Half of the seats on the Los Angeles City Council are up for a vote on March 3. That might seem like an opportunity to shake up City Hall — and there‘s a good argument to do it. L.A. is still mired in a homelessness and housing crisis, and the city still struggles to provide basic services.
But there’s value in experience, too, particularly when leaders embrace change and are willing to do the hard work of making it happen. The four incumbents below have on-the-job experience and deserve reelection.
Council District 2: Paul Krekorian
In his previous races, we praised Paul Krekorian as a thoughtful decision maker and a voice for fiscal responsibility. This time around we still recommend Krekorian, but with less enthusiasm. For all his intelligence and thoughtfulness, he’s too hesitant to rock the boat in City Hall and make the kind of impact that he could or should.
He also gets demerits on fiscal responsibility. As head of the council’s budget committee, Krekorian helped steer the city through tough fiscal times and build up a rainy day fund. But after signing new, more generous contracts with half a dozen public employee unions, L.A. is facing a $200-million-to-$400-million shortfall in each of the next four years despite collecting record-setting revenues, and the city may have to cut services.
Krekorian does get credit for launching two bridge home shelters for the homeless in his district and the city’s first official navigation center, which will provide outreach, services and storage space for homeless individuals in North Hollywood. We need to see even more housing and services in his district.
The other candidates on the ballot are lawyer Ayinde Jones, who is smart and enthusiastic but is making his first foray into civic affairs, and lighting technician Rudy Melendez, who rightly argues for improved city services but doesn’t make the case for how he would deliver them better than the incumbent.
Council District 4: David Ryu
David Ryu has blossomed from an overly cautious first-time candidate in 2015 into a reformer willing to take a clear and, at times, difficult stand.
His colleagues have resisted much of Ryu’s push to dispel the pay-to-play cloud hanging over the council; they only reluctantly passed his ban on political contributions from real estate developers after City Hall scandals. He’s done better on one ethics issue fully under his own control: He has given community groups the ability to help spend and track his office’s discretionary funds.
He has also gotten solid marks from people working to house and serve homeless Angelenos for supporting more shelters and housing in his district, and for bringing a needed perspective as a former executive at Kedren Health, a provider of mental healthcare. As one advocate for homeless people noted, it would be easy for someone representing the 4th District to adopt a “clean up the streets” attitude, but Ryu has favored data-driven and services-based approaches that hold more promise over the long term.
Ryu faces a pair of impressive challengers, both of whom have zeroed in on city government’s failures. Nithya Raman is an urban planner who’s been an advocate for women’s rights, and she co-founded a local coalition focused on bringing services to their homeless neighbors. She’s emphasized the need to do more on homelessness, climate change and immigrant protections. Sarah Kate Levy, a screenwriter and political activist, has also pushed for more progress on homelessness, affordable housing and improving bike, transit and mobility options. Nevertheless, Ryu’s experience and record have earned him a second term.
Council District 6: Nury Martinez
For decades, the 6th District has been beset by illegal dumping and industrial pollution. In more recent years, it has seen an influx of recreational vehicles occupied by homeless people. Since she was elected seven years ago, Nury Martinez has been blunt about trying to protect her district from being considered a place where people can discard things without consequence or live in their vehicles indefinitely.
She has, rightfully, taken on the battle against illegal dumping and made the fight against human trafficking her signature issue. But homelessness is more complicated, and she has made some missteps. For too long she railed against the presence of homeless people in RVs, arguing that she was just standing up for her constituents. And she justified her resistance to housing for homeless people by saying she wanted to see wealthier communities take their share first. Well, many of those districts now have done so.
She has evolved some over the last couple of years, backing the development of supportive housing in her district for homeless people who desperately need it. Now she is president of the City Council, and she is going to have to balance the demands of her constituents with the demands of leading on citywide issues — the most prominent one being the homelessness crisis, which cannot be solved by driving homeless people from one neighborhood to another. We expect her to channel her bluntness and toughness into standing up for what is right on that issue and others.
Her two opponents include longtime community leader Bill Haller, who is smart, funny, and had the perseverance to attend more than 70 meetings of neighborhood councils in the district, but he can’t match Martinez’s experience. Benito “Benny” Bernal is a community advocate in the district but doesn’t have fully fleshed-out ideas.
Council District 8: Marqueece Harris-Dawson
Marqueece Harris-Dawson, who is finishing his first term, is the only candidate on the ballot in District 8. The former head of the Community Coalition, Harris-Dawson came from the advocacy world with a clear mission to deliver better services and economic development to his South L.A. district. He’s struggled at times to turn bold ideas into policy; witness the difficulties he’s encountered in trying to fill more public sector jobs with local residents and to implement a “social equity” program that gives priority for marijuana business licenses to individuals harmed by the war on drugs.
Harris-Dawson saw possibility in using South L.A.’s rich culture to drive economic development. He led the development of Destination Crenshaw, a 1.3-mile open-air museum, to celebrate the Crenshaw district as a black community amid fears of gentrification with the arrival of the new light rail line.
It takes time to learn the ropes at City Hall, and even longer to break down the bureaucracy that hinders progress. It’s clear that Harris-Dawson is a thoughtful leader who wants the best for his community. In his second term, we hope he uses his expertise now as an insider to get more change, faster.