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

HODG “Looking Local” Candidate Series: Jimmy Biblarz

CD 5 candidate Jimmy Biblarz (upper right-hand corner), answered questions from the Hang Out Do Good organization on Sunday, March 27.


The Hang Out Do Good local 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, State Assembly District 51, 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 Jimmy Biblarz, one of four candidates who will be on the ballot to represent District 5 on the City Council, was structured as a Q&A with HODG hosts and took place on Sunday, March 27. Biblarz is an attorney and UCLA law professor, whose education and legal career has focused on issues of inequality. He is endorsed by the Run for Something progressive organization, the LGBTQ Victory Fund, and Equality California. These were among the topics covered in the HODG conversation:


Please introduce yourself.

Biblarz said he grew up in a duplex in the Pico-Robertson area.  When he was 12, his family was evicted because the landlord wanted to tear down the building and build a mini mansion.  Biblarz said the experience led to depression and substance abuse for both his parents, and was a defining incident in his own political awareness.  Also, Biblarz said watching the fight over Proposition 8, which outlawed gay marriage, was another big influence on him as a young gay man.  Both of the experiences sparked his ongoing interests in issues of housing and inequality, which he later pursued in college, grad school, law school, and in his career as a lawyer and UCLA law professor.

Biblarz also said he has been increasingly distressed by the current problems in the city, and their roots in inequality, so “I knew i had to do something about it,” and running for office is “a once in a lifetime chance to do something big in such an important part of town.”


What is your understanding of a city councilmember’s job?

Biblarz said a councilmember’s job has two parts.  First is their role in land use decisions, which in Los Angeles, where the city council is extremely powerful in such things, is a “huge, huge weight that should not be taken lightly.”

And the second big role for a councilmember, Biblarz said, is in public safety…and all the other issues facing the city right now.


There are only a few places right now where the homeless can be housed in CD 5 (with only about 130 beds).  Will you commit to building more bridge and permanent supportive housing, and what can we do until then?

Biblarz said he would indeed make such a commitment, and that “no district should be immune to helping solve this crisis.”  He said CD 5 needs to put more resources into the development of permanent supportive housing, and that instead of thinking of homeless housing as a nuisance or an eyesore, embrace it because it’s the way to end the encampments on our streets.

Biblarz said he believes in bringing permanent housing solutions online as soon as possible, but that we also need more interim solutions – like tiny homes – which are too often not connected to permanent solutions.  Instead, he said, the city just seems to get bored with them after a while, and then people scatter again.  So the question is how to create more units more quickly.  Right now, he said, many bids go to deep-pocketed developers, and the bidding process should be much more competitive.

Also, he said,  we should do more adaptive reuse of existing buildings, because it’s so much faster than building new buildings (though even adaptive reuse takes time).

And finally, he said, we should look at creating more new modular units…otherwise, we’re just “kicking the can down the road.”


Why will your plan succeed when others haven’t?

Biblarz said his favorite analogy is that of an iceberg – most of the problem is under water where we can’t see it…in the form of hundreds of thousands of people who aren’t on the streets yet, but who are financially on the brink of landing there.  So he said we need to work both levers – housing those who are homeless, and preventing people from becoming homeless in the first place – or more people will become homeless, no matter how many people we do manage to house.

Biblarz said the solution is to get more units online more quickly, and to create better interdisciplinary outreach to connect people to the resources they need.  At the same time, however, he said we also need to shore up the lower end of the income distribution scale, and people need to be able to live near where they work, which is good for both the economy and the climate.

For example, Biblarz said, there are long stretches of commercial streets like Robertson and Pico Blvds., which currently have no housing and no foot traffic, and would be a great place to put new units. “We can reimagine and reclaim our commercial streets,” Biblarz said, by building 2-3 story buildings containing housing over commercial spaces where there is almost no housing now.  Such projects would provide a “captive audience” of foot traffic for the commercial businesses, he said, and would be good for both the retailers and public safety.  In other words, he said, he would love to see the “Larchmontification of Robertson,” when it comes to improved retail presence and foot traffic.


Who should build it?

Biblarz said he’d like to see this kind of project built by “mom and pop” developers, but that right now, only the biggest developers can navigate LA’s labyrinthine application and permitting process.  He said the appetite is definitely there for other people to build this kind of housing, and for people to lease the units.


What are your thoughts on a mobility plan and climate change?

Biblarz said the most important focus for local government is the intersection of housing and transit, but he just hasn’t seen an appetite or political will in Los Angeles to create such programs.   One thing we could definitely do to help with climate goals, he said, is to better incentivize the purchase of electric appliances, and another is the weatherization of old buildings.  Both, he said, would help us get to our climate goals by 2050.  Also, he said, we should look at urban oil drilling – there are 55 active wells in CD 5 (more than in many other neighborhoods) – and we need to make sure we’re properly inspecting them.


What does public safety look like to you and what are your priorities to improve it?

The most important job of a city councilmember, Biblarz said, is to keep people safe, and it’s a tremendously serious issue.  But he said that while we do need to recognize the police force’s role in fighting crime, it’s not our only tool, and he wants to make sure we’re “pushing all the levers,” and using strategies that are both research tested and data driven.

For example, Biblarz said, the greatest police presence should be targeted to areas currently experiencing the greatest amount of crime…while we also use longer-term, more sustainable programs like Father Boyle’s Homeboy Industries to help keep people from falling into criminal activity in the first place.

Also, he said, there should be a new system for responses to calls involving homelessness and mental health, which involves the police only as backup.  He said this would help LAPD focus on what it’s best at – solving violent crimes, and crime prevention.  “The public safety piece should not force us to lose sight of progress” in reforms that have already been made, he said.


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

Biblarz said that first, he would advocate for a version of the Livable Communities Initiative in CD5, which would require both zoning changes and efforts to bring in more community involvement.  He said he would like to reimagine our streets to be safer and more walkable, which would be “game changing.”

Second, Biblarz said he would introduce initiatives for more permanent supportive housing, as he mentioned earlier, to bring more housing online faster, and with a multi-disciplinary street engagement strategy that’s more sustainable than what’s been done before.  He said efforts by the LA Homeless Services Authority have been too short-term, and there have been hiring and professional issues there as well.  In other words, he said, we need more permanent supportive housing, as well as the teams to effectively get people into that housing.

And finally, number three, Biblarz said he would create a strong constituent services portal – “It’s about doing the big and doing the small things together,” he said. You need to build trust and make people want to participate more in their community, and that happens when you provide good constituent services.


What are your strengths and weaknesses as a collaborator?

Biblarz said his biggest strength is that he will talk to everyone and anyone, and has no fear of hostile audiences or pushback.  And it’s pivotal, he said, to listen to the person in the back of the room who says, “But…” and bring them into the conversation.  He said his goal is to always look for common ground, which is easy in local government because everyone generally wants the same thing.  He said he will work to bring as many people as possible into the process, which is even more important when people disagree.

As for his biggest weakness, Biblarz said, “I am really committed to my principles.  I am not an idealogue, but I have principles.  I do have strong principles.”


What corner or blocks in CD 5 make you sad or angry?

“If you care about your city,” Biblarz said, “it’s hard to unsee your city for what it could be.”  As an example, he cited the Melrose Flea Market corner near Beverly and Fairfax, where there’s too much speeding traffic near crowds…and a lot of empty storefronts.  Biblarz said he would like to lower traffic speeds in that area, improve pedestrian safety, and improve retail activity.


Regarding infill buildings – can you make wood non-flammable without fossil fuels or chemical products?

Biblarz said he’s not an engineer, but most of the district is not in a fire zone, so we could definitely look into which materials are best for alternate kinds of construction.


Why will you be successful on homelessness when others haven’t been?

Biblarz said again that we need to “push both levers” (housing for those already homeless, and preventing more people from becoming homeless), and reimagine our streets.  For example, we should build more housing on commercial streets like Robertson for people who make $60,000-$100,000 per year, which helps the lower end of the income scale, and give ministerial approvals to affordable housing projects.  But also, Biblarz said, “I’ll succeed because I believe in this project,” and because he will also help the city hire more social workers, to help it rely less on inadequate service from LA County.  Also, he said, he would like to reorient how Project HHH dollars are spent, which is definitely something that a councilmembers can do on their own.


Do you support design guidelines?

“Absolutely.”  Biblarz said that there’s definitely a balance between ease of approvals and community input, and cited Westwood’s recent Community Plan update, which included design review for new projects.  He said he doesn’t want to add unnecessary “veto points” to the approval process, but that the design of people’s neighborhoods is very important to them, and it’s good to have an established set of choices to choose from, which is something that makes neighborhoods better.


How do you feel about “mega” projects such as the Wilshire Courtyard?

Biblarz said he needs to learn more about specific projects proposed for the area, but that the Transit Oriented Communities program so far has enabled only mega developers to build mega projects along Wilshire Blvd, which over-produces high-end condominiums, and under produces the kind of housing we really need — smaller, less expensive projects along our commercial corridors.


How can we achieve a living wage so people can afford market rate housing?

Biblarz said “real” wages (adjusted for inflation) have remained completely stagnant for more than 50 years, but housing prices have increased 11-fold in the same amount of time. So we definitely need to find ways to bring wages and housing prices closer together so that everyone can afford to live here, and not just the 1% at the top of the income ladder.  To do this, Biblarz said we need to index minimum wages to a more reasonable starting point (at which people can actually house their families), as well as invest in jobs, community colleges, job training and more to help pull people out of their current crises.


Have you ever managed a large group of people and actually got something done?

Biblarz said he did this while forming a union for graduate students during his time at Harvard University.  He said there was lots of anger at the time, but the issues were serious, and he was able to build teams in every department, made presentations to all of them, then filed an appeal of an unfair union election, and won the appeal.  He said he knows you will never get 100% of people to agree with you in such process, and he understands that people can and will disagree about things as you work toward solutions.


Are you willing to cede city council power for the ministerial approval of affordable housing?

“Yes.”  Biblarz said the idea that development projects run through a single city councilmember creates too many opportunities for corruption, so he would welcome such a change.  Also, he said, this issue is probably more important than any other in the public consciousness now, because trust is at an all-time low, so we need definitely need to restore it.


Final remarks?

Biblarz told audience members he would love to have their support, and that it’s fun to volunteer with his campaign, which has no professional fundraising help and average contributions just over $100.  Donation information is available on his website.


To learn more about Biblarz, or to donate to his campaign, see .


The next HODG “Looking Local” event is scheduled for this coming Sunday, April 17, at 4 p.m., with City Council District 13 candidate Kate Pynoos. There will be a second session this week, too, with CD 9 Candidate Dulce Vasquez scheduled for 5 p.m.  Sign up here for the Zoom link if you’d like to attend.

The remaining candidate conversations include:

4/17 (4-5pm) Kate Pynoos, City Council District 13 (confirmed)
          (5-6pm) Dulce Vasquez, City Council District 9 (confirmed)
4/24 (4-5 pm) Hugo Soto Martinez, City Council District 13 (confirmed)
5/1 (4-5 pm) Teddy Kapur, City Attorney (confirmed)
        (5-5:30pm) Eli Vera, Sheriff (confirmed)
5/8 (4-5 pm) Hydee Feldstein Soto, City Attorney (confirmed)
5/15 (4-5 pm) Faisal Gill, City Attorney (confirmed)
5/22 (4-5 pm) Bob Hertzberg, Board of Supervisors (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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