Echo Park activist William Nettles voted against Mike Hernandez when he won the 1st District City Council seat 18 months ago, but said Hernandez never held a grudge. As a member of the Echo Park Improvement Assn., Nettles has since been won over by Hernandez’s sincerity and willingness to work with the neighborhood.
“He’s the best councilman we’ve had,” said Nettles, who, due in part to redistricting, has been represented by five people in the past nine years. “His heart’s in the community, and he knows who his constituents are.”
Hernandez, who won the special election in August, 1991, to fill the council seat vacated by Gloria Molina when she moved to the Board of Supervisors, is running against three underdog challengers in the April 20 race for a full four-year term.
Throughout the district, which stretches from Mt. Washington to Pico-Union, community leaders generally praise Hernandez for helping neighborhoods take a more active role in government. He also has received favorable reviews for speaking out on behalf of immigrants, pushing for more services for his constituents and successfully intervening on behalf of residents upset about plans to build a rail maintenance yard in Northeast Los Angeles.
Hernandez, however, earns mixed reviews when it comes to his effectiveness on the City Council. One colleague said Hernandez speaks out on too many issues and his confrontational style has alienated other council members.
“He’s got to learn to slow down and try to work to develop more of a consensus (among his colleagues),” said the council member, who has supported Hernandez on a number of issues.
Hernandez dismisses such remarks, saying many of his colleagues are unaware of the services he has brought to his district. For example, he said he secured about $39 million--or about 70% of the total city money set aside for affordable housing--to pay for 1,500 units in the 1st District.
Some constituents also contend that Hernandez has failed to accomplish much. Ironically, the loudest complaints come from the Northeast neighborhoods where Hernandez grew up.
In Lincoln Heights, some business owners say Hernandez has done little to stop the surge in graffiti and gang violence in the commercial district on North Broadway. On weekends, the owners say, gangbangers drink and play loud music in the parking lot of a local restaurant and race their cars up and down Broadway. Last month, a 16-year-old boy was shot to death on Broadway in what police described as a gang-related killing.
“I have never seen the man anywhere around here,” said Bill Mirabal, owner of Mirabal Mortuary across the street from where the shooting occurred.
Mirabal said he voted for Hernandez last time but is backing opponent Esther Castillo Long, a lifelong Lincoln Heights resident and aide to former councilman Art Snyder. Other candidates include Jean-Marie Durand, the self-proclaimed honorary mayor of Highland Park, and write-in candidate Juventino Gomez, a Cypress Park resident and personnel analyst for Los Angeles County.
Ray Wolze, president of the Lincoln Heights Chamber of Commerce, said he warned Hernandez’s office before the shooting that the problem on Broadway was getting out of hand.
“Sure as hell, the damn thing blew up,” Wolze said. “I’m sure it could have been avoided.”
In neighboring Cypress Park, where Hernandez lives, nothing has been done there, either, to stop gang-related violence, local activist Art Pulido said.
Hernandez acknowledges that violence is out of control throughout his district, which includes some of the city’s most crime-ridden neighborhoods. However, he disputes criticism that he has done nothing about the problem, saying: “I’m very much aware kids are dying in my district.”
Hernandez said he has provided $25,000 from his office funds to hire noted consultant Gus Frias, founder of the Barrio Warriors anti-gang program. Frias is training crisis-intervention counselors.
The long-term solution to the crime problem, Hernandez said, will rest on his ability to bring jobs to a district where many residents have limited English skills and where 64% of the adults older than 25 did not finish high school, according to the 1990 U.S. Census.
To help prepare those residents, he said he has secured $500,000 from the city’s Community Development Department that will be used toward opening a job-training center near Pico Boulevard and Alvarado Street. The project is still in the planning stages.
Hernandez was also instrumental in helping Carter Hawley Hale Stores Inc. obtain city permits to move its headquarters from Downtown to its Lincoln Heights facility last year, saving 1,600 jobs, store officials said.
In the impoverished neighborhoods of Pico-Union and Westlake, which were hard hit by last spring’s riots, community leaders say Hernandez is one of the few politicians who spoke out on behalf of the area’s large immigrant population.
Hernandez sponsored a City Council resolution calling for an end to sweeps by the INS and Los Angeles police during the riots, in which hundreds of illegal immigrants were arrested. The resolution was passed unanimously, and community leaders said the sweeps stopped.
Hernandez, unlike his three challengers, said he supports allowing legal non-citizens to vote in municipal elections.
Some in the district have criticized Hernandez for focusing too much attention on Pico-Union and Westlake and the immigrants there.
But the councilman said he was elected to represent all the area’s residents, regardless of their citizenship status.
Hernandez says one of his main goals is to help people become more involved in government. And community leaders have praised his efforts in that area.
“I think he’s impressed a lot of people,” said Clare Marter-Kenyon, president of the Mt. Washington Assn., a nonprofit organization involved with land-use and other issues affecting Northeast Los Angeles.
Some say Hernandez’s biggest achievement in giving the community a voice involves the development of the old Southern Pacific Railroad’s Taylor Yard, a 241-acre parcel sandwiched along the Los Angeles River between Elysian Park and Mt. Washington.
In November, 1991, Hernandez threatened to file a lawsuit against the Los Angeles County Transportation Commission for allegedly failing to solicit community comment for its plans to develop a rail maintenance yard on a portion of the property.
Instead of fighting in court, the commission agreed to build a greenbelt around the property and pay $350,000 for a public arts program, $2 million for an access bridge across the river and $250,000 for workshops that enabled residents to give input into the planning process, Hernandez said. The final development plans are still pending.
“The community had never been taken into consideration,” said Cypress Park activist Ramon Muniz. “But the (workshops) let us voice our concerns that we want something developed here for the good of the community.”