Ballots for our local primary elections go out in just six days, and with candidate forums and conversations happening almost daily for one or more of the current races, it’s almost hard to avoid listening in to at least a few. On Monday, April 4, the Windsor Square Association, Larchmont Boulevard Association, and Larchmont Village Neighborhood Association hosted a forum featuring all five candidates currently on the ballot in the June 7 primary race to represent City Council District 13. In alphabetical order, they included Albert Corado, Steve Johnson, Mitch O’Farrell (incumbent), Kate Pynoos, and Hugo Soto-Martinez. Questions in the forum were posed by moderator Mike Murphy, a Windsor Square resident and political campaign consultant who’s also the co-director of the USC Dornsife Center for the Political Future. Here’s a summary of the questions posed by Murphy, and the candidates’ responses.
Albert Corado said he was born in Koreatown, grew up in the San Fernando Valley, and then moved to Minneapolis. But after his sister Melyda was killed by police in an infamous shootout at the Silverlake Trader Joe’s in 2018, he returned to Los Angeles and got involved with the community. “I want to right the scales and do something for this community that has never been done before,” he said.
Steve Johnson, who works for the Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department, said he’s running for office because for too long, people have been funneling money from what works to bureaucrats, and he wants to make sure Los Angeles can return to being a great place to live and work.
Mitch O’Farrell, running for re-election after two terms in office, introduced himself as the son of an Irish father and Native American mother, who was educated in public schools, had a family that moved 10 times by the time he was 12 years old, and is a member of the LGBTQ community. O’Farrell said that during his time in office, he has worked to improve both city and constituent services, including pioneering several key programs for food, housing, and more during the current COVID-19 pandemic.
Kate Pynoos introduced herself as a third-generation Angeleno, a lawyer, and a policy advisor in city hall. She said she lives in Hollywood, and “I’m running for city council because our city isn’t working, and we need to act boldly in times of crisis.”
Finally, Hugo Soto-Martinez said his parents came to the U.S. from Mexico, and worked as street vendors. After Soto-Martinez’s father was disabled, Soto-Martinez began working at a hotel while still in school. Then, after college he dropped plans for law school to help unionize the workers at the hotel where he worked. That led to a full-time career in organizing, both for unions and several political campaigns across the country. And it was the controversial clearance of Echo Park homeless encampment last year, he said, that made him wonder, “Why are we heading in the wrong direction?” and led to his run for city council this year.
Crime is a massive concern to residents across the city. Two years ago, funding was cut for the LAPD. Do we need more officers and more funding for LAPD, or less funding, less officers? Also, what new or innovative ideas would you bring forward as a city councilmember that would get proven, measurable results for reducing crime?
Soto-Martinez said he studied criminology at UC-Irvine, and that he thinks we’re using our funding incorrectly. Instead of spending more money on police, he said, we should be using it to help prevent crime in the first place. Also, he said, police responses to many kinds of incidents are too slow, which is something we need to address. Soto-Martinez cited Denver’s CIRU program, in which mental health and addiction specialists have responded to more than 2,700 calls without police involvement, and said response times under that program have proven to be faster and more efficient than police responses, and connected people to the right services better than the police could have done. Soto-Martinez said Denver is now increasing funding for the program by five times, and we could create the same kind of system here.
You’ve signed the “No New Cops” pledge, and the People’s Budget, which call for a reduction in police officers based on attrition, correct? If so, how can you speed up response times with fewer cops?
Soto-Martinez said we still have about 9,300 police officers, which is a lot, and if you move some of their duties to non-police personnel as he suggested earlier, it will free up the existing officers to respond faster to the calls where they’re really needed. Also, he said, we should work harder to prevent crime in the first place, which also takes some of the burden off the police in the long run.
Steven, as a sworn officer of the Sheriff’s Department, what do you think about the LAPD budget cuts? Should we increase the number of officers…and what are some more innovative things we can do to combat rising crime, which is probably a more complicated issue than just “how many cops do we have?”
Johnson replied that we can indeed trace our current increases in crime to the LAPD budget cuts of a few years ago, and that we’ll continue to be recovering from those cuts for another 3-5 years. He said the police budget should not have been cut, and the force does not now have enough officers. He said he would like to add more officers to the force, to bring the total number of cops to 11,000, but that we should also be careful about who we hire and how. (For example, he said, new hires should be college educated or have military or other relevant experience.) And Johnson said we should also let individual communities choose the level and type of policing appropriate for their own neighborhoods (e.g. whether or not they prefer armed or unarmed responses in certain kinds of situations).
Besides manpower, what else needs fixing in our police?
Johnson said there’s a huge morale problem right now. “Nobody wants to be a cop, and it’s very hard to hire a quality person,” Johson said, so we need to raise our standards for hiring.
Mitch, same thing. More cops? Less cops? Budget up? Budget down? And what’s a new idea for fighting crime?
First, O’Farrell said, you don’t need to look to Denver, as Soto-Martinez suggested, for an unarmed response program…because he (O’Farrell) has already brought a pilot version of the Crisis and Incident Response through Community-Led Engagement (CIRCLE) program to Hollywood, and it’s working “extremely well.” At the same time, however, O’Farrell said he thinks it’s “ill-advised and amateurish” to sign a pledge not to hire more police officers. And he noted that the LAPD budget wasn’t actually cut three years ago, but funds that would have been used to hire more officers were instead used for programs to uplift neighborhoods and provide social services for youth, to help prevent crime. But O’Farrell said we do need to “right-size” the police force, which we can do without vilifying our officers, who deserve our respect.
So three years from now, more cops, less cops, or same as today?
O’Farrell said we’ll probably end up adding to the police budget over the next few years, but we can be much more efficient by also upgrading technology that will help save time and help the police deter more crime.
Again: more, less, or the same number of officers?
Albert, you started as an activist and what brought you into politics was concerns about the LAPD. What would you do to fix it? More cops? Less cops? The same? And some new techniques.
Corado said “I want to be very clear…I’m an abolitionist, so to me, police officers should not exist.” He said he has signed the pledge to not hire any more officers, and “my vision is to abolish the LAPD as it currently exists,” going from 9,300 police officers to zero. Corado also said that crime is not really rising right now – that’s just a false narrative created by the police and the media. And he agreed that the police have not yet been defunded (as O’Farrell said, funds for a planned increase were simply diverted to other things)…but if crime really is up, why would we want to give the police even more money?
But if you abolish the police, what if I’ve been eyeing a liquor store on the corner. I decide to go knock it over. What deters me? What stops me from doing an illegal act? Are you going to arm the liquor store owner to shoot me? What is the deterrence without police?
Corado said crime is largely driven by poverty, so if we give all the money that currently goes to LAPD to our communities, and raise wages so people have their basic needs met, crime will drop drastically and “the rest of it will just be up to us to keep each other safe.”
Kate: basic police policy. More money, more cops? Less money, less cops? New approaches. What say you?
Pynoos said she hears a lot of people say they don’t feel safe in their communities, but that simply throwing money at LAPD won’t actually make people safer. Also, she said the police are currently “solving less crime with more money,” and – as proof – cited the falling percentage of homicides solved from 2019 to 2020. The solution, she said, is to focus more on LAPD’s core competencies (such as solving crimes), and take LAPD out of the situations they’re not good at handling (such as mental health issues), and replace them with real experts who can be on call to address the kinds of incidents that don’t need an armed police response.
So two years from now, more cops? Less cops? Or same number of cops?
Pynoos: “Probably less, though there’s going to be attrition, so probably by attrition.”
Round robin question: Defund the police? Good idea? Bad idea? Or “I don’t want to talk about it”?
Good idea: Corado.
Bad idea: Johnson and O’Farrell
It’s more complicated than that: Pynoos and Soto-Martinez.
If the election were held today, would you vote to re-elect George Gascon, or vote for somebody else to do better?
O’Farrell – “If the election were held today, I’d vote for someone else.”
Pynoos – “I’m definitely against the recall effort. I think it’s a waste of time and I think we need to give him more time to show us that the policies he has in place, how they can work. So it’s a hypothetical…but I guess as it is now, re-elect. For sure.”
Corado: “I would say vote for him because he’s making a lot of cops and prosecutors scared, so he must be doing something right.”
Johnson: “A thousand percent we need somebody else. And I want to put that caveat on there, when 80% of your deputy attorneys want you recalled, that says it all right there.”
Soto-Martinez: “I absolutely would vote for George Gascon again. I think he’s got the right vision. We can’t go back to the way that we dealt with crime in the ’90s. We know what that got us – the largest jails in the country. I think we need to have a good vision and we need to support Gascon.”
What was your view on [the clearance of the homeless encampment at] Echo Park Lake – was it a policy failure or was it difficult but necessary?
O’Farrell said most people arrested during the Echo Park cleanup were protestors “being called in under false pretenses” to fight against moving the people from the park into shelter. But he said that under his leadership, the park has now been restored to a safe, clean and secure green space for everyone in the community. “It’s the crown jewel of LA parks,” he said. O’Farrell also said that people don’t belong in tents, they belong under roofs, and that’s what the people removed from the park were given.
Soto-Martinez, however, said the Echo Park cleanup was “unequivocally a failure by all metrics,” and suggested people read the recent report from UCLA about the cleanup and what really happened to the people who were relocated in the effort (most of whom, the report says, did not wind up finding permanent housing). Calling this O’Farrell’s “tainted legacy,” Soto-Martinez said the current councilmember was the person who let the camp get out of control in the first place, so it’s no surprise that he continues to defend its cleanup.
O’Farrell disputed this by saying the Echo Park conflicts were a “false flag takeover by idealogues…and everyone in the community knew it and saw it.” O’Farrell said the protestors “brought people into the lake and colonized it,” and the UCLA report was both “completely biased,” with several protestors from the incident among the authors.
But Soto-Martinez said O’Farrell’s remarks were disturbing, and a result “hubris,” saying O’Farrell’s characterization of the UCLA report, in particular, “appalled” him since it was written by “trusted professors.”
Meanwhile, Johnson said he agrees with O’Farrell about the Echo Park cleanup, and added that the situation was “exacerbated” by the Democratic Socialists of America (which has endorsed Soto-Martinez). In fact, Johnson said he thinks the city actions at Echo Park should have been even bolder, and that’s what was missing in the effort. He also said he does generally support using the police to clear encampments.
Responding to Johnson, O’Farrell said, clarified that the police didn’t clear the Echo Park camp. Instead it was outreach workers who put people on shuttle buses to Project Roomkey placements. He said the police only cleared the last two people from the camp after all the others were gone.
Pynoos noted, however, that of the more than 100 people removed from Echo Park, only 17 are now in permanent housing, and said that she knows how to do a better job, citing a group of 200 people that were removed from Venice Beach while she worked for City Councilmember Mike Bonin, 84 of whom are now in permanent housing.
Finally, Corado said that the Echo Park cleanup was the “biggest failure in a city of failures,” and that park residents had tried to reach out to the city for help for a year before they were forcibly cleared out. Also, he said, the encampment was “under military occupation by LAPD” for a week, and that the failure “will follow [O’Farrell] to his last day on earth”…a sentiment O’Farrell once again disagreed with, saying Echo Park was a actually “huge success” and that he has helped hundreds more people get into housing since then.
One in every five homeless people in the U.S. live in Los Angeles County, and even though we have $13 billion in funding to fight the problem, nine state agencies working on it, and 41 local programs, efforts to improve the situation have been a massive failure. What do you think the real solution would be?
Soto-Martinez said that if he’s elected, on day one of the job he would designate a significant percentage of his staff to the issue (unlike O’Farrell, who, he said, only has one staffer dedicated to homelessness). Soto-Martinez said that homelessness is the most urgent problem in the city right now, so we need to look at what’s causing it – high housing prices, with many people spending up to 90% of their income on it. So even when we do help people get off the streets, thousands more become homeless every month.
Johnson said many people ask what happened to all the money from Proposition HHH, which was supposed to fund new affordable housing…and the answer is to consultants instead of housing. Johnson said we need to reimagine how we house people, such as partnering with social change venture capitalists and non-profit organizations who can build better and faster than the government, and who can create a mix of tiny homes, repurposed hotels, and reuse of municipal buildings.
Corado agreed that we need to address why people become homeless, but that it’s not what people usually cite as the reason. Instead, he said, it’s that the city doesn’t care about people, and loves to blame the victims. But the city actually has “infinite” resources to fight the problem, he said, and promised to explore those resources on day one of the job.
Meanwhile, Pynoos said that the problem has become so bad that “people’s empathy has been exhausted,” and that residents are now just mad and want the problem pushed out of sight because the crisis feels overwhelming. But she said we do know what works, and there is an “all of the above” approach we can take – keep people housed and prevent them from falling into homelessness, explore all the different options for new housing, and connect individuals to the specific services they need to stay off the streets. Also, she noted, 70% of the homeless in Los Angeles became homeless while living here, because of housing costs and the lack of a social safety net, so they are not outsiders.
Johnson disagreed, however, claiming that he’s had more interaction with homeless individuals than any of the other candidates, and saying that many don’t want housing, so the only solution is enforcement, with penalties for refusal.
Pynoos countered that statement, however, saying she has done lots of outreach work, and that the vast majority of people she’s encountered “would come inside tonight” if the city had beds for them…which it doesn’t.
O’Farrell noted that he’s leading a delegation of city leaders to Sacramento to fight for more homeless funding for Los Angeles, and that the biggest issues is the City vs. County allocation of funds, and the city doesn’t get its fair share. For example, he said, Measure HHH provided $1.2 billion in funding, but there’s a cap on how much of that can go to the City of Los Angeles. O’Farrell said, however, that we do have 7,500 permanent homes in the pipeline now – which is too slow and too expensive, but it is coming. Also, he reported, seven of his current staff members spend most of their time on issues related to homelessness, not just one, as Soto-Martinez charged.
Soto-Martinez replied that only 1,000 homes have been built so far with Prop HHH funds, while he knows of at least three vacant hotels that could be used for housing. The city, he said, shouldn’t wait to seek out faster solutions like this. “Let’s do it.”
But O’Farrell countered that the city can’t just take private property, like hotels. What it can do, he said, is approach the owners and discuss purchasing vacant properties, which it is doing – in fact, there are three hotels the city currently has under contract to purchase. He also said he’s very open to talking about how we might be able to increase the city council’s power to purchase properties for potential housing.
Corado, however, argued that the city can’t do more of that because city councilmembers are “bought and sold by developers.” Also, he said, Johnson is propagating dangerous myths – people DO want housing, but they want it without “carceral rules,” and want to be free to do things like keep their pets, which many city housing programs won’t allow.
Johnson responded to this by saying the city is lacks navigation centers and case workers that would help people navigate these complications. So we also need more case workers at LAHSA, and we need to pay them more so there’s less turnover.
The city generally has strong rent control and tenant protections, but it also needs more housing. How would you find money to build more housing…and would you continue the current eviction moratorium?
O’Farrell reported that he has already negotiated and covenanted more affordable housing in CD 13 than any other councilmember in any other council district outside downtown LA. He said he would like more districts to do the same, and that everyone deserves nice new homes, not just those who can afford market rate housing, so mixed rate housing projects (like those built under the Transit Oriented Communities program) are important, too.
Pynoos noted that the city needs another 500,000 units of housing, the majority of which should be truly affordable. To achieve that, she said, we need to take politics out of the development process, set good policies to prioritize good programs, and then get out of the way. In addition, she said, we should expand the Transit Oriented Communities program, and continue to look for other more innovative solutions, such as the Livable Communities Initiative. As for the eviction moratorium, Pynoos said she thinks the current plan – it’s set to expire one year after the pandemic state of emergency ends – is good, but we should also make sure to provide tenants with appropriate resources and lawyers when it does end.
How would you pay for new housing resources and programs?
O’Farrell said he’s generally not opposed to tax increases, but because we currently have a $33 billion state budget surplus, we don’t need to raise taxes right now (and also, because of the pandemic, it’s also not a good time to do so). But if we allocate our resources well, he said, we can address these issues, as well as important climate change issues. And if we have a hard time accessing state surplus funds, O’Farrell said, we can help increase state revenues even further by bringing more film production business back to the state.
Soto-Martinez said he’s also not opposed to raising taxes if needed, but he would also like to consider a luxury real estate transfer tax to help pay for affordable housing. Also, since developers say their number one cost is land, which is expensive, we should be looking at the many vacant parcels currently owned by the city as possible housing sites. Another thing we should do, Soto-Martinez said, is protect older, more affordable units from Ellis Act evictions and demolitions, perhaps limiting them with a lottery process. And finally, Soto-Martinez said, if you work with working class people as he does, you’d understand why ending the eviction moratorium is not a good idea.
Johnson said the first thing we need to do is trim waste at city hall, and do things like fix our city streets to limit expensive lawsuits and save money that could be used for housing. Then, he said, we should look to social change-minded venture capitalists to build new affordable housing, because they could build it for less money, and less return on investment than commercial developers who want higher profits.
Pynoos said she supports the United to House LA initiative to help keep people housed in the first place, but then we also need to build more housing more cheaply, and we should be more innovative about where we put new housing, such as using LAUSD land and vacant commercial buildings.
Corado said the city should do more with community land trusts and eminent domain, and said he’d also never sign off on a new development unless the city can define what “affordable” means, and reserve that distinction for the people with the fewest resources, not people making $100,000 a year. As for the eviction moratorium, Corado said we do still have both a homelessness crisis and a pandemic, so we should “not even talk about it right now.”
Finally, O’Farrell said that he supports lifting the eviction moratorium a year after the pandemic emergency ends, as planned, but that he does not support an abrupt end to the measure. Instead, as also currently outlined, it should be extended while people recover from the effects of the pandemic. O’Farrell also noted that he helped create a $327 million fund to help people pay their rents during the pandemic, which has been “wildly successful” at helping both tenants and landlords. Also, he said, responding to Pynoos’ earlier comment about using public property (such as LAUSD property) for new housing, O’Farrell said the city has already done some of its, citing projects that put150 new units near Schrader and Selma elementary schools, as well as new housing for teachers at Glassell Park school.
If you had been in the State Assembly last year, would you have voted for SB 9 and SB 10, the statewide bills that will allow densification of certain areas previously zoned for single-family use?
Johnson, Soto-Martinez, O’Ferrell and Corado: No.
Pynoos: “I think it was imperfect, but yes.”
How do you feel about the controversy about full liquor licenses on Larchmont Blvd.?
O’Farrell said he’s been working with local merchants on this for several months now, will look at the local zoning laws and will continue to talk with both the Larchmont community and the merchants to identify the options and reach a consensus on the issue.
Lightning round: Do you support more liquor licenses on Larchmont?
Johnson – Yes.
Soto-Martinez – We’d need more community input to see what the community wants.
Pynos – It would take more conversations with the community, but yes, it would be great to have a drink with dinner there. Also, there are a lot of vacant storefronts on Larchmont, and we need to revitalize the street.
Corado – “If people want to get sloshed, let them get sloshed…it’s fine.”
O’Farrell – We need a thoughtful process, and it would be divisive to pick sides at this point. But we need to hear more from the community, and we will figure it out through building consensus, not by picking sides right now.
Are any of you benefiting from an independent expenditure committee spending more than $5,000 on your behalf?
Corado: Yes, the Unite Here Local 11 union, which includes housekeepers, dishwashers, cooks and more. “And I’m very proud of that.”
O’Farrell – “I do not.”
Who is your political hero?
Corado – Fidel Castro.
Pynoos – “My grandmother was an ERA activist, so she’s very near and dear to my heart. Currently, I’m a big fan of Elizabeth Warren, and Stacy Abrams.”
Johnson – Barack Obama and Rev. Martin Luther King, Jr.
Soto-Martinez – Martin Luther King, Jr. and Caesar Chavez.
O’Farrell – Paul Wellstone (the late senator from Minnesota) and Michelle Obama (“She inspires me in a profound way.”)
What is a short, tight answer on what you would do to make a change in the culture of City Hall?
Johnson said city council term limits should be set at two terms, not three, to help prevent “buy-in” from people who want to keep you in office, which breeds corruption. He also said councilmembers should have to recuse themselves from votes on specific land use projects, another opportunity for corruption…and one of the things that inspired him to run for office.
O’Farrell said he was raised in a great household where honesty and integrity were valued, and that he prides himself on his ability to run a clean office. He said he’s found the recent corruption allegations involving several of his city hall colleagues “extremely depressing,” and that he wants to be an example of how to restore trust in city government.
Pynoos said she too was shocked to see the corruption in city government, and the issues are cultural and structural, so we should double the size of the city council, take money and politics out of the land use process, and appoint a truly independent redistricting commission for the next round of city council redistricting.
Soto-Martinez said there is legal “corruption” that happens “every single day,” with developers giving money to council members in exchange for a direct line to city hall. Also, he noted that the city council has decision-making power for the ethics budget for the city, so it’s hard to enforce ethics laws against them.
Finally, Corado said we need to get police, oil company and developer money out of city government, and double or triple the size of the city council. “I want to be beholden to my constituents and nobody else,” he said.
Kate, is it true that although you work for current councilmember Mike Bonin, he has actually endorsed Hugo Soto-Martinez in this campaign?
Pynoos explained that Bonin has actually endorsed both candidates since (if no one gets more than 50% of the vote in the primary) the top two candidates will move to a runoff in November. And she said she’s happy to see so many really progressive candidates in the race at this stage of the election cycle.
Hugo, as a union negotiator, how will you be tough when negotiating with the city’s public employee unions?
Soto-Martinez said he will be tough, but as a negotiator, he also understands the issues working people are dealing with, and that if you listen closely to them, and deal with their issues, you’ll get great results.
Steve, you’ve had a long career in law enforcement…so as a city councilmember are you going to be able to “say no to the blue”?
Johnson said he’s actually the perfect candidate to build that kind of bridge between law enforcement and city government, and that he’ll in fact be the best person to understand both sides of the issues and the bring change and reform we need.
Mitch, do you deserve to be rehired when the most metrics in the city have gone down, not up, during your tenure?
O’Farrell said his record speaks for itself, and his experience will become even more important moving forward. He said, the city has serious challenges and we can’t afford to put someone in office without experience. “I’ve never, ever been part of the status quo,” O’Farrell said, promising that he’s not afraid to make tough decisions when necessary.
Albert, what job have you held that gave you the skills to be a city councilmember?
Corado said the way we traditionally look at qualifications is “a little too old fashioned,” and what matters is that he had a significant experience (his sister being killed by LAPD), that he chose to do something about it, and that he was, in fact, “dragged into this world by one of the most traumatic things you could ever go through.” So it’s not where he’s worked that’s important, he said, but that he has “stared the police chief in the eye as he has lied to me about what his officers have done…I want to right all the wrongs that the city has done and continues to do every day.”
Soto-Martinez said he has a rewarding job, with experience creating large systemic changes, such as being involved in the fights to increase the minimum wage. He also said we can’t continue to rely on the same people to create change, and we need to bring new people in. He noted that he’s been endorsed by the Los Angeles Democratic Club, and former city councilmember Jackie Goldberg, and that we need to elect someone who’s not tied to the status quo to get things done.
Pynoos said the city is currently facing multiple crises, from homelessness to climate change, and the problems are getting worse. But she said she has the experience, working with both city and county government, to know how to implement ideas and get things done. And, finally, she promised to maintain her integrity and to always be accessible to her constituents.
O’ Farrell said he’s the only candidate with a record of getting big things done in city government, and that that’s what we need in this most challenging time in our history. No one else, he said, has actually created affordable housing, bike lanes, renter protections, playgrounds, gardens, farmers markets, historic landmarks, and more, as he has done during his time in office so far.
Johnson noted that everyone agrees that things need to get better, but that our problems have been treated so far with “nonsensical solutions” by city hall. He said he’s had enough with temporary fixes and that we need long-term solutions. And to keep things from getting even worse now, we need to elect people with the will to solve the problems, people who will keep their word when elected, and people who will be committed to the office and not use it as a stepping stone to other positions.
Finally, Corado said he has been inspired by the mistakes Mitch O’Farrell made in treating people at Echo Park Lake, which made him realize we are dangerously close to losing our city to the police state, and that most people in the city are actually closer to homelessness than they are to owning their own homes.
If you missed the live forum on April 4, but would still like to watch, a recording is now available at https://windsorsquare.org/recording-of-the-cd13-candidate-forum-april-4-2022/.