The 9th Council District in South Los Angeles suffers from a toxic combination of entrenched poverty, blight, high unemployment and lagging job skills. With its current representative, Councilwoman
The key-shaped 9th runs directly south from Washington Boulevard to East 95th Street, with an offshoot extending north to
Roberts is refreshingly clear-eyed about the limits the city's financial straits place on its ability to improve the district's fortunes. Instead of just arguing for more services and a larger share of the pie, he says the district needs to find alternative resources. In addition to tapping foundations and nonprofits — many of which he's worked with — he would expand business improvement districts and shift some public safety funds into less police-centric approaches to deterring crime. One of his goals is to generate enough funds to put low-skilled, unemployed young adults to work removing litter, graffiti and dumped furniture and refuse from the business districts.
The focus on dumping and other impediments to the district's quality of life makes sense; shabbiness is a daunting barrier to investment. Progress will require cleaning up the commercial corridors and developing a more capable workforce at a time when there's a shrinking amount of local, state and federal money available for such efforts.
Success in the 9th is crucial not merely because failure saps the community's spirit and requires crime- and blight-fighting resources needed citywide, but also because it could provide models for less-desperate but still cash-strapped parts of the city. One of the tests of the new council member will be to advocate vigorously for these South L.A. neighborhoods while helping to move the entire city to sounder financial footing.
The other candidates are short on skills, solutions or both. State Sen. Curren Price (D-Los Angeles) and former Assemblyman
Ron Gochez, a high school teacher in the district and a community activist, has passion and creativity, and he shares Roberts' focus on cleaning up the district and putting young adults to work. But his politics can be extreme, founded more in grievance and protest than in progress and opportunity.
Ana Cubas cites her personal history — born to working-class Salvadoran immigrants, she earned degrees from UC Berkeley and Princeton before landing jobs at the
Roberts moved into the district last year when Perry appointed him to the commission that proposed new district lines. But his 11 years as a council staffer in the neighboring 8th District, including a stint as Councilman Bernard C. Parks' director of economic development, give him a leg up on his rivals when it comes to understanding what it will take to bring dollars and jobs to the 9th.