Although most of our Buzz readers live in Los Angeles’ City Council District 4, we’ve also been keeping our eyes on the current City Council race in CD 10, which is immediately to the south of our main readership area, and where five candidates are now vying to replace the current representative, Herb Wesson, who is termed out but who has enjoyed a very prominent profile as the City Council president for much of his tenure. (Wesson is now running for County Supervisor in District 2, while the current District 2 Supervisor, Mark Ridley-Thomas, now termed out of that position, is one of the candidates running to replace Wesson in CD 10. And, yes, we know that’s kind of confusing…but stick with us.)
Five candidates have qualified for the official city ballot in CD 10, including (in arguable order of prominence and notoriety):
Mark Ridley-Thomas – A 40-year veteran of local politics and community activism, who (as mentioned above) is just wrapping up 12 years on the LA County Board of Supervisors, and who also previously served in the California State Senate, the California State Assembly, and, yes, the LA City Council (representing the 8th District). It’s also been long rumored that Ridley-Thomas hopes to run for mayor at some point, though he’s always been careful to sidestep questions about that goal.
Grace Yoo – An attorney and community activist (whose campaign website prominently claims “I am not a career politician”). Yoo first ran for the CD 10 seat four years ago, but lost to Wesson by a margin of 63.3% to 29.7% in the 2015 primary. Yoo has also served in positions with the California State Democratic Party, and as a Los Angeles Department of Transportation Commissioner.
Aura Vasquez – The first (in her words) Afro-Latina candidate to run for the CD10 seat, Vasquez has worked as a community organizer for the United Way and the Sierra Club, several political campaigns, and several environmental campaigns. She has also served on the Wilshire Center Koreatown Neighborhood Council, and on the LADWP board of Commissioners, where she advocated for clean water and power.
Channing Martinez – A life-long resident of South-Central LA who has worked with the Coalition for Educational Justice, the Bus Riders Union, and the Strategy and Soul Movement Center, a “civil rights/people’s art/revolutionary books/community health, climate justice/transformative” organization.
Melvin Snell – A self-described “businessman,” who has run for the CD10 seat as a write-in candidate in previous elections.
This past Saturday, four of the five candidates (Snell did not attend) took part in a candidate forum sponsored by several West-Adams-area Neighborhood Councils, which helped each candidate stake out his or her place on the political spectrum, clarified their stances on specific issues, and provided a few moments of genuine fireworks as well.
The event, held at the First AME Chuch and moderated by Spectrum News 1 anchor/host Alex Cohen and USC constitutional law professor Dr. Jody Armour, was more than two-hours long…but in the end it provided a clear and ultimately fascinating overview of the field. It began with initial remarks from each candidate.
In the opening statements, Martinez highlighted his platform of “revolutionary demands,” including jobs development, cutting the LAPD budget by 50%, requiring at least 50% low income units in all new housing developments, fighting for women’s and LGBTQ rights, and “standing against US intervention in third world countries.” In contrast, Ridley-Thomas staked out much more establishment territory, recounting his decades of service in local government, and his many current “endorsements of consequence,” including that of Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti. Meanwhile, Vasquez highlighted her experience as an immigrant coming from Colombia to the US in the 1990s, her support for a Green New Deal and goal of 100% renewable energy for the city, and the transparency and accessibility she hopes to bring to the office if she’s elected. Yoo also highlighted her immigrant background, her LAUSD education, commitment to affordable housing, background as a director of non-profit organizations, and her own commitment to listening to constituents.
Moving on to specific topics introduced by the moderators, the ideological and policy differences between the candidates became even clearer. Topics covered included:
Ridley-Thomas, who cited the fact that LA County has housed 30,000 homeless people during his term as a Supervisor, as well as built 3,000 new units of housing, with another 1,000 under construction and 2,000 more in the pipeline, promised that “My first priority is homelessness, my second priority is homelessnes, and what do you think is going to be my third priority? It’s homelessness.”
Vasquez said she believes that “housing is a fundamental right,” and that despite the statistics Ridley-Thomas quoted, the first housing project funded by Measure HHH several years ago just opened recently, “so the old boys’ club has not done enough” to solve the problem and “we need to house our unhoused residents first.”
Yoo cited her long volunteer service at the Union Rescue Mission and seven years’ participation in the city’s annual homeless count, and promised that she would work to better engage the community so neighbors will embrace new homeless housing projects…a model she said was followed well for a project now being constructed next door to her own home.
Martinez recalled how, as a member of the Bus Riders’ Union, he slept on the streets to protest a fare increase he feared would push more people into homelessness. He also said he would fight for new rules that would require 50% of all new housing to be reserved for low income tenants, and for the city to buy more land so it could compete better with developers.
Vasquez said it’s impossible to talk about housing without talking “about the elephant in the room” – developer money in the local political process. She promised she would work to keep developer contributions out of local politics, oppose SB50 in favor of local control of zoning and development, provide more affordable housing for people earning CD10’s average income of $47,000 per year, and invest in the Land Trust to help put more people on the road to owning their own homes.
Yoo noted that, as a lawyer, she has brought lawsuits against developers who have planned luxury developments with no affordable units, and promised she would push for greater use of solutions like tiny houses, pre-fabricated housing, and container housing to help bring down housing costs. She also said that as a lawyer, she knows how to both follow existing laws and to push for changes in laws and policies to make the system work better for constituents.
Martinez said the city needs to make sure that the city doesn’t give permits to developers just for the asking, and that the city should instead give more money directly to communities to help them build their own housing projects.
Finally, Ridley-Thomas advocated for the return of laws that created the now-defunct Community Redevelopmnt Agency, which used to require community participation in developments, 20% set-asides for affordable housing, and provide tools to deal with developers. “I’m on a mission to make sure the tools taken from us are restored,” he said.
Yoo advocated for free Metro passes for seniors and the disabled, as well as incentivizing businesses and communities to provide transit discounts to their customers and constituents.
Martinez noted that he was the only candidate on the stage who could truthfully say that he’s been advocating for fully free transit ridership for 20 years. He also said the city needs to “rethink what safety looks like” on public transit, and that – too often – police hurt public safety instead of helping. “We need to get the police off buses and leave us alone,” he said.
Ridley-Thomas said that the recently-passed Measure M will create “huge” job opportunities (through construction projects to expand the transit system), as well as improvements in bus rider access. He noted that he supported new rules that prevent racial profiling by law enforcement on the Metro system, which passed three years ago, and that he supports fare discounts for community college students, and lower rates overall. “Metro is a critical part of our quality of life issues,” he said. “Been there, done that, committed to do more.”
Meanwhile, Vasquez noted that when she rides public transit, the buses and train cars are always full, and that too often, women commuters, in particular don’t feel safe on buses and trains. She said she would like to see a transit system that is fast, goes where people need it to go (for example, she said she couldn’t have easily taken transit from her home to the forum that morning), and is free for all riders.
Martinez said that he would like to actually get rid of cars in the city, and would start with an “auto diet,” in which people would not be able to drive on certain days, and on certain streets. He said he would also work to provide more parks in the district, and to close the Inglewood oil fields.
Ridley-Thomas once again turned to his own record on this topic, nothing that CD10’s Kenneth Hahn park was a “product of our administration,” as were several other major green space projects (e.g. Magic Johnson Park and Stoneview Nature Center) elsewhere in the city. He said that if elected, he would continue to use developer-contributed Quimby funds to fund green space projects, as well as appeal to private services and philanthropists for support. “I know what to do with green space,” he said.
but those words sparked a bit of a fire under Vasquez. She spoke in support of using currently-available Quimby funds to both upgrade current parks and build new ones…but she also noted that one person with the power to make that happen – Ridley-Thomas – hasn’t delivered for the 10th District. Vasquez said she has had meetings with Ridley-Thomas about activating local green space, and although Quimby funds were available, the park space never materialized. “You have the power to give me a park. I want a park!,” Vasquez said to her opponent, who then put his hand up in self-defense, laughed, and said, “I’ll give you a park!” as the audience applauded. “I have yet to see it,” concluded Vasquez.
Meanwhile, Yoo noted that CD 10 is particularly park poor (in a park poor city), and that the Koreatown neighborhood, especially, is in desperate need of more parks. She said the current CD 10 representative did not use available Quimby funds for parks, and promised that she would so so. She also advocated for the development of more rooftop green space, as well as more joint use agreements with LAUSD, to develop shared school and community green space. Finally, Yoo also argued for the establishment of a DASH bus route to Kenneth Hahn Park, to help more people access that existing resource.
Ridley-Thomas sais this is an issue he’s been working on since the shooting of Eula May Love in 1979, and promised to “speak truth to power” on this topic. He also referred to current law enforcement issues in LA County as a sign of urgency, saying “Never did I imagine that we would have a sheriff like we have now.”
Vasquez noted that LAPD receives a significant portion of the city’s budget, but too often engages in “profiling, not protecting” residents. She called for greater transparency in officer-involved shootings, greater citizen oversight (including community representatives in oversight groups), better officer trainging, more shelters for women who are victims of domestic violence (to reduce the current 8-week wait time for placement), and greater police accountability.
Yoo largely agreed, calling for the immediate release of police body cam footage, greater minority representation and more women on the police force (which she believes would result in less brutality), and better relaltionships between the LAPD and the communities it serves. The latter, she said, is very important, because when people get to know each other – even through casual events such as barbecues – they become friends. “That’s how you break down barriers,” she said. “Have people talk to each other.”
Finally, Martinez noted that African-Americans have been fighting police throughout the history of the United States, and that the fact that although African-Americans are only 6% of the population, they account for 50% of all arrests. Given that, he said, he favors cutting LAPD’s budget by 50%, to “get them out of our communities and leave us alone.”
Vasquez noted that the city recently passed its largest budget in history, and said it doesn’t listen well enough to its budget advocates. She claimed there is lots of redundancy (citing 7-10 assistant managers in the Department of Sanitation) and other inefficiencies that could be addressed, as well as a large amount of discretionary funds that have little to no oversight.
Yoo suggested that using civilians to help LAPD and LAFD with paperwork and clerical duties could save a lot of money, as could ending the practice of using private, for-profit services to replace city employees in certain jobs. She also advocated for greater economies of scale, including coordinating purchases across several departments instead of buying common items department by department. Finally, Yoo turned back on Vasquez here, saying DWP rates were raised during Vasquez’s term as a Commissioner, and that the agency was also investigated by the FBI during that time…both of which Vasquez vehemently denied. [Editor’s note: Vasquez served as an LADWP commissioner from 2017 to the spring of 2019; the last round of LADWP rate increases were approved in 2016, and the FBI searched LADWP offices in July of 2019.]
Martinez reiterated the point about LAPD receiving the majority of the city’s funds, and said the best way to cut expenses would be to significantly cut LAPD’s budget, and to instead fund more jobs.
Finally, Ridley-Thomas argued that cutting city staff and services would only exacerbate other problems. In other words, he said, “you get what you pay for” with city services. (And he would actually advocate for increasing some services, he said, such as building and safety inspections.) The issue he said, is finding more resources and funding, not cutting valuable services.
Other issues raised during an audience Q&A period brought out more even more specifics on both new and continuing topics:
All four candidates said they oppose State Senator Scott Weiner’s bill to impose statewide zoning rules that could eliminate locally-created zoning laws to increase housing density and production. Yoo said she objects to the fact that the bill contains no affordable housing requirements, and that it could eliminate locally-crafted preservation protections, such as Historic Preservation Overlay Zones (HPOZs). Martinez agreed, but said he needs to do more research on the issue. Ridley-Thomas said the bill is “not adequately cooked,” and imposes a Northern California solution on Southern California. And Vasquez objected to the state-level takeover of local control, the potential for resident displacement (especially in communities of color), and the fact that new developments, under the bill, would not have to follow CEQA environmental provisions.
Reforming Homelessness Statutes
Returning to the topic that opened the forum, Martinez said he would abolish sweeps of homeless camps, saying they are “not humane,” would concentrate on building more shelters, and would try to remove the police from the process. Ridley-Thomas agreed that LAPD should not be the front line for dealing with homeless camps, and lauded the development of the new Martin Luther King, Jr. mental health hospital, to help focus on healing instead of punishment. “You can’t get well in a cell,” he said. Vasquez also agreed that sweeps and criminalizing homelessness don’t work, and said the city needs to expand safe parking sites, work on community engagement to get more people to support homeless housing in their neighborhoods, and increase job training, free public transportation, and the minimum wage. Yoo also agreed that homeless sweeps can be dangerous to those affected (for example, when people lose their medications and other critical items), and that it shouldn’t be LAPD’s job to do sweeps. She also noted, though, that there are community health concerns with homeless camps, and – like Vasquez – advocated for more community engagement and neighbors’ support for housing and services in their neighborhoods.
Increasing the Size of the City Council
In response to one resident’s note that most large cities have many more city council representatives than Los Angeles, which reduces the number of people that each council member represents and potentially increases their ability to address local issues, Vasquez wholeheartedly agreed that Los Angeles should increase the size of its city council. Yoo said she, too, would support an increase in city council size, as long as it didn’t also increase the city budget. Martinez said he opposes an increase in the Council size, noting that the larger a group, the harder it is to build concensus among its members…and the harder it is for community groups to lobby city representatives. And, finally, Ridley-Thomas agreed with Martinez, saying that “bloating bureaucracy” tends to increase costs, and is always a hard sell with voters.
Oil Drilling Near Residential Neighborhoods
Yoo said she would push to end the oil drilling on Adams Blvd., because the AQMD does not have the resources to properly monitor the activity there. She also said she would support a proposal for a 2,500-foot buffer zone between drilling operations and residential zones, though she actually believes a full shut-down is necessary. Martinez agreed on both points, saying oil companies “should just leave it in the ground.” Ridley-Thomas noted that there have been a number of reforms at drilling sites in Inglewood, but he said more needs to be done. He also noted, though, that such regulations fall more under county and state jurisdiction than the city’s purview. Finally, Vasquez, who lives near a drilling site on Pico Blvd., said urban oil drilling is “not just wrong; it’s immoral,” and that she would push the city toward keeping fossil fuels underground and moving toward 100% renewable energy. She also suggested that voters not support any candidate who accepts money from fossil fuel companies.
Finally, while closing remarks for each candidate were originally scheduled after the audience questions, the session ran long, and it was adjourned without those summaries.