Huizar, Molina differ sharply on development in acrimonious debate

L.A. Councilman Jose Huizar and former Supervisor Gloria Molina take jabs at each other in acrimonious debate

Los Angeles City Councilman Jose Huizar and former county Supervisor Gloria Molina took jabs at each other Wednesday night during an acrimonious debate that contrasted the candidates' views on transportation and downtown development.

Appearing at the historic Los Angeles Theater, Molina and Huizar — running for an Eastside council seat in the March 3 election — offered sharply different visions for the district, which stretches from downtown to Eagle Rock.

Huizar, seeking his third term, emphasized his work implementing "road diets," reducing the number of car lanes on major streets and allocating more space for bicyclists and pedestrians. He criticized Molina for pushing to complete the extension of the 710 Freeway from El Sereno to Pasadena, calling it billions of dollars of "boondoggle." Money for the 710 should be redirected toward expanding the region's light-rail network, he argued.

"In planning, the first principle they teach you is, if you have a congested road, you don't build another congested road," Huizar said.

Molina sent The Times a statement hours later saying that because of the high cost, she no longer sees completion of the 710 Freeway as a "feasible solution to our transportation needs." The statement represents a change from last year, when she co-wrote an opinion piece calling for the freeway tunnel to be built.

During the event, the former supervisor criticized Huizar on bike lanes, saying he had many installed without adequately consulting the community.

Molina also asserted that downtown development is occurring without sufficient attention being paid to traffic. Downtown's Arts District, she added, has been enjoying "organic growth" but is now threatened with out-of-scale construction. "You have developers going in there and changing the character of those communities. We need to get control of it," she said.

A third opponent, social worker Nadine Momoyo Diaz, mostly stayed above the fray.

Wednesday's debate, sponsored by UCLA Government and Community Relations, the Arroyo Seco Neighborhood Council and the Downtown Los Angeles Neighborhood Council, reflected a larger conversation taking place across L.A. as officials attempt to build denser housing and reduce residents' dependence on cars.

Supporters of bicycle lanes and pedestrian improvements have largely rallied around Huizar. Molina has received backing from, among others, Councilman Gil Cedillo, who has tangled with cycling activists.

Molina largely emphasized the automobile during the debate, calling for the city to add new public parking lots throughout the district. She said it was "regrettable" that development is replacing so many downtown parking lots, asking the audience: "Where are we all going to park?"

Huizar stressed his efforts to install bike racks on sidewalks and convert tiny stretches of street into "parklets" — low-budget outdoor areas with benches and other amenities. He said routes for the council district's DASH buses need to be reworked to reflect new development patterns. And he pointed to York Boulevard in Highland Park, now dotted with upscale restaurants and boutiques, as one example of his work in remaking major boulevards.

"It is the model for how ... you revitalize corridors across the country," he said.

Diaz tried to position herself as an alternative to the two longtime politicians. She spoke of her work advocating for new sidewalks in Boyle Heights and said the city needs to update its planning rules for the district.

Many in the district, Diaz said, are worried about getting pushed out as higher-income residents move in. "It's very important to me ... that no one is left out," she said.

Most of the fireworks involved Huizar and Molina.

Molina said downtown has "too much density" and asserted that city leaders are approving thousands of housing units without planning for additional public services, such as schools and police patrols. "You're so busy working with developers and talking about density that you forget about the basic issues," she told Huizar.

Huizar said he was "stunned and surprised" by Molina's statement, telling her she had "a fundamental misunderstanding of what's going on in downtown L.A."

"We have enormous opportunity to create more jobs [and] build that downtown we've always wanted," he said. "Every great city needs a great downtown."

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