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Essential California: Could L.A. City Council incumbents be more vulnerable in 2022?

A man crosses the street in front of Los Angeles City Hall
Conventional wisdom about L.A. City Hall politics could be turned on its head this year thanks to realigned election cycles, increased attention on local government and Angelenos’ frustration with the status quo.
(Nick Agro / For The Times)
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Good morning, and welcome to the Essential California newsletter. It’s Tuesday, March 15. This is Julia Wick filling in for Justin Ray.

Ousting an L.A. City Council incumbent has historically been a little like snow in Los Angeles — not impossible, but exceedingly rare.

Competitive challengers are few, and over the last quarter of a century only two have succeeded. But conventional wisdom about L.A. City Hall politics is predicated on decades of off-cycle elections decided by a small fraction of registered voters.

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In a recent story, I looked at what’s changed in recent years and why City Council incumbents may be more vulnerable than they’ve been in the past.

City elections were moved to even-numbered years in 2020, aligning with national and state races and reshaping the local electorate. The pandemic and protests around police reform also put klieg lights on city government, making it a focus of new attention for a broad swath of people. And that newly focused attention coincides with a moment at which many Angelenos are deeply frustrated by the status quo.

Sitting council members will still have strong advantages in the primary, but some see a shift, particularly in the wake of Councilmember Nithya Raman’s victory over an incumbent in 2020.

“I think every election going forward is going to be tough,” Curren Price, a two-term South Los Angeles councilmember running for reelection, told me. Price cited a number of factors, including turnout and a new generation of voters who want to challenge the system. “It’s not business as usual anymore,” he said.

Five council incumbents are up for reelection in 2022, and at least three face potentially competitive races.

In the Hollywood-to-Atwater Village district, Councilmember Mitch O’Farrell is facing more than half a dozen competitors, including two progressive candidates — former council aide Kate Pynoos and labor leader Hugo Soto-Martínez — who have raised more than $100,000.

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Councilmember Gil Cedillo, a veteran politician forced into a rare runoff in 2017, is being challenged by community activist Eunisses Hernandez in a district stretching from MacArthur Park to northeast Los Angeles. And in a closely watched race in South L.A., educator Dulce Vasquez is attempting to unseat Price.

[Read the story: “Unseating an L.A. City Council incumbent is exceedingly rare. Will it happen in 2022?” in the Los Angeles Times]

The primary is June 7, followed by a November runoff. (Races can be decided outright in June if a candidate gets more than 50% of the vote.)

And now, here’s what’s happening across California:

Gov. Gavin Newsom signed legislation Monday that will rescue UC Berkeley from a court-ordered enrollment freeze and steep admission cuts and allow the university to resume plans to enroll more than 5,000 California first-year students.

The new law in effect ends a frantic few weeks at one of the nation’s most sought-after campuses during its crucial admissions period, and admissions offers will be extended as originally planned, a campus spokesperson said. Los Angeles Times

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The state of school masking in L.A. Monday marked the first day since most schools reopened in spring 2021 that students across Los Angeles County have the option to remove their masks in class — although the L.A. Unified School District is an exception. Los Angeles Times

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L.A. STORIES

Chinatown is one of L.A.’s trendiest dining destinations. But residents don’t have a supermarket. Many people who live in the neighborhood, which is nearly 50% Asian and has a median household income of about $36,000 — slightly less than half the countywide figure — have trouble finding staples such as milk, yogurt, beef and pork. Los Angeles Times

People browse boxes of produce on the sidewalk
Customers at the China Book Store on Broadway. Despite its name, the store long ago stopped stocking reading material and replaced its inventory with noodles, produce and household goods.
(Myung J. Chun / Los Angeles Times)

POLITICS AND GOVERNMENT

San Francisco is now boycotting most of the United States: Mission Local’s ever-excellent Joe Eskenazi looks at the city’s vast boycott list and how it affects the city’s contracting abilities. Mission Local

“It’s a calling.” It’s also scary. That’s why so many election officials are quitting. Los Angeles Times

One columnist’s oddly mysterious quest to identify Modesto’s postmaster: “‘No idea,’ Modesto Mayor Sue Zwahlen said recently [when asked who the postmaster was], a searching look on her face.... In the same private meeting, City Manager Joe Lopez also had no clue. It’s not their fault. Trying to learn the Modesto postmaster’s identity turned out to be something of a Where’s Waldo experience.” Modesto Bee

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CALIFORNIA CULTURE

Vaccines vs. vitamins: COVID misinformation has roiled the worlds of wellness and nutrition. Los Angeles Times (Note: This story is available only to Times subscribers)

Legendary food writer M.F.K. Fisher’s home has reopened in Sonoma County. The one-bedroom house is open for tours by appointment. San Francisco Chronicle

From The Times’ archives: Ruth Reichl visits with Fisher in 1991.

Napa’s ‘Worm Lady’ reflects on 20-plus years of vermicomposting, plus some tips for those new to composting with worms. Napa Valley Register

A poem to start your Tuesday: “A bridge used to be there, someone recalled” by Serhiy Zhadan, translated from Ukrainian by John Hennessy and Ostap Kin. Poetry Foundation

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CALIFORNIA ALMANAC

Los Angeles: early sunlit promise descends into afternoon gray, 74. San Diego: broadly sunny with a few off-message clouds, 69. San Francisco: morning drizzles then dry but drab, 59. San Jose: a bit glum, albeit with potential patches of afternoon sun, 69. Fresno: mostly cloudy, 72. Sacramento: similar weather to S.F. but with much cheaper rent, 70.

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AND FINALLY

“This is a city of plastic paradises wherein one true thing is left, a handmade doughnut.” -

— Liza Williams, writing about Los Angeles in 1966

If you have a memory or story about the Golden State, share it with us. (Please keep your story to 100 words.)

Please let us know what we can do to make this newsletter more useful to you. Send comments to essentialcalifornia@latimes.com.

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