Eight city council seats are up for grabs on the March 7 ballot. Some are more contested than others. Raphael Sonenshein, executive director of the Pat Brown Institute of Public Affairs at Cal State LA, weighed in on common themes across those LA City Council races:
Raphael Sonenshein: I think there’s a little bit kind of a shaky feeling at city hall. Incumbents are most cases well ahead, but there’s definitely kind of a feeling of sometimes wanting to stick it to city hall. And I think that measure S on the ballot to limit development is definitely reflecting that.
KCRW: When you say wanting to stick it to city hall, is it primarily the issue of development, is it the feeling that city hall isn’t hearing our concerns? That city hall isn’t responsive enough? What seems to be the issue?
RS: I mean there’s always a stick it to city hall sentiment floating around the city. Sometimes it has a special resonance in these very low turnout races, because if a whole lot of angry people show up, they can have an outsized influence. You don’t really hear it a lot that in a real high turnout rate, especially when there’s a contested mayoral race. But the growth thing and the development thing has taken off a bit this year.
KCRW: One of the really amazing races that is taking place in LA, this election is in the 7th City Council District. Which covers basically the northeastern San Fernando valley, kind of from Tujunga to Sylmar. Felipe Fuentes who represented the districts, stepped down last fall to become a lobbyist. And 20 candidates are now competing for the seat, a lot of them not typical politicians, does this kind of thing happen very often?
It doesn’t happen quite this often with this large a number. There’s a real feeling in the 7th district of neglect. That is a separate matter from the overall kind of alienation from city hall. There’s a real feeling there that goes with being an east side part of the valley and also not having a council member. People are pretty annoyed there, there’s a bunch of people that have enough money to be heard, but not to be major contenders. And then there’s three major candidates- Monica Ratliff, Monica Rodriguez and Karo Torossian- who have, either have enough money or enough recognition to really be the major contenders.
KCRW: Monica Ratliff is on the school board, Torossian has connections to city hall, has been an aid at city hall. Rodriguez, are there city connections there as well?
Well she’s a major city commissioner and has probably the largest number of endorsements of major elected officials in the race.
KCRW: So do you think that we could see a clear winner coming out of this race on March 7th? Or do you think that might be one to headed to a runoff?
I’d be shocked if this didn’t go to a runoff. Not so much just because there’s three major candidates, but there are so many candidates at a decent enough level to get some votes that I think it’s going to be awfully hard to get to a majority in the primary.
KCRW: In all of the other districts incumbents of running for re-election, are there any races where the incumbents appear to be looking less secure or perhaps even a little iffy?
Well, in the first district which is on the east side of Los Angeles where Gil Cedillo is running for re-election. He is way ahead in money, but he lost the Times endorsement to Joe Bray-Ali, a young guy with a lot of community activities, I still think he’s the prohibitive favorite.
KCRW: You think Cedillo is going to pull it out?
Yeah, the interesting race to me is District 5. Which is a west-side district that includes Westwood, Fairfax, it is the highest voter turnout district in the city, year after year after year. Paul Koretz is running for re-election. Jesse Creed is running a very well-funded campaign that is if not equal to at least keeping pace with the incumbent. The reason I think that’s significant is every incumbent in the 5th District worries about the growth issue. If he rides through that district, there are billboards for Measure S everywhere. Now Creed, I believe, has not endorsed S but could benefit from a strong vote for S and end up being kind of an anti-city hall vote. Again I still think Koretz is still favored as a well-regarded incumbent, but you know the crown always rests a little bit nervously in the 5th because the voters are very strong on the growth issue.
KCRW: So it sounds like with all these seats up for grabs on the city council that the overarching issue or certainly the issue that’s casting a shadow across everything is development.
I think it is, and I have to tell you that’s been true in LA for decades, it’s just sometimes it boils over. There has been a constant struggle in LA probably since Tom Bradley was mayor, of both wanting to be a big cosmopolitan city and also feeling uncomfortable with a lot of the effects that go along with growth as the city becomes that city. And this has gone on for years. In the mid ’80s, there was a ballot measure Prop U for height limitation that passed throughout the city, and here it is again. It’s not that it just appears, it’s always around, but this year there’s a very well-funded campaign to put a pretty strong halt to growth in the city.
(Photo: Los Angeles by Saul Gonzalez)