Barbs over developer money heat up L.A. City Council race

L.A. City Council candidates Carolyn Ramsay, David Ryu trade barbs over developer money

Frustration with development continues to loom large in a race to represent a Los Angeles council district that stretches from Sherman Oaks to the Miracle Mile, as one candidate pledged to swear off campaign money from developers and another pointed out her rival recently sold property to a developer.

City Council candidate David Ryu announced Wednesday he will no longer accept donations from developers with current or upcoming projects in the city, saying that he wants to restore trust in City Hall amid concern over out-of-scale development.

"People want to know that projects will be judged solely on their merits and their impact on the community – not by which developer has the deepest pockets," Ryu said in a statement. 

Ryu, a community health center development director, said he is returning nine donations totaling $4,300 that he accepted before making the pledge, many of them from employees of Jamison Properties.

Ryu's campaign said the pledge will continue during his term on the council if he is elected. Ryu is running against Carolyn Ramsay, chief of staff to termed-out Councilman Tom LaBonge, in the district LaBonge has represented for 14 years.

Ramsay campaign strategist Doug Herman called Ryu's campaign pledge a "political stunt" and "complete hypocrisy from a politician very cozy with developers."

"Last year he made a $387,000 profit selling his property to a developer," Herman said in a statement. "Will he be giving back that money too?"

Herman added that Ramsay had gotten the bulk of her campaign money from local residents and businesses and had received the maximum in campaign matching funds from the city, unlike Ryu, "because of her exceptional financial support from within the community.”

Property records show that last year Ryu sold a Wilton Place property that he purchased for $400,000 to a development company for $787,000. The Ryu campaign called Herman's charge "nonsensical." Ryu decided to sell the home, campaign aides said, because he was downsizing to a condo. The campaign is now leasing the space at "fair market value rent."

"Beyond the sale, David has no relationship whatsoever with this company," Ryu spokeswoman Rachel Estrada said in a statement. "Ms. Ramsay is clearly uncomfortable with the fact that David has taken a principled stand against developer influence."

"If anyone has a 'cozy relationship' it is Carolyn Ramsay, who has accepted the maximum amount in political contributions from this developer," Estrada said, pointing to a $700 contribution received by the Ramsay campaign.

Herman, the Ramsay strategist, responded that "developers are already in David Ryu's pocket, having put nearly $400,000 into his bank account."

"Carolyn is not hiding behind political gimmicks because she will hold every developer accountable," Herman said.

Anger over development has been a recurring theme in the campaign, as residents of one of the more affluent, politically engaged districts in the city lash out against big developments they fear will worsen traffic. Neighborhood groups also complain that homes are being torn down and replaced with much larger ones, a trend critics have labeled "mansionization." 

Ryu isn't the first to forswear developer money: During the crowded primary race, candidate Teddy Davis made the same pledge and returned nearly $7,000 in contributions, according to a campaign spokesman.

He and many other candidates -- including Ryu and Ramsay -- also signed a pledge promoted by a Miracle Mile resident saying they would immediately share online whenever they were approached by developers about possible projects.

Ryu and Ramsay are competing in a May 19 runoff election.

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