High-speed rail and bike lanes are just two of the many issues awaiting the attention of whoever voters elect in Tuesday’s runoff to represent a cluster of northeast San Fernando Valley communities on the Los Angeles City Council.
The district seat was left vacant when the area’s previous councilman, Felipe Fuentes, walked away from his post in September, 10 months before his term ends, to take a lobbying job in Sacramento.
Among the hot topics for the district is the looming proposal to lay down high-speed rail tracks through the district. The installation of bicycle lanes in Pacoima and Sunland have also elicited some strong reactions from residents and require the leadership of a City Council representative.
The election is also taking place after the majority of the City Council’s public discussion has already occurred around the mayor’s proposed budget, released in April, that allocates funding for city services for the upcoming fiscal year.
Karo Torossian, a planning director, and former Public Works Commissioner Monica Rodriguez are vying for the opportunity to represent the interests of residents in Pacoima, Sylmar, Lake View Terrace, Shadow Hills, Sunland-Tujunga, Mission Hills and North Hills.
Council President Herb Wesson has assumed the day-to-day running of the district, but without a local City Council representative, major decisions related to longer-term issues for the area such as transportation, development and public safety resources have been put on hold.
While on the campaign trail, the candidates have tapped into some residents’ impression that their City Council representatives tend not to last very long, with some leaving before the end of their terms or opting not to seek re-election.
“I think there is just a yearning in that district for some longer-term representation than they’ve gotten,” said Zev Yaroslavksy, who represented some of the same northeast Valley communities while on the Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors.
Yaroslavsky now teaches Los Angeles history at UCLA and leads the Los Angeles Initiative at the university’s Luskin School of Public Affairs.
“When people aren’t around for a long time, there isn’t a lot of long-term thinking,” he said. “Right or wrong, in politics you try do things you can cut the ribbon on while you’re still in office.”
Yaroslavsky, who spent nearly two decades on the City Council before embarking on another 20 years on the Board of Supervisors, said the idea behind extending City Council members’ possible tenure from eight to 12 years was to create more stability and allow them to carry out more ambitious plans for their respective districts.
Yaroslavsky has not endorsed a candidate in the race but said he hopes and believes whoever is elected as the next council member will have more staying power. He added he thinks the race is “competitive” and that both Rodriguez and Torossian are “credible candidates running, who have a track record.”
Another potentially consequential City Council race is the battle for the District 1 seat, which represents communities stretching from northeast Los Angeles, such as Echo Park, to Westlake and Koreatown.
The incumbent, Gil Cedillo, surprised many during the March primary when he failed to clinch an outright win and was forced into a runoff by political newcomer and bicycling activist Joe Bray-Ali.
Since his wobbly finish in the primary, Cedillo’s fortunes have appeared to turn with Bray-Ali’s momentum cut off by revelations that the former bike-shop owner made derogatory online comments about transgender and overweight people and participated in racist comment threads on an internet discussion board.
As the result of the unearthed comments, some of which were made only a year ago, Bray-Ali lost the few endorsements he garnered from the political establishment, including the support of Councilman Mitch O’Farrell.
Despite calls for him to step down, Bray-Ali has forged on with his campaign, saying he has apologized for his online remarks. He has also attempted to steer attention back to his plans for the district, which includes creating more affordable housing, keeping the streets clean and vowing to be more responsive to residents’ concerns.
Fighting to keep his seat, Cedillo has touted his long record on immigration issues, as well as his first City Council term track record. In a recent mailer, he pointed to his work creating and preserving affordable housing in neighborhoods such as Westlake, Pico-Union, University Park and Cypress Park. He also listed his office’s work cleaning up trash in Highland Park alleys, repairing of sidewalks on Sunset Boulevard in Elysian Park, and renovating a Chinatown recreation center.
Voters in the San Fernando Valley will also be deciding a couple of school board seats.
An election issue that could affect Angelenos citywide is Charter Amendment C, which would set up an alternative disciplinary process for police officers who have been accused of misconduct. Officers now go before a discipinary board consisting of two police command staff and one civilian member. The measure would set up an alternate board consisting of only civilian members.
The measure is being pushed by the Los Angeles Police Protective League, the labor union for rank-and-file officers, with union officials saying it is an attempt to remove department politics from the process.
The Los Angeles chapter of Black Lives Matter and the American Civil Liberties Union of Southern California are waging a campaign against the measure, pointing to studies that find civilians tend to be more lax in disciplining officers than LAPD command staff.