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Candidates, endorsements and fuzzy math

Los Angeles city elections 2013

February 06, 2013|By Robert Greene
  • Jesse David Barron displays his campaign platform on his van.
Jesse David Barron displays his campaign platform on his van. (Robert Greene / Los Angeles…)

I had a spiral notebook on my lap open to a page with the names of the four City Council candidates for District 7, and as I was listening to Felipe Fuentes speak -- last Saturday at a candidates’ forum in the wonderfully funky hillside community of Tujunga -- I drew a line through his name.

Fuentes is an amiable guy and I like him, but I also have to give serious thought to which of the four candidates would best serve the city and the district on the council, and I have to make an endorsement recommendation to my colleagues on the Los Angeles Times editorial board, all of whom will weigh in with their own thoughts and comments before we pick whom to endorse. And I had just heard Fuentes’ somewhat disingenuous response to a question about SB 1818.

Now, pretty much everyone in the world of homeowner associations and neighborhood councils knows that bill, which was a density bonus bill signed into law in 2004 that allows developers to exceed limits on how many residential units they otherwise would be able to build in an apartment or condominium project in exchange for including below-market-rate, or affordable, units.

VIDEO: Interviews with L.A.'s mayoral candidates

Even after court rulings have reined it in a bit, SB 1818 continues to be widely reviled in many parts of Los Angeles for adding what its detractors say is density unsuited to certain areas in part because there aren’t the streets, sewer systems and other infrastructure to support the added residents. Others just don’t like the concentration of people, and still others don’t like the prospect of living near neighbors of lesser means. Still others make the very interesting point that the density bonuses can actually result in the net loss of affordable housing because they encourage developers to buy and demolish rent-controlled apartment complexes in order to build new market-rate projects that include fewer “affordable” units under SB 1818 than the number of low-rent units that were there before.

I don’t hate SB 1818 the way many do, and I think there’s a lot of misunderstanding about it,  and about the fact that for decades, state law has required cities to give builders density bonuses for affordable housing. But in fact it is a fairly blunt instrument and can stand to be legislatively tweaked.

So at the Tujunga forum, when a question was asked about whether SB 1818 ought to be amended, I thought it was a pretty good thing to ask City Council candidates, and I thought it was just ridiculous when Fuentes responded that there have been many bills over the years called SB 1818, so he didn’t know which one they were talking about and couldn’t answer the question.

Oh, Felipe, please.

Fuentes has been trying to rehabilitate himself in the district he wants to represent in the wake of what he now calls a “big mistake” when he first took his seat in the Assembly after a 2007 special election. Fuentes carried a bill designed to cut through local land-use laws in order to allow construction of a condominium project on what is currently the Verdugo Hills Golf Course. I don’t care much about golf, and if a property owner is entitled by law to build, I’m wary of efforts to stop him. But if he’s not entitled, or if there are negotiations pending, I can’t imagine anything more underhanded than a state bill to circumvent city processes on behalf of the builder.

Fuentes withdrew the bill, and I appreciate that he now calls it a mistake. But with that fiasco in his background, the feigned ignorance of SB 1818 was too much for me at the moment, and thus the line through his name.

The problem was that each of the other three names in my spiral notebook already had lines drawn through them for various ridiculous claims and assertions they had made in Tujunga. Fuentes, in fact, was the only candidate who didn’t promise (or demand) more unaffordable goods and services from City Hall together with lower taxes. In comparison -- and selecting a candidate is all about comparison -- Fuentes perhaps didn’t look so bad. So with all four names crossed off, it was back to the drawing board.

The first name to be crossed off Saturday had been Jesse David Barron, who at an earlier forum had made the astounding assertion that the city is rolling in money but isn’t seeing it because Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa is hoarding it for GRYD, the very successful gang reduction and youth development program.

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