State Sen. Curren Price (D-Los Angeles) answers a question at Saturday's… (Katie Falkenberg, Los Angeles…)
Five of the seven candidates seeking to represent a major portion of South Los Angeles on the City Council said Saturday they oppose the sales tax hike on the March 5 ballot, arguing it would disproportionately harm low-income residents.
Appearing at their first candidate forum, the contenders seeking to replace Councilwoman Jan Perry staked out positions on public safety, economic development and Proposition A, which would bring the city's tax rate to 9.5%, among the highest in the state.
Candidate David Roberts, a former aide to Councilman Bernard C. Parks, said Proposition A would hit a district already suffering from high unemployment. "Sales taxes are regressive and they will hurt this community far worse than anywhere else in the city," he said.
Deputy Police Chief Terry Hara, teacher Ron Gochez, community volunteer Manuel Aldana Jr. and Ana Cubas, a former aide to Councilman Jose Huizar, also came out against the measure. State Sen. Curren Price (D-Los Angeles), though, offered his support, saying it would provide much-needed money to pay for police.
"I'm not in favor of reducing the police presence in South L.A.," he said. "That's what would happen if this tax doesn't pass."
Price is backed by the Los Angeles County Federation of Labor, whose top official signed the ballot argument in favor of Proposition A. That group has spent about $43,000 on mailers and other materials promoting his council bid.
Assemblyman Mike Davis (D-Los Angeles), a seventh candidate in the race, responded to the tax question by saying he would make tough decisions on public safety and "not back down." After the forum ended, he told The Times he is still making up his mind on the measure.
The 9th District includes the eastern section of South Los Angeles, Staples Center and USC. The council redrew the district last year in a way that cut out much of downtown and its wealth. Perry is stepping down after 12 years and running for mayor.
Several candidates told the audience of roughly 200 that the district has not received its fair share of services, including sidewalk repairs and cleanup of illegal dumping. But whereas Price spoke against reduced police staffing, Gochez promised to scale back the L.A. Police Department's budget and use the proceeds to pay for expanded after-school programs, arts instruction and athletic activities to keep children away from crime.
Gochez, 31, said he would seek a $1 city fee on tickets to sporting events at Staples Center and USC and use the revenue to address homelessness in the district. And he promised not to accept the council's $179,000 salary, saying he would take only an amount equal to what he currently earns as a history teacher: $60,063 per year.
"The problem is, the people who have been in power here have used our resources and our tax dollars to fix downtown L.A. and not South-Central L.A.," he told the crowd.
Cubas, the former Huizar aide, said she opposes not only Proposition A but also any effort to increase rates at the Department of Water and Power. She vowed to make the district No. 1 in job creation, in part by attracting biomedical companies to vacant warehouses on Broadway and other nearby corridors.
"We're going to turn things around," she told the audience. "This is a movement. This is a revolution."
Cubas, 42, said she would be the first Salvadoran and, potentially, the only woman on the council. Aldana, in turn, promoted himself as the "hometown" candidate, pointing out that the vast majority of his opponents had only recently moved into the district.
Davis and Price talked up their experience in Sacramento, and Cubas and Roberts emphasized their work at City Hall. All four said they had done extensive work in the district.
Hara, for his part, said he spent three decades working in a number of local police divisions, including Newton, Southeast, Southwest and 77th.
"I put my life on the line on the streets of South L.A.," the 33-year LAPD veteran said.