The former San Francisco mayor answered a few questions from the roughly 150 people at the community at the Goodwill Community Enrichment Center, one of many stops across the state in his bid for governor.
The meeting focused mostly on defining California's role in the United States and on statewide issues.
"No one does what we do as well as we do, and it is a foundational predicate for everything else," Newsom said. "It's time, as progressives, we step up and step in — we not capitulate, we not back off on these things."
The Los Angeles crowd, however, questioned Newsom on how to address local problems such as the county's housing crisis and rising homeless population.
Newsom was asked whether, as governor, he would support the repeal of the Costa-Hawkins Rental Housing Act — a state law which bars rent-control measures from being placed on single-family homes and apartments built after 1995.
While not endorsing an outright repeal, he said he supports repealing provisions of the law. The issue of housing goes beyond evictions, he said, adding that offering incentives is the biggest hurdle. He also said the way resources are allocated to cities and counties needs to change.
"You gotta change incentives for better behavior. Cities are not incentivized to develop housing, counties are," he said. "The problem with counties is … it's a diffuse governing structure that makes it more challenging."
Newsom advocated for a Direct Access to Housing model and said he was frustrated with programs that throw away money on outpatient drug treatment for individuals who return to homelessness.
"Shelters solve sleep, [while] housing and supportive services solve homelessness," Newsom said.
L.A. County saw a 23% jump in the homeless population over the last year, despite increased success in housing placement.
Also, Newsom admitted he's disappointed in the uncertain funding for the proposed California High-Speed Rail system, but he thinks the first phase of the rail, from Merced to Bakersfield, will be completed.
Criminal justice reform, renewable energy and funding for arts education were also discussed.
Newsom announced his bid to succeed incumbent Gov. Jerry Brown — who is ineligible to run due to term limits — in February 2015.
So far, other candidates include former state Treasurer John Chiang, former state Supt. of Public Instruction Delaine Eastin and former L.A. Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa.
The upcoming gubernatorial election will be held on Nov. 6, 2018.