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Candidates address district’s woes at forum

By Aaron Blevins, 1/31/2013

CD13 hopefuls lay out plans for affordable housing, unemployment

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All 12 candidates running for Council District 13 pitched how they would combat unemployment and bring more affordable housing to the community during a forum on Tuesday at the Church of the Blessed Sacrament.

All 12 candidates for Los Angeles City Council District 13 attended a community forum at the Church of the Blessed Sacrament in Hollywood on Tuesday. (photo by Aaron Blevins)

Hosted by LA Voice and the church, the forum drew approximately 100 people looking to determine which candidate to vote for in the March 5 Primary Nominating Election.

Organizers used personal anecdotes by members of the community to frame questions about the district’s needs. Landy Aviles, of LA Voice, spoke of her five-year struggle with unemployment, and asked the candidates how they would facilitate the creation of living wage jobs. Candidates were given one minute to answer.

John Choi said Aviles’ problem is all too common in Los Angeles. He touted his experience as the economic development director of the Los Angeles County Federation of Labor, which he said ensured that billions of public funds were reinvested into the community.

“That’s the type of experience I think it takes to understand … that a job is beyond just a paycheck; a job is really about dignity,” Choi said.

City officials need to invite businesses that have left Los Angeles back into the community, Alex De Ocampo said. He said he would strive to streamline the permitting and zoning processes, phase out the gross receipts tax, create incentives for small businesses and hire a small business director for his office.

Roberto Haraldson said every new development in the district needs to be held accountable for the number of jobs it creates. He said it imperative that development projects keep money and jobs in the area.

Sam Kbushyan referenced his support for the proposed Hollywood Central Park, a 44-acre park on top of the Hollywood (101) Freeway that he said would bring 45,000 local jobs. He also stressed his desire to retain businesses currently operating in the city.

“Whether it’s labor or whether it’s small business, we need to keep them at home,” Kbushyan said.

A person’s ability to work and take care of their family is a basic right, Emile Mack said. Therefore, the new council member should look to keep and attract industry, while helping create businesses small and large, he said.

“We also have to train our existing residents so they are able to acquire these jobs,” Mack said.

Robert Negrete said he would work every day to ensure that the district retains its current employers. He said he would also work with the Hollywood WorkSource Center to ensure that residents are receiving adequate training for the jobs that are available.

The moderators, Hollywood Business Improvement District Kerry Morrison and Rev. Ryan Bell, of the Hollywood Seventh Day Adventist Church, then asked the remaining candidates how they would ensure that residents have access to living wage jobs in the district’s biggest industries — entertainment, technology, education, healthcare and tourism.

Mitch O’Farrell said the unemployment rate for the 90028 zip code is 12.45 percent, and is consistently higher than the city average. He said economic development is critical and will help the city’s budget woes, but officials should also work with major employers to ensure that they offer decent pay.

Small businesses are the fastest growing sector of the economy, Octavio Pescador said, and the city needs cash and investments in order to draw resources to create jobs and offer better training. He said Los Angeles must use its strengths to improve the business climate.

“We have to use our comparative advantages,” Pescador added.

Josh Post suggested that the city create incentives for businesses to hire within a three-mile radius in the community, as opposed to applicants in areas outside the district.

“We need to protect our local folks right here in the community first,” he said.

Los Angeles should get rid of the gross receipts tax, revise its tax rates and offer incentives to keep businesses in the city, Michael Schaefer said.

José Sigala said he would work to keep the entertainment industry in Hollywood, while promoting other areas in the district for the industry to use.

“But we must also invest in our youth to make sure they have the opportunities and education to have those good-paying jobs,” he said.

Matt Szabo also promoted protecting the entertainment industry by extending tax incentives. He said entertainment production needs to be treated like the district’s “signature industry.”

The candidates also heard the personal views of Pattarin Thongchua, an 84-year-old woman who inquired about the candidates’ interest in increasing affordable housing, especially for seniors.

Szabo said 5,000 affordable housing units are set to lose their affordable status by 2017, and hundreds of those units are in Council District 13.

“I am not interested in losing any rent-controlled units, and I will fight to protect those,” he said. “I am not interested in losing any of the covenants that are set to expire. …There is no point in improving the community if those who live in the community right now can no longer afford those improvements.”

Sigala referenced his work on the Greater Echo Park Elysian Neighborhood Council, saying that the council worked to hold developers accountable, a practice he would continue on the city council.

Schaefer said he has owned more than 100 rentals, and said he thinks it is a crime that someone in their 70s or 80s is told to get on a waiting list, a process that can take up to two years.

“People that age don’t know if they’re going to be around a year and a half or two,” he said, adding that he would aim to reduce that wait time to 90 days or, at most, six months.

Post said the Los Angeles Housing Department has predicted that people over the age of 60 will double in Los Angeles County in the next 20 years, so it is critical that the city support people of that age.

The new council member needs to find a balance between development and housing, Pescador said. He said the Hollywood Community Plan could be a great opportunity to bring in subsidies for senior housing.

“Either we prioritize matter and money, or we prioritize dignity and human beings,” Pescador said. “That is the choice.”

O’Farrell said that in his first 30 days in office, he would develop policy proposals for workforce housing, supportive housing, cooperative housing and subsidized senior housing. He said he would then seek a report on the city’s Affordable Housing Trust Fund and create an ordinance to establish affordable housing components in all multi-family developments.

Bell, the moderator, said the city has lost a substantial amount of affordable housing since 2002, and the Affordable Housing Trust Fund has been depleted. He asked how the remaining candidates would re-establish the trust fund.

Negrete said he is a big supporter of rent control, and that inclusionary zoning will be a tool to create more affordable housing.

“In addition to that, we need to make sure these housing facilities and housing units are safe,” he said.

The city’s responsible banking ordinance has a “reinvest in the community” clause that is currently undefined, Mack said.

“It doesn’t hold institutions to a set amount of money. We need to set that amount of money so that we see money we’re paying into financial institutions reinvested into the community,” he said, adding that local officials should seek state and federal resources, as well as partnerships with nonprofits to pursue funding.

Kbushyan said there is still more to be built in Hollywood, so officials should be efficient in their use of the resources that developers bring into neighborhoods. He also suggested using Quimby funds — fees developers pay in exchange for permission to build — and calling on banks and financial institutions to reinvest in the community.

Haraldson reiterated the need for developers to invest in the lives of people in the 13th District as well.

“You have to have a mutually cooperative situation where both parties are going to benefit,” he said.

De Ocampo said he would like to work with developers while also creating a strategic plan to “build funds that are district-centric.” The funding could be used to address Los Angeles’ housing woes, he said.

Choi said the city should re-establish the trust fund, but solving the housing issues in L.A. will require placing a high priority on new, affordable housing and preserving units that are already in place.

“The trust fund is important, but solving the crisis is much bigger,” he said.

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