At the first mayoral election debate Wednesday, three politicians who want to unseat Mayor James K. Hahn declared that Los Angeles faces a housing crisis and offered their plans to fix it.
State Sen. Richard Alarcon (D-Sun Valley), former Assembly Speaker Bob Hertzberg, and Councilman Bernard C. Parks, the former police chief, chatted cordially with each other about the city's housing policies before about 100 people at the Skirball Cultural Center in the Santa Monica Mountains.
But all three criticized the mayor's record on housing.
Calling the need for more affordable housing in Los Angeles "staggering," Hertzberg offered a five-point plan to house more residents. He promised to create 20,000 units by his second year in office and shift half of the Community Redevelopment Agency's funds toward affordable housing. And he said he would allow housing to be built on city-owned land, above city-owned parking lots and over existing businesses.
Parks said city officials must take a deeper look at "what is driving housing out," and added, "We need to ... allow the industry to build housing."
Both Parks and Hertzberg expressed opposition to a proposal by two City Council members, Ed Reyes and Eric Garcetti, that would require a certain number of units in new developments to be affordable. Alarcon said he agreed with the concept, but was concerned about some aspects.
Hahn, who is seeking a second term, and Councilman Antonio Villaraigosa, who is running against Hahn a second time, did not attend the debate, which was moderated by Kitty Felde, the host of KPCC's "Talk of the City."
The mayor's spokesman, Yusef K. Robb, dismissed the criticism that the mayor has not done enough to promote housing development, citing the city's $100-million trust fund for low-income housing development and the increasing number of housing units built each year during Hahn's tenure.
"Mayor Hahn's record on housing stands up to anyone's in the nation," Robb said. "While other politicians are just talking, Mayor Hahn is delivering results."
The candidates also debated the merits of "granny flats," small units in the backyards of existing single-family homes.
Hertzberg said he would be delighted if his mother-in-law moved into one behind his house. Alarcon said he worried that too many people would wind up in unconverted garages.
The three differed over how much power neighborhood councils should have in decision-making.
Alarcon said the councils should have some power over local land-use decisions and called for increasing their budgets from the annual $50,000.
Hertzberg and Parks expressed concern about that, saying that elected officials ought to have final say on developments.
But Hertzberg added that he wants the councils to have a stronger voice at City Hall.
During the hourlong debate, many in the audience, who were attending a daylong conference on housing in Los Angeles, sneaked out. Felde had promised the candidates about 15 minutes for closing statements.
But to her consternation, she discovered that she had run out of time. Instead, the three men got 30 seconds each.
Speaking quickly, they packed in as much criticism as possible. Parks was the pithiest. "It's difficult to criticize what doesn't exist," he said of the mayor's housing plan.
Times staff writer Noam N. Levey contributed to this report.