The November election is just 34 days away. And after last night’s presidential debate, it’s not hard to see why local candidates are having a tough time engaging voters.
The new alignment of the local races with the presidential election was passed by voters in 2015, in the hopes of increasing voter turnout. (Amendment 1, passed in March 2015 called for the city’s primary and general election dates to move to June and November of even-numbered years beginning in 2020, in order to align them with federal and state elections.)
We know it’s a lot to keep track of in this stressful time, but we urge you to stay engaged and become informed about these important local races. Even though the local races are nonpartisan, many familiar partisan themes are raised – such as social justice and climate change – but there are also many local issues like historic preservation, land use planning, traffic, urban forestry, and the response to COVID-19 that have a direct impact on our daily lives and do not break down along traditional party lines.
Most of our local Buzz readers, depending on their neighborhood, will have an opportunity to vote in the races for City Council Districts 4 or 10, as well as the race for District 2 of the Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors. The Buzz will be reaching out to the candidates in each of these races for their positions on issues of interest to our communities as well as covering candidate forums.
Yesterday, we wrote about a recent CD10 candidate forum and today we report on a CD4 forum that was hosted earlier this month by the Sherman Oaks Neighborhood Council (SONC) with current the CD4 Councilmember David Ryu, running for re-election, and challenger Nithya Raman. SONC President Jeffrey Hartsough welcomed viewers to what he called “a different normal.” SONC Board member Gil Imber and SONC Committee member Pamela Harris served as panelists for the event, asking candidates to respond to questions covering a range of topics, some very specific to Sherman Oaks.
We listened to the forum and below are some key takeaways. (You can click here to listen to the full recording of the forum.)
Starting first, challenger Nithya Raman told listeners in her opening statement that she’d been reading up on their neighborhood and its founding as a suburban refuge. But Raman noted that the challenges facing Los Angles are now encroaching on the suburbs, too.
“Now, we are at a moment in Los Angeles where those big challenges, our terrible air, climate change, rising homelessness crisis. These issues are now becoming ones that affect every neighborhood in LA and have to be addressed at a city-wide level and have to be addressed in ways that meet the scale of those crises,” said Raman.
“While we can still pay attention to the unique crises that face individual neighborhoods in Los Angeles, which are so different from each other especially, in this district. I think that’s a real challenge for governance going forward and I think that’s a challenge I am very excited to meet. I think with a combination of bottom up community planning and thinking about problems in a wholistic way we can actually solve the challenges facing the city,” said Raman.
After painting a picture of the city facing “crisis after crisis,” she expressed hope that people are coming together to get engaged in problem solving.
In his opening statement, Councilmember David Ryu pointed to his record of working together with the community over the past five years. Ryu is seeking re-election after serving nearly five years, as his term was extended by a year when local elections were aligned with national elections. Ryu lead with his personal story, recounting how he immigrated to Los Angeles when he was 6 years old. Ryu said family faced very challenging financial times, living paycheck to paycheck and receiving food stamps.
“I lived in poverty,” said Ryu. As a result of this formative experience, explained Ryu, he he has dedicated his life to fighting for racial justice. He pointed to his six year tenure as a deputy to County Supervisor Yvonne Burke providing foundational experience on homeless and mental health issues. Ryu highlighted his work as a reformer in City Hall, noting that his early efforts went nowhere but he did not give up and now those ideas are being embraced by his colleagues on the city council. He added that he is also committed to real solutions for homeless and economic recovery that is neighborhood based.
“I am not done,” said Ryu. “In my next term, I will continue to build a recovery that seeks to return us not just to normal but return to better. I will continue to see a holistic response to homelessness that includes mental health, safe parking and a true FEMA-like response to homelessness, I will work for more housing that seeks to serves low and middle income Los Angelenos, not housing that lines the pockets of rich developers and work to end corruption and seek new levels of transparency and an independent inspector general’s office over City Hall.”
Both candidates touted their service on their local neighborhood councils. Raman said she served as co-chair of the Silver Lake neighborhood council’s homeless committee for three years, during which time, she said, they collaborated with other neighborhood councils to find a regional partnership response. She said they used neighborhood funds to support efforts for hygiene kit drives, volunteer drives and, most importantly, she said they educated people who volunteered about how to support the homeless residents. From those efforts, she co-founded the nonprofit SELAH.
At one point, Raman was asked to respond to a statement she reportedly made in another forum about neighborhood councils being “ineffective.” Raman responded that she did not say they were ineffective, but that neighborhood councils are encumbered by rules and bureaucratic process which make them limited and slow moving. Raman said she and her neighbors grew frustrated with the lack of response from the city, so she and her neighbors implemented some of their ideas and helped house some people.
Ryu pointed out that he s currently the only former member of a neighborhood council serving on the Los Angeles City Council. He also said that neighborhood councils only work if the council member works with them. He also said that he asked to chair the LA City Council’s committee that oversees the neighborhood councils, so he can improve the process for “more participation and engagement from the community.”
Next, the candidates were asked to speak to addressing racial inequities. Ryu said he was the first on the City Council to step up and advocate for transforming how police respond to calls, advocating for more funds for social welfare and mental health clinics.
Raman was critical of the city council for not commenting on racial violence. She called for a different kind of law enforcement response, asking “who wields the power, is it vested interests like the police union? I’m interested in looking at this and addressing it.”
Both candidates expressed support for Proposition 21, the ballot measure that would allow local governments to enact rent control on housing that was first occupied more than 15 years ago, with an exception for landlords who own no more than two homes with distinct titles or subdivided interests. Ryu said “we need to reverse Costa Hawkins (the state law that now prohibits local governments from enacting rent control). Prop 21 would allow us to expand rent control programs. But this just one piece of the puzzle. We need to change housing and planning law, that is currently giving away the farm to corporate development.”
According to Ryu, 80,000 housing units were built last year, but only 6 percent were for low income residents and only 1/2 percent (just under 400 units) were moderate income housing.
“We need more affordable and moderate housing not luxury housing,” said Ryu.
Raman said she also supports the passage of Prop 21, saying it’s a good measure and it will not impede new construction because it’s exempts new construction. But she pointed out that the city has always had the power to regulate rents in affordable units. According to Raman, more than 80 precent of apartment units in the city are covered by rent stabilization. She said the city should build more affordable units of all different types. And the city should legalize “first step housing,” which she described as dormitory housing, saying that existed historically as Single Room Occupancy hotels but now it is not legal to build them and that should be changed.
On the issue of working with City Council, Ryu said he originally ran for his first term as a progressive candidate advocating more transparency in City Hall. He said was the first to disclose developer donations, adding that reforms were that were considered impossible five years ago are now being judged by some people as not enough.
Raman described herself as coalition builder, saying this was the first time she put herself at the center of a campaign. She’s delighted to see the upsurge in interest in the race that her campaign has sparked, adding that it has already led to policy change in City Hall. Taking some credit for a recent change in the municipal code that regarding parking violations for homeless people living in their cars, Raman said “because of the attention, in part from my campaign, that law was changed.”
The two candidates clashed a bit over strategies for ending homelessness. Ryu said during his term, more than 300 units of bridge housing have been built, with another 300 coming soon. “We are on track to have the most housing in a council district,” said Ryu. “My goal is to end homelessness. My opponent doesn’t want to end homelessness.”
Raman, explaining a statement on the SELAH website, the organization she co-founded, said she does want to end homelessness.
“We started SELAH to have productive conversations about compassionate answer to issues around homelessness,” explained Raman.
Both candidates also support LA’s Green New Deal, and both advocated listening to the health department about re-opening the city following the stay at home orders to prevent the spread of COVID-19.
“It brings me ire and hurts my heart when I see people not following the rules,” said Ryu. “But we can’t legislate good behavior which is why have pushed the party house ordinance and will try to throw the book at those who violate the law.”
Raman was critical of re-opening indoor dining and bars, saying that was the reason for the spike in infections. She blamed elected leaders for that misstep, adding, “I spoke out at the time.”
Both candidates expressed concern about the impact of distance learning on students and were asked how they would plan to get children back into schools. Both candidates were concerned about the apparent disparities in education resources and both supported a plan for a measured, safe opening. Until then, both said they support the current efforts of the city to use public parks and libraries as spaces for students.
Near the end of the forum, Raman was asked about her use of a plastic door hanger bag for her campaign, given her stance on the environment. Raman said it was unfortunate, but necessary to make it safe for volunteers to get materials out. She added that she would support a ban on single use plastics.
On the final question, both candidates emphatically said they would accept the results of the election.
“Of course, I will,” said Raman. “I am 100% committed to the election process. I look forward to seeing more voters participating. My work doesn’t end with this race, actually this campaign is an extension of my activism and that will continue.”
“Yes, of course I will accept the results,” said Ryu. “I agree we need to make sure voting is as easy as possible and I am pleased that everyone will receive a vote by mail ballot which is why I pushed the Los Angeles County Registrar-Recorder/County Clerk to have additional drop off locations so we can make sure it is easy, safe and there are many options for voting.”
In closing, each candidate was given the opportunity make the case for their candidacy.
Raman shared that she, too, is an immigrant — her family moved to the U.S. when she was 6 years old. She said she became an urban planner because she believes that cities can work well to serve their communities and she wanted to make sure the city is working better. She said people have not participated much in local elections because “city officials haven’t gotten people engaged. We need to make sure we engage a wide range of people, system is broken, I stepped up to run, the results, of our governance. rising homeless, dirty air, push back against the special interests who have made the city the way it is.”
Ryu said he had a simple platform last time– to restore faith in city government.
“I am leading the charge for reform,” said Ryu, citing his push for an Inspector General to watch over the city council.
Ryu said it’s been a long five years, during which he’s worked hard to address homelessness, and advocate for re-investing in city infrastructure like adding staff back to Urban Forestry.
“It’s about showing up and doing the work, regardless of who is watching,” said Ryu. “I will continue to do what is right, whether it’s building homeless housing and fighting for transparency in city hall.”
Ryu said he was one of the first council members to refuse developer donations. He said he is glad to see that see more people have now joined the effort. He also cited his record of reaching out to the community for its support on local developments. And he cited his efforts to secure tests at the start of the pandemic, and listed the endorsements he’s received, including one from the Los Angeles Times, concluding that he’s earned a second term.
More candidate forums, for our various local races, are coming soon…and we urge you to tune in to hear from the candidates for yourself. The Los Angeles Conservancy will be interviewing each of the CD 4 candidates this Friday, October 2, 2020, with a focus on historic preservation matters. Ryu will be interviewed at 12:00 p.m., followed by Raman at 2:00 p.m. Later that day, from 6:00 p.m. – 7: 30 p.m., the League of Women Voters, along with four neighborhood councils, will host a forum moderated by KABC’s Adrienne Alpert. Both forums are open to the public.