A time-honored political rivalry on the shores of Echo Park Lake

People on colorful dragon boats
Members of Team Garcetti, foreground, take on Team Rec and Parks during the Dragon Boat Race at the 34th Lotus Festival at Echo Park in Los Angeles in 2014.
(Genaro Molina / Los Angeles Times)

Good morning, and welcome to L.A. on the Record — our City Hall newsletter. It’s Julia Wick, with help from David Zahniser and Hannah Wiley.

“Rec and Parks? More like Wrecked and Parks.”

Those were the words of Council District 13 field deputy Laila Molina, engaging in a time-honored Los Angeles civic tradition: trash-talking one’s opponent ahead of the dragon boat races at the Echo Park Lotus Festival.

Politicians and staffers in the L.A. civic firmament have long proved their mettle and earned bragging rights by rowing boats around Echo Park Lake more quickly than the losers from some other city office.

The Lotus Festival, one of the city’s largest Asian festivals and a celebration of the eponymous flowers in bloom, has been put on by the Department of Recreation and Parks since the early 1970s. The dragon races were introduced soon after the festival’s inception. Elected officials and city departments have fielded race teams for decades, and several will be present at the festival this weekend.


Rowing with other staffers from Councilmember Hugo Soto-Martínez‘s office, Molina will face off against a Rec and Parks team at 2 p.m. Saturday.

“I really feel sorry for CD 13 if they think they’re going to beat us,” Anita Meacham, the Rec and Parks supervisor who oversees the Lotus Festival, said with a hearty laugh. (Meacham will be rowing on two different Rec and Parks teams this weekend and couldn’t remember exactly how many prior races she’d taken part in, so CD 13 may want to reassess their expectations for victory.)

The City Hall rivalry tradition stems from the fact that Council Districts 1 and 13 both sponsor the Lotus Festival and at some point someone decided they should compete, said Steven Lee, a member of the lotus advisory board and dragon boat race chairperson. The park is in CD 13 but borders CD 1.

The on-water feuding was especially fierce when former Mayor Eric Garcetti represented CD 13 and Ed Reyes was CD 1’s council member. And the notoriously competitive Garcetti team continued to raise the stakes when he was mayor.

“They surprised us all when they started doing calisthenics and asking for additional practice time,” Laura Island, another Rec and Parks supervisor who previously oversaw the festival, said of Team Garcetti.

A former Garcetti staffer denied the rumor that the then-mayor ever brought in college athletes as Lotus Festival ringers, saying that his erstwhile team was simply “serious about recruiting people from the office who wanted to do a boat race.” If they happened to be in great shape, so be it.

City Controller Kenneth Mejia appears to be most likely to take up the Garcetti mantle: The digitally savvy politician has already posted multiple Instagram videos of him and his staff training ahead of the festival. Mejia’s team will race against staffers from Mayor Karen Bass’ office Sunday afternoon.

“We are definitely trying to win,” Mejia said Friday, noting that he and his staff had been prepping with shoulder and back workouts.


The controller — who looks to be the only elected official who will actually be in a boat this weekend — will be rowing alongside chief of staff Jane Nguyen, special projects director Vincent de Vera, chief of accountability and oversight Sergio Perez, communications director Diana Chang, research and government affairs director Michael Shear, executive aide Jacky Rodarte and deputy controller of finance Maria Rosas.

Bass deputy press secretary Gabby Maarse said the mayor’s team had yet to practice on the water, but had been “having meetings” and “becoming mentally strong.”

Along with Maarse, the “All Bass No Brakes” race team includes Deputy Mayor Zach Seidl, Bass press secretary Clara Karger, Deputy Mayor Brian K. Williams, Deputy Mayor Randall Winston, legislative affairs director Krista Kline, budget advisor Kenneth Ahn and digital manager Lizbett Chavez. (Per Maarse, Kline is a former college rower.)

After a painful year of upheaval and disruption at City Hall, the playful tradition is a welcome break for some.

“Things can be dour and serious in the government. This is just a light and silly fun thing, which is delightfully unexpected,” observed one city staffer.

That said, the roots of the dragon boat racing tradition are decidedly darker.

As legend goes, the race began several millennia ago to commemorate the death of Qu Yuan, an ancient Chinese poet and politician who drowned himself in the Miluo River.

Yuan allegedly jumped in after being driven to despair by government corruption.

The Sac Connection

— REVERSAL IN SACRAMENTO: The state Assembly’s Public Safety Committee did an about-face on Thursday, voting in favor of a bill to stiffen penalties for repeat sex trafficking of minors — two days after it had rejected the bill. The incendiary debate over the proposal has the potential to spill over into next year’s City Council races, which feature three candidates who are in the state Assembly — Wendy Carrillo and Miguel Santiago on the Eastside and Reggie Jones-Sawyer — who chairs the Public Safety Committee — in South L.A. Carrillo has tweeted her support for the bill. The other two initially abstained but later voted for it, with Jones-Sawyer promising to “improve this bill.”


State of play

— GIVING AND RECEIVING: Four months ago, City Atty. Hydee Feldstein Soto announced the city had found a lawyer to safeguard the housing portfolio of the troubled Skid Row Housing Trust. Feldstein Soto recommended attorney Mark Adams to serve as the court-appointed receiver over those properties, only to seek his removal weeks later. What Feldstein Soto did not mention was that Adams hosted a fundraiser for her campaign last fall and her campaign received at least $8,500 from Adams and his associates.

— THE 100-YARD BUFFER: Two protesters, Ricci Sergienko and Ms. Italy, have been ordered to stay 100 yards away from the homes and offices of City Council members for the next 12 months. Those requirements were part of a deal struck in court to allow Sergienko, a co-founder of the People’s City Council, and Ms. Italy, who has been involved with J-Town Action & Solidarity, to avoid criminal charges that were filed over their behavior at a chaotic City Council meeting last summer.

— AN ARSON ARREST...: LAPD officers arrested a 36-year-old homeless man on suspicion of arson in connection with a fire that broke out on Saturday in the office of Chief Legislative Analyst Sharon Tso. Police said the man broke a window to Tso’s second-floor office and threw an object with an accelerant inside. Tso said her office experienced extensive water damage, due to the sprinklers that went off and doused the fire.

... AND A HOMICIDE: A man was shot and killed on Thursday at a homeless encampment that sits across the street from Los Angeles City Hall. The man was a participant in Bass’ Inside Safe program, which has been moving unhoused residents into hotels and motels, according to the mayor’s office.

— PLEA POSTPONED: Los Angeles City Councilmember Curren Price succeeded in postponing his arraignment on charges of perjury, embezzlement and conflict of interest. The arraignment is now set for Aug. 28, just three days after the council’s rules committee is scheduled to revisit the question of whether he should be suspended from his post while he fights the charges.

— BIG ADU TO DO: Councilmember Kevin de León announced the city’s first free, pre-approved Accessory Dwelling Unit Standard Plan this week. The Daily News’ Linh Tat reports that the plans are expected to save ADU-wanting homeowners $20,000 to $30,000 in architectural and design costs, since residents can use the designs free of charge.

— LAPD SECRECY: For two years, the Los Angeles Police Department refused to name the bomb squad officers responsible for blowing up much of a South L.A. neighborhood or outline any of the discipline they received. Our colleagues Brittny Mejia, Libor Jany and Richard Winton ID’ed the officers involved in the June 2021 explosion. One of the officers is now with the department’s training division and another was promoted to sergeant at some point after the blast.


JOURNALISM 101: Mejia and Jany were accused of crossing an ethical line by LAPD Chief Michel Moore and the board of the police union for going to the home of a police officer named in the story to see if she wanted to comment. Door-knocking a story subject who can’t otherwise be reached is standard practice and a cornerstone of responsible journalism. The reporters did not follow the woman home, as the police union alleged.

Quick hits

  • Where is Inside Safe? The mayor’s program to bring people indoors did not launch any new operations this week. However, Bass did sign an updated declaration of an emergency on homelessness, which will continue to allow her to avoid competitive bidding requirements as she seeks to address the crisis.
  • On the docket for next week: The City Council remains on recess. Meanwhile, the Board of Fire Commissioners will meet on Tuesday to elect a president and discuss a 2021 report on the Fire Department’s handling of employee misconduct complaints.

Stay in touch

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