Hancock Park Homeowners Association Holds CD 5 Candidate Forum
On Monday, March 21, the Hancock Park Homeowners Association held an online forum featuring three candidates – Jimmy Biblarz, Katy Young Yaroslavsky, and Sam Yebri – running to replace termed-out Paul Koretz to represent District 5 on the Los Angeles City Council. Ballots will be mailed out in early May for the June primary, and if no candidate receives more than 50% of the vote in that election, the top two vote-getters will move on to a runoff in the November election.
The HPHOA forum consisted of opening statements from each candidate, questions on seven major issues currently facing the district and the city, and then closing statements from each candidate. Here’s a summary of the discussion:
Jimmy Biblarz cited two origins for his interest in local politics. The first, he said, was when he was growing up in the Pico-Robertson area and his family was evicted from their home so it could be replaced with a “McMansion.” And the second was coming of age as a young gay man during the heyday of the gay rights movement. Biblarz said he went on to study issues of inequality in college, graduate school, and law school, and now works as a UCLA law professor. He said his goal is to “make Los Angeles a place where everyone can thrive.”
Katy Young Yaroslavsky, who has worked as an environment and land use attorney, as well as the senior environmental policy advisor to LA County Supervisor Sheila Kuehl, said she is running for city council because she’s become really frustrated with the state of the city, and we need effective, ethical people stepping into the seats of power to make change happen. She said her top four priorities are: “1. making significant progress in solving homelessness and alleviating our housing shortage, 2. improving quality of life and delivering excellent constituent services, 3. make our communities safer, and 4. to make LA’s climate resilient and healthy.” She also said she doesn’t really care who gets credit for these jobs, as long as they get done.
Finally, Sam Yebri said he is running for office because the “city is broken and our career politicians can’t fix it.” Yebri explained that his parents were immigrants from Iran, who were able to succeed here despite arriving with very little. He also said that he is not taking campaign money from special interest groups, and that he’s been endorsed by LA County Supervisor Holly Mitchell, former U.S. Representative Henry Waxman, and more than 1,300 local community leaders in CD 5.
The council office that used to represent this area placed ideology over constituent services. How will you make the office more responsive, and how will you resolve conflicts in ideology between your office and different constituencies?
Yaroslavsky said she believes the number one job of a city councilmember is to provide excellent constituent services, and if a councilmember isn’t doing that, they’re not doing their job. She also said the most important element in providing those services is to really connect with the community and listen to what they need.
Yebri also said that constituent services are “what this job is about,” noting that as a lawyer, if he doesn’t return clients’ calls, the clients will fire him. He said a councilmember’s job is not about ideology or serving people who promote any specific ideology.
Biblarz noted that the office of city councilmember is a non-partisan office for a reason. Everyone, he said, wants clean streets, good schools, and more…so he wants to look at what works for people, not specific ideologies, because constituent services are the basis of people’s trust in city government.
How will you select projects for your discretionary funds, and will you make that a transparent process?
Biblarz said he aims to be a good listener and will seek out a variety of voices for ongoing conversations about what’s needed in the community. He said he believes in participatory budgeting, and wants to create a “deeply responsive” field team, as well as to revise the city’s public comment process, to make public input more meaningful.
Yebri said his priorities for discretionary funds are health and safety, in the same way that current Councilmember Paul Koretz used some of his discretionary money to fund overtime for LAPD officers when crime rose in the Melrose area. He said lighting would be another good safety-related use of such funding, and promised to regularly share information about his discretionary spending.
Yaroslavsky said she doesn’t need to reinvent the wheel when it comes to discretionary spending because former CD 4 Councilmember David Ryu had a great process that could be replicated, using a constituent committee (with applications open to anyone) and a very public process to help pick projects for discretionary funds.
Quick Answer: In one word, what’s the most important job of a City Councilmember?
How will you increase public safety and decrease crime?
Yebri said this issue keeps him up at night. The number of LAPD officers has decreased in recent years, he said, and he’s the only candidate at the moment who supports adding more. He said he would also work to get guns off the streets, and would add more cameras and other technology to help solve crimes, in addition to supporting “actual consequences” when crimes are committed.
Biblarz said increasing safety is all about what works and what doesn’t, so we have to think about the issue of safety broadly, including mental health services and violence prevention programs, which help prevent crime so the police can focus on solving the crimes that are committed. Biblarz also said he would work to create a new city office of public safety to help with this job.
Yaroslavsky said all Angelenos deserve to feel safe, but many of us don’t feel safe now. So we definitely need a well-funded, well-trained, and well-staffed police force…but we also need to shift some tasks that don’t require an armed police response away from our officers, so they can focus on actual crimes. Yaroslavsky said she would like to audit the LAPD to help figure out exactly how many officers they do need, then hire more officers while also supporting community job training, public health efforts and other programs that can help prevent crime in the first place.
Quick Answer: Have the policies of District Attorney George Gascon contributed to the city’s current increase in crime?
Yebri: Yes, partly.
Quick Answer: Do you support the current Gascon recall effort?
All candidates: No.
What is the difference between abundant and affordable housing…and what are the solutions to providing more affordable housing?
Yaroslavsky said that abundant housing is just more housing, which tends to be market rate instead of affordable. She said housing should be prioritized near transit, and that various organizations and departments should collaborate to decide together where to put new housing…which shouldn’t be in single family neighborhoods. Instead, she said, she would like to use the many state and federal resources available to buy down housing costs and make it affordable for more people.
Yebri said the current affordability crisis is crushing families. To help the situation, he said we need to preserve affordable housing, and to prioritize and subsidize more affordable housing near transit. Yebri also said he opposes SBs 9 and 10, which are state-level bills that aim to densify single family areas and areas near transit.
Meanwhile, Biblarz said that this is the key issue he’s running on, and that we need to build out our affordable housing pipeline, with permanent stimulus funding, and preserve our existing affordable housing. Biblarz also said he’s a big supporter of the Liveable Communities Initiative, which aims to locate more new housing along commercial corridors, as well as a fan of encouraging small mom and pop developers who would like to add new housing units.
Do you support the theory that increasing the housing supply will reduce housing costs?
Yebri said our current programs are creating 8-12% affordable units, but there’s no registry or audits of those projects to make sure the developers follow through with their agreements, which is a “massive failure.” He said we need to incentivize construction of more units, and focus specifically on affordable workforce housing.
Biblarz said he left academia because it doesn’t relate directly enough to the real world, and that we’re nowhere near the point yet where new supply would force down housing costs for individuals. Instead of just building more housing, he said, we also need more diverse types of housing (including tiny homes, adaptive reuse of hotels and motels, etc.) along our commercial corridors, because our current system doesn’t really produce new housing for the bottom half of the income scale, and we need a lot more in that price range.
Yaroslavsky agreed that the “trickle down” strategy of simply building more housing doesn’t work to create more affordable housing. That would take years, she said, while need more affordable and workforce housing right now, to put it in the right places, and to preserve our existing housing stock.
Has the Transit Oriented Communities program been effective at providing more affordable housing?
Biblarz said the TOC program has not been effective in creating enough affordable housing, but that he would still support it with some modifications. Just building 10 units here and there, as the program has done so far, he said, won’t get us out of the housing crisis…and we haven’t really seen the “T” is the program yet — it hasn’t really put any big towers near our new transit lines, which we definitely need. At the same time, however, Biblarz also said we don’t want to disrupt our existing neighborhoods, and that we would like even more places to look like Larchmont Village.
Yebri noted that the “affordable” units in TOC projects don’t help people who make more than $40,000 a year (such as teachers and firefighters), so he doesn’t support the program. Yebri said we need “missing middle” housing, which the current system doesn’t provide, and which needs to be fixed at the Community Plan level.
Yaroslavsky said she also doesn’t think the TOC program has been effective, and that we need much more affordable housing than we’re getting from it. She also agreed with Yebri’s earlier comment that the promised affordable units need to be tracked and enforced, which isn’t happening now. And she said the TOC program should only be extended if we tighten up where those projects could be located, because most of the residents in the current mostly-market-rate TOC projects don’t use buses.
Quick Answer: Do you commit to protecting our Historic Preservation Overlay Zones?
All candidates: Yes. (And Yaroslavsky noted that she lives in South Carthay, one of the three Carthay neighborhoods recently added to the National Register of Historic Places.)
The 2035 Mobility Plan prioritizes bikes over cars and parking, but that’s not realistic for all residents. What would you prioritize first for an environmentally conscious future?
Biblarz said we all know we have to rely less heavily on single occupancy vehicles, that we all hate traffic, and the only way to solve the problem is to get cars off the streets. So we definitely need to support other methods of transportation, as well as increase the frequency and safety of public transit…with buses being our first priority.
Yaroslavsky said her goal is to encourage people to get out of their cars for at least a small portion of their daily trips. For example, she said, LA should be one of the world’s great bike cities, so we need to prioritize, protect and connect our bike network. If we do, she said, not everyone will ride bikes, but some people will for some of their travel, and that will make a big difference.
Yebri noted that with seven new subway stations coming soon along the Purple Line Extension, we have an historic opportunity to transform our transportation network. He said he gave up his car seven years ago, so he knows it can be done…though he realizes that not everyone can bike. His priority, he said, is moving toward a permanent transition to electrification – including increasing solar power, batteries, and charging for electric vehicles.
How would you make it safer to drive and to cross the street?
Yaroslavsky said people tend to get “nuts” behind the wheel, so we need to slow down our maximum speed limits, install more traffic cameras, and create safer pedestrian crossings.
Biblarz noted that 2021 traffic deaths were way up, and that we need to disrupt the status quo to fix things, especially for kids, who are the most vulnerable. Biblarz said our streets should be safe and friendly to all, with partitioned bike lanes and more.
Yebri said he often wakes up at night to the sounds of street racing, and has seen bad collisions…but too often the city only reacts after a horrific accident. This is one more reason, he said, why we need more police and crime/traffic technology, not less.
Quick Answer: Metro schedules buses about every 15 minutes, but it seems like people often wait an hour or more. Would you support a new tracking system for public transit?
All candidates: Yes.
How would you address mental health and addiction issues?
Yaroslavsky said collaboration would be key to this effort and that we need to bring together all the parties involved, including the LA County Supervisors, private foundations, and both state and federal resources, because we simply don’t have enough beds or funding locally to deal with the problem.
Biblarz said that homeless and housing are just tips of a much bigger iceberg, and we need to push both the housing and mental health levers at the same time – and get more permanent supportive housing online faster – to make any progress.
Yebri said the biggest issues here are the number of untreated mentally ill and addicted people on the street, and that the city does not have its own health department to deal with this. Instead, he said, we rely an LA County, which has failed us. So we need to revisit our relationship with both LA County and the Los Angeles Homeless Services Authority…though the currently-underway transformation of the old Olympia Medical Center into a new mental health facility is a positive step.
Quick Answer: Do you support Ordinance 41.18, which bans encampments in specific areas?
Yaroslavsky: Yes, but only when paired with a strong street engagement strategy.
Yebri: Yes, “it’s a lifesaving tool.”
Which sites would you clear?
Biblarz said that if we get to the point where something has to be cleared, “we have already failed.” He said no one really wants to have to clear camps, and that it’s important to reduce them in other ways whenever possible, because clearing them just moves them to other places.
Yebri said the real question is how we can alleviate the suffering of people on the street. He said it’s not compassionate to let people die on the streets, but some camps are in inappropriate places, so we need to make outreach efforts and housing offers before clearing them. “This saves lives,” he said.
Finally, Yaroslavsky noted that when the City Council adopted Ordinance 41.18, there was a companion motion that said camps shouldn’t be cleared without more robust street engagement efforts. And if we don’t do that first, Yaroslavsky said, we’re just moving people from one camp to another. The goal, she said, should be to connect people to long-term housing, not just a night or two in a motel, which tends to be what happens when encampments are cleared.
How can you guarantee funds for infrastructure in residential areas?
Yebri said it’s “infuriating” to see crumbling sidewalks and other failing infrastructure. He said the city does have money for infrastructure improvements, but people can only access it if a councilmember fights for it…and the issue becomes even more urgent with all the new housing we’re building these days.
Yaroslavsky said this is another area in which collaboration will be very important, and we’ll need to involve both city, state and national agencies to get the money and resources we need to fix our infrastructure. She said she went through a similar process when shepherding the Measure W stormwater bill through its ballot passage, and that she knows how to leverage the various relationships needed to get the necessary funding.
Biblarz said we definitely need to put pressure on the federal government for infrastructure funding, and that the Biden administration did offer money for housing, but the city of Los Angeles didn’t get things together in time to apply. Biblarz said that kind of money disappears if you don’t act quickly to connect specific projects to the dollars available.
What would you do about frequent local power outages?
Biblarz said he’s interested in learning more about this issue, but noted that LADWP has not planned well for temperature increases, to guarantee more power when it’s hot, and we need to invest in a smart grid so we can better monitor trouble signs.
Yebri said the power outages are a sign of decaying infrastructure, and he’d like to see a map of recent outage areas, to help replace obsolete equipment there…while also focusing on some self-help options for those situations.
Yaroslavsky, who said she’s an “infrastructure nerd,” noted that she helped create the Clean Power Alliance, which helps source and deliver power from clean energy sources, and said we need to make our municipal grid more resilient for both short and long term power needs by creating micro grids, building in more redundancy, and replacing outdated equipment.
Quick Answer: Will you commit to concrete street repairs?
All candidates: Yes.
How would you restore trust in city government?
Yebri said this was the issue that really prompted his run for city office, and that the first position paper he published was a five-point plan for ethics reforms. He also reiterated that his campaign is not accepting any money from special interest groups.
Yaroslavsky said most of the city’s ethics problems come from “screwed up” land use processes, so we need to re-do our Community Plans to create clearer development rules and take decision-making power away from individual city council members. And she, too, said her campaign is not accepting special interest donations.
Finally, Biblarz agreed that the most important anti-corruption measure the city could take would be to limit the land use powers of individuals in city government.
Quick Answer: Do you accept campaign contributions from developers?
All candidates: No.
Biblarz said he is running for city council to help make Los Angeles a place where everyone can thrive, especially residents’ children and grandchildren. He said he often asks people how many of their adult children stay in L.A. or move away, and the answer is that many move away because they can’t afford to live here…and we need to rethink that.
Yaroslavsky said that what separates her from the other candidates are her experience and her temperament. She said she knows how to navigate government processes, and has experience leveraging both her private and public sector experiences to create smart policies. Yaroslavsky said everyone has the right to feel safe in their homes, and that we need nuanced approaches and level-headed adults to help solve our current problems.
Finally, Yebri said he loves this city, and there are endless possibilities here, but for too long City Hall hasn’t reflected the creativity and vitality of its people, and we now have serious issues and need representatives who are willing to call out the systemic problems.
If you would like to watch the full forum, a recording is available here.
Please note: this article was originally published in the Larchmont Buzz.