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L.A. on the Record: City Atty. Hydee Feldstein Soto takes her blunt talk to the Valley

Los Angeles City Atty. Hydee Feldstein Soto
Los Angeles City Atty. Hydee Feldstein Soto, shown in an appearance at Cal State L.A. in 2022, when she was a candidate for the office.
(Genaro Molina / Los Angeles Times)
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Good morning, and welcome to L.A. on the Record — our City Hall newsletter. It’s Dakota Smith, with an assist from David Zahniser.

Since she took office in December, Mayor Karen Bass has been in front of the cameras pretty much every week, revealing her thoughts about homelessness, housing issues, public safety and other high-profile issues.

The public hasn’t heard nearly as much from City Atty. Hydee Feldstein Soto, who also took office four months ago but has kept a comparatively low profile.

Feldstein Soto did open up a bit this month at a Valley Alliance of Neighborhood Councils meeting, where she discussed her priorities and spoke in blunt terms about the job. The group represents dozens of neighborhood councils in the San Fernando Valley.

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You can watch the whole meeting here, which features a Part I and Part II with Feldstein Soto. We’ve collected some highlights from her remarks.

Lunches with Karen Bass

Feldstein Soto told the group that she meets “basically every Thursday for lunch” with Bass, and that the relationship is “devoted to making our city work, to rooting out corruption, to making sure that our public offices are as transparent as they can be.”

On the issue of ethics, Feldstein Soto said that she is “enforcing” the city’s “no-bid contract provisions” and recently argued against a proposed ordinance to increase the amount that triggers the requirement for a written city contract from $5,000 to $25,000.

Feldstein Soto also said that the city isn’t “accepting developer-drafted ordinances as our starting point” and made an allusion to an FBI raid of City Atty. Mike Feuer’s office focused on contracting at the Department of Water and Power, saying: “You will not see my office raided by the Department of Justice, I can promise you that.”

She used to make a lot of money

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Feldstein Soto described the long hours she’s working, for much less money than she made in the private sector.

“I’ve been working harder than I ever worked in my life,” she said. “At about a 20th of the pay. So there you have it, 16-, 18-, 20-hour days, seven days a week.”

(Feldstein Soto makes more than $276,345, according to the city’s Personnel Department. If that figure is 1/20th of her former pay, she was making $5.5 million annually in private practice.)

At other points, she talked about the expansive role of the city attorney. “I will tell you that I knew this was a big job. I did not realize how big a job it was. And that’s saying a lot, because I thought I really understood the office.”

She said she lives in Mid-City, has a 92-year-old mother and got COVID-19 shortly after she took office. She made a passing mention of her “particularly bad divorce.”

Alluding to her lack of political ambition, she said she tries to “stay out of policy. I strive to stay out from in front of the microphones and the press.”

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One topic that Feldstein Soto did not touch: the lawsuit her office filed against a local journalist and activist over the release of LAPD officers’ names and photos. That lawsuit has drawn widespread criticism from journalism groups and public records experts.

Tackling prostitution

In addition to her efforts to fight corruption, Feldstein Soto talked about a real estate branch that she formed within the department and efforts to fight sex trafficking along Figueroa Street in South L.A. She called that thoroughfare the “most horrific red light district after dark that I’ve ever seen in my life.”

Feldstein Soto said she’s gotten assistance from the federal government, among others, on the issue of sex trafficking. She told them that she needs undercover officers from the FBI and the Department of Homeland Security.

“Because my LAPD undercover ability has been blown for right now with this charming little website with all their pictures on it,” she said, alluding to the photos that were released by the LAPD and later posted online.

She’s also shaking up the Neighborhood Prosecution program, saying that prosecutors will no longer be embedded in the police stations full time.

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She said she didn’t want her neighborhood prosecutors “sitting in a detective station, waiting for an issue to come in the door or trying to decide where to go for lunch.

“And I say that half-jokingly, but not entirely,” she said. “We have limited resources and the lawyers in my office need to be dedicated to practicing law.”

State of play

— TOUGH TALK FROM BASS: In her first State of the City speech, Bass pledged to create “a new L.A.” and acknowledged that the city isn’t “where it needs to be.” Unlike past Mayor Eric Garcetti, who favored sweeping language, Bass’ style was largely devoid of rhetorical flourishes.

BUDGET TIME: Bass released her first proposed budget for the coming fiscal year, calling for greater spending on homelessness, anti-gang programs and the city’s struggling animal shelters. The Times took a closer look at the line items in the mayor’s spending plan on homelessness, which is expected to reach nearly $1.3 billion.

ALL EYES ON THE LAPD: With the LAPD down nearly 1,000 police officers since 2019, Bass is seeking to add hundreds of officers in her proposed budget, taking the force to 9,500. That’s an extremely difficult task at a time when officers are leaving faster than they’re getting hired. Meanwhile, advocates for alternatives to policing want the city to take advantage of the decrease in officers by investing in social programs and hiring teams of unarmed responders.

SETTLEMENT SCOTCHED: A federal judge again refused to sign off on a proposed settlement agreement that would have ended a long-running lawsuit over Los Angeles County’s response to the homelessness crisis. County officials and the L.A. Alliance said they were satisfied with the terms of the agreement, which promised hundreds of additional mental health beds, but U.S. District Judge David O. Carter said he still has “grave reservations.”

SEWAGE SPILL SOAKS CITY: The city of Los Angeles is facing a $21.7-million penalty from water regulators over problems at a wastewater treatment facility that triggered a massive sewage spill into the Santa Monica Bay in 2021. Sanitation officials said resolving issues related to the spill, which has created noxious fumes and persistent water-quality problems, remains “a top priority.”

BIG PLANS FOR L.A.: The City Council’s Planning and Land Use Management Committee will hold a special meeting on Monday to take up two big planning documents — formally known as community plans — that focus on zoning and development in downtown and Hollywood. These things don’t always go smoothly. The last time the city tried to update the Hollywood Community Plan, a judge struck it down.

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QUICK HITS

  • Where is Inside Safe? Mayor Karen Bass’ signature anti-homelessness initiative spent the week on streets that surround the El Pueblo de Los Angeles monument in downtown Los Angeles, including Cesar Chavez Avenue and Spring Street. By midday Friday, more than 30 people had been moved indoors, per Bass’ team.
  • On the docket for next week: It’s budget time! The council’s Budget and Finance Committee will start reviewing the mayor’s proposed spending plan for 2023-24 on Tuesday. More meetings will follow Wednesday, Thursday and Friday.

Stay in touch

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