BY JAMIE PAIGE
WESTSIDE CURRENT EDITOR
In a 90-minute forum in Venice on April 6, Council District 11 (CD11) candidates were united in advocating for a safer community as well as the need to build relationships and consensus.
Westside Current and Circling the News hosted the event at the Hotel Erwin in Venice. The candidates were asked about topics ranging from public safety to discretionary spending.
Candidates were asked how they would spend discretionary funds—money intended to benefit the district and its neighborhoods.
Greg Good stated that he would prioritize spending on safety measures at the top of the list . “I would start with overtime for the LAPD—narcotics specifically,” he said. He noted that he would also put money into sidewalk projects and tree trimming.
Mike Newhouse said that he would primarily spend the money on building shelters to get the unhoused off the streets and would clear encampments in 30 days. He would also triple the sanitation budget. “The city needs a deep clean,” he explained.
Jim Murez stated that he would direct funding into community organizations. “When I planted trees, we planted on twice as many streets because of funding from Caltrans,” he noted. “We used volunteer services and programs.”
Candidates were also asked about funding for public works projects. Mat Smith said he wants to see spending for things like the Interceptor, a system that stops river trash from entering the ocean that will roll out as a pilot project this year. Allison Holdorff Polhill also said she thought the Interceptor was an important project, adding that the Purple Line subway extension coming to the Westside is essential as well.
When asked about inefficient spending in CD11, Traci Park stated that one of the biggest expenditures is on homeless service providers. She said she has serious questions about the lack of results from the organizations that employ them. “Because there are so many people who need help, reining that spending back and investing in programs that work is essential,” she said.
Soni Lloyd, a high school teacher in Venice, said that more effort should be made to inform CD11 residents of how money is spent. He noted that spending on police dominates the city budget, and he would work to change that. “Especially for our communities of color, I am calling for services to uplift them rather than police them. We want services, not police all the time.”
Positions on Other Issues
All of the candidates but Lloyd said they support the Business Improvement District. And all but Good and Lloyd stated that they favor the recall of Los Angeles County District Attorney George Gascon.
Newhouse, Park, Smith and Lloyd said they are in favor of the city having its own health department; Good, Murez and Polhill disagreed.
All of the candidates except Lloyd and Good said the Los Angeles Homeless Services Authority (LAHSA) should be disbanded. “It isn’t cutting it,” Park offered. But Good countered, “[Keeping] it has to be on the table.”
As for Councilman Mike Bonin’s latest motion to eliminate criminal history, credit history and eviction background checks for tenants, all of the candidates said they opposed it.
The candidates were also opposed to Bonin’s motion to allow homeless shelters run by nonprofits in all zones, including residential, without review or consideration of the impact. Park offered her reasons for not supporting the motion: “This is the perfect example of the city trying to sneak something into a motion. The last sentence in that motion calls for making our current temporary shelters permanent. They are being dishonest and lacking transparency about that.”
“I couldn’t agree more,” said Newhouse, “and I am on record for being staunchly opposed to it. I don’t think we need to change our zoning to house and address our homeless population. It would also have the unintended consequence of igniting lawsuits. It’s not a commonsense approach.”
In affirming his opposition, Good said, “I think we know we need beds all over the district. This has to be part of a community process with deep community engagement.”
Smith added: “I entered this race because I don’t think our elected officials are representing our values. [They are] giving away our community that many of us have worked hard to [improve]. It makes no sense. I’m the furthest from Bonin. I oppose it.”
Polhill joined them in their opposition. “We’ve had encampments close to our schools, threatening our children. I also think we were promised these shelters were temporary—and they should be. People should learn how to fish, and we should not be giving people permanent spaces. They should be temporary.”
Lloyd added that he couldn’t support anything Bonin is doing with homelessness. “I’ve seen his record. I’ve lived his record. It’s gotten worse and worse. I’m a schoolteacher—and I don’t like my kids walking past the encampments. We need to set a timeline. I don’t think what Bonin is doing is sincere.”
Park, Newhouse and Murez were then asked about permanent supportive housing. Park highlighted the gross misuse of HHH spending and said there needs to be a cap on it. “It’s shameful that we are building at the rate that we are [referring to how slow it is]. I would advocate reallocating those funds to emergency and transitional interventions, which is what we need right now to get people off the streets and connected to services. We don’t have a decade to wait.”
Newhouse pointed out that he is a land-use attorney who spent the last six years on the West LA Area Planning Commission. “I can tell you that we are vastly wasting dollars that could house three times as many people. We have to cut the red tape. That’s what makes permanent supportive housing so expensive to build.”
Murez said that he favors more supportive housing but said they need to be built in commercial districts. “It would reduce traffic and put people in houses where we need them. I think [California] Senate Bill 9 and Senate Bill 10 are wrong. We can’t put that many more cars in the neighborhoods. The sewer pipes can’t handle it; the water pipes won’t take it. So, we need to build on the commercial side where we have plenty of infrastructure in place.”
“We need to separate these conversations,” said Smith, who does not support building a single affordable housing unit for those living on the streets. “I believe that permanent solutions exist in more affordable areas. When people can’t afford to live in our area, they find places in other areas and commute. We need to find houses for the people who match our values.”
Regarding the question of whether an equal distribution of affordable housing in CD11 is achievable, the candidates who responded all said it’s a collective responsibility.
“What’s getting missed in this conversation is the middle class,” said Lloyd. “People like myself—your teachers, your firemen, your grocery store workers—we are being driven out of this neighborhood. You need people like us to live here. We should all share the load. There is no shame in living next to an apartment building. I’ve been doing it all my life.”
Candidates were next asked if they would eliminate the Venice Median project, a permanent supportive housing project proposed for construction on 2.6 acres adjacent to the historic Venice Canals. Newhouse, Park, Polhill, Murez and Smith all said they were against the project and would kill it if elected.
Good said that if elected, he would sit down with developers and the community to see if there is some sort of agreement around the project’s scope and aesthetics. “If not, we really have to reconsider it. Clearly, the cost and Coastal Act elements have to be considered. We have a housing crisis. We have to look closely at any project. We have to see if the scale and scope make sense and the costs make sense.”
Murez said he had other ideas for the area, which include parking. His plan calls for a park west of the canal and a parking structure east of the canal. “It would allow Venice to capitalize on tourism, which is the low-hanging fruit, and it would allow the commercial properties in Venice to not have on-site parking. By doing that, the commercial properties would be able to expand in what they are doing today and do well.”
The candidates then returned to the hot topic of public safety.
“I am sickened and heartbroken by the violent crime that has gone on in our community,” said Park. “We cannot have a situation where young mothers and seniors can’t [safely go out in] their own neighborhoods. There are people in this room who have been the victims of violent crimes. I see you. I know you. I know your stories and I am here because of you. Public safety is my top priority.”
“We need more police officers,” added Newhouse. “I look at it as common sense. We don’t have enough police officers. We need more cadets in the academy. We have to make civilian hires quickly and get officers off the desk and into the community.”
While again highlighting his plan to spend discretionary funds on police overtime, Good added that “out-of-control” drug trafficking needs to end. He also suggested that a Venice park ranger station be considered. “We have to address this with intention and urgency.”
“As a combat veteran who has been shot at, I understand the difficulties the police go through,” said Smith. “On day one, I will fund the police. People talk about defunding—I will talk about re-funding the police. And I will bring back morale to the police department.”
When asked about the dangers that have arisen around the encampments, Polhill said that her top priority would be to eliminate encampments. “I have a plan on day one to eliminate encampments by providing resources and a menu of options. We need law enforcement and social workers on the street.”
“Let’s offer these people jobs,” added Lloyd. “People need housing assistance. We need a program to help get people off the streets.”