.
Incumbent Mitch O’Farrell has been criticized for his cleanup of the large encampment at Echo Park Lake. What would you have done differently?
Pynoos said the Echo Park Lake encampment was about the same size as the one later cleaned up at Venice Beach, with about 200 people. But the city should have taken an approach like they did at Venice, with housing first (including outreach and services), and not housing only, without proper care and follow-up. She said the effort was also missing necessary county and state coordination for services, and there was no transparency in the process. Instead, she said, the city should have worked with community partners. This might have taken a bit longer, she said, and no one likes having the community yell at them, but it’s part of the job and builds trust, so a councilmember should be willing to take some heat when necessary.
Landlords depend on rents from tenants…so how would you help them during the current eviction moratorium?
Pynoos said she “100%” supports help for mom and pop landlords, and that the current emergency rent relief program has failed them. Instead of having landlords also apply for assistance, she said, rents funded under the program should have been paid directly to landlords, which would have been more efficient and more helpful. Also, she said, the current system is very complicated, with different requirements for city, state and federal relief programs. So we have to make sure the city housing department and programs protect both tenants and landlords, because if we leave the landlords behind, they may be forced to sell their properties, often to a corporate entity. And finally, Pynoos said, there is still more money coming from the state, so we still need to make sure paperwork for relief programs is streamlined, so people can access the available funding.
How will you be able to get things done as a junior member of the city council?
Pynoos said that while seniority matters for the Council president, “I’ve never seen that matter” for other members of the City Council. But Pynoos also noted that she has experience building coalitions at City Hall, gained during her time working for Councilmember Bonin. Still, though, Pynoos said the system does need structural change, which doesn’t interest incumbent O’Farrell. Currently, Pynoos said, each of the 15 members have their own ways of doing things, designed to hold on to their own power, which provides too many opportunities for corruption. To change that, and to create more standardized policies, she said, we need a ballot measure to increase the size of the city council, and also new rules that would codify land use decisions at the community plan level, to take that power away from individual council members. (And design standards could be added, too, she said, if people care about how things look in their communities.) But allowing council members to have so much say in new projects, as they do now, Pynoos said, just slows down development and leads to corruption.
The city is being required to build more affordable housing. Would you support adding staff to the Planning Department to get projects approved faster?
Pynoos said she loves the idea of making affordable housing easier to build, and that lawyers and lobbyists cost money, so if policies are set up to streamline the process and not require that kind of involvement, housing will be less expensive. Also, she said, we need to make sure that agencies that can build affordable housing are funded and that there are no roadblocks to those kinds of projects.
What are the root causes of crime, and how would you address them?
Pynoos said she thinks crime is caused by two or three factors. She noted that her father is an expert in PTSD, and that she has worked with the foster care system for many years, and has seen how kids lives are very traumatic…which is part of the problem. But the increase in the number of guns on the street, including ghost guns, she said, and the recent increase in “coordinated” crimes, are also factors. Finally, Pynoos said, we have no good social safety net in the U.S., and we don’t invest in our poorer, often segregated communities, which is a failure of our society. Some work to correct this can be done at the city level, she said, but some also has to come from the federal government.
Pynoos said that the campaign is a hard fight, and while people may disagree with her on some issues, she promises to always show up and listen, and to always be transparent and dig into the details of the community’s problems.
To learn more about Pynoos and her campaign, see kateforcouncil.la.
The next HODG Looking Local event is scheduled for this coming Sunday, May 15, at 4 p.m., with City Attorney candidate Faisal Gill. Sign up here for the Zoom link if you’d like to attend.
The remaining HODG “Looking Local” candidate conversations include:
5/15 (4-5 pm) Faisal Gill, City Attorney (confirmed)
5/22 (4-5 pm) Bob Hertzberg, Board of Supervisors (confirmed)
5/29 (4-5 pm) OPEN
6/7: ELECTION DAY
About Elizabeth Fuller
Elizabeth Fuller was born and raised in Minneapolis, MN but has lived in LA since 1991 - with deep roots in both the Sycamore Square and West Adams Heights-Sugar Hill neighborhoods. She spent 10 years with the Greater Wilshire Neighborhood Council, volunteers at Wilshire Crest Elementary School, and is the co-owner/publisher of the Buzz.
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