By JAMIE PAIGE
Westside Current Editor
Councilmember Mike Bonin moderated a forum July 27 held by the Santa Monica Democratic Club. The primary message of the night was the “rise of the progressive movement in Los Angeles.”
In attendance on the panel were three candidates running for office in Los Angeles. CD 11 Candidate Erin Darling, CD13 Candidate Hugo Soto-Martinez and Controller Candidate Kenneth Mejia were panelist as well as CD1 council member-elect, Eunisses Hernandez.
Supervisor 3 candidate Lindsey Horvath was in attendance, not as a panelist.
Bonin told attendees he’s the “happiest man in politics right now.” “For two reasons, I’m not running right now. And I’m even more free and liberated than I had been. So, I am retiring from office, not activism,” Bonin stated.
Before questions began, Bonin highlighted that there’s an argument that the progressives need to tone it down. “That’s not what we are seeing,” Bonin said. Noting that all panelist attending Wednesday had successfully beaten their opponents in the primary. “They all ran against the machine and came out ahead.”
“The topic of homelessness is so visceral on the Westside,” said Erin Darling when asked about his take on the subject. “That said, many people are barely holding on. I’m speaking to people with hopes, not fears. It can’t just be anger.”
Darling appeared to be referring to the pushback that he and Bonin have received regarding public safety.
Chaos, human suffering and public safety have been issues at the forefront of conversations for many people on the westside.
Darling’s opponent, Traci Park, a moderate democrat, who was not invited to the forum, has contented in her candidacy that “there has been a disregard for valid concerns, and little to nothing to address real questions about children and public access to our beach and the safety of our community.”
Darling said, “we have to acknowledge that people are entering homelessness at a faster rate than their exiting homelessness. So, we must prevent that from happening by strengthening venture protections and giving people a right to counsel. Because if you don’t have a lawyer and you’re facing eviction, the chances are you will lose.” (LA City Council voted 11-1 on July 27 to keep the eviction moratorium in place through August 2023 or up to 12 months following the end of the declaration of the local emergency. It has been in place since March 2020.)
As for public safety, all panelists noted that they want less funding for police and would rather see money go into mental health programs.
“It [public safety] is a big issue on the westside, especially in CD11,” noted Bonin. “We’ve had the sheriff strutting around this part of town. Social media dominates the conversation, and the big narrative is crime is going crazy, and the only way we can respond to that is more police. That’s the master narrative.”
“A lot of things get reduced to what people hear on say Fox News,” Darling stated. He said that he thinks it’s important to acknowledge the “myth that the LAPD budget was cut and then crime went up. And then, if we talk about crime, it is not up across the board. ”
Reports, however, don’t support that statement.
In the first half of the year, there were 181 homicides in the city of Los Angeles, the highest number in the past 15 years, according to data released by the nonprofit news organization Crosstown at USC. There were 178 homicides in the city during the first six months of 2021.
By the end of last year, 397 homicides occurred in the city, the highest number since 2007, according to Los Angeles Police Department data compiled by Crosstown.
The environment was also a topic that all candidates addressed. Many talked about how to create and transfer jobs into sustainable energy. But, again, none spoke about the environmental impact of encampments, especially the Ballona Wetlands.
Numerous community members and activists have spoken out about the negative impacts of the encampments on the area.
“I want to express our dismay at the cities and the action that has allowed this humanitarian crisis to develop and grow,” stated a member of the Friends of the Ballona Wetlands several weeks ago during a Department of Transportation meeting. “Several fires have been destroying sensitive habitats and hundreds of mature plants and trees have been cut down. This area will take decades and hundreds of thousands of dollars to recover.”
L.A. Sanitation & Environment workers collected and disposed of more than 700 pounds of biological waste after the Echo Park encampment was cleared last year. There were 30 pounds of drug paraphernalia (including hypodermic needles), 45 pounds of corrosive material, 125 pounds of ignitable objects, 80 pounds of paint, and 15 pounds of hazardous oil.
What Will You Champion?
The most notable question of the evening was when Bonin said that many people feel shut out from the city government, alienated, and angry. “They’re frustrated–then asked the candidates what seat at the table they would offer,” he stated.
“Who are you most interested in bringing in and championing?”
Darling told Bonin he wants to champion renters. Soto-Martinez stated he wants to champion the voice of the working poor of the city, the essential workers and Mejia stated the homeless.
(Editor’s note: CTN reached out to the Pacific Palisades Democratic Club, which is the largest and most influential Democratic Club on the Westside. CTN was told that club had endorsed Karen Bass for mayor in the primary but had not endorsed a candidate for CD11. Under the club’s bylaws, a candidate needs to receive 60 percent of the 30-member board’s approval to get the endorsement. Additionally, some have wondered about the wisdom of having Bonin emcee a forum, especially when he has endorsed Darling.
The PPDC also sent a letter to the L.A. Times Editorial Board in May, “The Pacific Palisades Democratic Club board of directors strongly objects to your endorsement of Kenneth Mejia for L.A. City Controller.
“Mr. Mejia’s defamatory smears against elected public officials, including a sitting president, indicate that he thrives on inflammatory rhetoric as a political tool in this charged atmosphere of partisan politics. Your endorsement acknowledges that the Controller must work ‘cooperatively with city leaders to carry out the office’s agenda.’ We argue that a candidate who resorts to baseless and incendiary claims pronounced on Twitter is unlikely to work cooperatively with a wide range of stakeholders with differing viewpoints.)