As the debate over Measure HLA heats up, some L.A politicians are not picking a lane

Students sit at a Metro bus stop on Oxnard Street. Measure HLA would add more bus and bicycle lanes across the city.
(Mel Melcon/Los Angeles Times)

Good morning, and welcome to L.A. on the Record — our City Hall newsletter. It’s Dakota Smith and David Zahniser at the helm, letting you know about the drama of the past seven days.

When it comes to Healthy Streets Los Angeles, the March 5 ballot measure to require the installation of hundreds of miles of new bus and bike lanes, L.A.’s elected officials are falling into multiple camps.

On the one side are politicians who have endorsed HLA — a group that includes Councilmembers Marqueece Harris-Dawson, Eunisses Hernandez, Heather Hutt, Nithya Raman, Hugo Soto-Martínez and Katy Yaroslavsky. City Controller Kenneth Mejia also backs it.

Four others members of the council — Bob Blumenfield, Tim McOsker, Traci Park and Monica Rodriguez — said this week that they do not support the measure, though Park appears to be the only one actively campaigning against it.

Then there are the politicians who have declined to publicly offer a position. That group includes two of the most powerful elected officials at City Hall: Mayor Karen Bass and Council President Paul Krekorian. They’ve stayed publicly neutral even as the debate over the ballot proposal grows more intense.


On Thursday, City Administrative Officer Matt Szabo released a report warning that the projects contained in Measure HLA would cost $3.1 billion, which could mean difficult budget choices in the coming years. His report came out one day after United Firefighters of Los Angeles City Local 112 staged a news conference in Skid Row to denounce HLA, saying it would slow down emergency response times.

The HLA campaign held its own news conference, saying the measure is urgently needed to stem the number of traffic deaths. Proponents of HLA have also gone hard after Szabo, accusing him of providing inaccurate cost estimates in an attempt to defeat the measure.

“It’s curious that [Szabo] stands behind his numbers when they are so obviously wrong and inflated,” said Michael Schneider, a founder of Streets for All, which conceived of Measure HLA.

Szabo, who provides budget analysis for the mayor and council, defended his numbers, calling them “conservative estimates.”

The Times has reached out to Bass multiple times about HLA over the past three weeks. On Feb. 2 and Feb. 5, her team said she had not yet reviewed it. On Friday, Bass spokesperson Zach Seidl repeatedly declined comment. Krekorian, for his part, said he still had “a lot of questions.”

Councilmember John Lee, battling for a second four-year term in the northwest San Fernando Valley, also has not taken a position. Neither has Councilmember Imelda Padilla, also running for reelection.

Frank Lima, general secretary-treasurer of the International Assn. of Firefighters, sounded exasperated that so many elected officials are staying out of the fray.

“All those politicians out there who are silent right now, who have not taken a position, guess what? Their silence speaks volumes,” Lima said during the No on HLA news conference.


So far, the only L.A. elected official actively campaigning against HLA is Park, whose Westside district was the subject of a major controversy over “road diets” in the years before she took office. A close ally of the firefighters union, Park called HLA a “boondoggle” this week.

Others struck a much softer tone. Blumenfield said that, while he is voting no on HLA, he also is not actively working against the measure. He said that, while he agrees with much of what the campaign is trying to achieve, he opposes the idea of “ballot box budgeting.”

Rodriguez, for her part, said: “There are too many unanswered questions for me to be supportive.”

Measure HLA was created by Streets for All, an advocacy group that has pushed for strategies to slow car and truck traffic and make streets safer for bicyclists and pedestrians. Backers secured the signatures in 2022 to force the proposal onto this year’s ballot. Since then, the pro-HLA campaign has been successful at building a coalition inside and outside City Hall.

On Thursday, four council members — Hernandez, Raman, Soto-Martinez and Yaroslavsky — stood near a giant HLA billboard and made their case for the measure, saying the council has dragged its feet for too long on completing street safety projects contained in the Mobility Plan, a transportation planning document approved in 2015.

Yaroslavsky said she’s determined to make the streets in her Westside district less perilous for her constituents, particularly schoolchildren. In an interview, she said it is “awful” that drivers are going 50 or 60 mph along La Cienega Boulevard “every single day because they can.”


“I want to put bike lanes on every major street across Los Angeles,” she said. “I want all of the bike lane infrastructure that’s in the [Mobility] plan, and then I want it everywhere else that it makes sense.”

An aide to Councilmember Curren Price did not provide an answer on HLA. Councilmember Kevin de León, through a spokesperson, said the fate of HLA is up to the voters.

State of play

— LABOR SHORTAGE: Mayor Karen Bass’ push to expand the size of the Los Angeles Police Department has fallen short so far, according to a new assessment from the city’s top budget analyst. Bass had been hoping to bring the LAPD back up to about 9,500 officers by June 30. The latest projections show the number will likely fall to 8,908 instead.

FINGER POINTING: A former aide to Councilmember Curren Price has filed a retaliation claim against the city of Los Angeles, alleging she was called a “snitch” over the district attorney’s criminal case against the councilman. Price’s office has denied her allegations, saying she harassed other aides.

— BASS IN ACTION: The mayor went to Sherman Oaks last weekend to fire up supporters of Councilmember Nithya Raman, now running for a second term in the March 5 election. Also on hand were Yaroslavsky and canvassers from SEIU 2015, LA Forward and other organizations.

— SCHOOL’S OUT: A private school that had been leasing space inside the L.A. Grand Hotel said in a lawsuit that it was forced to close after experiencing negative interactions with the hotel’s homeless residents. The L.A. Grand is being used as part of Bass’ Inside Safe program, which moves unhoused Angelenos out of encampments and into hotel and motel rooms.

— HOUSEKEEPERS OUT, TOO: Meanwhile, hotel workers at the L.A. Grand went on strike this week, setting up a tent village outside City Hall to make their case for better wages and working conditions. Unite Here Local 11 has been demanding that city leaders intervene on those issues.


— GRAFFITI GULCH: The City Council voted Friday to spend nearly $4 million to secure an unfinished downtown skyscraper complex and remove graffiti from its exterior. The council motion also called on the city attorney to report back within 30 days with a strategy to recoup the city’s expenses from the property owner.

— COUNTY CROWS: One year after declaring a local emergency on homelessness, Los Angeles County officials say their fight to move people indoors “absolutely is working.” Last year, 23,664 people in L.A. County were placed in permanent housing, such as apartments, an 18% increase over 2022, according to county data.

— I.E. INFLUX: We told you last week about some of the independent expenditure campaigns being waged on behalf of Deputy City Atty. Ethan Weaver, state Assemblymember Miguel Santiago, L.A. Councilmember Heather Hutt and other City Council candidates. Turns out Assemblymember Reggie-Jones Sawyer, now running against Hutt in South L.A., also is benefiting from some big I.E.s.

By midday Friday, Service Employees International Union Local 721, Smart Justice California and the Viejas Band of Kumeyaay Indians had spent a combined $220,000 promoting his campaign. SEIU Local 721 represents thousands of city workers.

— MORE BIG BUCKS: In the San Fernando Valley, the BizFed PAC is the latest group to make an independent expenditure on behalf of Councilmember John Lee, spending more than $17,000 on campaign mailers. That means there are now nearly $800,000 worth of I.E.’s supporting Lee in his race against nonprofit leader Serena Oberstein.

Lindsay Bubar, Oberstein’s political consultant, blasted the outside spending, saying special interests are “trying to buy” Lee’s reelection. “They are afraid of the change Serena will bring and are clearly scared of the community behind her,” she said.

Pat Dennis, Lee’s political consultant, said those I.E.’s are being paid for by police officers, firefighters and other city workers. “The fact that Oberstein’s campaign would call them ‘special interests’ shows how out of touch and disconnected from reality her campaign is,” he said.

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Quick hits

  • Where is Inside Safe? The mayor’s program to combat homelessness went to several locations in South L.A. this week, including Grand Avenue between Vernon Avenue and 58th Street, Hoover Street at the 105 Freeway and streets near Obama Boulevard and La Brea Avenue, according to Bass’ team. Some areas were previously targeted by Inside Safe and had repopulated, a mayoral aide said.
  • On the docket for next week: The City Council’s Planning and Land Use Management Committee meets Tuesday to discuss strategies for preserving affordable housing and reducing displacement in South L.A.

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