As voters in Los Angeles City Council District 1 seek a successor to termed-out incumbent Ed Reyes, they have two good choices.
Jose Gardea is Reyes' chief of staff and would be more likely to pursue Reyes' planning and service-based approach to representing the constituents of a district that runs from northeast Los Angeles to Dodger Stadium, Chinatown, MacArthur Park, Pico-Union and the edge of Koreatown.
Gil Cedillo is a former member of the Assembly and state Senate whose districts have included some of Council District 1 and also much of downtown Los Angeles and other communities farther to the east. A former labor leader, Cedillo is embraced not just by public employee unions but by business groups such as the Chamber of Commerce.
Either candidate could do a credible job. Of the two, Gardea is the better choice. He has the vision and the know-how to continue Reyes' sometimes slogging but relentless move toward housing families who were previously packed into overcrowded and outdated buildings, bringing safety to areas once cowering in fear of gang and property crimes, and luring retail establishments to the district to build the local tax base, provide desperately needed employment and serve the residents. The Times endorses Gardea.
On its face, the race between Gardea and Cedillo appears to be the new classic in Los Angeles City Council showdowns: the termed-out Sacramento lawmaker looking for a gig (and at $178,789 a year, twice the salary offered in the Legislature) versus the City Hall staffer who wants his boss' old job. There are parallels, with slight variations, in each of this year's eight council races.
Voters in this district as well as the others across the city often ache for a third way: a grass-roots candidate truly independent of outside interests.
Too often, though, such a candidate brings heart but insufficient knowledge or experience in running an enterprise as large and as complex as a City Council district of a quarter-million people. Such is the case with Jesse Rosas, a businessman also running in District 1. Rosas clearly wants the best for his district's people but cannot outline a way to deliver it.
Gardea combines an organizer's instincts with a pragmatist's day-to-day experience. His accomplishments as Reyes' top lieutenant include rethinking the Los Angeles River and reclaiming MacArthur Park. He has taken a lead role in creating transit-oriented development and affordable housing. Critics say the focus should have been more on bringing in business and retail and, with them, economic development; but Reyes' team, led by Gardea, saw that he first had to shore up the area's transportation and housing infrastructure or risk continuing a cycle of blind development that could lead, in turn, to new blight.
The district is like one of the Gold Line trains that now run through it: on the right track, although not always moving as swiftly as many would like. The early phases of thinking, planning, organizing and building are over; Gardea can keep the train on track but can also begin to pick up the pace.
Construction and trade unions have mostly bypassed Gardea and have instead joined with business groups in embracing Cedillo, because they see in him a candidate more likely to encourage development. And development is in fact needed in District 1, but it's now more viable because of the thinking, planning, organizing and educating that Gardea has provided. Gardea is well positioned to bring the job to its next phase.
One challenge facing the victor in this race will be the sheer size of the district. Can a council member adequately see to the needs of communities whose interests are as diverse and divergent as Mount Washington and Pico-Union?
No. Council districts are too big. There should be twice as many of half the size. Such a change would empower communities to more directly shape their own destinies.
For now, though, districts are huge, and Gardea has had a direct role in updating the city's planning laws. It's good thinking. Gardea has been good for the district and good for the city, and voters in District 1 should keep him on the job.