City Council District 5 is a long, narrow district mostly east of Sepulveda Blvd., from Venice Ave. up past Burbank Blvd. in the Valley, with a small, hook-shaped appendage that abuts CD4 in our La Brea-Hancock and Citrus Square neighborhoods. There are three candidates running this year for the CD5 seat currently held by Paul Koretz, including the incumbent. They are, in alphabetical order:
Jesse Creed – A relative newcomer to the political arena, focusing primarily on the issue of homelessness.
Mark Herd – A neighborhood activist who first got involved in local politics as a founder of the Venice Neighborhood Council, and later the Westwood Homeowners’ Association and Westwood Neighborhood Council. Herd, too, is interested in the homeless issue, but his primary focus is over-development and combating the monetary influence of developers at City Hall. He is the only one of the three candidates on record supporting the divisive Measure S, which proposes a two-year moratorium on developments that would require a zone change or General Plan amendment, while the city updates its General and Community plans.
Paul Koretz – The current CD 5 representative, who has held the seat since 2009 and who has been endorsed by the Los Angeles Times, the Sierra Club, Mayor Eric Garcetti, City Attorney Mike Feuer and City Controller Ron Galperin, among others.
On Saturday, February 25, the Mid-City West Community Council held a CD5 candidate forum, at which former City Council Member Mike Woo, now the Dean of Urban Design at Cal Poly Pomona, engaged the candidates in discussion on several issues of importance to the district. Their answers on those topics, submitted by stakeholders, provided a good look at their positions and interests.
Herd recounted how he grew up in the 5th district, left for a while, and then returned, getting involved in neighborhood issues in Venice, and then leading the effort to establish the Venice Neighborhood Council. He later moved to Westwood and was similarly involved there, helping to found the Westwood Homeowners’ Association, and the Westwood Neighborhood Council. Herd said his main interests in this campaign are the fight to eliminate homelessness, the effort to remove the influence of money in city politics, traffic mitigation, and efforts to control over-development. He noted that he is the only candidate currently on record supporting Measure S, and said he would work to uphold the city’s community plans, which were “designed by planners for you.”
Koretz, who not only has served in his current position for eight years but was also previously a member of the West Hollywood City Council and Mayor of West Hollywood, introduced himself as “the candidate most connected to the district,” and also the most experienced. He noted that prior to his current and previous elected positions, he had also worked as a staff member for other elected officials. Koretz cited his record of working to make sure large new developments are appropriately planned, as well as public safety and gun violence as other areas of particular focus.
Creed said he was motivated to run for office years ago when he was very young and his family lost their home in a bankruptcy. Homelessness is still Creed’s primary area of interest, and he contends that Los Angeles’ current homeless crisis is caused by “failed leadership.” He said he recently worked on a program to get 1,000 homeless veterans off the street, and contends that “elections are about the future, not past accomplishments.” He also said the current “pay-to-play” culture at City Hall is “wrong, broken, and unfair,” and that he has committed to not taking any money from developers in his campaign.
Koretz said that issues of densification and development have many complicated elements, but the main question is, “How dense do we want to be?” He noted that we probably don’t want to pack 10 million people into Los Angeles, because it doesn’t have the transportation and other services to support that large a population. At the same time, however, Koretz agreed that Los Angeles does need to be denser than it is currently, and that we need to continue increasing density. As an example of a project that does this in a sensible way, he cited a new 595-unit development on the site of an old cement plant near Pico and Sepulveda, which he helped to negotiate. Koretz said that development originally called for the inclusion of a big box retail store, which would have overwhelmed the already busy traffic in the area…so he helped remove that element of the project to help it fit better into its local context.
Herd agreed that densification depends on good planning, and said some parts of the city can handle additional density, while others cannot. He cited Westwood as one part of CD5 that is already quite gridlocked and said that, in general, you have to “build smart,” and discuss projects in context. “One size doesn’t fit all.”
Creed noted that the need for development and more housing is largely due to Los Angeles being a big destination for people moving here from other places. “We would like to see LA welcome everyone who comes here,” he said, “but there are limits.” He said he would like to be able to welcome everyone who wants to come here, but we need to “plan our city” and “we haven’t been doing that.” He also said he is a big fan of adaptive reuse of older buildings.
Food Deserts and Inequalities
Creed noted that CD5 doesn’t have many “food deserts” (places where healthy foods just aren’t widely and affordably available in local stores and restaurants), but noted that he did work the Mudtown Farms project in Watts, to help people grow their own healthy food.
Herd said food inequities are often the result of businesses being reluctant to locate in certain areas, so the city has to do more to incentivize business development through tax breaks and other credits (as it has done recently for the film industry). He promised he would be proactive on this issue, and work to make Los Angeles less “anti-business.”
Koretz agreed that CD5 doesn’t really lack healthy food (“we’re anything but a food desert”), but acknowledged that the problem definitely exists in other districts. He said the city needs to make it easier to permit new restaurants, lower tax barriers, and provide other incentives for people to open new markets. Businesses tend to be reluctant to take chances on lower-income areas, he said, and they need to know they can make a profit there before relocating.
Creed said Measure S has come about because “the City Council is not doing its job” and updating its plans on the schedules required by the City Charter. The result is that too many variances are being granted by city officials to developers who have made large campaign donations. Despite this, however, Creed noted that he will be voting “no” on Measure S, saying it “goes too far” and could actually contribute to the current homeless crisis by preventing new affordable housing from being built.
Koretz said Measure S contains both “good” and “bad” elements. The good, he said, are things like requiring the City (instead of developers) to hire the consultants to prepare Environmental Impact Reports on proposed developments, and to require updates of the General and Community Plans every six years. But both of those, he noted, have already been promised by the City Council. He said that, for him, the “poison pill” in Measure S is the two-year construction moratorium…because if the city plan updates take longer than that (perhaps up to six or seven years), and the moratorium is extended, many desirable big projects (such as the proposed George Lucas Museum) would be killed.
Herd disagreed, contending that a two-year moratorium would be just that, the Lucas Museum would still get built, and after the two years is up, the city can “build, build, build…but do it correctly.” “Your life depends on that Measure,” he said.
Vision Zero is a new city effort to eliminate all traffic deaths by 2025.
Herd said this is one of his “top 10” interests in his campaign, and that there are many things the city can do to increase traffic safety and decrease dangerous gridlock. One example he mentioned is the manual adjustment of traffic light timing, to help keep traffic moving instead of stalling when flow gets heavy. He also advocated against “stealing” city parking revenues for other purposes, and adding more affordable public transportation (buses), instead of pushing new rail projects.
Creed says he supports Vision Zero, and that it’s important to focus on safety issues first in transportation policy. He said he would also like to see funds created by Measure M (a huge transportation funding initiative passed in the November election) for safety features such as crosswalks and bike lanes. He also criticized Koretz on this issue, saying the incumbent “killed” a Westood Blvd. traffic safety study and would like to ban bikes on Westwood Blvd.
Koretz clarified that he has proposed moving bike lanes from Westwood Blvd. to the less dangerous Gayley Ave., rather than banning them entirely in the area. He also agreed with Herd that the city could do a better job of syncing traffic, and that they are now experimenting with adding traffic officers at some of the city’s most dangerous intersections (all in the San Fernando Valley so far). Koretz also noted that he has worked with the Mid City West Community Council on a grant to fund bike lanes in that area, as well as adding more traffic signals and four way stops to increase safety.
Woo noted that Robertson Blvd., once a powerhouse retail center in CD5, has long suffered from lack of parking and has seen an increase in vacancies in recent years, as businesses – which compete for customers with both Beverly Hills and the Beverly Center – struggle to survive.
Koretz noted that a number of factors have made it difficult for Robertson Blvd. businesses to survive in recent years, but said he has been lobbying to institute two-hour free parking in the local city parking structure, which could make the area more attractive to shoppers. He noted that it’s a hard sell with the city, however, because there’s only one local parking structure, and there would need to be another to make it possible to have 2-hour free parking full time.
Creed, whose campaign headquarters is on Robertson Blvd., said he’s very familiar with the issues in the area, and that the number of current commercial vacancies is “sad.” He, too, said instituting two-hour free parking in the area would help attract more retail customers (who just can’t complete their shopping in the current 1-hour parking period), and that it’s too bad the area hasn’t had more support on this issue so far from the city.
Herd agreed with the others, saying parking is a huge issue in the area, and that shoppers really need two, or even three, hours of free parking. He agreed with Koretz, however, that there are also other factors at work – such as the revitalization of the Third Street Promenade in Santa Monica, which has provided attractive competition for shoppers – and that more needs to be done to make Robertson an attractive retail destination again.
Creed said this is the most important issue in both CD5 and the city at large at the moment, and “I don’t know how our elected officials can sleep at night,” with the current state of the crisis. He said it is imperative to find ways to “turn the spigot off,” and support “rapid rehousing” techniques to keep people in their homes instead of allowing them to wind up on the streets. Referring again to the program he recently headed to house 1,000 homeless veterans, he said “it can be done.”
Herd agreed that homelessness is one of the biggest issues facing the city, and – referring to new requirements for developers to include a certain number of low income units in new market-rate developments – he contended that the city’s only solution seems to be “putting people in $500,000 condos.” He noted that Measure HHH, passed last fall and which will provide a number of new programs and services to fight homelessness, won’t fix everything…and that we might not see funding from it for another 10 years or more. Herd referred people to an additional plan outlined on his website, which would include keeping shelters open 24 hours a day, 365 days a year, and building $10,000 prefabricated small houses on vacant county land (in areas with available space, such as Palmdale). He contended that the homeless problem could be solved, with these two techniques, for just $1.2 million, and in just five years.
Koretz said we will see results from Measures HHH and Measure H (which would fund the Measure HHH programs) much sooner than 10 years, and urged people to support Measure H in the current election. He also reminded stakeholders that the city has set aside $138 million in this year’s budget for homeless programs…and, also, that family reunification efforts can help as many as 25% of homeless people get off the street by helping them go home to their families.
Woo’s final question to each of the candidates on Saturday was what they might be willing to support or oppose, even if the decision would be unpopular with voters.
Koretz referred back to the development project at Pico and Sepulveda, which was initially unpopular with residents, as originally proposed with a big-box retail tenant, but for which he was able to broker support from many different parties by convincing developers to remove that element.
Herd said Measure S is something he believes in strongly, even though many people disagree with him. “I don’t care what political price I have to pay” for supporting it, he said. He added that unpopular stances are familiar to him, as many people opposed the creation of the Venice Neighborhood Council when he was working to start it.
Creed said he opposed the large new Rick Caruso development at the old Loehmann’s site on La Cienega Blvd., even though many in the community, and eventually city officials, were in favor of it. Creed says he still believes that the developers did not “give enough back” to the community in the form of affordable housing units, and that it is a symbol of the currently “unfair” and “corrupt” system in city government.
Creed concluded his remarks on Saturday by saying he believes that voters need to elect someone who has a vision of a “world class” Los Angeles, with safer streets and stronger neighborhoods. He also contended that while Mr. Koretz has received a lot of campaign contributions from various sources, he (Creed) is refusing money from developers, so won’t be “beholden” to them.
Koretz reminded voters that they know him well, and that he has worked together with them to solve many problems during his tenure. He also noted that since he was first elected to public office, he has taken no trips in the U.S. paid for by outside parties, and only one trip elsewhere (to Israel). He also noted that he has never taken his full city council salary during the time he’s been in office.
Herd thanked the other two candidates for their participation in the forum, saying they are both “great guys…but completely wrong on policy.” He also reiterated his support for Measure S, and referred to Koretz as a “politician” who accepts funds from all contributors and then “flips the switch” for developers.
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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