Why three L.A. City Council members recused on rent hikes
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The high cost of rent has become a pressing issue for the city’s political leaders, who are scrambling to find ways to keep their constituents from slipping into homelessness.
Yet when the City Council approved a proposal to allow most landlords to increase rents by 4% or 6% next year, three of the 15 members did not cast votes. So what happened?
Just to catch up: The council voted 10 to 2 on Tuesday to allow new rent hikes — the first since the outbreak of COVID-19 — for apartments regulated by the city’s rent stabilization ordinance, which covers about three-quarters of all multifamily rental units and applies to apartments built before October 1978.
Council President Paul Krekorian and Councilmembers Curren Price and Katy Yaroslavsky recused themselves from casting votes on the final ordinance.
Price did so because his wife is the owner of eight rental units throughout L.A., said his spokesperson, Angelina Valencia-Dumarot.
“Out of an abundance of caution, the city attorney has asked me to recuse myself,” said Price, who represents part of South L.A.
Price, you may recall, is already facing several criminal charges that focus, in part, on whether he failed to properly recuse himself on decisions where he is alleged to have had a conflict of interest — related to projects backed by developers who had business with his wife’s consulting company. The council member has denied all wrongdoing and called the charges against him “unwarranted.”
Krekorian, who represents part of the San Fernando Valley, is an owner of four apartment units, according to an aide. Yaroslavsky, who is based on the Westside, has a duplex in the area of Pico Boulevard and Fairfax Avenue, her spokesperson said.
Yaroslavsky is also in the unusual position of being both a tenant and a landlord, since her family rents a home in Mid City. Although she had previously voted on other tenant protection measures, the proposals discussed this week required her to take a different approach.
Yaroslavsky recused herself from voting both on the rent increase and on an amendment proposed by Councilmember Tim McOsker, which sought to provide additional relief to landlords with 12 or fewer units.
Yaroslavsky said the city attorney’s office advised her that she is not required to recuse herself from participating in the vote on the overarching rent hike proposal because “under state law, an official who is the owner of 3 or fewer rental units fits within a general public exception.”
The McOsker amendment changed that equation, since it had the potential to benefit her personally.
L.A. voters can look up the real estate holdings and other financial assets reported by their elected officials.
Under California’s Political Reform Act, city elected officials are required to file statements disclosing their outside economic interests, such as real estate income. They are prohibited from making, participating in making, or using their role to influence governmental decisions that may affect their personal finances or other financial interests such as business, income, gifts and real estate.
But there are two exceptions to this conflict-of-interest rule: In rare occasions, a council member could be arbitrarily chosen to participate in a decision if too many of their colleagues also have a conflict of interest and a quorum can’t be reached. An official can make a decision if the impact on their interests is indistinct from the impacts on the public.
Ivor Pine, deputy communication director for City Atty. Hydee Feldstein Soto, said city officials must regularly take an online ethics training course. Feldstein Soto’s office also provides city officials guidance for following conflict-of-interest law.
“What we discuss is privileged,” he added.
State of play
— BASS’ BIG TEST: At the beginning of the week, we wrote about how the 10 Freeway closure — and potential traffic catastrophe — would be a significant political test for Mayor Karen Bass, who had little direct control of the situation but would undoubtedly be held responsible for delays. By Thursday, the mayor was beaming victoriously at a news conference with Gov. Gavin Newsom, announcing the freeway would reopen by Tuesday — far earlier than elected leaders had said was expected. The speedy repairs are a major win for Bass. But an engineer with the California Department of Transportation told The Times that officials were “setting long expectations” with the reopening timeline, adding that crews working on the scene would “deliver early.”
— NEW CHIEF OF STAFF: Carolyn Webb de Macias is the mayor’s new chief of staff. She was a senior advisor to former Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa, and worked for then-City Councilmember Mark Ridley-Thomas. She succeeds Chris Thompson, who held the powerful post for less than a year and is returning to the private sector.
— CONTROVERSIAL COMPLEX: The City Council unanimously voted to allow Harvard-Westlake School to replace the Weddington Golf & Tennis club with an athletic complex in Studio City, despite objections from some neighbors. The plans include two playing fields, a two-story gymnasium, a swimming pool, an underground parking lot and eight tennis courts. More than five acres of open space will be available to the public, school representatives said.
— LAPD PROBE: The Los Angeles Police Department is looking into whether several men were initially turned away at a police station when they tried to report that someone paid them hundreds of dollars to dispose of human remains, our colleagues Libor Jany and Richard Winton report. The men, who worked as day laborers, tried to lodge a report at the front desk of a Valley police station but were told to call 911. The officer at the station desk did not speak Spanish and couldn’t understand their story, according to police sources who requested anonymity to discuss the ongoing investigation.
— AIDS CHARITY EVICTIONS: A Times investigation has found that many of the AIDS Healthcare Foundation’s tenants live in squalid conditions, with dozens under the threat of eviction. Those conditions exist even while the foundation makes public statements about the dangers of forcing people from their homes, our colleagues Liam Dillon, Doug Smith and Benjamin Oreskes report. Under the direction of co-founder and President Michael Weinstein, the foundation has spent more than $300 million sponsoring rent control ballot initiatives in California and buying apartment complexes across the country, including more than a dozen in Los Angeles, mostly old single-room occupancy hotels.
— GETTING TO 500: Dozens of would-be candidates for City Council spent the last week trying to collect the 500 valid voter signatures they need to qualify for the March ballot. The first two to succeed were environmentalist Aura Vasquez and attorney Grace Yoo, both of whom are looking to unseat City Councilmember Heather Hutt in the city’s 10th District, which stretches from Koreatown to the Crenshaw Corridor. The deadline for turning in signatures is Dec. 6.
— COUNTY RENT HIKE CAP: The Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors extended — and slightly increased — a soon-to-expire cap on rent increases. The county’s temporary 3% cap on annual rent increases in unincorporated areas was supposed to end in December. But the supervisors voted to increase the cap to 4% and extend it through June, sparing tenants living in mobile homes and rent-controlled units in unincorporated areas from a dramatic rent hike for an additional six months, Times county reporter Rebecca Ellis wrote.
— SHOW ME THE $$$: Political donations from the entertainment industry, a backbone of Democratic national politics, dried up during the Hollywood strikes. But with the SAG-AFTRA strike now over, the floodgates are expected to open.
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- Where is Inside Safe? Mayor Karen Bass’ signature program to move homeless people indoors did not have an operation this week. However, her appointees on the city’s Planning Commission endorsed a proposal to provide over-the-counter approval to a wide range of 100% affordable housing projects, per My News LA.
- On the docket for next week: The City Council won’t have any meetings during Thanksgiving week. However, the Board of Police Commissioners is scheduled to meet Tuesday to discuss the LAPD’s budget proposal for the 2024-25 fiscal year.
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