In early July, when attorney Traci Park announced her candidacy for Los Angeles Council District CD 11 to run against sitting Councilmember Mike Bonin, she said:
“LA has the highest poverty rate in California, and some of the highest housing costs anywhere in the country. Our homeless crisis has exploded, our City Hall has been beset by corruption scandals, and for the first time in a century, people are leaving Los Angeles.
“Our homeless issues have made Venice and the Westside synonymous with encampments and a symbol of the City’s inability to act on critical issues.”
Jump ahead to August, and at the urging of several Playa Vista residents, CTN accompanied Park and “birders” who had been decrying the way homeless encampments and RVs were fouling Ballona Wetlands, an environmentally sensitive area.
The bird watchers said they had reached out to Bonin, but he hadn’t responded to their pleas for action. Residents in the area near Ballona also contacted other city and state officials but had failed to receive any on-the-ground support.
The land from the curb at Jefferson to the fence alongside Ballona is City of L.A. property. “That’s where people are camping, dumping garbage and sewage, and storing mountains of personal property,” Park said. “The actual ecological preserve is owned by the State, and the damage to the interior caused by the encampments is devastating.
“For some reason, the government agencies and officials in charge of protecting this sensitive habitat seem to lack the political will to come together to address the crisis.
“It’s well past time to take immediate action,” Park continued. “The excuses of Covid, lawsuits, moratoriums, etc. have grown thin and tiresome. All this time the encampments have been allowed to grow, but there are no porta-potties, there is no security, there are no pumping services. There aren’t even enough garbage cans to serve the number of people accumulating trash.
“The storm drains are full to the brim of plastic and other garbage people are cramming inside,” Park said. “Even if the City couldn’t figure out a plan to move the RVs, couldn’t it figure out a way to keep the area clean and safe?”
While walking through the area, Park spoke to CTN.
She said she was born in Downey, her dad was an Army veteran and her mom a school secretary. “My dad, who worked for GTE, was a huge Dodger fan and took me to games at the Ravine, when I was tiny. He had me playing t-ball before I was even tall enough to swing the bat at the ball stand.”
Her mom’s parents moved to Venice in the 1960s and her grandfather was a minister at the church at the corner of Braddock and Culver in Del Rey. He and her grandmother retired to a boat in Marina del Rey.
As a youth, Park spent time swimming in the Marina and going back and forth to Catalina with cousins, where they would hike and swim all day.
After Park’s parents divorced, her mom moved the family to the high desert, where she could afford a home. Her mom married a man who was the director of technology for Apple Valley Unified School District.
“My mom was active in her union and served as an officer for more than 20 years,” Park said, adding that her mother and stepfather have since retired to northern Arizona.
Park admitted that “when I was a teenager, I’d cut school and hang out at Venice beach.” Academically, it wasn’t a problem for her because she graduated from Apple Valley High School her junior year.
“I drove my Toyota Tercel all the way to Baltimore, Maryland to attend Johns Hopkins University,” Park said. While in college, she competed on the debate team and studied “a lot of different things – journalism, English literature, political science and international relations – before I finally settled on a U.S. history major, where I focused on the history of civil rights.”
While in college, Park worked two jobs to make ends meet, including waitressing, and also interning at the public defender’s office and the internal relations office at the U.S. Coast Guard headquarters in Washington, D.C.
Upon graduation, she moved back to L.A. to an apartment in Del Rey, across the street from her grandfather’s old church. Park worked as a paralegal at a law firm in Century City before completing law school at Loyola Marymount. After living in Brentwood and then Hollywood, she moved to Venice in 2015.
Park said she decided to become a lawyer “when I was just a kid – ‘Matlock’ was my favorite show, but I also loved ‘Night Court.’
“I wasn’t actually allowed to stay up that late, but my mom went back to school in the evenings, and my dad would bend the rules when she was in class. When her car would pull into the driveway, he would look over at me and ask, ‘What are you still doing up?’ That was my cue to hightail it down the hall, jump into bed, and pretend to be asleep.”
Park joined her current firm, Burke, Williams & Sorensen, in 2009. “I absolutely love it there,” she said. “I get to work every single day with cities and other public agencies all over California. The issues on the public sector side are a lot more varied: good governance, labor relations, constitutional claims, due process, free speech, you name it. No two days at work are the same!”
Although she has never held an elected office, Park said, “I’ve participated in local government as an attorney for many years. I work closely with City leadership, department heads, police and fire, human resources, and public sector unions every single day. I help write policies, advise on day-to-day issues, and litigate public sector cases. I’ve trained thousands of public employees and elected officials around the State, and I regularly speak at all the large public sector conferences.”
Why did she decide to seek a seat on the City Council?
“Frankly, what has been done to Venice is beyond unacceptable,” Park said. “I was at the town hall meeting in 2018 when Councilman Bonin told us how the Venice Bridge Home would make our neighborhoods safer, and how the encampments would be cleared, and how the area would become a special enforcement zone.
“He told us the Bridge Home would be for the homeless already in Venice, but that was a lie. The number of homeless is up over 500% since Bonin took office, and crime and encampments have exploded all over since the Bridge opened. Kids can’t walk to school, businesses are suffering, workers and neighbors have been violently attacked.”
Park took the lead for neighbors when the City placed homeless people in the local Ramada Inn.
“The City didn’t reach out to anyone in the community and Mr. Bonin didn’t go through the Venice Neighborhood Council,” she said. “He did zero outreach to the families and businesses that were going to be directly impacted.” The project was to be managed by People Assisting the Homeless (PATH) under the auspices of Project Roomkey.
Park found that the City was not, in fact, entitled to various CEQA exemptions of which it was taking advantage, and was in violation of the Coastal Act’s edict that affordable visitor accommodations like the Ramada are to be protected and preserved.
“Our concern was the lack of any commitment from the city or PATH to protect public safety,” Park said.
“That location is next to several preschools and two elementary schools, it abuts a residential street full of families and children, and there are popular restaurants right next door, but Mr. Bonin didn’t offer even the basic courtesy of a head’s up to the community,” Park said.
She noted that Bonin “rejected every single idea” the community presented such as making the Ramada a site for sober living, transitional housing for seniors or to women who were victims of domestic violence.
Park feels the most immediate crisis facing the city are intertwined: homelessness and public safety.
“The City’s and LAHSA’s singular focus on long-term housing has come at the expense of those who are currently on the streets in need of immediate help.
“While long-term solutions are important, they are extremely expensive, and decades away from being able to make a real difference,” Park said. “At the rate the City is spending taxpayer money to build new housing, we would need $25 billion to address the current unhoused population.
“While housing first and harm reduction should be part of the plan, they cannot be the only plan,” Park said. “To enforce our no-camping ordinances and restore our public spaces for their intended purposes, the law requires that we offer shelter – not permanent housing.”
She continued, “It has always been a head-scratcher to me as to why the City hasn’t brought in an outside auditor to take a look at our approach to homelessness from top to bottom.
“If you’re a failing business, you bring in someone like McKinsey & Company or the RAND Corporation to analyze and audit your processes, your procedures, your financing, what’s working, what’s not working, and help you design a better, more efficient approach. And what we know for sure is that despite pumping billions of dollars at homelessness generally over the last decade, the City has been completely inept in its effort to address and remedy the problem.”