Yesterday, we had a chance to speak with outgoing City Council Member David Ryu, asking him a range of questions about his term in office and the transition to a new Council Member.
Overall, we were struck by Ryu’s upbeat attitude, his commitment to spending his final days in office taking care of his 25 staff members, and his similar commitment to providing a smooth transition for Council Member-Elect Nithya Raman.
Losing a hard-fought campaign isn’t easy, and Ryu said this race was particularly challenging because of the alignment with the 2020 Presidential election, which nearly tripled voter turnout and brought in many voters who knew very little about the local races. The Council Member’s remarks were candid and practical, and his commitment to assisting his former opponent is a sharp contrast to what we have seen play out on the national political scene, as well as something he didn’t enjoy from his predecessor Councilmember Tom LaBonge. (As a newcomer, Ryu replaced longtime City Hall veteran La Bonge, who served four terms representing CD4, and ten years prior to that as Chief of Staff for previous Council Council Member John Ferraro. Now Ryu is being replaced by another newcomer.)
When Ryu took office, the neighborhood issues he faced were vastly different. Homelessness was not raging out of control and corruption at City Hall was present, but in the background. Now both are at the forefront. The low-hanging fruits of repairing concrete streets and protecting our urban tree canopy are gone. Ryu said he appreciates how people gave him a chance to earn their trust and friendship, and he said he will miss the collaboration and sense of satisfaction that comes from working together as a neighborhood to solve problems. He also said he hopes that willingness to work together would be extended to his successor.
Below is a summary of Ryu’s more detailed responsed to our questions.
How are you spending your last couple of weeks in office?
Ryu said his “number one priority” right now has been “getting all my staff placed” in new jobs or other opportunities, such as law school or grad school. About a third of the staff, he said, would ultimately like to remain in city government, another third would like to move into some other kind of public service, and the remaining third would eventually like to move on to other levels of government.
Next, Ryu said, his number two priority has been helping to create a smooth transition for incoming Council Member Nithya Raman. That’s something he felt was missing when he took office five years ago, so he’s “making a point of being as supportive as possible” for his successor. Ryu said he wants to make sure the new council member is well briefed on all the various issues his office has been working on, so she can “hit the ground running.”
“We are going through the most difficult times as a city and as a nation,” Ryu said, so we all need to work together as much as possible to ensure our collective success. “It’s all hands on deck. It takes all of us,” and the tough issues we’re facing right now “aren’t going to solve themselves” unless we all come together to make it happen.
And finally, Ryu said, his third priority for this winding down period has simply been “closing up shop,” and getting ready to move out of the office, a process that is much like any other hectic moving day, with lots of boxes and confusion.
What’s next for you, both short and long term?
Ryu said he owes much to his wife, Regina, who has had to put much of her life on hold since their October 2019 marriage. He said they have delayed both a honeymoon and starting a family, in deference to his work schedule, so “her time is now.”
Ryu said he would also like to take some time off for a while, but that, in the longer term, whatever comes next, he wants to stay involved with the community in some way. “This is my city. This is my neighborhood…and I don’t plan on stopping now.”
Also, Ryu said that since the election, he has received a huge outpouring of support from constituents and friends in the community, but he’s been so busy in the last few weeks he hasn’t had a chance to reach out in return with his thanks…something he plans to spend the next 3-6 months rectifying.
What are you most proud of in your five years in office?
Among specific accomplishments, Ryu said he is very proud of his success at launching savings accounts for LAUSD students, getting the Paid Parental Leave Ordinance passed, and creating new housing for the homeless in CD4.
More generally, however, Ryu said he feels his biggest accomplishment has been “building the team” that has supported him during his years in office. Nothing’s perfect, he said, but his goal has always been to “create a positive, healthy environment where change is possible,” and he feels that he was able to put together a staff that not only shared similar values and work ethics, but which was able to create the kind of camaraderie and fellowship from which great ideas grew. In fact, he said, many of the “most cherished” projects his office worked on – such as the student savings accounts – came from ideas generated by his staff and others he worked with in the community.
What issues are still unfinished?
Ryu said the two biggest unfinished issues, for him, are homelessness and his fight against corruption in city government. Noting that these were two of his biggest campaign issues when he first ran for office in 2015, he said, “Everything comes full circle.”
That said, however, Ryu also said he believes that much progress has been made in the last five years, and that we are now “so close” to turning the corner on homelessness, and achieving things like a comprehensive system of care and a “FEMA-like” emergency response to people living on the streets (something that the COVID-19 pandemic has finally shown we can do). Ryu said he believes we are now “on the pivotal edge” of major improvements in this area, with a new city supervisor, Holly Mitchell, eager to jump into the issue, and public interest in the topic at an all-time high. For example, Ryu said that as recently as a few years ago, all the different services needed to address issues related to homelessness were in their own individual “silos,” with no coordinated entry system…but now we have learned that no one person or organization can solve the problem, and people and city agencies are finally working together in the way we need.
And Ryu said the same thing is happening on his anti-corruption efforts, which have gained a lot of traction in the last year and a half. In general, he said, fixing corruption in city government is not just a matter of banning developer contributions (although that’s important), but also fixing the system, which we will now have opportunities to do, especially with a new redistricting process coming soon.
What about a more local issue – the Larchmont playground proposal?
Ryu confirmed that the playground proposed in 2018 is not going to be built, but he noted that the city money that would have at least partially funded the project comes from Quimby funds (money developers pay into a fund for new green spaces), so it will still available to the area when the current pandemic subsides and we’re ready to think about such things again.
Ryu said that, ironically, what many people objected to in the original proposal was the loss of six parking spaces in the Larchmont Blvd. parking lot…but many people also felt it might be a good idea to someday create a larger park in the space, which would require an even bigger re-configuration of parking patterns. Of course, though, Ryu said any further discussions on this topic will have to be had with Council Member Raman and her staff, who will have their own take on the matter.
What will you miss most about your time in office?
Ryu said his favorite thing during his time in office was “delivering” for constituents, for CD4, and for the city. For example, he said his efforts to finally get concrete streets repaired, and to create a model for that process within the city, was a “delight,” as was his work on improving the urban tree canopy. He said he also enjoyed ribbon-cutting ceremonies for new homeless housing, at which he saw people who had initially been opposed to the projects in attendance and applauding when they were complete. “As an elected official, your job is to lead the way,” he said. “And when it does come together is the most gratifying feeling.”
What do you think were the deciding factors in this year’s election?
Ryu said analysis is still happening, but one huge factor was simply the number of people voting this year. The first time he ran for office, in 2015, Ryu said voter turnout was up about 25% from the previous election cycle…but even so, only about 12% of registered voters turned out. But this year, he said, the first time that city council elections were timed to coincide with the presidential election, the turnout in CD4 was about 73% of registered voters. And that means many voters were not all that familiar with local politics, local candidates, or the nuances of the issues involved…which further indicates they voted on the basis of a name, a social media tweet, or something they received in the mail. And that was “unfortunate,” Ryu said.
Also, Ryu noted that with such heavy turnout, voter education becomes especially important, and so does funding for that effort. And the fact that future elections will be held on the same schedule means that campaign finance reform will become even more important in coming years, so that all candidates have a “level playing field” financially.
Finally, in addition to the election timing, Ryu said the other big factor in this year’s election was that it was definitely a “referendum on change.” Many voters in our area, he said, were very motivated by anger at Donald Trump, which carried over into a more general impulse to vote out other incumbents.
Do you think you’ll ever run for elected office again?
Ryu didn’t answer definitively one way or the other, but he reflected that there’s a big difference in his own life since he first chose to run in 2015. At that time, he said, he was single and only had to answer to himself. But now that he’s married, and hoping to have children, it’s a much more complex decision. Ryu said that if you’re going to run for office, you have to know why you’re running, and what your goal is. And you also have to think about whether or not running for office is the best way to achieve that goal, because “as difficult as it is to run for office, it’s even more difficult on your family…they’re just along for the ride; they didn’t choose this.” Ryu said he owes it to his wife to involve her in any such decisions in the future, and the answer will very much depend on her. “Politics is in my blood,” he said, “But right now I’m not interested.”
Any parting thoughts or messages for our Larchmont Buzz-area readers?
Ryu said he is very grateful and very thankful to Hancock Park, Windsor Square, Miracle Mile and our other local neighborhoods because they’re the “historical base of CD4,” going back to when longtime council member John Ferraro lived here. Also, said Ryu, “it’s where I got my start as well,” noting that he grew up here and attended junior high school at what is now John Burroughs Middle School. “It’s the heart of the district, which I know the most,” he said.
Finally, Ryu said he is very thankful for the friendship, support and collaboration he’s experienced from this part of the district, and that together, we’ve “been able to do things that the naysayers said couldn’t be done…But there’s no question now that you can listen to the community and you can respond to the community.” And there are, he said, many long-delayed breakfasts, lunches and birthday wishes he hopes to make up with neighbors in the coming months.