Five District 11 candidates for Los Angeles City Councilman Bill Rosendahl's seat exchanged words over crime, traffic congestion, city pensions and other issues at a city elections forum on Feb. 7 at University Synagogue in Brentwood.
The gathering of more than 150 residents eager to see those vying to succeed Rosendahl was the first of three slated District 11 candidate forums before the March 5 Los Angeles primary election.
Hosted by Brentwood News Publisher Jeff Hall and the Westside Regional Alliance of Councils, the forum featured candidates Mike Bonin, Tina Hess, Fred Sutton, Odysseus Bostick and newcomer write-in candidate Brian Selem of Mar Vista as they fielded questions from Hall, the audience and each other.
"I enjoyed it," said Jerry Adomian of Brentwood, who came with his wife, Susan. "I'm glad we came to hear the voices and to see the body language answering some of the questions."
"This affects us all more directly than the city and federal government," added Susan Adomian. She felt Bonin and Hess stood out since they have more experience working in L.A. city government than some of the others.
Mar Vista resident Heidi Perrone said she felt the forum changed "a lot of minds" about the candidates. She added she was impressed with Selem.
"In the end, I felt he felt had a strong voice from the outside-in," she said.
The candidates spoke about their different personal and professional experiences leading to their runs for City Council. They all generally agreed with a revamping of the city's long-term financial planning, continued efforts to reduce crime in the district, improving fire and paramedic response times, reducing traffic congestion and remaining open to any effective ways to improve current public transportation projects.
Bostick, Hess and Selem criticized Rosendahl's office, singling out Bonin, the councilman's chief of staff, for past communication issues.
Here are highlights from the forum's questions and answers condensed by Patch:
Q. What future do you envision for Los Angeles?
Hess: I'm prepared to take on the challenges of L.A. in the 21st century, and bringing in leaders from city government and leaders form our universities to deal with the issues on a daily basis. I think we need to build up the local infrastructure to met the expansions of the light rail plans. We need to bring in the best to build up the long-term and short-term strategies for the city of L.A.
Bonin: I believe in a city of neighborhoods. L.A. attracted me with how you can reach and taste the future. We have a diverse population here with economics. Brentwood and Westchester are as different as Echo Park and San Pedro. This is a city where every neighborhood is different with its own neighborhood and identity. I see a district here stretching from up here down to Westchester where a new industry is being born — Silicon Beach — an economic boom I hope leads up through [the] next century. Property crimes are going up here. [The] 911 response times are unacceptable. I envision a district for outside-the-box thinking.
Sutton: Part of the reason I chose to run is I think we need to [have] a voice for the long-term planning. I envision an L.A. growing again. Unemployment here [is] above the national average. We have a 70-year backlog in sidewalk repair. My campaign slogan is back to basics. Our infrastructure is a reflection of us as a community. I've lived here my entire life. L.A. is very reactionary about how they approach issues. We need to get back to planning for the future and update community plans and environmental comprehensive plans. We need to have a financial plan so we’re not getting ourselves into the messes we've created for ourselves. I've spent my 20's in this recession and I'm very aware of the issues growing to face L.A.
Bostick: It's my home – CD11. In 2008, when [the] recession struck, I was one of the 6,000 teachers let go. I found a new home in the Palisades and Brentwood. I tutored trying to get another job. My perseverance paid off. I got to know the true nature of how things have paid off. While our government is built locally with the same secret, opaque government that's driven L.A. into the ground, our communities are thriving. That's what’s compelled me to run, because I have family here. I want time to spend our money better and politics less.
Selem: My main focus for running is crime. We've had a lack of urgency on the number of officers out there, and [for] emergency services, fire department and paramedics. One of my first core jobs is to repair that. That's something that needs to be done right away. With my first recent interactions with the community, there are lots of car break ins. When reaching out to our police, the Pacific Division, they are so understaffed with two- and three-car patrols. It's completely inadequate.
Q. What are you guys going to do about traffic?
Selem: We need to have a more intensive look in [the] city, with its [transportation] plan. A lot of the changes will come with being more productive and it will give us more of the money we need out there.
Bostick: Traffic on the Westside is a problem because of government. We lack a fully integrated transportation system, which we’re on the way to building, in building the Expo [Rail Line] and [the] "subway to the sea"… and it’s also connecting the Valley to the South Bay. You have to integrate the transportation system so that it’s easy for a person to go to a bus, to a train. A lot of traffic is rooted in the problem of service employees coming into the Westside in [the] morning and leaving at night. We need to increase affordable housing and modestly increase in density connected to rail. This impacts people leaving our area in the day.
Sutton: [I'm for] the long term and short term. I sat down [with] an executive planner with Metro last month. They have plans ... looking at the bottleneck in the Sepulveda Pass ... [It is] one thing Metro has done phenomenally. It comes down to funding. We missed an opportunity with Measure J last November. It failed because of terrible taxes like Measure A along with it. It’s up to the Los Angeles City Council to stand up and fight for those great investments and fight against the half-cent sales tax.
Bonin: Yes, we need to do [the] long term and the short term. It’s not always government's thing, I can concede. Expo will get to Santa Monica by 2015. We’ll get the Green Line to LAX and the Crenshaw Line into LAX. And the long term is get a transit line form LAX to the Valley. Widening the 405 is a profoundly stupid project. You expand capacity and you expand use. At same time as we do [a] rail line, we need to integrate bus lines, Metro, [Santa Monica] Big Blue Bus and Culver City Bus, like veins and arteries into the Expo. And build out bike lanes.
Hess: [I'm for] the long and short term. We need some relief locally [and] partner with Santa Monica, Beverly Hills and Culver City. We need to reduce congestion around our commercial corridors — in Brentwood, along Venice Beach and [along] Abbot Kinney. More parking lots are needed in commercial corridors. The Brentwood [Village] Chamber told me they don’t get a lot of business after 2 p.m. to 3 p.m. [each] day because traffic is so bad.
Q. How would you cut the budget?
Bostick: We need budget reform and pension reform. They haven’t reconciled their books in five years at one Parks and Recreation site. We need to enact performance-based budgeting, which attaches goals to dollars spent, attached to quality of life improvements. Today, $1 of every $5 goes to pensions. Cap city contribution and increase employer contributions. We need a fresh slate.
Sutton: There’s a billion dollar deficit over the next four years. What's the City Council been doing until now? The City Council transferred $200 million out of the general fund to the reserve fund. I'm all for putting more to the parking revenue fund and the water main replacement fund. I'm in a union and I understand union and non-union work. Healthcare employees pay less on their premium, which is still generous next to the private sector. For the pension system, we should go forward with two different types of plans - a modified plan and a 401(k)-style plan - accompanied by actuarial studies, and review them comprehensively. That’s where you need to begin.
Selem: A lot of it, too, stems form policies that are ideologically-driven, trying to help different people in [the] community, but, in essence, do not help them. We are suffering from property loss value. As markets improve, we should improve, but we should become more friendly. A lot of mom and pop [shop] owners are stricken by rent control. Duplexes, triplexes and quadplexes…got foreclosed on. It hurt our economy and hurt our jobs. Mr. Bonin put property owners on rent control. We chase businesses away to our outlying cities because our policies are out against them. I think we can make a big effect to get out on top of our budget.
Bonin: Here are some facts and stats. The city administrative officer released a note today. We have reduced city workforce by 5,300 people. We are now at the smallest since Tom Bradley was in office. We have also put $80 million into budget stabilization funds, since 70 percent of the budget goes to public safety, and then only $350 million is discretionary to play with or cut. Is it pro-tax, anti-tax, pro- or anti-union? Sometimes we just need some fresh ideas. As an example, my doctor uses an iPad. He’s already sent my prescription to CVS by time I get to [the] car. I want cops to have iPads to send in reports on the road. Not being stuck in stations when they could be patrolling our streets.
Hess: We’ve gotta do something with the budget. Reform pensions. We need to figure how to generate revenue better than we do. We need increased pension and healthcare contributions. It’s difficult to sit here and believe [some candidates], who are accepting significant money from unions, would be willing to accept those concessions. Identifying inefficiencies, the Commission on Revenue Efficiency has found throughout the city, as has [Wendy] Greuel and the previous controller. Unfortunately, the Los Angeles City Council isn't mandated to implement those recommendations. We need a subcommittee to implement the revenue-saving recommendations.
Q. Where do you stand on the Munger project/Barry building on San Vicente? Charlie Munger wants to tear down the building and build retail a building. Preservationists want to keep it.
Bostick: I don’t support it. We don’t have the infrastructure here to have that project. It took 25 minutes to move a block [in traffic]. I would be hard pressed. It’s fracturing the community.
Sutton: I met with architect of this project. It’s coming in at 70 percent of what they’re allowed to do. It looks like they’re trying to have coffee shops.
Hess: Whatever is approved and coniditons for this area needs to be seen through, with travel mitigation and the number of parking spaces.
Bonin: Some folks in the Saltair area share concerns about traffic impacts. I would like to see when Charlie comes back and takes project off shelf and comes up with a smaller project. A smaller retail not regional retail, just to serve the neighborhood there.
Selem: This project is outside my window where I work. I am for it, we need to stop being against business and development, of course being in compliance with parking. We have to be much more proactive. It’s gonna make things grow. We need that balance. When you come to ideological stance, there’s gonna be one side to hurt people. It needs balance.