L.A. on the Record: Where to draw the line on cops

UCLA professor Kelly Lytle Hernandez, right, gives a tour to L.A. Councilmembers Eunisses Hernandez and Hugo Soto-Martinez.
UCLA professor Kelly Lytle Hernandez, right, gives a tour of downtown for L.A. Councilmembers Eunisses Hernandez and Hugo Soto-Martinez in December.
(Mel Melcon / Los Angeles Times)
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Good morning, and welcome to L.A. on the Record — our City Hall newsletter. It’s David Zahniser and Dakota Smith bringing you the news of the week from your favorite municipality.

When they ran their insurgent campaigns for Los Angeles City Council last year, labor organizer Hugo Soto-Martinez and community activist Eunisses Hernandez followed remarkably similar political paths.

Both candidates had huge support from Democratic Socialists of America-Los Angeles, which campaigned on their behalf. Both candidates told the DSA, in writing, that they considered themselves to be abolitionists, favoring the “abolition of police and the prison industrial complex.” Both went on to unseat incumbents — Mitch O’Farrell and Gil Cedillo, respectively, who were viewed as more politically moderate on public safety and other issues.

On Thursday, those same two council members, who symbolized some of the left’s big victories at City Hall, found themselves on opposing sides.

Hernandez cast the only vote against Mayor Karen Bass’ first citywide budget, declaring during an impassioned speech that she could not support a spending plan that gives a fourth of the city’s money to policing. She held fast to her view that scarce public funds should be shifted out of law enforcement and into other community services, such as sidewalk repairs and youth programs.


Soto-Martinez, on the other hand, showed he was more willing to compromise, voting with the rest of his colleagues for the mayor’s budget, which calls for the hiring of about 1,000 officers. In his own lengthy address, he said the budget, while flawed, delivered a long list of progressive political victories: more beds for those with substance use issues, more mental health workers, more hotel rooms for the unhoused.

Compromise and deal-making are longstanding features of City Hall, where a council member needs eight votes to get anything done.

Still, some were taken aback by Soto-Martinez’s vote.

As a candidate, he had argued that every officer who leaves the LAPD should be replaced with two unarmed responders. In his DSA-LA questionnaire, he endorsed the eventual goal of “abolishing the current system of policing,” replacing it with strategies to address root causes of crime. On the campaign trail, he signed a “no new cops” pledge, promising to fight any plan to hire officers in ways that exceed attrition.

Yet there he was, approving a budget with $3.2 billion for the LAPD, paving the way for as many as 400 additional officers. (About 600 are expected to retire or resign.)

Unrig LA, a City Hall watchdog and advocacy group, panned Soto-Martinez’s speech as “buck-passing,” calling it the type of message one would hear from “seasoned pol.” La Defensa, the abolitionist advocacy group that Hernandez ran before winning her Eastside council race, said Soto-Martinez showed that “the values he ran on are not the values he will vote on.”

Kate Cagle, an anchor at Spectrum News 1, contrasted Soto-Martinez’s budget vote with his signing of the “no new cops” pledge. “Can the LA Times please stop calling Hugo an abolitionist now?” she tweeted.


Soto-Martinez pushed back against the criticism, saying that, regardless of what’s in the budget, LAPD staffing will remain flat in the coming year, getting nowhere near Bass’ goal of 9,500 officers. Two weeks ago, the LAPD had just 9,059, according to department figures.

The budget, he added, is not just about police but about renter assistance, homeless funding and hiring teams of unarmed responders — spending items that must be negotiated over many weeks.

“What I voted for represented my values,” Soto-Martinez said. “We are absolutely moving in the right direction, and next year’s budget, if we do our work right and organize, it’s going to look even better.”

Hernandez, contacted by The Times, did not say whether she agrees with La Defensa’s assessment of Soto-Martinez. Her spokesperson, Chelsea Lucktenberg, pointed out that Hernandez no longer works for that organization.

“As she said yesterday, budgets are a statement of values. And this budget did not reflect her values nor the values that her constituents have asked her to fight for,” Lucktenberg said.

In an interview with Cagle, Hernandez was careful not to criticize her colleague, saying Soto-Martinez “made his own calculations.”

“We’re the progressive bloc. But we all stand in different areas,” she said.

The DSA’s L.A. chapter did not comment on the budget votes.

A representative of the Los Angeles Police Protective League, the LAPD’s rank-and-file officers’ union, said this week’s vote revealed the gap between campaign rhetoric and the “responsibility to govern.” Bass and the council showed that the city can pay for unarmed responders, gang intervention workers and after-school programs without cutting the LAPD, said Tom Saggau, the union’s spokesperson.

“We agree with the mayor and City Council that Los Angeles is capable of doing all of the above while expanding the ranks of the LAPD,” he said.


State of play

ONE OF A KIND: The Times’ Gustavo Arellano gave readers an amazing history of Gloria Molina, “the daughter of working-class parents and an unapologetic Chicana who transformed the political landscape of Los Angeles.” Molina, 74, served in the state legislature, on the City Council and on the county’s Board of Supervisors. She died Sunday night after a three-year battle with cancer.

— SKID ROW’S RECEIVER: Mark Adams, who has been assigned the role of receiver for the collapsing nonprofit group Skid Row Housing Trust, is overseeing the welfare of 1,500 tenants. But in a new report, The Times found that in other receivership cases, Adams “padded staffing” and “engaged in duplicative billing.” Asked about that history, City Atty. Hydee Feldstein Soto said, “We will hold Mark and everyone else in this case accountable.”

BUDGET VOTE: As we mentioned up top, the City Council signed off on the mayor’s plan for expanding the Police Department on Thursday, approving a budget that calls for the hiring of about 1,000 officers. The council voted 13 to 1 for Bass’ $13.1-billion budget.

INSIDE SAN VICENTE: The Times spent some time following Bass’ recent Inside Safe operation on San Vicente Boulevard, which moved about two dozen people indoors. During that operation, Councilmember Katy Yaroslavsky was asked why there were no tents on the Beverly Hills side of San Vicente. “We’re providing housing,” she said. Beverly Hills responded by saying that it is spending hundreds of thousands of dollars on shelter beds and other homeless services.

— U-TURN IN WEHO: The West Hollywood City Council reversed course on law enforcement spending this week, voting to fund four new sheriff’s positions. The 4-1 vote came nearly a year after that council agreed to gradually reduce the number of sheriff’s deputies — a move that sparked debate across that city and the region.

— BATTLING THE BULGARI: The City Council deadlocked last week on the proposed Bulgari Resort, a hotel project planned in Benedict Canyon. Yaroslavsky, who represents the area, wanted the council to halt the planning department’s review of the proposal before it is finished, arguing that it is a “bad project” that makes no sense in the Santa Monica Mountains. But she fell one vote short.

A day later, the council scheduled a new vote on the project for mid-August. By then, the council will have a 15th member — a replacement for former member Nury Martinez — who will have the power to break the tie.

One candidate, community advocate Imelda Padilla, did not offer a position on the project, saying the issue is not a priority for residents in her Valley district. She also said she is “happy to learn more and talk to advocates on both sides.”


The other candidate, political aide Marisa Alcaraz, said she would prefer to weigh in on the project once its environmental review is completed. That runs counter to Yaroslavsky’s wishes — and means the Bulgari could live to fight another day.

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Quick hits

  • Where is Inside Safe? The mayor’s signature homelessness initiative took its second visit to Councilmember Curren Price‘s South L.A. district, heading to encampments on Grand Avenue, Flower Avenue and adjacent streets. An estimated 45 people went inside as part of the operation.
  • On the docket for next week: Robot dog! Once again, the City Council is scheduled to take up the LAPD’s effort to acquire a robot dog, relying on outside funding for the purchase. The issue has been postponed multiple times, but Tuesday could finally be the day of a formal vote.