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Huizar, Molina tussle over transportation and planning

Huizar, Molina and Diaz tangle over transportation, development during downtown candidate debate

Los Angeles City Councilman Jose Huizar and former County Supervisor Gloria Molina took jabs at each other Wednesday night during an acrimonious three-way debate focused heavily on transportation and growth.

Seated onstage at downtown's 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. A third opponent, Nadine Momoyo Diaz, stayed mostly above the fray.

Huizar, seeking his third and final term, boasted of 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." And he argued that money set aside for the 710 should go instead toward expanding the region's light rail network.

"In planning, the first principle they teach you is, if you have a congested road, you don't build another congested road. It's going to be just as congested," said Huizar, who lives in Boyle Heights.

Hours after the debate, Molina sent The Times a statement saying she no longer views the 710 as a "feasible solution to our transportation needs." During the event, she went after Huizar on bike lanes, saying he had many put in without adequately consulting the community.

Molina, termed out last year as county supervisor, also asserted that downtown development is occurring without sufficient attention being paid to traffic. The Arts District, where industrial buildings have been remade into housing and dining destinations, is now threatened by out-of-scale construction, she said.

"The only place [in downtown] that enjoyed organic growth has been in the Arts District," she said. "Now that is being eroded, because now you have developers going in there and changing the character of those communities. We need to get control of it."

Wednesday's debate reflected a larger debate taking place across L.A. as city officials attempt to build denser housing and make residents less dependent on cars. Those who favor bike lanes and new pedestrian improvements have largely rallied around Huizar. Councilman Gil Cedillo, who has tangled with cycling activists over a bike lane proposal, is backing Molina.

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

Huizar, in contrast, touted his work in installing bike racks on sidewalks and converting 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 the transformation of York Boulevard in Highland Park, now dotted with upscale restaurants and boutiques, as one example of his work in remaking major boulevards.

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

Diaz, a social worker who lives in Boyle Heights, tried to position herself as an alternative to the two longtime politicians. She spoke of her work advocating for new sidewalks around Evergreen Cemetery in Boyle Heights. And she repeatedly complained that the city needs to update its planning rules for the district.

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

Still, most of the action was between Huizar and Molina.

Molina said downtown has "too much density" and warned that city leaders are approving thousands of housing units without planning for the 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 said.

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."

Molina and Huizar tangled on other issues. Huizar spoke in favor of Charter Amendments 1 and 2, which would move city and school board elections from odd- to even-numbered election years. Those measures are aimed at boosting turnout by timing local contests with state or federal elections.

Molina opposed both proposals, saying that they would prompt candidates to rely more heavily on expensive slate mailers.

"It’s bad enough that special interests control all of these elections," she said.

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