Nury Martinez is gone, but distrust remains high as Valley voters weigh a replacement

A jet taxis onto a runway in view of the Hollywood Hills.
The increase in private jet traffic at Van Nuys Airport is an issue in the April 4 special election to replace former City Council President Nury Martinez, who resigned last year.
(Carolyn Cole / Los Angeles Times)

Voters in Nury Martinez’s City Council district were among those outraged last year when leaked audio captured her ugly remarks.

Months later, anger over the audio has cooled somewhat. In the central and east San Fernando Valley, the focus is on the upcoming election to replace the former City Council president, who resigned in October.

At forums, candidates running for the council seat vow to rebuild public trust and work with marginalized communities. They also offer solutions for Van Nuys Airport, where the noise and fumes from private jets torment neighbors, and pitch improvements to make Panorama City’s boulevards bike-friendly.


But the question is whether simmering frustration over the racist comments and political machinations exposed in the audio, which drew national scrutiny and protests inside and outside City Hall, will increase turnout in the April 4 election.

Some local leaders say the scandal has deepened mistrust in City Hall. The episode, in which Martinez and others took part in a secretly recorded conversation about City Council redistricting, also followed a string of FBI investigations into local politicians.

Saul Mejia, president of the Panorama City Chamber of Commerce, said he regularly talks with local business owners and residents.

“Unfortunately, people have lost faith in their government,” Mejia said. “People just feel like they have better things to do” than vote.

Outrage, anger and sadness swept across the city as elected officials processed the racist comments of Council President Nury Martinez. Three of her colleagues have already said she should resign.

Oct. 9, 2022

Even before the scandal broke, low turnout was an issue in this majority-Latino district. Many Latino residents skip elections in L.A. because they don’t think their ballot will count or because they don’t think a candidate represents their views.

At the same time, progressive activists haven’t built the extensive organizing networks in the east Valley that have helped elect candidates in other recent elections.

Damage and neglect are visible outside the L.A. Department of Building and Safety in Van Nuys.
Damage is visible outside an L.A. Department of Building and Safety office in Van Nuys, which is in Council District 6.
(Wally Skalij / Los Angeles Times)

At an election forum Saturday in Arleta hosted by the city’s Valley-based neighborhood councils, locals pressed the candidates to explain how they would increase transparency and put in “checks and balances” to fight corruption.

One candidate referred to City Hall as L.A.’s “Tammany Hall,” a reference to the New York Democratic group that was synonymous with corruption.

Sun Valley resident Norma Chavez was hopeful that Saturday’s forum, which was moderated by a Times reporter, would increase interest in the race. So far, she’d seen little engagement.

“We don’t have as many constituents coming to us unless they have an issue that they need solved,” said Chavez, who serves on the Sun Valley Neighborhood Council. “And if the issue gets solved, then they disappear.”

The candidates include former and current aides to elected officials: Marisa Alcaraz, deputy chief of staff and environmental policy director for Councilmember Curren Price; Marco Santana, director of engagement at L.A. Family Housing and a past aide to Rep. Tony Cárdenas; and Imelda Padilla, who worked for a year for Martinez and has experience in community and healthcare work.


The list also includes Rose Grigoryan, who worked for an Armenian TV station, according to her website; Isaac Kim, who runs a men’s skin and hair care company; Antoinette Scully, national organizer at the Unitarian Universalist Women’s Federation; and Douglas Sierra, who works at management consulting firm Monitor Deloitte.

In 2013, the last time this seat was open, Martinez won with 5,485 votes. A little over 11% of the district’s registered voters cast ballots. However, the state’s switch to mail-in voting — the ballots for this race will be sent out starting March 6 — could boost turnout.

If no candidate gets more than 50%, the top two vote-getters will advance to a June runoff.

Stuart Waldman, president of the Valley Industry and Commerce Assn., said the race for Council District 6, which extends from Lake Balboa east to Van Nuys and north to Panorama City and Sun Valley, is wide open.

“Any two of these candidates could make the runoff,” Waldman said. “And any one of the candidates could be the next council person.”

An outsider candidate might have an edge, based on voter data showing that Rick Caruso outpolled Karen Bass in this district in the recent mayoral race.


About 34% of voters in City Council District 6 cast votes in the mayor’s race, a low rate of engagement compared with other districts.

Shianne Smith, vice president of Black Los Angeles Young Democrats, was among those who created T-shirts that read “I’m with the Blacks” to wear to a City Council meeting right after the scandal broke.

The shirts were a reference to a comment Martinez made about L.A. County Dist. Atty. George Gascón in the closed-door meeting. “F— that guy. … He’s with the Blacks,” Martinez said.

Smith agrees that voters in the district are distrustful of City Hall but said that the leaked audio motivated voters to get engaged.

A recent District 6 candidate forum co-sponsored by Black Los Angeles Young Democrats drew a diverse crowd, she said. The group, which hasn’t made an endorsement yet, is looking for a candidate who can bring together the district’s different economic communities, as well as the Black, Latino and Asian communities, Smith said.

“Solidarity is a big thing, you know,” Smith said. “And doing things different than they have been done before.”


Arleta Neighborhood Council member Margaret Shoemaker also wants a new way of doing things, saying that she’s seen a “real decline in the confidence that communities have towards City Hall.”

Shoemaker initially supported Martinez but lost faith after the council president reallocated police funding in 2020. Shoemaker wants to see more funding and public respect for the Los Angeles Police Department and said crime is her top concern in the District 6 race.

The district’s history in the Valley dates to the 2002 redistricting cycle. Population shifts prompted the City Council to move the district from the Westside and create a fifth Valley seat that gave Latinos and the Valley more political clout.

Today, the district is 68% Latino, 16% white, 10.5% Asian and 3.8% Black, according to census data.

A lack of economic development and high-paying jobs has hurt areas like Panorama City, which never fully recovered from the loss of department stores and assembly plants in the 1990s.


During a conversation in the secretly recorded audio about moving council boundaries, Martinez at one point can be heard fighting to keep job-generating sites, including Van Nuys Airport and the Anheuser-Busch brewery, in her district.

She also expressed frustration with potentially losing the Sepulveda Basin, which is being targeted for renovations by the city and is a planned site of 2028 Olympics events.

A woman stands outside
Linda Gravani, a member of the Lake Balboa Neighborhood Council, says ethics are the most important quality in a City Council candidate.
(Wally Skalij / Los Angeles Times)

Linda Gravani, a member of the Lake Balboa Neighborhood Council, is among those who are suspicious about the city’s handling of the basin makeover. She fears a popular dog park will shrink under the plan, though city officials haven’t indicated that’s under consideration.

Gravani has kept up with the various federal investigations into “payola,” as she puts it, at City Hall.

She’s closely watching the Council District 6 race. Asked what’s the most important quality to her in a candidate, she replied: “Ethics.”


“The word transparency is used all the time, but there’s so many things that are hidden,” Gravani said.