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, 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 Katy Young Yaroslavsky, candidate for City Council District 5 (which represents most of our Mid City West and half of our Greater Wilshire area), was structured as a Q&A with HODG hosts and took place on March 20. Yaroslavsky is an attorney who has worked in the transportation, environmental and public policy fields, most recently as the senior policy advisor to LA County Supervisor, focusing on environmental issues. (Kuehl, along with LA Mayoral candidate Karen Bass, State Senator Ben Allen, and others, has endorsed Yaroslavsky for the CD 5 position.) These were among the topics covered in the HODG conversation:
What is the job of a City Councilmember, and why do you want the job?
Yaroslavsky said she sees two main jobs for a city council member. First is constituent services (responding to people’s needs and requests) because that really restores people’s trust in government. And second, she said, is policy making. The city has big, complex problems these days, and a city councilmember needs to be able to collaborate with 15 other councilmembers, as well as LA County government, and the 88 other cities in LA County to create effective policies that address those big, complex issues. “These are all challenges that are going to require leveraging dollars all the way up to the federal government,” she said, so the city council needs people who knows where the money is at various levels of government, and how to collaborate with others to get it — not people who are just going to use the office as a stepping stone to future positions. Yaroslavsky said she would see her job as the “chief collaborator” in the problem-solving process, constantly toggling between hyperlocal constituent-based problems such as streets, trees, and sidewalks, and the bigger, wider, and more complex issues across the district and city.
So far, few places to house the homeless in CD 5 have been found. Will you commit to build more homeless housing and where? And what will we do about the issue until more housing can be found or created?
Yaroslavsky said she would definitely commit to building more housing, but the problem is that there’s not much available land in CD 5, and what there is is very expensive. So instead of relying only on building new housing, Yaroslavsky said she would focus more on adaptive reuse projects that repurpose existing commercial buildings as housing. Yaroslavsky said that because many people are still working at home since the COVID-19 pandemic began, there are many vacant commercial and office buildings in CD 5, and many underused hotels and motels. Also, she said, the city should look at leasing new buildings for transitional and supportive housing, because there is currently a lot of funding available for this, and it’s much cheaper than building from the ground up.
In addition to getting more housing online faster, at a more affordable price point, Yaroslavsky said her number two housing goal is helping to prevent people from becoming homelessness in the first place. She said the big mistake in Measure H was that it only provided funds for people already living on the street, but did nothing to prevent more people from ending up there. This should be not be hard, she said, because we already know which people are most vulnerable to becoming homeless, and we already “touch” many of them through various governmental programs such as foster care, CalFresh, etc.
Third, Yaroslavsky said she would like to improve coordination between the city and county on issues related to homelessness. For example, she said, the Los Angeles Homeless Services Authority is supposed to bridge both entities, but it needs to be made more accountable, with regular meetings between city and county staff. Yaroslavsky said there are currently parts of seven different city council districts in Supervisor Kuehl’s district, and people from each of them should be meeting regularly with each other and with the Supervisor’s staff, to coordinate homeless street intervention services…but that doesn’t happen.
And, finally, Yaroslavsky said her fourth goal related to homelessness is adding more beds for mental health treatment and stopping arrests of people for mental health issues, because “jail isn’t the right place to get well.”
Overall, Yaroslavsky said, there’s no single solution to homelessness, and it’s not just the job of any single entity to deal with it. “It’s not one silver bullet; there’s a lot of collaboration that needs to happen. Collaboration. Collaboration. Collaboration.”
Would you support the use of LAUSD school campuses as sites for bridge housing?
Yaroslavsky said the city would have to talk to LAUSD about this, but she can envision funds from Measure W (which raised money for stormwater capture) being used at school sites, where there’s currently a lot of asphalt…so she would be interested learning more about how to co-locate housing on school sites.
Is current CD 5 Councilmember Paul Koretz correct when he says we can’t do much about the homelessness without significant legal changes at the state level?
Yes, Yaroslavsky said she agrees with Koretz on this point. For example, she said, state laws about adaptive reuse of buildings are now “very onerous,” and along with other existing restrictions, as well as local communities that also oppose many possible sites for homeless housing, it all combines to drive up costs and create “death by a thousand cuts” for many housing proposals.
Mobility plan for climate change?
Yaroslavsky said the more she has worked on environmental issues, the more she has realized how closely housing, transportation, health and the environment are all connected. And the way to solve these complex, interconnected problem, she said, is with smart, coordinated community planning. For example, Yaroslavsky said, many of the city’s Community Plans haven’t been updated in more than a generation, and that needs to change. Metro’s current subway expansion will also help, she said, if we can zone for new housing near job centers and new transit lines. In addition, she said, Los Angeles should be one of “the greatest bike cities in the world,” because it’s mostly flat and sunny…but people don’t bike here, she said, because they don’t feel safe doing so. So we should also create better infrastructure for bikes, even though many people won’t be thrilled to sacrifice car lanes to bikes. If we build better bike infrastructure, however, she said, “some not insignificant number of people will use it.”
You said at another recent forum that you would accept an endorsement from the Democratic Socialists of America. Is that true even though the group requires that people it endorses pledge never to travel to Israel?
Yaroslavsky said that when she agreed during in a “lightning round” at another recent candidate forum that she would accept an endorsement from the DSA, she was unaware of the group’s full platform, and that after looking at it more closely since then, she would not accept an endorsement from the DSA. (She also clarified that she has never solicited such an endorsement.) Yaroslavsky said she and the DSA have “very different” positions on a number of policies, and that “some of the biggest trolls” on her Twitter feed have been DSA advocates.
What are your plans for public safety?
Yaroslavsky said the prime role of the government is to keep us safe, and right now things don’t feel very safe. She said the City Council has several roles to play in improving public safety, including approving funds to maintain a well-staffed, well-trained LAPD. That said, however, Yaroslavsky also said that while she believes we do need more police officers on the street, too much of police officers’ jobs at the moment are not about public safety and solving crime, so should be done by other people. As an example, she pointed to the recently-launched “Circle” program, which diverts police calls about homeless issues to other agencies. She said this is a good start toward getting “people with the right skill set solving the right problems.” Finally, Yaroslavsky said LAPD does need to be more transparent and accountable…but we also need to invest more heavily in our communities (with programs for jobs, housing, and more) at the same time, to help prevent people from turning to crime in the first place.
Can you clarify your stance on the controversial Ordinance 41.18, which allows homeless camps to be cleared from certain locations?
Yaroslavsky said the ordinance lists places where people are not allowed to camp or store their belongings, but it doesn’t provide beds for people on the street. But there was a companion motion passed by the City Council at the same time as 41.18, which would create deeper street engagement to connect people to services…and we need that to be ready and and deployed before we start using 41.18 to move people. So 41.18 can be a useful backstop, she said, if we do the preparation. But simply moving people off the street with only a 2-day hotel voucher doesn’t help — it’s just “rearranging deck chairs on the Titanic.” If we pair 41.18 with an effective street engagement strategy, however, and people on the street still don’t accept a meaningful offer of help, then we can say, “You can’t stay here.”
Do you support the Livable Communities Initiative, and would you support getting rid of minimum parking requirements?
Yaroslavsky said she supports reduced parking requirements when it makes sense…but that it doesn’t always make sense. In many cases, she said, developers who don’t want to include parking simply move parking burdens to the nearby homeowners. But in the case of supportive housing projects, those residents don’t usually have cars, so if the building is near transit, you don’t need parking. For market-rate projects, however, she said, most of the residents will have cars, even if the building is near transit. So each situation should be looked at individually.
If elected, what are three things you’d do in day one on the job?
Yaroslavsky said she has learned that much success in this arena comes from your relationships and surrounding yourself with excellent people, so she said that on day one in office, she would call her city council colleagues and make lunch dates with each of them. The second most important thing to do on day one, she said, is to begin building an excellent staff, which she would create from people with city, county, state, and federal experience, as well as some who are new to government. And the third thing she would do on day one, she said, would be to call the two LA County supervisors whose districts intersect with CD 5 and set up weekly staff meetings for both groups together.
Can you give an example of an issue or project on which you’ve collaborated with colleagues with opposing views?
Yaroslavsky cited her experience with getting Measure W (the stormwater capture initiative) on the ballot and passed. LA County tried for years to do something like this, she said, but it was like “herding cats” with many opposing priorities. But she said this kind of issue can be successfully managed, as that one was, by being honest and transparent about what the process will be, when you bring people in, and then being flexible about the end goal. She said you also need to be willing to give people a degree of ownership, and not care who gets credit in the end. In fact, she said, it can also be important to let someone else lead on parts of the process, if it makes more sense for them to do so. (As an example, she cited the way that supervisor Holly Mitchell, whose district contains the most active oil drilling wells, is now leading the efforts to close those wells for LA County.)
Do you know what’s left of the city’s recycling program, and can you comment on the new law about composting?
Yaroslavsky said she doesn’t know the current state of the recycling program, but the last she heard, much of it had collapsed because China is no longer buying most of the items we collect. But she said it’s not acceptable if everything is going to landfills again, so we’ll need to find ways to restructure the program, which will likely require some cooperation with state government. On the other hand, she said, she’s very excited about SB 1383, the new state law that aims to recycle and compost more food waste.
LADWP doesn’t support household solar power well, and seems to see it as a compromise. How would you change this?
Yaroslavskly said she would like to see DWP create new incentives, as well as legal requirements in new construction, for solar power, along with rebates to make new installations cost neutral for homeowners. She said she is committed to working with the LADWP Commission to figure out how to support solar power and make it affordable to everyone, both renters and homeowners.
Do you support any of the current recall campaigns?
Yaroslavsky said she’s not a fan of recalls because they’re very expensive. If you don’t like the job someone’s doing, she said, you should simply vote for someone else next time. Using recalls as a political weapon is not the best use of resources.
How would you stop the misuse of CEQA to prevent housing from being built?
Yaroslavsky said the California Environmental Quality Act is an “interesting beast,” and that while it can often be a huge roadblock to new development, it’s also an important environmental tool…so – as with many issues – the important thing is to figure out how to strike a balance between the good and the bad. Among potential CEQA reforms we should look at, Yaroslavsky said, are making the review process faster for homeless and affordable housing, and also providing an “off-ramp” to help avoid lawsuits.
Would you work to require EV charging stations in all new buildings?
Yaroslavsky said she would support this kind of requirement, and also construction of new infrastructure for scooters and bikes. She said we should make it less expensive to install EV chargers, and this is another area where the city could partner with LA County, which currently has lots of resources for this.
What buildings would you like to see repurposed for housing?
Yaroslavsky said Century City parking structures currently represent a big opportunity. With the Purple Line Extension coming into the area, she said, there will be a big opportunity to reallocate density based on a new number of trips per square foot (which is a measure often used to set zoning densities). There’s also a hotel on Olympic Blvd. near Century City [the Mariott Courtyard near Olympic and Century Park West], which she said might be a good candidate for housing. Most importantly, though, Yaroslavsky said she wants people to know that she’s open to ideas for adaptive reuse with state and federal funding, and she looks forward to seeing what opportunities appear.
Is there really just one person on the city’s Sustainability Team?
Yaroslavsky said she’s not sure about the city team, but she has worked with the LA County office of sustainability, and there’s definitely more than one person there.
What city block or corner makes you sad, and why?
Yarslavsky said there are too many to name, but one that stands out to her is the east side of La Cienega, at Pico Blvd., where there’s been a homeless encampment for several years, as if “everybody just decided it’s OK to live there.” She said situations like this upset her, because too often no one is accountable for places, like this one, at the boundaries of districts or cities. Instead, she said, people in those different organizations should be collaborating and deciding together how to solve the problems at their borders instead of ignoring them.
Why should people vote for you?
Yaroslavsky said she hopes this conversation conveyed her understanding of the issues, and the kinds of collaboration necessary to solve them. The best policies, she said, often come from the private sector working with governmental bodies…and she’s the only one in the current CD 5 race who has actual government experience. She said she knows how difficult our problems are, but she knows how to use the tools available to address those issues – “I didn’t just read it in an article somewhere.”
People who would like to learn more, or make a donation, can do so at http://www.katyforla.com.
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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