The second of the two forums on Thursday evening, moderated by Buzz Co-Publisher Patty Lombard, was a cooperative effort between the GWNC and the Echo Park Neighborhood Council. Introductions were handled by GWNC Melrose-area representative Raphie Cantor, and Lombard spoke briefly about the value of getting involved with your local neighborhood council. Then she invited each of the five CD 13 candidates – Albert Corado, Steve Johnson, Mitch O’Farrell, Kate Pynoos, and Hugo Soto-Martinez – to introduce themselves, answer several long-form questions and one more personal closing question.
Corado said he was more concerned about survival than politics growing up, until his sister was killed by LAPD officers at a shootout at a Trader Joe’s in northeast LA in 2019. And when the police determined there was nothing wrong in the way the police handled the incident, Corado was moved to become more involved in the community. He has raised money for the Black Lives Matter movement and other progressive causes, and is running on a platform of wanting to eliminate LAPD, which he says is a viable solution for a force that simply wastes the city’s time and money.
Johnson, a former Air Force captain who’s now a sergeant with the LA County Sheriff’s department and describes himself as a proud gay black man, said his campaign is about clean, safe neighborhoods for everyone. He asks voters whether things are better or worse for them than they were a few years ago, and says he’s not surprised that several city council members have been indicted recently, homeless is rampant, and crime is up 140%. He said he’s the best candidate to represent CD 13 on the City Council because his life has been dedicated to ethical leadership, and he has more experience dealing with homelessness than any other candidate.
O’Farrell, the incumbent running for his third and final term on the City Council, described his native American and LGBTQ background, and his long career in public service. He said leadership isn’t easy, but he’s willing to take changes and to be criticized. He also said he’s built more than 4,000 units of permanent supportive housing in CD 13, helped enact the strongest renter protections in the country during the pandemic, including our ongoing eviction moratorium, and that he’s now focusing on the future, especially renewable energy and the goal of making LA carbon-free by 2035.
Pynoos described herself as a third-generation Angeleno and a policy advisor on homelessness and the environment. A former staffer for City Councilmember Mike Bonin, she says she was motivated to run for office when she first arrived at City Hall and realized, “Wow, this place is screwed up.” And she said she was further galvanized when O’Farrell sent police to help clear out a huge homeless encampment at Echo Park Lake that never should have been allowed to grow that big. Pynoos said only 13 people from that effort received permanent housing, while she helped resolve an encampment of 200 people on Venice Beach, and 90 of those people were permanently housed. So she said we need better leadership on homelessness, and she has the experience to do the job.
And finally, Soto-Martinez said his parents were street vendors, and when his father was disabled at an early age, he went to work at a local hotel while still in high school. He was still working there when the hotel workers decided to unionize, just before Soto-Martinez graduated from college, and he left school to help with that effort, launching a 20-year career as a labor and progressive political organizer. After working on political campaigns elsewhere in the country, Soto-Martinez returned to LA and said, he, too, was motivated to run for office by the clearance of Echo Park Lake, as well as the gentrification of the city, which has lost many residents who can no longer afford to live here. Soto-Martinez said he will bring the same energy for change to CD 13 that has taken hold across the country in the last few years.
The majority of CD 13 residents are renters. How will you increase the number of affordable housing units in the district, and how will you protect our existing affordable units?
Johnson said there is virtually no affordable housing in the district, so he would like to increase the number of affordable units required in new construction, so there are more units available. And he will also make permanent supportive housing a priority. But Johnson said he’s also a preservationist, and city councilmembers have the power to affect development decisions, to make sure developers maintain the integrity and culture of our neighborhoods.
O’Farrell said historic preservation and creating new housing are not mutually exclusive goals, and we don’t have to sacrifice our built environment to build for the future. To do that, he said he’ll focus on infill construction, and noted again that he’s already built more than 4,000 new housing units, in mixed-income developments. He also said that at the same time, he feels very protective of our historic neighborhoods and, for example, would be happy to help our Larchmont neighborhood establish an Historic Preservation Overlay Zone (which will be harder now that SB 9 was passed by the state of California, but not impossible).
Pynoos said the reason LA is having a housing crisis is that we lack 500,000 units. And that we not only need to build those units, but make sure 250,000 of them are affordable. She noted that people need to earn about $94,000 per year to afford an average apartment in Los Angeles, and that many people now spend 50% or more of their income on housing. She said we need to speed up the rate at which we build affordable housing, protect existing affordable housing, enact new tenant protections, and make it easier to find affordable housing. And we can also create design standards to help preserve the integrity of our neighborhoods when we build new buildings.
Soto-Martinez said that too many buildings, like the old Amoeba records location, are being lost to development, but we can’t save them because there are too many political contributions from developers. And while other cities invest more of their general fund money to build affordable housing, it’s too expensive to build in Los Angeles. He said we didn’t get into this situation overnight, but now we need to build 23,000 new affordable units each year, so we need to invest more money from the city’s General Fund in affordable housing.
Corado said affordable units do exist in Los Angeles, but they’re being hoarded by landlords, and this directly feeds our homeless problem. He also said the current requirement for Transit Oriented Communities developments to contain 10% affordable units isn’t enough, and the City Council should force landlords to open their empty units because we can’t afford to keep them off the market. Finally, Corado said he’s all for historic preservation, and we wouldn’t need to touch existing older buildings if we use our existing empty units – so we need to be “hostile” to people who are hoarding resources.
When would you remove homeless encampments and how?
O’Farrell said that six weeks ago, his office housed 31 people from an encampment in Hollywood where conditions were inhumane, and people were suffering from addiction and mental health issues. He said there’s a new tiny home village at 3rd and Alvarado, another coming soon in Historic Filipinotown, and Selma Park is now clean and safe. He also noted that the day of this forum was the anniversary of the re-opening of Echo Park Lake, which is now once again a clean, safe community resource. [This remark was disrupted by boos and cries of “You’re a fascist!” from several Corado supporters in the audience, prompting Corado to call out, “Mitch, get your thugs in order, dude!” before event staff quieted the crowd.] O’Farrell also noted that the city provided 200 units of housing for people from the Echo Park Lake encampment, including buying an entire building for Project Roomkey temporary placements, and that LAPD did not interact with any residents of the encampment, only protestors who tried to disrupt the proceedings.
Pynoos said this is the number one issue people bring up when she knocks on people’s doors. 31,000 people sleep on the street every night, and less than 10% of people removed from Echo Park Lake found permanent housing. Pynoos said when she worked on the Venice Beach encampment, they did concentrated outreach before the clearance, learned the needs of each person there, and paired each person to appropriate housing with the help of several community partner organizations. All the people from the camp were transported safely, she said, and no police were involved. So she said these kinds of efforts need an “all of the above approach,” and need to provide a pathway to permanent housing, not just clearance from the encampment.
Soto-Martinez also said that Echo Park Lake was a big failure, and that he would not do things as O’Farrell has been doing them, because the people moved from the lake are now living in Barnsdall Park, libraries, and other streets in the community. Soto-Martinez said the way to prevent encampments like Echo Park Lake is to address them sooner, and keep them from growing. He said if elected he would dedicate four staff members full time to homeless outreach, engagement, funding and more, and would use empty offices, hospitals, and hotels to house people. He said the mayor and the city council do have the power to do this, and they need to be more aggressive about using empty spaces.
Corado took a different approach, saying he would not remove encampments. He said people don’t choose to be homeless, and the encampments grow because people are social animals and settle near each other because they want neighbors and community. He said the city likes to blame individuals, but our shelter system is too carceral, and people can’t come and go as they please, or bring pets or significant others with them…so it’s not just addiction and mental health issues that keep them on the streets. Looking at it this way, he said the encampments are the fault of City Hall, and they should not be cleared unless the city has permanent supportive housing ready for every resident.
Regarding others’ suggestions that the city commandeer empty units or buildings for homeless housing, Johnson noted that it’s illegal to force private property owners to use their properties. Also, he said, agreeing with Corado, many people on the streets don’t really want housing that comes with restrictions like curfews. But that means we need more safe campsites, more tiny homes, and other safe places for people to go until they can find permanent housing. Johnson said there is lots of money available for immediate solutions like these, but building more large new buildings, at a cost of $500,000 per unit, as we’ve been doing, is “crazy town.”
The mayor has proposed an $11 billion city budget, with the largest part of that amount going to LAPD. Is that appropriate?
Pynoos said this is about public safety and people just don’t feel safe right now, which is unacceptable. But she said some of those people don’t feel safe because they’re homeless and/or fear the police, so we need to take the police out of some of the work they’re not trained for and not as good at (such as mental health calls and traffic enforcement), and replace them with better mental health responders and other methods of traffic enforcement. If we do that, she said, the police budget will be reduced considerably and the police can concentrate more on their core competency, which is crime solving.
Soto-Martinez recounted that he grew up in South Central LA, and studied criminology at UC Irvine, and said he’s learned that most of LAPD’s work is reactive response to emergency calls. But they’re not trained to de-escalate mental health crises, or suicide threats, and those kinds of problems should be handled by professionals who can provide services that the people in crisis need, which would result in faster response times, lower costs, and more. So the large police budget, Soto-Martinez said, comes at the expense of other things the money could be used on, such as stop signs, infrastructure social programs and more.
Corado began his remarks on this question by addressing several LAPD officers in the room and saying, “Full offense to the police here: go f**k yourselves, you pieces of s**t,” and suggesting that the police budget “should not even exist,” because crime keeps going up even though the police get more and more funding while lying to the public and stoking fear. Instead, he said, the $3.2 billion earmarked for law enforcement should go directly to our communities, where it could do a lot more good. “We’re being held hostage to the cops,” he said.
Johnson noted that none of the other candidates have worked in law enforcement, as he does, and said he knows that the police are currently very understaffed and morale is low. He said recent budget cuts eliminated gang task forces, which caused increases in those kinds of crimes. And he said the police do need better training, and better pay, and budget cuts don’t help those things either. Finally, disagreeing with several other candidates, Johnson said we can’t just respond to mental health calls with clinicians, because people in crisis can become violent and it makes clinicians nervous to respond by themselves – so you often need a tandem response with police. At the same time, though, Johnson said we do need more female officers, because they often take a more nuanced approach in these kinds of situations.
Finally, O’ Farrell noted that while Corado is quite forthcoming about his dislike of the police, both Pynoos and Soto-Martinez have also signed a “no new cops” pledge. He said the large budget proposed for LAPD addresses attrition on the police force, and also helps fund programs such as the new CIRCLE program that provides responses to homeless and trauma calls without an armed response. O’Farrell said the program is working well in the areas where it’s being piloted, and allows LAPD officers to focus more on deterring crime in those areas. He agreed, though, that we need more women police officers, more LGBTQ officers, and more representation of all kinds on the police force, as well as better training, especially when it comes to de-escalating certain kinds of incidents. But he said that we can’t do that by defunding or abolishing the police.
What kinds of infrastructure does CD 13 need to accomplish the goals of the Green New Deal?
Soto-Martinez said that bicycling now is very dangerous, and even though we passed a great Mobility 2035 plan in 2017, we still haven’t built a single foot of protected bike lanes…which is a serious environmental issue. He said that to achieve the goals of the plan, we need robust bike and pedestrian infrastructure (including sidewalk repairs and a focus on pedestrian safety), but like many things, we voted to do this but then never enforced it. Instead, he said, implementation was left to individual city councilmembers, and only 13% of the plan has been implemented…so we need to empower people to do more.
Corado agreed that transportation is a climate issue, and said he would like to make public transportation free for all, since 90% of the fare money collected is used to enforce fare payments, which is a bad model. Also, Corado said, riding public transportation now feels like a punishment – it’s not clean or safe. So we need to fund it as if we care about it. And that also goes for bike infrastructure, making intersections safe, and fleshing out our public transportation system and making it a viable option to get people out of their cars.
Johnson noted that he patrolled the Red Line corridor for several years, and said that taught him how transportation affects every part of the city. He said we also need to improve safety on public transit, because there are too many homeless people living on transit, and rapes and murders on transit are also not OK. Also, he said, we need to talk about electric vehicles – Los Angeles should be the number one city for EVs (and we used to have a great electric street car system), so we need to do more education on alternate modes of transit.
O’Farrell said that electrification of the city fleet is definitely part of this conversation, and it’s something in his master plan for the environment that the city council passed last month. The plan aims to make the city carbon-free by 2035, and creates 10,000 jobs. Protected bike lanes are also coming on some major corridors, he said, including Sunset Blvd., “the spine of the 13th District.” O’Farrell said there should be transit corridors for bikes, and the city is doing an engineering study to figure out how to do it. And he, too, agreed that people need to feel safer on bikes and buses for them to be used.
Pynoos said she used to take Metro to work every day, and agreed that we will need to improve the system as the city densifies and gets more sustainable. For example, she said she lives in Hollywood, and would have loved to bike to this event, but doesn’t feel safe doing that. So we need more protected bike lanes as soon as possible – this is a flat, sunny city, and it should be a fabulous place to bike. Also, she said, we need buses to speed up. And this is definitely a climate issue, because electric vehicles are not enough – we need to get people out of their cars and using other modes of transportation.
Echo Park is 70% renters and the city will soon end its eviction moratorium. How can we protect renters?
Corado said he does not want to end the eviction moratorium, and that doing so will put more people on the street. He said to help, we need to guarantee people a right to counsel in eviction cases, and support tenants’ unions. Also, he said, the city should take on landlords – especially corporate landlords – many of whom are slumlords. Corado said evictions are a form of trauma and violence, as they’re currently performed by the Shreiff’s department, and we need to address this because it’s a public safety issue.
Johnson said he’s all for eviction protections, but he does think that we need to address people who take advantage of the situation. He also said he’s not worried about the fates of corporate property owners, but mom and pop landlords need help, too, so we need to take a balanced approach.
O’Farrell said that in March of 2020, when the pandemic hit, he helped enact the strongest renter protections in the United States, for people affected by the pandemic, and those rules will remain in place until at least April, 2023. Also, he said, he knew the protections would expire at some point, so he created a $1 million fund to help renters in the 13th District, which was followed by additional funding citywide to help 100,000 more households, and then even more funding from the state of California. All of it is pegged to loss of income due to the pandemic, and O’Farrell invited anyone in that situation to reach out to his office for help.
Pynoos said expiration of the eviction moratorium is a “massive” issue, and the reason we have such a huge homeless problem is the lack of housing affordability. So keeping people housed and protecting renters is key. To help do this, she said, she would create an office of tenant protections, which could help renters citywide. Pynoos also said we need to make sure renters have a right to counsel in eviction cases, and noted that O’Farrell voted against a full ban on evictions (as opposed to the ban on evicting those whose income was directly affected by COVID-19, which eventually passed) early in the pandemic. She said we need to do a much better job at protecting renters moving forward.
Soto-Martinez agreed with Pynoos that this is a massive issue and noted that there were 10-20,000 people being evicted in the city every month before the pandemic. Many people spend up to 90% of their income on rent, and this issue is especially hard on undocumented residents because they don’t have access to unemployment benefits. So the situation will “blow up in our face” if the eviction moratorium expires, he said. Soto-Martinez said he supports a full ban on evictions, to make sure our most vulnerable residents don’t slip through the cracks. And he suggested writing specific protections into both our Housing and Community Plans.
Closing Question: What was the “a-ha” moment that convinced you to run for city council?
Johnson said he used to be the homelessness chair on his local neighborhood council, which gave him insight into the crisis. Also, he said, three city council members have recently been indicted for misdeeds. So he realized we need good people at City Hall, and he knows people can rely on him to keep our neighborhoods safe and clean. Government at City Hall is broken, Johnson said, we need real people there, and city councilmember is one of the most important elected positions.
O’Farrell said that he’s been a volunteer for most of his life – first with PAWS-LA in the 1980s, then with Project Angel Food in the ’90s, and later with the Wildlife Waystation. And that spurred him into public service. He said he’s not a political operative, and not a career politician – this is the only job he wants in city government. And he said his biggest “a-ha” moment came at the end of his predecessor Eric Garcetti’s final term in office, when people started asking him to succeed Garcetti in the position…so he did.
Pynoos said she had a series of “a-ha” moments, which included the city’s failure to pass a total eviction ban, the treatment of people during the Echo Park Lake clearance, and her interactions with homeless residents while doing homeless outreach in Hollywood. She said the city is facing multiple crises, and the question is whether or not we’re heading in the right direction…and most people say we’re not. So we need a change, and she feels she has the values, imagination, and experience to do the job. She’s also been endorsed by the LA Times.
Soto-Martinez said he had two “uh-oh” moments, and one “ah-ha” moment that spurred him to run. The first was the 2020 census, which showed Los Angeles lost 10,000 residents, the second was the way the Echo Park Lake clearance was handled, and the third came after he started exploring whether or not he could see a path to victory in the campaign, realized there was one, but realized he was still reluctant. At that point, he said, he admitted that fear was standing in his way, and that he wouldn’t accept that as an excuse from his union members, so he couldn’t accept it from himself. He said he learned to find his own power, tap into love and things he loves, work for a better world, and act with urgency. And the result, he said, has been a broad coalition of more than 40 organizations supporting his candidacy.
Finally, Corado said people think that his “a-ha” moment was when his sister was killed, but it took him some time after that to figure it out. He said he didn’t know much about O’Farrell at first, but when he looked into him he saw some of the “horrible” things he’d done, and learned people wanted someone else to run. Corado said he doesn’t know how to play the politics game, and doesn’t actively seek any endorsements, but he decided to take the chance…so “Thanks, Mitch, for inspiring me.”
For more information about, and remarks from, four of the five CD 13 candidates, please see the Buzz’s previous coverage of their more in-depth discussions as part of Hang Out Do Good’s “Looking Local” candidate conversation series: here, here, here, and here…as well as our coverage of a previous CD 13 forum here.
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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