Just once, it would be nice to encounter a well-prepared grass-roots candidate for the Los Angeles City Council. There is no good reason that a neighborhood activist or business owner can't do some homework and come to a council race with a well-crafted, ambitious but realistic plan for improving the quality of life for district residents and the city as a whole rather than just a bill of complaints about the status quo or a declaration that "it's our turn" to run city government.
For that matter, it would be nice for one of the usual suspects — the termed-out incumbent's staffer or the transplant from the Legislature — to come prepared. More often than not, these candidates' campaigns, boiled down to their essence, consist of a sense of entitlement combined with an assertion that once they are elected, they will (take your pick) roll up their sleeves, ask the tough questions or bring everyone to the table.
So it's refreshing to encounter Cindy Montañez, a candidate to fill the vacancy left in the central San Fernando Valley by Tony Cardenas, who was elected to Congress late last year. Montañez has encyclopedic knowledge of state and city government, of the challenges facing the district, of Los Angeles' budget problems, and the tension between the need for improving services on the one hand and for cutting costs on the other. She sets out an ambitious but realistic program for restoring city services that depends, necessarily, on economic recovery. She is able to discuss how to make the best of what Valley communities have to work with if recovery falls short. She has a record as a networker who can use connections to get things done for constituents, as an appropriately impatient activist for people in need and as a problem solver.
Montañez is the best choice for Council District 6. She will bring some needed attention to the many communities in the district that have been hurting since the late 1980s, when the end of the Cold War and a regional economic restructuring led to the shuttering of factories and the loss of many thousands of jobs.
Montañez is not one of the usual suspects, but she's not a grass-roots candidate either. She served in the Assembly, she was appointed to a state commission and she is a well-connected government affairs consultant — in other words, a lobbyist — for the Department of Water and Power and other clients. For good measure, she was also a council member and mayor of the city of San Fernando, so she could join a growing caucus of officials on the Los Angeles City Council who previously held elected office in small cities before moving here for a shot at the big time. These include Councilmen Paul Koretz (formerly of the West Hollywood City Council and the Legislature) and Paul Krekorian (formerly of the Burbank school board and the Legislature), and may soon include, if he is elected, Curren Price (formerly of the Inglewood City Council and currently in the Legislature).
The real issue is not whether candidates are carpetbaggers or parts of a political machine or transplants from the Legislature, but whether they have been carried along by fealty to the Democratic Party or to special interests and lack the independence to do their own thinking or make their own decisions. That's not the case with Montañez. She has alternately worked with and against her contemporaries from San Fernando and the north and central Valley, demonstrating admirable independence without generating long-term grudges or alienating people with whom she must work.
She was elected to the San Fernando City Council and served there as mayor in her 20s (when that small city seemed well run compared with Los Angeles) and was elected to the Assembly at 28 — but despite her relative youth, she never seemed unready to serve. In the Legislature, she carried landmark consumer protection legislation, especially for car buyers. She carried key environmental protection and infrastructure bills.
Today, she can discuss in detail the economic importance of the East San Fernando Valley Transit Corridor and delve into the minutiae of business improvement districts and land-use planning to map the potential pitfalls for District 6, much of which is already in economic distress, but also showing the way to growth and community empowerment.
Running against Montañez are five candidates, including Nury Martinez, the impressive executive director of the environmental and community activist group Pacoima Beautiful. Martinez also is a member of the Los Angeles Unified School District Board of Education, and like Montañez she served in the San Fernando City Council. She is smart and knowledgeable and could make a good council member, but her tenure on the L.A. Unified board has not showcased her strengths, and she comes up short — in knowledge, in planning and in preparedness for the job — when compared with Montañez.
Businessman and neighborhood activist Roy Garcia has become a valuable asset to the central Valley with his youth soccer program, and he has become a spokesman and advocate for the district's burgeoning Salvadoran community, but he likewise comes up short when compared with Montañez.
The other candidates are simply out of their league, demonstrating little knowledge of — or preparation for — the job.Copyright © 2015, Los Angeles Times