The Hang Out Do Good advocacy group recently concluded 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 took place on Sunday afternoons, via Zoom, and were open to the public. This conversation with Teddy Kapur, one of seven candidates who will be on the ballot for Los Angeles City Attorney, took place on Sunday, May 1. Kapur is the child of Indian immigrants, who followed his parents’ example of community service by volunteering with Habitat for Humanity and several programs for the homeless as he worked his way through law school at NYU and Harvard. He is currently endorsed by California State Senator Maria Elena Durazo and a number of other local officials. 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 City Attorney’s job.
Kapur said his parents immigrated from India to the U.S. His father first worked as a security guard, and then moved the family to Houston after he earned his Master’s degree and became an engineer. Today, the younger Kapur is a lawyer and, in addition to working at a law firm, serves on the board of the Imagine LA organization, teaches job search classes at a local community college, and has two children – a two-year-old and a 5th grader, who go to neighborhood schools.
Kapur explained that the City Attorney has several jobs, acting as the city’s chief lawyer for civil and criminal matters. On the civil side, Kapur said, the City Attorney advises the mayor and city departments on legal matters and the legality of new laws. And on the criminal side, the city attorney prosecutes misdemeanors for the city (while the LA County District Attorney prosecutes felonies). Kapur says the City Attorney’s office is a big department, employing about 500 lawyers, with a budget of $160 million for 2023. There are also deputy city attorneys in all city departments, Kapur said, and their work touches all areas of city government.
Homelessness is a major issue today. How do you plan to address the problems of encampments for people both living in them and living near them, especially considering the “Boise” decision, which said you can’t remove people from the street unless you have somewhere for them to go?
Kapur said the current homeless crisis is “heartbreaking” and one of the main reasons he’s running for office. If elected, he said, one of the first things he would do is advise the mayor to declare a state of emergency relating to homelessness, which could help the city break through some of the jurisdictional obstacles it’s faced in dealing with the problem. For example, he said, after the Northridge earthquake, people said it would take 10 years to rebuild the 10 Freeway, but it took only 66 days once a state of emergency was declared. He said we need to act with the same kind of urgency now, and that we do have the ability to deliver the action we need to get people off the streets…though we also need to do more to prevent homelessness, too.
Kapur further explained that the “Boise” decision was a ruling by the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals, which said you can’t remove people from the public right of way unless you have housing for them. But there are still unanswered questions, he said, such as whether or not it has to be housing in the same place…and whether that has to be tonight. Also, Kapur noted that the new Los Angeles city ordinance 41.18 prohibits sitting, sleeping, and storing things in the public right of way, and allows city council members to select the areas where these rules will apply. Kapur said this is a step in the right direction, but it also creates a patchwork of 15 different sets of rules in the 15 different Council Districts, since each councilmember can make their own rules for their own districts. Still, he said, ordinance 41.18 can be a useful tool, if we lead with compassion and if we also hold LA County accountable for providing mental health and addiction resources, which the city does not provide.
What role can the City Attorney officially play in building faster, more cost-effective housing?
Kapur said the City Attorney advises the mayor on housing policy, and enforces the city’s laws. Also, the city is currently far behind its needs for creating new housing, Kapur said, and the City Attorney can help enforce the city’s declared housing goals, and help to streamline approvals for new construction by expediting a lot of permits. He said he would like to create a special division in the City Attorney’s office focused just on affordable housing. Also, he said, the City Attorney can help delegate more authority to housing approval bodies (such as HCID and Zoning), and not just individual city council members. That way, he said, if a project meets stated standards, it could be expedited. And finally, Kapur said, the City Attorney can do more to help preserve existing affordable housing, by helping to renew expiring affordability covenants and strictly enforcing them.
If the city declares a state of emergency due to homelessness, what does that mean for local government?
Kapur said such a declaration is authorized in the Los Angeles city charter, but the way it’s worded is open to interpretation. Mayoral candidates Rick Caruso and Mike Feuer [the latter of whom recently dropped out of the mayor’s race] have both said they want to make such a declaration, but each of them would take a different approach. Kapur said the declaration would probably give the mayor more authority over the matter than they have now, so they could challenge certain timelines, but they would still have to work with LA County to make sure it would provide health and mental health services more quickly.
Why hasn’t an emergency already been declared?
Kapur said the city council was going to make such a declaration in 2015, but it never happened because there were questions about who would have authority and how it would be handled. But he noted that the problem has doubled since then, with five people dying on our streets every day now, so he said he’d like to help the mayor make it work this time.
Would you consider opening empty city buildings as housing?
Kapur said it’s very frustrating that there are 55,000 government-owned, underused parcels of land in the city, but using them requires political will, and it will take all of us to hold officials accountable. He said we definitely need to look at all options now, including adaptive re-use of existing city-owned buildings.
Karen Bass said she supports declaring a state of emergency. But much will depend on who wins the mayoral election. Who do you see having power under a state of emergency?
Currently, Kapur said, we have (by design of the system) a weak mayor and a stronger city council, but he said he’d like to see a small group of people in different levels of government wielding more power on homelessness, including the mayor, city councilmembers, the housing department, and others, and that he’d like that group to look at things like changing some of the city’s zoning, and alternative housing options.
There are different approaches to maintaining public safety. Where do you stand? What do you think the causes of crime are? And how can the city attorney help?
Kapur said there are both immediate and long-term causes of crime. The more immediate forces today include COVID-19 (which has resulted in job loss, isolation, and more), and the deeper roots include things like lack of education. Kapur said he supported LA County Measure J, which significantly increased funding to address the disproportionate impacts of racial injustice. But he said while it’s good that we’ve been calling out the city for past wrongs, but we still are not moving fast enough to correct them, and there are important opportunities to do so in underserved communities.
Also, Kapur said there are too many guns on the streets these days, and ghost guns, in particular, have increased dramatically, putting everyone at greater risk. Kapur said that since 2017, LAPD has seized 400 times more ghost guns than in pervious years. Also, he said he’d like to see more “red flag” laws, which would allow people to petition a court for a restraining order against someone showing certain indications that they might be a danger to themselves or others. And we should invest more in diversion programs. Finally, he said, while we’re working to address the root causes of crime, he would also like to work with the police to better enforce the laws we already have.
How can the city attorney get involved with Sheriff Villanueva and his recent attacks on a local reporter?
Kapur said what happened was “deplorable,” but LA County has its own legal system, and this is a county matter, not something the LA City Attorney would deal with.
Do you support the recall effort against District Attorney George Gascon?
Kapur said opposes the effort to recall Gascon, and that he believes recalls should only be done in cases of genuine malfeasance. Currently, he said, there are challenges from some of Gascon’s actions, but instead of recalling him, Gascon should be making efforts to win back the staff members he has alienated. Kapur said he does agree with Gascon that we need to reform our prison system…but he disagrees with some of the ways in which Gascon has approached the reforms. But even so, Kapur said, he doesn’t support the recall effort.
How would you approach the various issues relating to LAPD?
Kapur said the City Attorney is the lawyer for the LAPD, which means they’re also a legal advisor and watchdog, and can help hold the police accountable for their actions. He said he believes LAPD is trying to reform, but the number of police shootings is still unacceptable, and the department does need to be held accountable. We also need to improve police training, Kapur said, and add mental health providers who can take calls involving mental health crises, which don’t always need an armed response. So the goal, he said, is to make sure we’re reforming as much as possible, while still holding people accountable for misbehavior.
How can you help reform the police department if you also have to defend them when something goes wrong?
Kapur said that when something goes wrong involving LAPD, he wants to investigate and avoid huge settlements. He also said he wants to improve police training, and, as mentioned above, add more mental health service providers to our first responders.
How would you handle the wage theft issue?
Kaplur said this is an important issue for him because his parents were immigrants, who are often the most frequent victims of wage theft. Also, he said, studies show that 30% of our residents make less than minimum wage, and many are cheated out of the wages they do earn, especially in manufacturing businesses, and especially garment, construction and hotel workers. Also, he noted, this problem disproportionally affects women. The solution, he said, is to enforce our current wage laws, and the City Attorney can play a leading role in doing that. “These laws are in place,” he said, “so the City Attorney can enforce them, and I’d be eager to do so.”
How can you intervene?
Kapur said there’s a hotline people can use to report wage theft issues, and there’s also a city workforce office that can help publicize the laws and let bad employers know the laws will be enforced. And, he said, the City Attorney can also do more to hold bad actors accountable. And the same holds true for human trafficking – he would post notices to let people know about the existing laws, and then have resources and staff ready to investigate complaints.
Race is one of the best predictors of whether or not someone lives near a large polluter. The city attorney’s office has a unit dedicated to investigating environmental crimes…so what would your role be?
Kapur said the City Attorney should play an active role in improving our environment. Especially, for example, when it comes to things like oil wells. He said there’s currently no city ordinance in place to inspect old wells, and that even though the city council passed a program to do this, a law was never drafted…and that needs to be done. Kapur said we need to inspect wells all over the city, and then take all possible steps to be proactive in their closures. But first we need to make sure laws are in place to do that. And also, he said, the city attorney can sue polluters, as it recently did to Monsanto for contaminating local waterways with PCBs.
How can you make sure city employees don’t abuse overtime (which would be wage theft, too)?
Kapur said he would definitely be willing to work with city employee unions to call out bad actors there, too.
What led to the scandal in which several people in the City Attorney’s office pleaded guilty in the LADWP scandal?
Kapur said there are internal controls in city government to prevent things like this, but they’re not working. So we need to do more to improve the system, such as strengthening whistleblower laws, providing better education and awareness of the laws, and making sure the protections are real. Also, he said, we need better controls on external contracts, especially no-bid contracts. So there are both internal and external steps we can take to deter bad conduct in the future.
Please share an example of something at which you failed. What do you regret, and what did you learn?
Kapur said that when he was just starting his career, in 2008, he left a lucrative job to try and do more work in the area of affordable housing. But it was during the financial crash, and no one was hiring. In hindsight, he said, he should have kept his other job and not quit just then…but the experience also taught him a lot about how hard things were for many people at the time, and how hard it was to find a job and get a good financial foothold. And as a result, he said, he’s a lot more sensitive now to the struggles many workers go through every day.
Kapur said he’s excited to serve, feels well prepared to deal with the crises currently facing the city, and would be thrilled every day to work on those problems. Also, he noted that none of the candidates currently running for the job of City Attorney have held elective office before, so it’s a truly open election. And finally, he reported that he has more individual campaign contributions than any other candidate, and the lowest average donation amount per person, which indicates wide grass roots support.
To learn more about Kapur and his campaign, see https://teddykapur.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.
- More Posts