Serving Larchmont Village, Hancock Park, and the Greater Wilshire neighborhoods of Los Angeles since 2011.

CD 10 Candidate Forum: Mark Ridley-Thomas vs. Grace Yoo

Participants in the September 19 CD10 candidate forum, sponsored by several local Neighborhood Councils, community organizations, and the League of Women Voters.

On Saturday, September 19, ten local Neighborhood Councils, along with a large group of neighborhood associations, community organizations and the League of Women Voters, sponsored an in-depth forum featuring Mark Ridley-Thomas and Grace Yoo, the two candidates vying to replace the termed-out Herb Wesson to represent Council District 10 on the Los Angeles City Council.

The forum was moderated by Dr. Jody Armour, a law professor at USC, and Jacqueline Garcia, a reporter at La Opinion, and the discussion was organized into several distinct sections:  opening remarks, questions chosen ahead of time by the moderators, a “lightning round” requesting quick yes or no answers, questions submitted by audience members during the event, and closing statements.  In all, moe than 300 people tuned in as the discussion ran live on Zoom.

Opening Remarks

Introducing themselves to the audience, both candidates presented themes that would run throughout the rest of the discussion:

Yoo highlighted her Korean immigrant heritage (her family came to LA just before she started Kindergarten), her K-12 attendance at LA public schools, and her experience as an attorney and community activist.  She listed her primary areas of interest as homelessness and affordable housing, public safety, corruption in city government, and reform of the LAPD. (“We want guardians, we don’t want warriors.”)

In contrast, Ridley-Thomas talked about his 30+-year career in and commitment to public service (he has served three previous terms on the LA City Council, as well in both the California State Assembly and California Senate, and is now finishing his third term on the Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors).  He highlighted projects and initiatives he’s been involved with during those tenures including the re-opening of the former Martin Luther King Hospital as a mental health center, the soon-to-open Leimert Park station on the Crenshaw/LAX light rail line, and projects funded by Measure H, which he said bring 207 people per day out of homelessness.

Questions from Moderators

Top Priorities

When asked to name her top three priorities for a potential term in the city council, Yoo said her number one would be affordable housing (building more affordable units, keeping as many existing rent-controlled units in place as possible, and using new construction ideas – such as pre-fabricated buildings, tiny houses, etc. – to build as many new affordable units as quickly as possible.  Number two, she said, would be police reform, with systematic changes and not just “willy nilly” budget cuts, to finally change a law enforcement “culture that is not to protect and serve everyone.”  And number three, she said, would be ethics reform, to increase accountability and transparency in local government.

In naming his three top priorities, Ridley-Thomas said all three are things he’s already been working on while in his other positions:  homelessness (there are currently 1,300 transitional housing units under construction  in his Second Supervisoria District), police reform (“we need to respect law enforcement, but law enforcement needs to respect the people they serve,” with “accountability, accountability, accountability”), and creating a more anti-racist local government. “Equity is the order of the day, and I’m prepared to deliver on that promise,” he said.

Transparency in city government, particularly in land use and development

Yoo said transparency in land use issues has been one of her top priorities as a community activist, and noted that she helped bring a successful lawsuit against the city to fight one project that had been denied three times by city officials and then later approved without any significant changes.  Yoo also said she supports the creation of more incentives for the construction of affordable housing, and would fight for land use hearings and approval votes to be held by city officials in the evening and on weekends, when more working people can attend.  “That would be real participatory democracy.”

Ridley-Thomas said he would support community input and transparency by mandating that developers in his district bring their projects to the local neighborhood councils first, before coming to the Council office, to seek real community input and support before any decisions are made at a higher level.

Police reform:  How do we achieve effective policing, but get rid of “over-policing” for communities of color?

Yoo said this is largely a funding problem, and that police are currently tasked with many jobs they shouldn’t be responsible for. She said one big change she’d like to see is the employment of more female officers, who may be more effective at de-escalating potentially violent situations than male officers.  She also noted that when people start to see the police as the enemy, and not as people to be respected, we get into trouble.  So we do indeed need to reimagine policing — our officers are not perfect, and we need to figure out how things will work better for communities of color.

Ridley-Thomas was a bit more emphatic on this topic, saying it is definitely time to reimagine the way we deal with law enforcement in our community.  He said he and the Board of Supervisors have always followed the philosophy, “care first, jail last,” and that we need funding changes and to not be intimidated by traditional forms of law enforcement.  Ridley-Thomas also noted that because so many recent victims of the worst police violence are people of color, we especially need immediate investments in communities of color, and to reimagine law enforcement there.  “The culture has to be one of respect and service,” he said, “so that justice is ultimately done.”

How would you promote more affordable housing?

Ridley-Thomas noted that groups he’s been part of have built more than 3,300 units of affordable housing over the past decade, and there are more in the pipeline and in pre-development stages.  He said he has also done much work with non-profit groups that advocate for affordable housing, and that any real efforts to confront homelessness have to center on affordable housing.  He said he knows from experience how to do this, and has done it, over the years, in ways that “make sense.”

Yoo said the issue of affordable housing is very important to her, too, and that while LA has built more than 88,000 new housing units in recent years, less than 8,000 of those are officially “affordable.”  She said more affordable housing  can be more easily created by converting existing buildings (a process that is less expensive and “greener” than new construction), and by not letting city “bureaucracy” get in the way.

This was one point at which the discussion became a bit testy, however, with Ridley-Thomas taking Yoo’s criticism of the low rate of affordable construction personally, and asking, “How many have you built?”  He contended that she “demeans my record, but hasn’t built any” actual housing units yet…while he, at least, has some “concrete results.”

Ridley-Thomas also noted that Yoo supported Measure S, the 2017 ballot measure that would have put a two-year moratorium on all construction that wasn’t “by right” in the city.  He said that measure, which was defeated by voters, was “bad policy,” and would have put a lot of people out of work and further reduced affordable housing production. He also noted that in addition to campaigning for the failed measure, Yoo also filed a lawsuit in favor of it.

Yoo countered that Measure S would also have created an official inventory of our existing housing units, so everyone would know more about what kinds of units do and don’t exist right now, which is something the city currently lacks but needs before it can adequately address many housing issues.  She said that without such an inventory, developers can just build whatever they want. Yoo said her lawsuit was about the city’s lack of access to housing information, and that the city did eventually give in on that point during mediation, so the effort was successful in that respect.

Yoo also maintained that neither her efforts nor her intentions in supporting Measure S prevented the construction of any affordable housing units, and that she actually lives next door to a 64-unit affordable project for seniors, currently under construction.  She said both she and her neighbors supported that project, saying, “Yes, in my back yard.”  And she said that if you involve the community in such discussions, as was done with this project, you can have positive results.

But Ridley-Thomas didn’t concede the point, saying Yoo can’t change the record – she supported Measure M, the people defeated it, and he has actually built affordable housing across the county during his tenure as a Supervisor.

Mental Health and Addiction

Yoo said the city does need to allocate funds to address mental health and addiction issues, but also pointed out that these are issues that are mostly controlled by the County, not the City.  But she said she would definitely look forward to cooperating with the county on mental health and addiction issues, if elected.  Also, Yoo said, the city currently has too many “stopgap” measures, which have been tripped up by administrative snafus (for example, she contended that senior citizens were largely excluded from Project Roomkey, because of an age restriction checkbox on the application form), and that she would fight to right those problems.

Ridley-Thomas said mental health and addiction issues are “critically important at this point in time,” and that the city deserves a big “shout out” for its efforts so far. He also noted that the Board of Supervisors, during his tenure, has been working to open a big new county mental health headquarters at 6th and Vermont, in the 10th Council District, as well as a new recreation facility (also important for mental health support) in Koreatown.  And he said that because of his experience in those efforts, he can be a good bridge builder between the city and county in similar efforts in the future.

How can we strike a balance between COVID-19 eviction protections for tenants and the needs of landlords, especially individual property owners.

Ridley-Thomas said it’s very important to make a distinction between corporate-owned properties, and those owned by individual mom-and-pop landlords.  He said we definitely do need to have extensive eviction defense programs and tenant supports, which he helped implement at the County level, but we should also allocate resources for both tenants and small landlords.

Yoo agreed that it’s great local government stepped in to support tenants, but we also do need to do more to protect small mom-and-pop property owners, because often those properties are the owners’ “nest eggs” and future support.  She said she’s in favor of doing everything possible to “bring some fairness to the table,” including mortgage forgiveness programs.

How would you address city budget problmes caused by deficits, unfunded pensions and overtime pay for city employees?

Yoo said she was sad to hear that more furloughs (unpaid time off) have been discussed for city employees reently, and that the city definitely has room to “tidy up” its budget, for example by doing more bulk purchasing for departments across the city, rather than letting each individual city department make its own purchases.  She also said LAPD officers should be required to work 40 hours per week, instead of the current three 12-hour shifts that are now the norm.  And finally, she said, we should take some responsibilities “off the plate” for law enforcement, which now consumes more than 50% of the city’s budget.

Ridley-Thomas said he has been part of many budgeting processes over the years, and the city’s current problems are not – as many think – solely the result of the pandemic.  Instead, he said, the problem is “structural.” The city’s largest cost, he said, is for personnel, and we need to figure out better ways to manage those costs.  “No matter how broke a city or other entity claims to be,” he said, “There is always a way to get the work done,” even when it comes to things like sidewalk and road repairs, which are usually the first victims of budget cuts.

How can we bring more healthy food stores to “food deserts” in CD10?

Ridley-Thomas noted that eight new markets have been built in the district during his tenure as an LA County Supervisor, and that he can take that experience and “leverage it forward” to build even more new options, including a much-needed network of local farmers markets.

Meanwhile, Yoo said one solution is to simplify the city permitting process for new markets, which she could do as a Council Member.  Also, she said she would work to build relationships with major grocery chains, and invite them to invest in the area.  “I’m going to be the head cheerleader for CD10,” she said.

How will you support job creation and economic development?

Ridley-Thomas noted that there has been some good job development in the area recently, especially in construction, much of which he said Measure S – which Yoo supported – would have killed.  He said, though, that we do need more requirements for the hiring of local workers in the city’s labor agreements.  And, he said, the city has to focus on small business development, not just permitting issues, to encourage new businesses.  Finally, he said we need a variety of new development types, and economic justice is more important than ever.

Yoo noted that there have been 60 developments in CD10 in the last 10 years, only one of which she has opposed (and would do so again).  She also said that Measure S wouldn’t have stopped the majority of those projects, most of which were by right, and not subject to Measure S’s moratorium, which would only have affected “mega-developers.”  Yoo agreed with Ridley-Thomas, however, that we do need more encouragement for local hires in construction projects, but said we also need fewer “back-doors” to let companies out of those agreements, which is happening too often these days.

Lightning Round

From here, the forum went into a “lightning round,” asking the candidates for simple yes or no answers on whether they support several issues.

On these issues in the fast-answer round, both candidates gave unequivocal “yes” answers:

  • Should developers have meetings or “office hours” with Neighborhood Councils before bringing their projects to the City Council? 
  • Do you support a rent stabilization ordinance for all housing?
  • Is internet access part of our essential infrastructure, and would you support free, citywide wi-fi access?
  • Will you commit to ending oil drilling in Baldwin Hills, including techniques such as zoning setbacks between drilling operations and housing?

On the following questions, however, there were some more qualified answers:

  • Do you support a progressive vacancy tax for large residential buildings?  Yoo said yes, if it were determined such a tax is legal, and Ridley-Thomas said yes, but the “devil is in the details.”
  • Should Neighborhood Council funding (which was cut back this year) be restored to previous levels? Ridley-Thomas said yes, and that the Neighborhood Councils are underfunded.  Yoo, said that it depends – the Neighborhood Council system is large and growing, and she’s concerned about the overall cost.
  • If everyone in the city is allowed to build an Accessory Dwelling Unit (ADU) in their yard, will you oppose state-level legislation that will erode single-family zoning? Ridley-Thomas said he supports ADU construction, and Yoo said she stands with people who are for local control of local zoning.

Audience Questions

From here, the moderators fielded questions from audience members, limiting each candidate to one-minute answers.  The questions included:

Will Ridley-Thomas (who has been rumored to be interested in running for mayor in 2022) make a pledge to not run for mayor and to serve his full four years if elected to the City Council?

Ridley-Thomas joked that people should consult his wife on that question, but also said that he is paying attention to the 10th Council District right now, and that even though the race for mayor is “already on,” he’s not in it.

What changes would you recommend to eliminate “pay to play” corruption in land use cases?

Yoo said she supports returning to regular updates of the city’s various Community Plans, which set rules and goals for development in each area, and which make it easier for community members to have a voice in the planning process.

Ridley-Thomas, however, contended that Community Plans, no matter how frequently updated, are always “stale” by the time they’re fully adopted.  Land use, he said, is not static, and we need a more innovative way to keep rules current, which is the missing link at the moment.  Also, he said, we need an “equity dimension” in planning, which should be part of an overall city anti-racism policy.

Can you address the current City Hall corruption probe?

Yoo said she would like council members to come up with new policies that will put an end to previous corruption, and to review past land use decisions to make sure they were appropriate.

Ridley-Thomas said firmly that if people violate the law, they should pay the consequences, and there are a variety of ways to enforce existing laws.

Will you commit to changing the practice of unanimous voting at the City Council? (The contention was that Council Members decide in advance and in lockstep how an issue should be decided, and then all vote as a block to support that decision, without any dissent on record.)

Yoo said she is “horrified” that we don’t have a “democracy” in city council votes, and that the system does appear to be rigged – particularly in an automatic voting system that registers a “yes” vote unless “no” is speficially entered, even if a council member isn’t in the room at the time of the vote.  She said this definitely needs to change, and city council conversations should take place in public, not behind closed doors.

Ridley-Thomas said, however, that while consent agenda votes (where several items are grouped together administratively for a quick vote, rather than discussed individually) do happen in this manner, most city council votes are not taken in this way, and no vote can ever be cast unless the member is present.  He said that would be unheard of, and as far as he knows, prohibiting such votes is already standard operating procedure.

Do you support the construction of emergency homeless shelters in CD10, and how would you change the minds of opponents?

Ridley-Thomas said the area does need transitional housing programs, including emergency shelters with services, because the first step to getting people off the streets is to create a path with specific steps toward permanent shelter.

Yoo, who famously opposed an effort by current City Council Member Herb Wesson to locate a bridge housing facility on Vermont Ave., just south of Wilshire, said she would support such shelters, if the city would be honest with residents about what the shelters actually do or don’t provide for people, and if they discuss the plans with residents before implementing them.  (Something she contended, in the Vermont case, that Wesson did not do.)  Yoo said the city can talk about such projects, but shouldn’t “shove them down the throat of ethnic communities and say they will like it,” as she feels happened with the Koreatown proposal.

What solutions do you have to revitalize small businesses after COVID-19?

Yoo says a Green New Deal and the right infrastructure will make it easier for businesses to prosper, along with streamlining city permitting processes.  She also said we should offer incentives to build affordable housing, and implement local-hire provisions “with teeth.”

Ridley-Thomas said every development project should have a small business development component, including – as the county does – procurement portfolios that feature small, local businesses.

Is it acceptable for the average housing unit developed under Measure HHH to cost $750,000, and for most of those units to be still in development and not yet completed?

Yoo said this is a huge problem, but we won’t be able to affect projects that are already in the pipeline. She said Measure HHH funds need to be used wisely, and that the units should not cost more than the construction of a single family residence.  She also noted that consultant fees can take up 40% of a project’s cost at the moment, which is a problem.

Ridley-Thomas noted that City Controller Ron Galperin also reported that Measure S would have destroyed affordable housing construction in the city, and that we need new options to reduce the cost of building affordable homes – things like container housing, FlyAway (prefabricated) homes, and more.  He said we need to approach the issue more creatively, but that it is possible to “put the ‘affordable’  back into ‘affordable housing.'”

How much money has your campaign taken from the police or police unions?

Ridley-Thomas said he has accepted no such donations in the general election campaign, and that he promised young people who endorsed him that he would not take them.  “I’m with the progressives, and glad to be.”

Yoo also said she has taken no police or police union money…and also none from large developers, pharmaceutical companies, tobacco companies, or fossil fuel companies — only small, individual donors.

What will you do to combat sexually-transmitted diseases?

Ridley-Thomas said he would like to “ratchet up” the city’s public health clinics, especially on high school campuses.

Yoo said education and prevention is the first place to start, and that she would love to see nurses on high school campuses, especially for those students without health insurance.

Would you support a city charter amendment to put a non-voting public advocate on the City Council?

Ridley-Thomas said he is open to the idea, and it would help support transparency and accountability on the Council.

Yoo said it sounds like a great idea and she’d like to look into it more carefully…though she also noted that the city’s ethics department and City Controller should be funded to do this sort of work.

Do you have a plan to ensure that unrented luxury housing is taxed?

Yoo said that sounds like a good idea, but the city still doesn’t have a full inventory of all housing, and that kind of tax would be impossible without such an inventory.

Ridley-Thomas said all property owners should pay their fair share, but our budget deficit issues need to be more equitably distributed, as they would be under Measure 15 (up for a vote on November 3), which would tax commercial properties based on their current worth.

How will you bring new businesses to our area?

Ridley-Thomas said we need to look particularly at enticing businesses of the future, such as tech companies, young entrepreneurs, and bioscience companies, which tend to do well even during economic dips or recessions.

Yoo said she’d like to incentivize both new and old businesses, which are already established, and support both by streamlining city procedures.

Closing Statements

Finally, the session included closing remarks from both candidates, who were given just one minute to summarize their candidacy.

Yoo told a story about how, at 5 years old, she pushed back when she saw a child at school bullying another child, and said she will still be the person to stand up to bullies as a member of the City Council for the next 12 years.  She said she will put the needs of poeople first, and will not be bought by special interests.

Ridley-Thomas said that he is pushing for a comprehensive anti-racist policy for the city, and that he will celebrate the diversity of the 10th District’s assets, fight for mom-and-pop businesses and renters, and promote an enhanced arts agenda.

The full event was recorded and is still available to view on Zoom.


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Elizabeth Fuller
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 has been writing for the Buzz since 2015.

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