On Friday, February 12, City Council Member Nithya Raman announced several more key staff hires, including a Deputy Chief of Staff and District Director, Deputy Legislative Director, Tenant Protections Specialist, Communications Manager, and Government Affairs Liaison.
According to a press release, the new hires are:
Andrea Conant – Deputy Chief of Staff and District Director
Andrea comes with two decades of experience spearheading grassroots outreach and engagement programs throughout Los Angeles for placemaking, permanent supportive housing, transportation planning, retail, public facilities and sustainable infrastructure. She has a track record of innovation in public engagement, pioneering the use of virtual community meetings, social media, and visual storytelling to broaden the definition of community engagement for federal, state, county and city agencies.
Andrea is a graduate of the University of Southern California Sol Price School of Public Policy. She had her start in public service early in her career working for Los Angeles County Supervisor Mike Antonovich and U.S. Congresswoman Barbara Lee on Capitol Hill. She was raised in Westlake Village, California and is a 20-year resident of the 4th District. She lives in Miracle Mile with her husband.
Ivette Serna – Deputy Legislative Director
Ivette Serna has over six years of experience in public service at the City of Los Angeles. Her City Hall tenure began in the Office of Councilmember Gil Cedillo, followed by a four year stint with the Office of L.A. Controller Ron Galperin, where she most recently served as Deputy Director of Government Affairs. In that role, she helped advance the Controller’s policy recommendations to ensure efficiency and equity in the delivery of services to Angelenos. Outside of her policy work, she volunteers with several organizations focused on improving the humanitarian, social, and economic issues impacting individuals in Los Angeles and Latin America.
Deepika Sharma – Tenant Protections Specialist
Prior to joining CD4, Deepika was the Director of Litigation for Mental Health Advocacy Services and a Senior Attorney in the Homelessness Prevention Law Project at the largest pro bono law firm, Public Counsel. Over her career as an advocate, she has represented hundreds of tenants in their individual housing cases and also worked on impact litigation aimed at ending discrimination in housing, supporting racial equity, and providing access to benefits for people with disabilities. She earned her BA and JD from the University of California at Berkeley.
Isabel Naturman – Communications Manager
Isabel joins the CD4 team with experience across communications, media, recruitment, and organizing, including with Bernie 2020, the California Working Families Party, and Complex Networks. She holds a B.A. in Culture & Media from The New School in New York, where she loved the bagels and hated the weather, and proudly hails from the Valley.
Moniquea Roberson – Government Affairs Liaison
Moniquea has worked for five different Los Angeles City Council offices since the year 2000, including the office Councilmembers Mark Ridley-Thomas, Bernard Parks, Gil Cedillo, and David Ryu. During her tenure, she has served as an executive assistant, an administrative manager, a funding specialist, and an office manager. She enjoys helping others to achieve their goals, and is passionate about singing and DJing.
According to the release, the staffers will handle the following duties:
“Andrea Conant will spearhead the office’s work across the district, engaging in both long-range planning and day-to-day management of projects while anchoring and leading the Field Team.
Ivette Serna will keep the office appraised of all items before City Council, and help shape CD4’s proactive legislative agenda going forward.
Deepika Sharma will apply her expertise in tenant protections to both constituent concerns across the district and legislative work in the Housing Committee.
Isabel Naturman will support all external communications from the office, engage with media, and foster a sense of community districtwide through public events, forums, and discussions.
Moniquea Roberson will manage Councilmember Raman’s schedule and bring her extensive experience in city government to the operations of the office.”
“I am so impressed by our rapidly growing team,” Raman said in the announcement. “Each of our new hires brings a wealth of experience and expertise, deep passion for their work, and a commitment to serving the residents of District 4 and all of Los Angeles. Together, they are a remarkable group of people who expand the capabilities of our office and bring us to nearly full strength as a team. I can’t wait to see what we accomplish together.”
While most such staff announcements are noted by community members but not heavily commented on, one name on this latest list has raised at least a few eyebrows locally, and resulted in several e-mails to the Buzz. The correspondents (some of whom did not want to be quoted directly) have all pointed out that Andrea Conant, the new Deputy Chief of Staff and District Director, was most recently employed by Consensus US, the public relations firm representing developer Wally Marks’ proposed new Mirabel development at 5411 Wilshire Blvd. Conant has been acting as the developer’s neighborhood liaison for that project, which is still actively moving through the city planning process in CD4, and which – although it was formally supported by the Mid City West Community Council – has been opposed by many of its closest neighbors for its proposed size and height, minimum percentage of affordable units, and other details.
As of this morning, Conant is still listed as a Vice President on the Consensus website, and according to Miracle Mile Residential Association President Greg Goldin, she was serving as the project’s neighborhood liaison as recently as a January 25 meeting with the MMRA, which Conant also organized. Now, three weeks later, Goldin said, “she lands on Nithya Raman’s team, in a very influential position.”
We contacted Raman’s Communications Director, Jesse Zwick, about the neighbors’ comments, and he replied:
“Our office vetted Andrea thoroughly, as we have all our hires. Among the many nonprofit, for-profit, and government clients she has worked with in the past, there are indeed two — the Mirabel project and the proposed aerial tram in Griffith Park — that link back to our district.
As Andrea has no ongoing stake — financial or otherwise — in either project, nor will she have any direct decision-making power over Planning decisions in our office, we felt completely comfortable moving forward with hiring her.
Her decades of work in public engagement on behalf of a really diverse range stakeholders made her a very good fit for our office!”
But Goldin said the appointment once again raises “concerns about developers having inside influence at City Hall…and if it’s not an actual conflict of interest, it’s the appearance of a conflict of interest.”
Goldin said the MMRA has not yet taken a formal position on the development, but “at a minimum, we’re concerned that the project…will have an enormous influence on the Miracle Mile,” especially when it comes to shadows from the 42-story tower, and a 40-foot wall along the northern edge of the project “that will loom over the neighborhood,” with little separation from the lower density buildings next to the project site.
Goldin said, “It distresses me that [Marks’ representative] will now be inside the office that should be impartially and fairly looking at the impacts that this project will have on the neighborhood,” even if Conant isn’t directly involved in planning decisions in her new positon. Also, Goldin said, “If [Conant’s] going to be in an influential position in CD4, then Nithya Raman herself should recuse herself from all discussions on the issue.”
Both Goldin and other neighbors we heard from pointed out that Conant’s CD4 bio makes no mention of her most recent job, even though it has a direct conection to the neighborhood. “It’s as if her past affiliations don’t raise any issues about this,” Goldin said.
Zwick said, “Andrea modeled [her bio] off all the bios on our city website, which broadly list the background and experience of our staff in just a couple of sentences.”
But Barbara Gallen, who represents the Mid City West Community Council’s Area 6 (where the Mirabel project would be located) and voted against supporting the project when it came to the MCWCC, agreed with Goldin, saying CD4’s description of Conant’s background seems less than fully transparent. And while it’s not unusual for professionals to move back and forth between the private and public sectors, Gallen said this particular move doesn’t sit well with her.
“It’s normal for professionals to switch sides, like a D.A. who switches to being a criminal defense lawyer,” Gallen wrote to the Buzz this afternoon. “But this is different. First, CD4 was silent about Andrea’s real background, presenting her as a “grassroots” outreach activist, a public servant. As a developer consultant and strategist, Andrea Conant was responsible for creating a narrative about “community support” for Mirabel to advance an ultra luxury project that was soundly rejected by its working class neighborhod. 1,400 Miracle Mile residents signed an online petition opposing it, and hundreds more attended two hearings to voice their opposition. Individuals were meanwhile recruited from special interest groups outside the neighborhood to write letters and attend those hearings to create the appearance of “community support.” Andrea’s Consensus Inc. bio suggests she is a “thought leader” in this arena. Transparency with the public is crucial for trust.”
And Kira Mintz, a board member of the 6th Street Miracle Mile Neighborhood Association, authorized to speak on behalf of that organization, agreed.
“It was extremely troubling to learn that the consultant for the Mirabel project, which this neighborhood has been fighting vehemently against, is now a high ranking staff member of our council member’s office,” Mintz told us. “It feels like a huge blow to all the effort the Miracle Mile community has taken for months on end to protect our neighborhood. It raises serious questions about whether the voice of our community will be heard, or whether powerful interests will have undue influence.”
And even if Conant’s new job as CD4’s Deputy Chief of Staff, as described above, does not include direct involvement with planning and development projects, Goldin said there is still a good chance she will inevitably have conversations with fellow staffers who are more directly involved.
“I think it’s a legitimate concern, and we are legitimately concerned,” said Goldin.
[This story was updated after its initial publication to add the comments from Kira Mintz.]