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Editorial: In L.A. mayoral runoff, Bass and Caruso must move beyond sound bites

Karen Bass and Rick Caruso before the start of a mayoral debate in March.
U.S. Rep. Karen Bass, left, and businessman Rick Caruso are introduced at a debate in March. The two L.A. mayoral candidates are headed to a runoff in November.
(Genaro Molina / Los Angeles Times)
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There are several ways to interpret, accurately or not, the results of Tuesday’s mayoral primary in Los Angeles: Anger won the day with most voters backing billionaire Rick Caruso who wants to “clean up L.A.” Or big money triumphed, with Caruso outspending Rep. Karen Bass by 12 to 1 and blanketing the city with his message. Or perhaps apathy was the big winner, with voter turnout still frustratingly low despite the media blitz, the change in election dates and the high stakes of the mayor’s race.

After the hot takes have cooled, Los Angeles voters should turn their attention to the details. In local government, details matter, and the primary election has been nearly devoid of them.

With the mayor’s race down to two candidates — Caruso and Bass — and months till the November runoff, it’s time to move beyond the slogans and soundbites. The two candidates must now share detailed plans of how they will deliver the change Angelenos want.

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L.A. Times editorial board interview with Rick Caruso

April 29, 2022

Take, for example, Caruso’s campaign pledge to add 1,500 officers to the Los Angeles Police Department before the end of his first four-year term. That will be an enormous expense; the force is currently about 9,600 officers and the department’s roughly $3-billion budget consumes almost half of the city’s unrestricted revenue. How will Caruso pay for his plan?

It took former Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa his entire eight years in office to increase the LAPD by 1,000 officers and he had to triple homeowners’ trash fees and cut other city services to do it. On Caruso’s website, he says he’ll apply for grants — which are temporary — and “demand” direct funding from the Biden and Newsom administrations. Sure. That’ll go over well. Caruso needs to explain how he would increase the LAPD without slashing basic city services or raising taxes, which he says is unnecessary.

Likewise, Caruso has said he will build 30,000 shelter beds in 300 days. How exactly? So far, he’s spoken highly of Ft. Bliss, a tent city for unaccompanied migrant children set up on the Army base in Texas that was investigated for filthy, substandard conditions. Even if that was an acceptable way to temporarily house homeless people — it’s been tried, and it’s not acceptable — where will Caruso find space in L.A. for a massive tent city, when residents oppose much smaller tiny home villages?

Congressmember Karen Bass spoke about her approach to the city’s homelessness crisis and how she would develop a new vision of community safety in L.A.

April 29, 2022

Caruso might not be our pick — The Times endorsed Bass for mayor — but he may well be L.A.’s chief executive next year, and he owes it to the Angelenos who supported him in the primary and those who might in November to be transparent about his intentions and realistic about what he can do as mayor.

Bass, meanwhile, has to make a far-more compelling case to voters that she can deliver the holistic reform she’s talked about. She has promised to house 15,000 homeless individuals by the end of her first year in office. She says she’d do it by converting existing motels and empty commercial properties, and identifying public land that could accommodate temporary and permanent housing. Those are fine ideas, but they are not new. Bass needs to explain, thoroughly and credibly, how she’d break the logjam of bureaucracy and NIMBYism to get temporary and permanent housing built quickly.

Bass has the harder job convincing voters in the current political climate. She’s a longtime elected official running on her experience at a moment when Angelenos blame government for the ongoing homelessness crisis, the lack of affordable housing and rising crime. She talks about systemic change to fix the long-standing problems that fuel homelessness, inequality and crime. She says there are no simple answers. She’s right, but she needs to lay out a convincing plan to show L.A. residents that improvement isn’t just possible but achievable.

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But five months is a long time to run on slogans and vague promises. It’s time for candidates to sharpen their arguments and voters to demand more than campaign baloney.

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