The 15 politicians who sit on the Los Angeles City Council have plenty of reasons to stay put.
They receive a yearly salary of $189,041, up from $184,610 in 2014. They’re offered a city vehicle when they take office, and more for their staff. If they last in their post for a decade — 12 years is the maximum under term limits — they also can receive a healthy city pension.
Councilman Felipe Fuentes, 44, decided to walk away anyway, announcing Friday that he will not run for reelection next year — or any other office. That means he will conclude his career as a city elected official after a single four-year term, a move that’s astonishingly rare for City Hall.
Veteran legislative analyst Avak Keotahian looked through council records over several decades and could not find another example of an L.A. city lawmaker who walked away voluntarily after a single four-year term without seeking another office.
“Going back to the ’50s and ’60s, there’s nobody who did what this guy’s doing,” said Keotahian, who has been at City Hall since 1977. “They either died, were defeated or went on to some other office.”
Fuentes, who represents the northeast San Fernando Valley, said that after 16 years in government — working in public office or as a political aide — he wants something different. The Sylmar resident also said he’s not ready to make the same time commitment during a second term that he had in the first.
“I'm making a decision that my stewardship of 16 years is all I can do,” said Fuentes, who plans to step down when his term ends in June 2017.
Councilman Bob Blumenfield, who took office in 2013, the same year as Fuentes, said he was “shocked and bummed” by the news. Councilman Mike Bonin, also elected that year, said he felt “stunned and really, really disappointed.”
“I have always been really impressed with how remarkably bright and thoughtful he is, and how much he added to the conversation,” said Bonin, who represents coastal neighborhoods from Westchester north to Pacific Palisades.
Two people have already filed the initial paperwork to run for Fuentes' seat in March 2017: Tujunga bookkeeper Bonnie Corwin and Nancy Woodruff, who sits on the Foothill Trails District Neighborhood Council. Woodruff said she was not surprised by Fuentes’ announcement, noting he has been facing criticism from his constituents on homelessness, traffic and other issues.
“People were not happy with the responses they were getting,” the Sun Valley resident said.
Last fall, community activists also criticized Fuentes’ decision to push the Sunland-Tujunga Neighborhood Council out of a city-owned building where it had previously held its meetings. One neighborhood council leader said this week that Fuentes had “declared war” on them.
Fuentes, in turn, said the change would free up space for groups that address homelessness and other community issues. “I'm not going to be apologetic for bringing more services into the district,” he said.
Fuentes, elected in 2013, represents such neighborhoods as Pacoima, Lake View Terrace, Shadow Hills and Sunland-Tujunga. His decision comes during a period of churn in Valley politics — both in elections and in the criminal justice system.
Assemblyman Raul Bocanegra, a longtime Fuentes ally, lost his reelection bid in a major upset two years ago. Councilman Mitchell Englander, whose district borders Fuentes’, is running to replace departing L.A. County Supervisor Michael D. Antonovich.
An aide to U.S. Rep. Tony Cardenas, who also represents part of the Valley, disclosed last year that she had received a subpoena to appear before a federal grand jury. Months later, The Times reported that several aides to another Valley officeholder, Councilwoman Nury Martinez, also had received grand jury subpoenas.
Fuentes' district director, Yolanda Fuentes Miranda, went before the grand jury in December. The councilman declined to comment on Miranda, who is also his aunt, but said her appearance had nothing to do with his decision to leave after one term.
Fuentes got his political start in 1999, as an aide to then-Councilman Alex Padilla, now California's secretary of state. He worked as liaison to the Valley for Mayor James K. Hahn as city officials fought a Valley secession ballot measure. He spent nearly six years in the state Assembly before joining the council.
On Friday, Fuentes said he never accepted a city car and was never satisfied with the pace of government. Although he spoke broadly of his interest in utilities and public infrastructure, the councilman said he does not know what he will do next.
“I want to write a new chapter,” he said.
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