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Kevin de León takes L.A. City Council seat, vows to tackle ‘dystopian’ homelessness crisis

Kevin de Leon, seated behind a microphone, takes part in a forum in Little Tokyo in February.
Los Angeles City Councilman Kevin de León, shown in February. Because of COVID-19 fears, he posted a swearing-in video instead of holding an in-person ceremony.
(Carolyn Cole / Los Angeles Times)

Los Angeles City Councilman Kevin de León took office two months early on Thursday, telling supporters in a prerecorded swearing-in video that the city’s homelessness crisis has devolved into a “dystopian nightmare.”

De León, 53, was elected in March to represent the city’s 14th Council District, which has been represented for nearly 15 years by Jose Huizar, now facing racketeering, bribery and other charges.

In his swearing-in remarks, which were posted Thursday but recorded last week, De León vowed to be a “voice for the voiceless,” saying he is a lifelong renter who has experienced poverty firsthand.

De León promised to work immediately on bringing 200 homeless shelter beds to downtown Los Angeles and building hundreds of “transitional” housing units across the district, which includes downtown, Eagle Rock, El Sereno and Boyle Heights.

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“When it comes to homelessness and housing affordability, what we are seeing today in Los Angeles is a modern-day human catastrophe, a dystopian nightmare unlike anything we’ve ever seen before,” he said. “It’s shocking. It’s shameful. We have a moral and human obligation to do better.”

With L.A. City Councilman Jose Huizar charged with corruption and suspended from his post, it’s now unclear who’s running his district office.

Because of concerns about COVID-19, De León’s team eschewed the idea of an in-person ceremony, instead putting together a swearing-in video featuring testimonials from Mayor Eric Garcetti, state Sen. Maria Elena Durazo and other political and community figures. The city clerk conducted a private swearing-in on Thursday afternoon, a De León representative said.

De León originally had expected to take office in mid-December. But his fortunes changed after FBI agents arrested Huizar in June, accusing him of running a criminal enterprise that involved bribes from several downtown real estate developers.

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Huizar has pleaded not guilty. Nevertheless, his colleagues voted to suspend him in June, and City Controller Ron Galperin stripped him of his salary soon afterward.

In his remarks, De León did not mention the ongoing probe, which has resulted in guilty pleas from former City Councilman Mitchell Englander, former Huizar aide George Esparza, former city planning commissioner Justin Jangwoo Kim and real estate consultant George Chiang.

Instead, De León took aim at the city’s planning and development process, saying it lacks predictability and is “a breeding ground for consultants and others to abuse the system and inflate costs.”

Among his first tasks, De León said, will be speeding up the construction of affordable housing and removing hundreds of pages of “outdated rules” that govern such projects.

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“To get our planning back on track,” he said, “I’ve already begun working with the city’s planning department to trim away more than 800 pages of convoluted and unnecessary code written decades ago.”


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