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

HODG “Looking Local” Candidate Series: Louis Abramson

California State Assembly District 51 candidate Louis Abramson was featured on the Hang Out Do Good “Looking Local” candidate series on Sunday, March 13.


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, 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 Louis Abramson, candidate for California Assembly District 51 (which stretches from Santa Monica to Griffith Park, and contains  all of the Mid City West and most of the Greater Wilshire communities), was structured as a Q&A with HODG hosts and took place on March 13. Abramson is an astrophysicist/professor, community activist, former neighborhood council member, and current Hollywood resident. These were among the topics covered in the HODG conversation:


Please introduce yourself.

Abramson said Assembly District 51 is the fifth most job-rich district in the state of California, as well as one of the most economically and culturally vibrant and diverse areas…but it too often doesn’t feel like that, with problems such as homelessness and high rents taking center stage.  “I am running because I have come to the conclusion that these terrible tragedies on our streets cannot be fundamentally resolved without reforming the systems that are much bigger than my neighborhood or any neighborhood or city or county in California,” Abramson said.  “These tragedies derive from state-level systems that need reform and that has to happen in Sacramento.”  An astrophysicist by training, Abramson said he was inspired by his grandfather who stormed the beach at Normandie during World War II, and started to think, “What beaches have I stormed?”  So he decided to “take my head out of the clouds and start focusing on terrestrial problems.”  If elected, Abramson said, he would be the only scientist in the state legislature, and one of only three renters, as well as someone who actually knows people who are homeless.


What is the job of a state Assemblymember?

Abramson said California is a huge state, with LA County alone larger than many other states, but Assembly members have a much lower profile than city council members or the mayor of Los Angeles.  In fact, he said, people are often confused about just which office he’s talking about when he knocks on their door to introduce himself.  At the same time, however, Abramson said that because the legislature creates laws for the whole state, it can help set uniform standards to rectify inequalities between cities, which is very important.  “It’s my objective to use my experience and training to write and vote for bills that will benefit everybody in the state as informed by you, the people in my district, and, of course, by my ethical, moral, and intellectual commitments,” Abramson said.  “And I will work with my colleagues to move California closer to these ideals through compromise and coalition building.”


How will you address the housing crisis and create more affordable options for Angelenos?  And why will you succeed when others haven’t?

Abramson said his job in Sacramento will be to help Los Angeles reach the housing goals it has set for itself, and to make sure the state isn’t creating roadblocks to that prevent the city from reaching those goals.  He said he also wants to help make sure that people who are inspired to build new homes can do so through various mechanisms.  For example, he said he would like to see the Livable Communities Initiative, which aims to add more housing to current commercial corridors and focus on “complete streets,” enacted statewide.   As we put more homes near jobs, he said, lots of good things happen – such as making it easier for people to get to work, and automatically fighting climate change because we reduce the number of vehicle miles traveled.  “It’s the single biggest impact we could make for climate improvement in California,” he said.

Also, Abramson said, we need to create two kinds of dedicated affordable housing – 100% affordable housing that is funded by Section 8 or other governmental programs, and public housing, which is fully constructed by the government.  But the latter, he said, is illegal in California, according to the state constitution, which currently requires a ballot measure to approve any project with more than 50% officially affordable units.  “That is insane,” Abramson said, promising that he would support a statewide ballot measure to change this.  Also, Abramson noted that Measure HHH, which was designed to create 10,000 units of affordable housing, failed because each unit costs $750,000 to build…the measure pays only the first $140,000.  So developers have to piece together the rest of the funding from as many as six different sources, which is a huge bureaucratic effort and also hugely expensive.  But he said the state government can help by turning those six buckets of funding into one, so there’s just one application developers can use to access all the different kinds of funding they need.


While we’re waiting for more housing, what should we do for the homeless population?

Abramson explained that homelessness is not just about people living on the street, but that’s what our opinions are based on because it’s what we see most often.  In reality, however, he said most people who become homeless also fairly quickly find housing again, either through their own efforts or with governmental help.  So in other words, there’s both an “inflow” and “outflow” problem we need to address – keeping people from becoming homeless, and providing supportive housing.  Instead, however, we spend most of our time focusing on the middle space – such as how to clean up homeless encampments on the streets – when that’s not the real solution.

At the same time, however, Abramson said thinking up potential solutions is easy, but the politics – selling those solutions – too often results in a “no” answer…so we have to have some hard conversations about housing.  Also, he said, while we don’t want people living in the street, we’ve never been able to create a good system of street-based services and delivery, which comes down to a few key elements.  First, he said, we need to make it easier to build interim housing so people can be safe and stable in a tiny home village or a safe parking/safe camping location, which makes it easier to bring services to them.  And then we need to provide better mental health services.  Abramson said mental health isn’t a primary cause of homelessness, but it can deteriorate rapidly when someone is living on the street.  He said that reforming how mental health workers are funded could help – such as giving them a lump sum, such as $15,000 per patient, up front, and then letting those professionals decide how to spend the money to benefit each individual (with housing, job support, peer support, etc.).  Abramson said trials show this may actually be the best way to help someone with mental illness get well.  And finally, he said, our current 911 response system complicates things, and it would be better to have teams of mental health and social workers respond to mental health emergency calls, to make sure people are OK and directed to the right professionals…which would be a much faster route to success than waiting for new housing to be built.


What specific actions can be taken to protect the environment and make California more sustainable and environmentally friendly?

Abramson said his number one concern is climate change – and there are two top policies he’d promote.  The first is that if someone has solar panels, they should also have a battery…and it should be connected to the power grid.  We’ve done a pretty good job on installing solar panels, he said, and we now make more power than we use during the day…but we still have to use gas-fired power plants at night.  The best way to change this is with batteries, and they should be connected to the power grid to make sure that everyone benefits, instead of just the wealthier, whiter communities where solar panels are most numerous.

Also, Abramson said, he’d like to help create more matching grants to put more buses and trains on existing transit lines.  People tend to support building new transit lines, he said, but when you propose adding buses and train cars to existing lines, they complain that no one actually uses public transit.  He said people will use transit, however – as they do in New York and Chicago – if it comes every five minutes, like it does in those cities.  The idea is called “induced demand,” he said, and “When you don’t have to plan to take transit, people use transit.”

Finally, he noted that DASH routes and bike infrastructure can also help, as can having more electric car chargers in all neighborhoods.  And here again, he said, the Livable Communities Initiative is important, because when people don’t have to drive to work, it’s less expensive for them, and it avoids putting more carbon into the air.


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

Abramson said that his preparation needs to begin before he’s elected, by creating an “A Team” of staff and advisors.  The first thing he’d do, he said, is to reach out to current Assembly Member Richard Bloom, to find out what his major concerns are, and then hire diverse and intelligent people who know the district’s communities, and make plans to join the legislative committees he’s most interested in, including those for housing and development, local government, and utilities and energy.  Finally, on day one of the job, Abramson said, he’d hire a lawyer for people who are facing eviction, look into 50/50 grants for transportation, and learn about the goals of each city in the district for both permanent supportive housing and housing with wraparound services for people with serious mental illness.  (For example, he said, Los Angeles’ Project Homekey is great and also allows the County to buy bed and care facilities to support the mentally ill, but it never did that.)  “I think I can do all that on day one,” he said.


Success is not just having good ideas, but getting things done.  Give an example of a time you did this.

Abramson said there’s a saying in his campaign that “Being right is not enough.”  The most important thing he’s learned about public life, he said, is that while being right in science is often enough, it’s not in public service.  In addition to thinking of the right solution, you also have to get people on board with you to get things done.  In other words, coalition building is different than consensus building.  Coalition building is finding people who share the same objectives but may have different ideas to get it done, and they come together to work out and execute solutions – something he said he’s been part of through his work on homelessness and COVID relief with the Hollywood Forward organization. “I commit to maintaining the spirit of coalition building,” he said, “which is what I think we need to advance good law.”


Has anyone else requested a public housing bill and who would you partner with to get it passed?

Abramson said State Senator Ben Allen has done this twice, and the last one passed the Senate, but not the Assembly.  And because two attempts have failed so far, there’s now some hesitation among lawmakers to undertake another campaign.  At the same time, however, he said this is separate from the moral issue, and that “there’s plenty of enthusiasm in Sacramento to do it.”


What is your stance on urban farming and food justice?

Abramson said he doesn’t know much yet about urban farming, but would like to learn more.  He said he’s more educated on food justice, which is currently “abysmal in California.”   Abramson said the new food waste recycling law, SB 1383, might help some, but there should also be a greater food justice mission across the state…promoting programs like that of the Hollywood Food Coalition, which collects food, then partners with local organizations to deliver it to end users who need it.


Do you support net energy metering 3.0?

Abramson said he doesn’t know enough about this yet to answer, but that he is interested in making sure that things like incentivizing solar panels and climate justice aren’t in conflict with social justice.  But this can also be reframed as a technical question, which makes it easier to talk about.


What about Governor Newsom’s Care Courts proposition to provide mental health services to specific homeless people?

Abramson said he thinks that while mental health is also a “fraught” topic, the Care Courts are a good idea.  Currently, he said, there’s not much you can do to help someone with mental health issues.  You can all the Department of Mental Health, but responses are slow and there’s not much they can do if the person isn’t a danger to themself.  If they are in danger, they can be held for up to two weeks, but then they’re released to the street again.  Under Newsom’s proposed system, however, the person in question would be entered into the system and evaluated by different experts.  Then a judge would make a determination and possibly order that the person seek further mental health care…and if they don’t by a specific deadline, the judge could then order some sort of “involuntary” action.  “Conceptually, I think it’s a great idea,” Abramson said.  He also noted that Brittney Weissman, Executive Director of Hollywood Forward, also supports the general concept, and has only practical concerns – mostly about adequate staffing and funding.  “In principle,” Abramson said, “I have absolutely no problem with the care court system, but in practice there are specific questions we should ask to make sure it’s going to succeed.”


How can we make sure that as crime rises, we’re not in danger of backsliding on our commitments to build a more just legal and criminal justice system?

Abramson said state government does play a role in this.  For example, by widening things like LA County’s Alternatives to Incarceration plan – which helps get counseling, job training and support to enter society in a productive way.  In other words, he said, it’s like thinking of the drug war as a public health issue instead of a criminal issue, “not locking away a whole generation of primarily black men,” and instead actually healing communities.  He said there’s good evidence now that for every 10 community-building non-profits you add to a neighborhood, the crime rate goes down 4-9% (depending on the type of crime).

At the same time, however, Abramson said the issue is different in different places.  In South LA, for example, he said people don’t trust the police, so reforms need to start in communities where there’s a policing problem, not necessarily in rich white neighborhoods.  We need to make sure all communities have resources, that they’re distributed equitably across zip codes, and that we make sure we’re actually measuring things tied to justice.

In addition, he said, we need to get rid of no-knock warrants and high speed chases, and study the idea of getting rid of police helicopters, which he doesn’t believe actually help to solve crimes, are very expensive, and which make a lot of noise.  And finally, he said, we also need to get police out of schools (those that have police have seven times more arrests than school that don’t), and use non-police personnel for traffic stops.  But he said he’s not sure yet how many of those things can be state mandates, and how many should instead be state-incentivized in cooperation with various municipalities.


Can you use social media for an inexpensive campaign for public housing legislation?

Abramson said that’s very possible…and the United Way may already be doing it.  But he also noted that social media doesn’t reach everyone, which his why his campaign is also spending $100,000 on paper mail, because everyone receives it.   So social media is integral to such an effort, and should be used, but it should be in conjunction with other kinds of media, such as mail, TV, YouTube videos and more, which do cost money.  (As an example, he said, just think about how much everyone learned about dialysis from last year’s ballot measure campaign ads on that topic.)


Final words?

Abramson said he’s now entering the phase of his campaign that really needs people – for mailings, phone calls, and door knocking.  (People who would like to help can sign up to volunteer on his website.)  But financial support is also very much still appreciated.  “I look forward to talking to you for the next weeks and months and years,” he said.


The next HODG Looking Local event is scheduled for this coming Sunday, March27, at 4 p.m., with City Council District 5 candidate Jimmy Biblarz.  Sign up here for the Zoom link if you’d like to attend.

The remaining HODG “Looking Local” candidate conversations include:

3/27 (4-5pm) Jimmy Biblarz, City Council District 5 (confirmed)
4/3 (4-5 pm) Sam Yebri, City Council District 5 (confirmed)
4/10 (4-5pm) Mitch O’Farrell, City Council District 13 (confirmed)
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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