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, 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 Mayoral candidate Karen Bass, structured as a Q&A with HODG hosts, took place on February 27. Bass currently represents California District 37 in the United States Congress. Prior to that, she served in the California State Assembly and was the first African-American woman to serve as Speaker. You can learn more about her at https://karenbass.com/about-karen-bass/. These were among the topics covered in the HODG conversation:
Please introduce yourself and tell us why you’re running for Mayor.
Bass said she grew up watching the news with her dad, especially coverage of the civil rights movement, and couldn’t wait to get involved. Later, she became a nurse and physician’s assistant, and a teacher in that field. From there, wanting to help with the drug and violence epidemics, she founded the Community Coalition to find helpful alternatives to incarceration. Then Bass’ activism led her to the California State Assembly, where she eventually became the first African-American woman to serve as Speaker…and then to the U.S. Congress. Bass said that Los Angeles’ current homeless crisis has inspired her to return to the city and run for local office, because “I couldn’t stand to see the movie again,” and thinks she can help.
The mayor of Los Angeles often doesn’t have as much power as people think. So how would you navigate the system and get things done?
Bass noted that she has extensive experience navigating complicated political systems, and building coalitions at both the state and national level, so this isn’t new to her. But she also said she doesn’t believe the mayor has to be weak…and “there’s no particular barrier between the city and county” that keeps them from working together on issues like homelessness. Instead, she said, it’s a question of political will, ego, turf, and more. But she said she considers all five of the current LA County supervisors to be friends, and looks forward to working with them.
If elected, what would you do on day one in office?
Bass said she would join most of the other current mayoral candidates who say they would declare a state of emergency on their first day of office. She said that 30 years ago, she wanted to used motels in south central L.A. for the homeless, but the idea didn’t catch on until the COVID-19 pandemic. But she also noted that homelessness isn’t just a local problem, and there should be a national state of emergency as well (something she is currently working on in Washington). Bass said the current Biden administration is much more approachable on this topic than the Trump administration, and that it’s possible now for her to call the Secretary of Housing and Urban Development to work on solutions – something that wasn’t possible before. So Bass said that even as mayor, she would like to build relationships at the national, as well as local, level…and also work with the mayors of other cities. We need a holistic approach to the problem, she said, tackling it at many levels and in many ways, including learning more about why people are unhoused…because until we understand and act on that, simply building more housing won’t help.
You’ve been in government for a long time, so how are you going to house people, and why will your plans work when others haven’t?
Bass noted that Measures H and HHH (which made it easier to build new housing) were supposed to help with homelessness, but they didn’t address the roots of the problem (including the fact that Los Angeles has become unaffordable for many people), so more people have continued falling into homelessness. Also, she said, building housing takes a long time and costs lots of money. But if we treat the situation more like the emergency response to an earthquake, we won’t simply wait for housing to be built at normal speeds. We’ll do it much faster, as we did with rebuilding the 10 freeway after the Northridge quake.
What is the answer to building more affordable housing?
Bass said we need 500,000 more units, and 250,000 of those right away. So we need to mount a “bold grass roots campaign” to create an awareness that we all have to give a little where we live. People don’t like SB9 (which allows lot splitting and construction of duplexes in areas previously zoned for single-family housing), she said, but “We have to get rid of the notion that if it comes in my back yard I’m going to sue.”
What about police reforms and programs to divert some 911 calls to other kinds of services?
Bass said she recently held a press conference at the former St. Vincent Hospital, which many people have suggested could be used for housing for homeless people with mental health issues, though the current owner has refused. Bass noted, though, that there have been some horrific crimes committed by mentally ill homeless individuals recently, so we may have reached a tipping point where we can finally make progress in treating and caring for the mentally ill, and changing some of the policies that have kept us from doing that. For example, she said, the city currently makes using a facility like St. Vincent’s difficult because it limits facilities for the mentally ill to a maximum of 19 residents…and St. Vincent’s could hold 348. Also, she said, we do have a law that allows us to hospitalize the mentally ill, but only for 72 hours, and then we put them back on the street, without further care, which she believes is inhumane.
How could you acquire the St. Vincent’s Hospital property as space for the homeless?
Bass said she is currently working with Xavier Becerra, Secretary of the Department of Health and Human Services, as well as with the Department of Housing and Urban Development, on this question…and also on how we can change some of the rules that have made this proposition so difficult.
What are your hopes for the city, and the kinds of transformations you’d like to see?
Bass said our number one problem is actually profound income inequality, and she would like that to be a conscious part of every conversation. We need to pay attention to where people need jobs most, she said, and to help the parts of the city that need help most. We also want to harness all the skills, wealth, and brilliance in the city, to help all who need it. Finally, she noted, the Mayor’s office doesn’t currently have a financial development office, which means we “leave money on the table,” so she would hire new grant writers to help capture more of that kind of potential funding.
What’s going to happen when the current eviction moratorium and rent freeze expire…and how can you help small landlords when supports for them expire as well?
The majority of landlords are small property owners, Bass said, so we definitely need ongoing assistance for landlords as well as for tenants. She said the federal government did that in its COVID rescue packages, but we need more supplemental funding as the emergency funds expire.
How can you help support people in moving toward home ownership?
Bass says she always questions the use of the word “affordable” when describing new housing: “Affordable to who?” She said we should be pushing for lower cost housing in general, and also for resources to help people achieve first-time home ownership. The city has become so unaffordable, she said, that many residents’ adult children can no longer afford to live here. So we need to increase the housing supply, open up space for development, and make room.
How have things changed in this year’s campaign?
Bass said campaigns can be hopeful and unifying or divisive and tear people apart, like many in the last four years. But she said there are now many opportunities for people to participate. And this is the first time that the November 8 LA mayoral election will be held at the same time as other elections, in the fall, so it definitely won’t be a “snoozer” this time. Also, she noted, the election actually starts when ballots for the June 7 primary go out in May.
How will you handle the issues with the Sheriff’s Department, and District Attorney George Gascon?
Bass agreed that current LA County Sheriff Alex Villanueva presents a challenge, but she also noted that he works for LA County, not the City of Los Angeles. That said, however, she also said problems with the LA Sheriff’s office have been going on for years, and that she is asking U.S. Attorney General Merrick Garland to investigate. As for District Attorney George Gascon, she said she does not agree the current recall efforts targeting him. Bass said there are now more than 60 recall efforts targeting elected officials, but people just can’t recall someone every time they disagree with them. Instead, she said, it’s better to put that effort into helping change policies you don’t support. Also, she said, many people are now saying crime is up because of various recent police and legal reforms…but it’s worth noting that the problem is really wider than that – crime is also rising in places where there have been no reforms, so “don’t throw the baby out with the bathwater.”
On what issues do you disagree with Gascon?
Bass said she disagreed when Gascon sentenced a 26-year-old (who was 17 at the time of her crime) to a juvenile facility. Also, Bass said, Gascon created a new blanket sentencing policy for juveniles…but he has since backed off a bit on both of those things. Also, Bass noted that Gascon did not elease several smash-and-grab burglary suspects, as many have accused him of. Instead, she said, that decision was made by a judge, because of the COVID-19 situation. So she said we need to evaluate the situation more closely.
What are your thoughts on traffic congestion?
During the 1984 Olympics, Bass said, Angelenos expected horrible traffic jams, but then-Mayor Tom Bradley prevented them by coordinating people’s work schedules to make sure residents weren’t all on the road at the same time…something she said we could look at again, and which would be much easier to do now, because of advances in technology. Bass said the COVID-19 pandemic also showed us that having many people working at home could ease traffic congestion (and many people are still not back in the office), so she would like to revisit this idea with the area’s largest employers and figure out how to work together on adjusting work schedules and locations to help ease traffic.
What about “green” issues?
Bass says she now has a lot of experience dealing with people in Washington, D.C. who don’t believe climate change is a real issue. She said we should start by focusing on equity, and on new businesses and opportunities. For example, she said, EV charging stations are a good place to start — they’re something we can expand, but we should also pay attention to where we’re putting them, and make sure they’re available to everyone, with an emphasis on diversity and equity.
How will you get things done, including hiring more people, on a limited budget?
Bass said the trick is knowing what kinds of things work, and then finding the investments needed to bring programs to scale. For example, she said, there are many evidence-based programs to reduce violent crime. In Baldwin Village, she said, she helped raise foundation money to recruit older former gang members to work with police in the area, and the community went three months without a homicide. But then the program languished when the City Councilmember supporting it left. “We [just] need to make the investment,” she said.
How will you make sure that you actually get things done?
Bass leaned on her track record here, recalling that she helped lead California through its worst financial crisis since the Great Depression…and that she also helped bring caucuses together to address national funding needs during the COVID-19 pandemic.
How will you fund everything?
Here again, Bass noted that “money” isn’t only what we have in the city budget, and that there are many kinds of funding – such as grants and wealthy private donors – that we can and should tap into. For example, she said, violence prevention is one example of LA “leaving money on the table” — the Biden administration has money for such programs, she said, and we need to go after it but haven’t done so.
What about guns?
Bass said her focus would be on getting ghost guns off the street.
Any final words for us?
Bass said that to effectively solve problems, “you don’t do things to them, you do things with them.” In other words, she said, we need to build local, state, and national relationships to tackle our most critical issues. And she believes she is uniquely qualified for that job.
The next HODG Looking Local event is scheduled for this coming Sunday, March20, at 4 p.m., with City Council District 5 candidate Katy Young Yaroslavsky. And she will be followed at 5 p.m. with a second session featuring CD 5 candidate Scott Epstein. Sign up here for the Zoom link if you’d like to attend.
The remaining HODG “Looking Local” candidate conversations include:
3/20 (4-5pm) Katy Young Yaroslavsky, City Council District 5 (confirmed)
(5-6pm) Scott Epstein, City Council District 5 (confirmed)
3/27 (4-5pm) Jimmy Biblarz, City Council District 5 (confirmed)
4/3 (4-5 pm) Sam Yebri, City Council District 5 (confirmed)
4/10 (4-5pm) Mitch O’Farrell, City Council District 13 (confirmed)
4/17 (4-5pm) Kate Pynoos, City Council District 13 (confirmed)
(5-6pm) Dulce Vasquez, City Council District 9 (confirmed)
4/24 (4-5 pm) Hugo Soto Martinez, City Council District 13 (confirmed)
5/1 (4-5 pm) Teddy Kapur, City Attorney (confirmed)
(5-5:30pm) Eli Vera, Sheriff (confirmed)
5/8 (4-5 pm) Hydee Feldstein Soto, City Attorney (confirmed)
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
Also, for those who would like a chance to meet mayoral candidate Mike Feuer, the Ebell of Los Angeles will be hosting him in a live event in cooperation with the Los Angeles World Affairs Council tomorrow, Tuesday, March 15 at 6:30 p.m. Register here if you’d like to attend. (Feuer also participated in the HODG conversation series last week – we’ll have that story soon.)
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.
- More Posts