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HODG “Looking Local” Candidate Series: Hugo Soto-Martinez

CD 13 Candidate Hugo Soto-Martinez chats with the Hang Out Do Good advocacy group on Sunday, April 24.


The Hang Out Do Good advocacy group is conducting 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 take place on Sunday afternoons, via Zoom, and are open to the public (see the remaining schedule below). This conversation with Hugo Soto-Martinez, one of five candidates who will be on the ballot to represent District 13 on the City Council, took place on Sunday, April 24.   Soto-Martinez, the child of immigrant parents who worked as street vendors, Soto-Martinez has been a local labor organizer for the hotel industry for 15 years, and has also spent time doing grass roots organizing for several political campaigns across the country. He is currently endorsed by more than 40 labor, progressive and community organizations. 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 a City Councilmember’s job.

Soto-Martinez said he’s a lifelong Angeleno, whose parents immigrated from Mexico and worked as street vendors.  After his father was disabled, Soto-Martinez began working at a hotel while still in high school, and continued that employment through his college years.  Then, just before he graduated from UC-Irvine (he was studying criminology and planned to go to law school), he got involved in the effort to start a union at the hotel where he worked. The workers won the union, along with wage increases, free health insurance, pensions, and more, and Soto-Martinez made union organizing his career.  “Those few months taught me more than school,” he said.  During the last 15 years, Soto-Martinez said he has been involved in union efforts to raise the minimum wage, and to oppose AirBnBs.  He also canvassed for Barack Obama in Reno, NV, and against Sheriff Josepth Arpayo in Arizona.  in 2020, Soto-Martinez said, he oversaw COVID operations for four field officers in Maricopa County, helped flip Arizona senate seats from Republicans to Democrats, and then went to Georgia, where he participated in efforts to win Democratic senate seats there.

As for becoming a Los Angeles City Councilmember, Soto-Martinez said, “I see this job through the lens of my work,” and that, to him, organizing in both unions and city government comes down to power — the people who have power get their laws passed.  To do that, though, Soto-Martinez said that just like in union organizing, the a City Councilmember’s job involves building relationships and identifying mutual interests, so people can work together toward a common goal.  Soto-Martinez said he’s not a city hall insider, but he really enjoys the process of working through differences with people, and “fighting [for those things] is what I’ve been doing my whole life.”


What would you do differently to address our current homelessness crisis – where would you put people, and how would you implement your ideas?

Soto-Martinez said there are two ways a councilmember can help with homelessness – through direct actions in their own district and through making citywide policy.  But he said that the city got itself into the current crisis.  More specifically, he said, the city ignored studies from as far back as 2007 saying we needed to build more housing, and especially more permanent supportive housing.  Measure HHH, which provided funding for that kind of housing, has been helpful, he said, but it’s not enough.  To do more, he said he supports the United to House LA initiative, which calls for protection of existing affordable housing, creation of new affordable housing, and increased protections for renters.  And if he’s elected, he said, he will dedicate at least four council office staffers to homelessness issues full time, and borrow techniques currently in use by Councilmembers Mike Bonin and Nithy Raman, including enabling the staffers take more calls than the current city council office, visit encampments every day, and pursue grants for additional funding.


What is your plan to create more affordable housing options in CD 13, where would you put them, and why would you succeed when others haven’t?

Soto-Martinez said he would approach the problem in three ways:  1.  increase production to build more housing…2.  preserve more existing affordable housing units (and not allow Ellis Act evictions)…and 3. support legislation that would provide more money to built more affordable housing.  Also, he pointed out, there is currently no city database of affordable units, so it’s hard to know what to preserve.  And we also need to do more to protect tenants, who should have the right to legal counsel in eviction cases.  Finally, he said, “we have a bully pulpit and need to use it.”


What is your plan for addressing climate change?

Soto-Martinez said there are currently hundreds of uncapped oil wells spewing methane and other gases into the air, so we need to deal with those.  He said the federal government has money available for this, but it hasn’t been done because of lobbying from fossil fuel companies.  Also, he said, we need to focus on electrifying buildings (replacing gas heat and stoves with electric versions), and we need to develop more viable ways to move around the city without automobiles, including improvements for things like walking, biking and scooters.  He said the city’s current Mobility Plan is great, but that it’s only 7% implemented so far, so we have to implement more of it, and “act with urgency.” Luckily, though, he said the new Hollywood Community Plan gives lots of discretion to the area’s Councilmember, which should help.


We’ve had several incidents of high-profile crimes in the area recently.  What does public safety look like to you?

Soto-Martinez said that this is by far the most difficult subject to discuss on the campaign trail, because it’s very personal to people and looks different to different people.  He said that as a teenager, he was assaulted physically, with a knife, and at gunpoint, and the experiences were  traumatic.  But he said he also tried to turn them into something positive by majoring in criminology in college to help understand the underlying systems and causes of crime.  He said he learned that to address the crime problem, we first need to focus on crime prevention.  For example, he said, if you provide recreation programs for youth between the hours of 2 and 8 p.m., juvenile crime drops.  If you provide cognitive behavior therapy to teach people about anger management, crime drops.  And if you provide neighborhood liaisons in neighborhoods with high rates of violent crime, crime drops.  But he said these are all things that our current police force isn’t trained to do, and that they’re usually in reactive mode, responding only when crimes are committed.  So, yes, he said, we do want people to be safe in their communities, but he’s also seen the faults and fallout from the crime crackdowns of the 1990s, which just cost a lot of money for more jails and didn’t solve the problem.  So now we need a different system, he said, which will do some of the things the police aren’t good at, and which will help free them up for the things they can address more effectively.  Soto-Martinez said he’s firmly committed to this effort – “I will die on this hill” – because he’s both lived in high-crime neighborhoods and studied them.  And he said what he’s learned is that if you give people economic stability, public safety improves.  Because if you don’t work two jobs, you spend more time with your kids…and it becomes a better world all around.


What is your experience with management, and what kind of manager are you?

Again, Soto-Martinez likened the job to the skills he honed managing a union staff of about 100 people, noting that he was elected staff president for eight consecutive years.  During that time, Soto-Martinez said, he learned to build coalitions, to treat people with respect, and to lead by building as much consensus as possible.  Soto-Martinez said he’s been trying to do the same thing in his current campaign, which isn’t organized hierarchically and has been endorsed by more than 40 local organizations, and raised more money than the campaign of incumbent Mitch O’Farrell.  Soto-Martinez said he’s very confident in his ability to go into the community every day, bring new people into the process, provide transparency, and have staff people out working in the field.  He acknowledged that he’s less confident, so far, in his abilities to develop policy and legislation, but he said he will hire experienced people who do know the inner workings of city hall to help with that part of the job.


If elected, what three things would you do on day one of the job?

Soto-Martinez said he would:

  1. Designate a minimum four staff people exclusively to dealing with issues of homelessness.
  2. Convene neighborhood groups and leaders to provide input and transparency on local issues, and use the district’s discretionary funds for outreach to these grass roots community groups, tenants, and more.
  3. Begin a review all development projects in the city, and make sure they are benefitting the community and not just developers.  If a project is good for the community, he said, it will continue to move forward, and if it doesn’t benefit the community, it won’t.


There are currently too few places to house the homeless.  Where would you put people?

Soto-Martinez said the city does actually have plenty of spaces to put people, but they’re not currently being used.  For example, he said, he knows of at least three hotels (the Standard hotels in both downtown LA and West Hollywood, and the Sportsman’s Lodge in Studio City) which have been vacant since the beginning of the pandemic.  And there are a lot of vacant office buildings, too.  So we need to pursue adaptive re-use of those buildings and others (such as the empty St. Vincent’s Hospital).  Also, in addition to currently vacant buildings, Soto-Martinez said there are a number of other hotels that are currently facing bankruptcy, which the city could buy with state funds and convert to housing.


Do you support the Livable Communities Initiative’s suggestions for commercial corridors?

Soto-Martinez said he’s not yet familiar with all of the Livable Communities Initiative and he’d be happy to learn more about it…but that he is a fan of the “complete streets” concept that is part of the LCI.


A bicyclist was killed in Griffith Park recently.  Where would you put dedicated bike lanes?

Soto-Martinez said there have been studies on this, and while there are currently no protected bike lanes in the district, there are many streets, such as Melrose, Temple, Hollywood Blvd., Sunset Blvd., Fletcher Dr., Chevy Chase Dr. and more, which could support support them.


The Democratic Socialists of America has endorsed you.  What does that mean?

Soto-Martinez said he’s been a DSA member for several years, but noted that it’s only one of many groups that have endorsed him, including the Miracle Mile Democratic Club.  He said he’s proud of the coalition he’s built in his campaign, and that unions have been highly supportive of him, too.  Also, he said both he and the DSA have been working for a long time on immigration issues, so they’re all cooperating “to solve issues we can agree are not working” right now in the city.


Do you support the DSA’s mandates against travel to Israel?

Soto-Martinez said he thinks travel decisions like this should be an individual choice, and not mandated by the city or any other group.  But that said, he also said he was trained as an activist by the Rev. James Lawson, who emphasized that people do have a First Amendment right to protest things they don’t believe in.


How would you have handled the encampment cleanup at Echo Park Lake, and would you have done it differently?

“Absolutely,” said Soto-Martinez.  He said the camp, which eventually grew to include 160-180 people, started with one tent, and expanded under current Councilmember Mitch O’Farrell’s watch.  But Soto-Martinez said he wouldn’t have let it get to that point.  He also said O’Farrell didn’t listen to the advice of local service providers, and instead brought in an outside provider from San Francisco.  And while O’Farrell could have walked away from the situation after the first group of people from the encampment were housed, Soto-Martinez said, he instead brought in police officers, arrested journalists, fenced off the park, and banned street vendors…all of which Soto-Martinez said were mistakes.   “At some point, you have to take responsibility for the mistakes made,” he said.  He also said that if he were in office at the time, he would have treated the initial situation with more urgency, involved experts sooner, and owned up to his mistakes afterward, instead of calling the operation a success, as O’Farrell continues to do.


Would you boycott official trips to Israel?

Again, Soto-Martinez said he doesn’t understand the need to boycott such travel, because whether or not to go should be an individual decision.


You’ve said you’d abolish the LAPD by attrition.  How long would that take, and when it was done, how would you keep people safe?

Soto-Martinez said he never used the word “abolish,” and at the time he was speaking only about the current shortfall in staff.  Currently, Soto-Martinez said, the LAPD budget funds 9,700 officers, and they’re now about 300 officers short.  So Soto-Martinez said he would advocate using that currently unused funding to pay for more programs to help prevent crime (as he outlined above).  He said this would save the city money in the long run, help improve police response times, result in better-trained officers, help address the root causes of crime, and help people feel safer in their communities.


With more development in Elysian Valley, how will you increase safety, and how will you contribute to the revitalization of the LA River?

Soto-Martinez said the riverfront area is rather industrial, and there aren’t many renters there, so new development doesn’t result in a lot of displacement, which is good.  At the same time, however, he said we should make bike paths safer and green the area…but we need more community input on other issues.  Also, he said, the city’s mobility plan does address some of this, but we need to make sure the improvements benefit residents and not just tourists.


A city councilmember has a “front-facing” job.  Will you commit to focus on constituent services?

“Absolutely.”  Soto-Martinez said this is one part of the Councilmember’s job that he’s most excited about.  In union work, he said, you train organizers to go out into the field and identify leaders, which he would also do in as a councilmember, to make city government more accessible, and to make himself more available to the community.  He said he wants to improve neighborhood outreach by empowering neighborhood leaders, and working with them like shop stewards who are directly connected to the their neighborhoods and bring their experience into his office.


Do you want to abolish the police?

Again, Soto-Martinez said he never said that.  “Short answer: no.”  He said he does believe in a theory of abolition, but that it’s not about getting rid of police as much as it is about current systems, and the “big breadth of what it means to abolish the system.”  He said that police are not currently trained to deal with a lot of community issues – such as mental health – so we need to create alternate kinds of response methods and systems for those kinds of things that don’t involve an armed police response.  People don’t now feel safe, he said, but too often they also don’t want to call the police when something happens because they’re afraid someone will get killed.  So we need to create alternate methods of doing things.


Those of us here today are predominantly white.  What are your ideas for building community among all kinds of people across the 13th district, to help people better understand each other?

Soto-Martinez said that in his union work he has held yearly barbecues, at which people from the west side break bread with housekeepers from east LA, and bartenders from other places.  He said these kinds of events would be very important, and that people from very different backgrounds will find a lot of common interests and ways to bring their energy together to work on those things. “Rather than create barriers,” he said, “we’re going to build bridges.”


Closing words

“I love these kind of meetings,” Soto-Martinez said, “They’re literally embedded in my genes as a union organizer.” He said that if elected, he promises to listen to everyone, find mutual interests, and to relish that process.  He also said that he’s been well trained in non-violent community action, and influenced by Rev. Lawson and Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., as well as Buddhism, which instructs us to find the mystic love and energy in each person. So he said he knows that disagreements can actually strengthen relationships, and that you should run toward a house on fire, not away.  He said “you want a fighter who’s going to be there for you,” and that “I will fight for this community. ”  He also said he would be happy to chat with people on the phone, or over coffer or lunch, if they’d like to speak to him further.


To learn more about Soto-Martinez and his campaign, see


The next HODG Looking Local event is scheduled for this coming Sunday, May 22, at 4 p.m., with LA County Supervisorial District 3 candidate Bob Hertzberg. Sign up here for the Zoom link if you’d like to attend.

The remaining HODG “Looking Local” candidate conversations include:

5/22 (4-5 pm): Bob Hertzberg, Board of Supervisors District 3 (confirmed)
5/29 (4-5 pm): OPEN



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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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  1. Hugo is quoted above as saying, “the riverfront area is rather industrial, and there aren’t many renters there, so new development doesn’t result in a lot of displacement, which is good. ” Nope not the case. In fact, there are lots of renters in the area, including on the river front.

    The small strip of commercial /industrial properties make up around 14% of the lands in Elysian Valley. Redevelopment of those industrial properties should be a balancing act between equitable housing policies and retention the good small manufacturing jobs. But if you don’t bother to do your research as a candidate asking for my vote, why would I expect better of you as City Council representative?

    Hugo is light on facts and very heavy on catch phrases and ideology —exactly NOT what’s needed right now.


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