LOCAL L.A. Now

Against backdrop of voter discontent, two L.A. City Hall insiders seek 7th District council seat in San Fernando Valley

Los Angeles City Councilman Felipe Fuentes’ abrupt resignation last year left his northeast San Fernando Valley District 7 without elected representation.

For some residents, Fuentes’ departure was the latest slight by City Hall.

A mural in the Fox and Laurel Park in Pacoima, which is part of the 7th Council District. A runoff election this month will decide who will fill the seat vacated last year by Councilman Felipe Fuentes.
A mural in the Fox and Laurel Park in Pacoima, which is part of the 7th Council District. A runoff election this month will decide who will fill the seat vacated last year by Councilman Felipe Fuentes. (Mel Melcon / Los Angeles Times)

In Pacoima, locals say illegal dumping is rampant, and the city has failed to control it. In Sunland, ranchers want political leaders to join them in fighting the planned bullet train.

And in Sylmar, 20-somethings question why city leaders haven’t helped bring in new restaurants and bars — the type of nightlife options that have opened up in North Hollywood and Studio City.

Against a backdrop of voter discontent looms the May 16 election, when voters will choose between two longtime City Hall insiders: Monica Rodriguez and Karo Torossian.

The election is a referendum on who can bring “political muscle” to the district and give residents a voice at City Hall, said Raphael Sonenshein, executive director of the Pat Brown Institute for Public Affairs at Cal State Los Angeles.

“Residents feel ignored, and it’s hard to argue that they don’t have a case,” Sonenshein said. “These are people who really don’t feel represented.”


Who are the two candidates?

Monica Rodriguez speaks at a candidate forum in February at All Nations Church in Lake View Terrace.
Monica Rodriguez speaks at a candidate forum in February at All Nations Church in Lake View Terrace. (Katie Falkenberg / Los Angeles Times)
Karo Torossian meets with District 7 residents last week at a coffee shop in Sylmar.
Karo Torossian meets with District 7 residents last week at a coffee shop in Sylmar. (Gina Ferazzi / Los Angeles Times)

Monica Rodriguez

  • Mission Hills resident
  • Former Los Angeles Board of Public Works Commissioner, appointed by Mayor Eric Garcetti
  • Worked for Mayor Richard Riordan and Councilmen Richard Alarcon and Mike Hernandez.
  • Private sector experience includes 10 years at the California Assn. of Realtors

Karo Torossian

  • Tujunga resident
  • Planning and environment deputy for City Councilman Paul Krekorian
  • Worked for then-Assemblyman Krekorian as a field deputy
  • Worked as community organizer
  • Private sector experience includes working as an electrician

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Where they stand:

Homelessness

Rodriguez

  • Wants to crack down on drug dealing near Tujunga Wash, site of homeless encampments.
  • Would put more money toward cleaning and police enforcement of encampments.

Torossian

  • Wants to create an ID card system for homeless people. The documentation would show individuals are regularly utilizing social services so police know they’re getting help.
  • Help formerly homeless individuals get city jobs

Crime

Rodriguez

  • After a recent rash of store break-ins in Sylmar, would create a neighborhood business watch.
  • Reallocate existing resources so officers aren’t doing desk jobs, and hire more officers.

Torossian

  • Wants to hire more civilian employees in Police Department such as police photographers, to free up officers.
  • Create city-run program for youths to help them learn life skills.
California's high-speed rail project, which would send bullet trains through the east San Fernando Valley, has been controversial in Council District 7. Above, a full-size mockup of a bullet train.
California's high-speed rail project, which would send bullet trains through the east San Fernando Valley, has been controversial in Council District 7. Above, a full-size mockup of a bullet train. (Rich Pedroncelli / Associated Press)

Bullet train

Rodriguez

  • Supports bullet train, but wants route from Central California to end in Palmdale, rather than go through District 7. The train would then connect from Palmdale to downtown L.A. through existing Metrolink track.

Torossian

  • Opposes bullet train.
  • Wants to spend money allocated for train on local transportation projects.

Economic growth

Rodriguez

  • Points to her work helping create the Small Business Academy while on the Board of Public Works.
  • Would encourage small businesses to apply for contracts with the city to compete for new infrastructure projects, including the sidewalk repair program.

Torossian

  • Points to his work helping restaurants open in Studio City.
  • Create a business “concierge desk” in his council office, dedicating one staffer to attract new businesses and retain existing ones.

Fire response times

Rodriguez

  • Would ensure that fire stations in district are fully staffed to improve response times.
  • Would push to open a fire station in Sylmar.

Torossian

  • Would require all new developments’ environmental reviews to detail fire response times. If the times are significantly longer than the national average of 4 minutes, the developer would have to take steps to improve them, by building new access roads, for example.
  • Would push to open a fire station in Sylmar.

Rodriguez, 43, and Torossian, 33, advanced to the runoff after the March primary, which drew 20 candidates.

Both have advantages as they campaign in the final days of the race.

The majority of the primary candidates are backing Torossian, while Mayor Eric Garcetti has endorsed Rodriguez and is raising funds for her.

His longtime political advisor Rick Jacobs and his chief of staff Ana Guerrero are also both raising funds for Rodriguez, Garcetti spokesman Yusef Robb confirmed.

An outside group led by Service Employees International Union Local 99, which represents bus drivers, childcare aides and other workers, has raised more than $500,000 to help Rodriguez and Los Angeles Board of Education candidate Imelda Padilla in the runoff.

Unions are also aiding Torossian, having raised about $90,000 through an outside group.

Save Angeles Forest for Everyone, a 45-member group of community members in neighborhoods including Shadow Hills, is backing Torossian.

With the high-speed rail route near Los Angeles still being debated, the Angeles forest group has expressed concern about the displacement of business and homes if the train goes through the San Fernando Valley.

Group member David DePinto cited Torossian’s work at City Hall on fighting a planned above-ground train route.

“He’s been immersed in this issue,” DePinto said. “We liked his mastery of land use and the environment.”

Jose Sandoval, president of the Latino Democrats of the San Fernando Valley, says voters should back Rodriguez because she grew up in the district and is endorsed by Garcetti.

Torossian moved into the area last year from a neighboring San Fernando Valley district.

“The benefit for us is to have a connection to City Hall,” Sandoval said of Rodriguez’s experience as a Board of Public Works commissioner. “She can pick up the phone and make something happen.”

Hansen Hills resident Connie Saunders, who ran in the primary, believes the race will be decided by the candidates’ positions on homelessness, crime and high-speed rail.

She described a feeling of “dismay” in the district after Fuentes’ decision to step down to take a lobbying job.

“Voters feel let down,” said Saunders, who doesn’t plan to vote for either candidate. “Residents want someone who will listen.”

dakota.smith@latimes.com

Twitter: @dakotacdsmith

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