By ANGELA MCGREGORA
A fast-paced forum to find Sheila Kuehl’s replacement for L.A. County Supervisor was held live (and live streamed) in Venice, on Thursday, May 19.
Hosted by The Westside Current, Circling the News, the Santa Monica Daily Press and the Acorn, the six candidates, Craig Brill, Jeffi Girgenti, Bob Hertzberg, Lindsay Horvath, Roxanne Beckford Hoge and Henry Stern, presented their positions.
This was the first forum that included all candidates whose names are on the June 7 primary ballot. In prior debates, Brill, Girgenti and Beckford Hoge had been excluded.
Many of the questions asked related to what all the candidates stated was the most complicated and pressing issue currently facing the District — Homelessness.
Stern stated that in order to fix homelessness, the county “needs to get out of its own way and start spending down the almost $1 billion I found in an audit I did for mental health services.”
He pointed out the county has just 30 mental health workers currently working, a number he feels should be “in the hundreds.” He wants to put psychiatric care facilities in every neighborhood and stop pitting “care first versus housing first.”
Hertzberg said that he completely agreed with Stern’s assessment, and that “the county’s just not taking responsibility.” Hertzberg, who brought with him a bulging notebook full of what he called “homework,” held up a letter showing the county had yet to respond to a question about hundreds of millions of dollars in unspent funds.
Girgenti spoke to the need for “conservancies,”, along with the need for a HOPE and HOST program that works, by working with all first responders and creating facilities to “get these people housed. “Hope of the Valley has done a great job with this,” Girgenti said.
Horvath said that in West Hollywood, they have an “80% success rate in getting people off the streets.” But she went on to state that the most complicated problem was “how to get people together to solve problems. People are very angry in this county. They’re angry, they’re upset, and they have a right to be.”
Beckford Hoge acknowledged that homelessness is a pressing issue but stated the most important issue for her was the “corruption in our City Council. It is the number one issue we face. It affects everything, from homelessness, to crime…everything is made worse by the cabal of people collecting huge pots of money and doing nothing.”
Brill said that “homelessness and public safety are the driving issues behind why people are angry. People don’t feel safe going out on the street.” He pointed to the need for more beds, and more assisted living centers. “We need to get people to get off the street who are mentally ill and can’t live on their own,” Brill said. “We need to build them immediately.”
All but one candidate — Henry Stern — said that they would abolish LAHSA (although Stern later clarified his response by stating he would restructure the agency, by having it work with the Department of Public Health and the Department of Mental Health “under one umbrella”).
Hertzberg said the recently released recommendation of a County “Blue Ribbon” commission on Homelessness were ridiculous. “On the one hand they say it’s a crisis, and on the other hand, they want 39 months to fix it,” he said.
Horvath said the commission’s recommendations (which include creating a new position to oversee all homeless services) create more bureaucracy and not solutions.
“What’s needed are elected officials being held accountable,” she said, noting that to determine if resources are being effectively managed, that there should be “legally noticed meetings with service providers and people with lived experience experiencing homelessness, meeting once a week.”
Beckford-Hoge said, “No one has the right to live in a public right-of-way. People have a lot of reasons for being homeless. But I don’t have the right to have a beach view because I can’t afford to live here.”
Brill stated that all 88 cities within the county need to be part of the solution to end the open-air drug dens across the county. “We need a regional approach, disband LAHSA and create an organization with real metrics that is accountable to the Supervisors so that we…can get them[homeless] the resources they need,” he said.
Stern said he probably would have voted with the three Supervisors who agreed to create a new Department of Homelessness (along with other proposals recommended by the Blue-Ribbon Committee) but that “they’re taking too long to do it.”
As for the County’s continued fight against the L.A. Alliance lawsuit, all six candidates felt the county should settle, as the city has done. The candidates expressed frustration with the County spending tax dollars to fight the lawsuit.
Stern said he felt the county’s contention that they are “doing all they can” is absurd in light of “five people a day dying on the streets.”
Horvath recounted frustrations with getting the county to provide her city with more mental health evaluation teams, which resulted in the creation of a model for every city to do so.
EXPANDING THE NUMBER OF SUPERVISORS:
All of the candidates, save for Stern (who replied, “not yet”), said the County Board of Supervisors should be expanded. Hertzberg pointed out that he had actually put forward a bill to do that in the State Senate, but that it had been voted down.
APPROVAL OF BERGGRUEN CENTER:
Stern felt strongly that the Berggruen Center in Brentwood should not be built, as it’s in a fire zone. Hertzberg disagreed, stating that the fire risks were being mitigated and the actual facility would take up just 2 acres out of over 400.
Horvath agreed with Stern, as did Girgenti and Brill, who pointed out the lack of parks in Los Angeles County, compared to other counties.
On a question regarding the banning of plastic bags in L.A. County for environmental reasons, all candidates except Beckford-Hoge (who stated it was “not the role of government”) favored a ban (in Stern’s case, only of single-use bags).
All six candidates stated they would be willing to work with Sheriff Villanueva, should he be re-elected.
Hertzberg stated he felt the Sheriff should be appointed by the Supervisors, rather than elected, because asking for political contributions leads to corruption.
Beckford-Hoge said that the Sheriff is “elected for a reason, because it turns out having one appointed, like with the LAPD, means that “you’re just trying to cover your butt all the time.”
Brill agreed with her, and said he also feels the Sheriff is woefully underfunded, with unincorporated areas of the county not even able to get an officer to respond to calls.
Stern said that he thinks “we’ve given Sheriff Villanueva a lot of political fodder to exploit a wrong-headed agenda of defunding the police. We’ve got to get back to re-funding and reforming the police…The Sheriff is smart, and he’s taken all the consternation, all the fighting and has been trying to win in the court of public opinion. He came down here to Venice in his cowboy hat because nobody was doing anything to solve this.”
PUBLIC HEALTH – BARBARA FERRER
A question about the qualifications of the head of the L.A. County Department of Public Health, Barbara Ferrer, resulted in a discussion about the County Supervisor’s abdication of their responsibility to use her services in an advisory capacity, rather than, as Beckford Hoge put it, “asking not a single question…during this pandemic.”
Stern agreed with her that the Board is “simply not stepping up and owning the judgment calls that they’re making…We hid behind
Dr. Ferrer during this pandemic, but she ought not to take the blame. I think the Board’s got to step up.” Hertzberg agreed with him, and called for a better “management structure” for Public Health.
METRO BOARD -PUBLIC TRANSPORTATION
In response to a question about how, as members of the Metro Board, they would facilitate the rehabilitation of public transportation after Covid, Horvath said community input to new routes and lines was vital.
Hertzberg favors expediting construction of new transit projects across the county.
Beckford Hoge and Brill pointed out that public transportation is currently unsafe and won’t be used until it is.
Stern would take money earmarked for the high-speed rail project through the central valley and “beat the 405” by creating rail lines between the San Fernando Valley and Orange County.
Jeffi Girgenti feels we should explore the creation of monorail lines.
SB9 AND SB10:
The candidates were asked their opinions of SB9 and SB10, which would increase density in the state by (respectively) allowing duplexes to be built on single-family lots and allow up to 10 units per lot near transit lines, taking away local control over zoning decisions.
Girgenti was adamantly opposed to the motions, stating that “we only think we have a housing shortage.”
Hertzberg said he voted for SB9 (but not SB10) because he thought it was “a reasonable solution” but cited other, better options for increasing density, including adaptive reuse and ADUS, that “do not encroach on open space.”
Horvath said that she opposed both motions because “we want to protect local control. While there might be good intentions in terms of creating more housing, we don’t need a one size fits all approach because all of our communities are different.” But now that they have been passed, she doesn’t feel cities should be filing lawsuits to oppose them.
Brill opposed the measures because it would expand housing in areas at risk of wildfires, but “we need to build housing in our transit corridors.”
Beckford Hoge opposed the motions. “Most of us live here because we want open space,” she said. “We do not want to live in Manhattan.”
Stern opposed both SB9 and SB10 because he feels that we should not be building in fire zones. “I don’t think Scott Weiner should be deciding what housing looks like in L.A.” he said, and pointed out that building market rate housing alone would solve the housing affordability crisis, and that neither motion contained an affordability requirement.
Other questions addressed by the candidates included: is the local government ignoring the middle class; do electric vehicles create a moral dilemma because of the way materials for them are obtained; should the state fund and build a desalinization plant to deal with ongoing water shortages; and what the candidates have learned from the Woolsey fire that will help them better manage the state’s year-round fire seasons?
The complete video of the event will be available on YouTube.