The Council District 4 Players Guide
A message from James O’Sullivan, MMRA President
Abbott: Strange as it may seem, ballplayers nowadays have very peculiar names.
Costello: Funny names?
Abbott: Nicknames, nicknames. Now, on the St. Louis team we have Who’s on first, What’s on second, I Don’t Know is on third.
Costello: That’s what I want to find out. I want you to tell me the names of the fellows on the St. Louis team.
Abbott: I’m telling you. Who’s on first, What’s on second, I Don’t Know is on third…
Don’t look now but we are less than two months away from electing a new Councilmember for Council District 4, which includes the Miracle Mile. Do you have any idea who you will vote for? How many of you reading this right now can name more than a couple of the 14 certified candidates? To be honest with you, having followed this stuff closely, even I am challenged to name more than a handful. That should change soon as yard signs start popping up and our mailboxes are stuffed with campaign flyers.
Conventional wisdom has it that none of these candidates for CD 4 will win a majority of votes in the March 3rd primary – resetting the clock for a May 19th runoff between the top two contenders, but I’m not sure about that. Several candidates have already raised some serious money and more will be collected before the primary ends. City matching funds will add $50,000 to $100,000 to each candidate that qualifies, but someone could decide to self-finance – which would blow the lid off and throw conventional wisdom out the window.
Trying to find the best candidate by reading their comments and pledges in newspapers (the few statements that can be found) hasn’t been very helpful so far. Even a search for their positions on their websites (which many don’t have yet) is an exercise in frustration. Candidates know that the average person wants their streets and sidewalks fixed, their trees trimmed, and adequate police and fire protection, so they promise to deliver those things. The obvious, boilerplate promises; there’s nothing new here.
The problem is that most of their promises – boilerplate or otherwise – are beyond their ability to deliver. Most of the things being promised – protecting neighborhoods; alleviating traffic congestion; solving pension and healthcare issues; bringing film and TV production back to L.A.; adding more bike lanes; and a whole laundry list of other items – require the approval of 14 other council members to get done.
Once elected, our new councilmember will be introduced to the odd and uniquely L.A. political process that delivers unanimous council votes almost 100% of the time. Individuality is not encouraged on the City Council. It’s a go-along-to-get-along sort of place. But each Councilmember does wield considerable control over their district and related funds. This is where real issues arise and hard questions need to be asked.
Recently, a hubbub arose when the LA Times reported that Councilman Tom LaBonge was sponsoring an 80th birthday party for Elvis Presley at the Avalon Theater in Hollywood. Unsubstantiated rumors quickly went viral about funding attached to this sponsorship, prompting many to wonder if those funds couldn’t be put to better use – like repairing a root-damaged sidewalk?
My interest in this issue led me to do a search of funds controlled by CD 4. That search yielded results that were as clear as mud.
A question I would like each CD 4 candidate to answer is this: Will you frequently post online simple-to-read reports detailing where the money under your control comes from, where it is goes, and who it benefits?
Many hundreds-of-thousands of dollars are transferred into – and out of – these funds to pay for a variety of things and I can’t figure out what the hell is going on. Many of the expenditures may well be for things that really benefit the community, but it would be nice to know that with some certainty.
The well-worn issue of accepting campaign contributions from real estate developers recently took a turn toward the ludicrous with the candidates parsing which are the good developers (the small ones) and which are the bad developers (the large ones) – as if virtue could be measured by square footage. One candidate even made the classic error in a debate by saying he would never take money from a developer…after he already had. Of course, he then returned the contribution post haste.
While campaign contributions are not a big issue for me, I understand why many voters are concerned. For years we have watched money from developers flood political races while noticing that the doors to City Hall are held wide open to every real estate project that crosses the threshold. Conversely, many residents who feel that their neighborhoods are under siege find the welcome mat is not rolled out for them.
It would help ease the perception of impropriety between political contributions and project approvals if the playing field were leveled. One key means to achieve this would be for each candidate to pledge complete transparency. If elected they would:
- Immediately disclose whenever their office is approached about a development project in CD 4, whether by the developer or any person or group representing the developer. This information should be posted on the council website and the Neighborhood Councils and homeowners/residential groups should be promptly notified about the project, from its conception.
- Disclose any follow up meetings with the Councilmember or staff regarding the project. All too often projects gallop out of the starting gate without the community’s knowledge.
And speaking of knowledge as power:
- Advocacy groups are constantly meeting with the Planning Department and LADOT on issues – from bike lanes to rewriting the zoning code – and the public is left out in the cold. Any changes contemplated in CD 4 should be clearly and concisely posted on the Council website. There should be full disclosure in real time so that everyone is informed.
Would a CD 4 candidate who agreed to do all of the above get my vote? Yes, if they also agreed to:
- Faithfully follow the policies for decision makers as outlined in each Community Plan in CD 4, as well as in the Framework Element.
- Require the City to officially document and demonstrate that the infrastructure in the area of the contemplated project is not threatened in relation to user needs. This would include particularly critical services, such as water and sewerage, as well as public schools, police and fire services, and transportation infrastructure.