Things got testy tonight at the candidate forum sponsored by the homeowner associations of Valley Glen, Valley Village and Laurel Grove. The barbs were not only exchanged among the ten candidates, but Wendy Greuel and her former planning deputy Dale Thrush absorbed as much punishment as anyone –and they were not even there!
The introductory remarks reinforced much of what was said at the Sunland/Tujunga Forum with everyone but Augusto Bisani touting their community experience. He proudly proclaimed he had no background as an activist and viewed issues from the perspective of the man in the street. Augusto added a sharp contrast to the other nine throughout the evening.
SB1818 was the first topic and it did not take long for the sparks to fly. Tamar Galatzan took Chris Essel to task for her position in support of SB1818 while she was the Chair of the Central City Association. Essel held to her prior statement at Sunland/Tujunga that she personally did not support the implementation of the law, but was only reflecting the opinion of her organization. That drew a few groans from the audience. Having read Chris’ statement of support for 1818 in the CCA newsletter, I must admit that I cannot accept the rationale she presented.
While stating she would be willing to change the implementation ordinance, Essel also mentioned it would be appropriate to increase density along transit corridors in the Valley. With that remark she exposed her lack of knowledge on the subject. The 1818 projects are targeting transit corridors such as Magnolia and Chandler Boulevards. Perhaps that is not a big deal at her home on the other side of the hill. She appeared to be reciting from the Mayor’s playbook.
Paul Krekorian showed why he is a politician. He remarked that he would take another look at the implementation ordinance. Frank Sheftel jumped on that statement when it was his turn. He faulted Krekorian and the Assembly for not dealing with it when it became apparent it was creating problems.
Zuma Dogg blamed Wendy Greuel and Dale Thrush for the implementation and referred to them as “developer puppets.” Pete Sanchez added it was not just Wendy and Dale, but the entire City Council.
Wendy and Dale would be mentioned many more times before the night was over.
There was some consensus on medical marijuana. Most everyone favored the compassionate use of it for people suffering from painful afflictions. Everyone was critical of the hardship licensing loopholes. Mary Benson said it was a typical failure by the City Council for not dealing with the spread of collectives until it became an unmanageable problem. Frank Sheftel emphasized that the hardships exemptions should only have been applied to the existing collectives at the time when the exemption policy was first considered.
The subject of cash contributions from developers came next and created some sparring among a few of the candidates.
Chris Essel said you have to raise considerable money to run and she has received contributions from unions and developers, but with a $500 per person limit, there is no way anyone could buy her vote. Zuma Dogg challenged that by saying developers will orchestrate and aggregate the collection of money from many individuals in order to achieve financial leverage with a candidate. Furthermore, he claimed you do not need big dollars to generate name recognition, citing his own success at publicity as an example.
Zuma Dogg also emphatically stated that he has “turned down millions of dollars from developers.”
Everyone in the audience was relieved by his disclosure.
Tamar Galatzan said she has not and will not accept money from developers. She also said that most of her contributions were received from within CD 2. However, I have reviewed the City Ethics reports and it appears only 20% of her donors have addresses in the district.
Peter Sanchez urged all to visit the City Ethics website and drill down by candidate and see where the money is from and how it is spent. He pointed out that there were large expenditures for consultants and polling. That is a correct statement- Essel and Krekorian have spent many thousands for those services. Galatzan has not.
Augusto Bisani said he did not even know a developer and noted that Chris Essel has raised $200,000.
The recent announcement that the LAUSD would raise property taxes because the school district lacked the funds to cover the debt service on school construction bonds produced a lively debate, with several candidates finding fault with Tamar Galatzan who serves on the School Board. Zuma Dogg, Pete Sanchez, Michael McCue, Frank Sheftel and Mary Benson emphasized the lack of due diligence by the LAUSD Board in vetting bond proposals, including measure Q, which was the only bond that was passed in Tamar’s term.
Benson added that the assumptions for property value appreciation used to support Measure Q were completely unreasonable given the state of the market. Frank Sheftel said the LAUSD is another example of an agency not doing its job. He criticized Tamar for focusing on her campaign rather than dealing with the financial crisis at the LAUSD. He also leveled a similar charge at Krekorian.
Jozef Essavi stated he opposed paying more to the LAUSD. The voters were duped into supporting Measure Q by the LAUSD.
The preservation of the Studio City Golf Course was endorsed by all, including Augusto Bisani who claimed he did not know where the property was (Augusto lives in adjacent Valley Village). He said he is too busy to play golf because of his work, but he supported open space, especially parks for children.
The next segment amounted to a roast of Wendy Greuel. The candidates were asked what they thought former CD2 Council Member Greuel’s greatest accomplishments and failures were.
For the most part, there was very little love expressed for Wendy. Only Chris Essel , who was endorsed by Wendy, and Paul Krekorian had kind words for her. Both of then sited business tax reform and Chris added that Wendy created more open space than any other member of the Council. Tamar Galatzan mentioned her support of the Senior Center at the Van Nuys/Sherman Oaks Park but was sharply critical of Wendy for the horrible condition of the Valley Plaza project, voting to place Measure B on the ballot and her disdainful treatment of Neighborhood Councils. Krekorian faulted her for failing to protect affordable housing.
Zuma Dogg said her only accomplishment was getting elected; Dale Thrush and Wendy were the tools of the developers.
Peter Sanchez expressed his disgust for Wendy’s transformation from a community activist to a politician looking for her next job.
Mary Benson mentioned Wendy’s propensity for taking credit for the success of others, including the defeat of Home Depot.
Augusto Bisani brought the house down when he said “I don’t even know the lady.” He added he had “no clue” of any success attributable to her.
Frank Sheftel was treated to some applause when he said Wendy’s greatest failure was endorsing Chris Essel.
Jozef Essavi got some laughs when he said he wished she were here. He characterized her as a friend of the Villaraigosa machine.
Michael McCue was disappointed with her constituent service and was pointed out her failure to protect affordable housing.
The candidates were all over the map on what they would do to keep business in Los Angeles. Among the general comments were the difficulties associated with getting permits. Augusto Bisani emphasized the difficulty in opening a restaurant (he supplies equipment to restaurants). He said it is an important industry and claimed there were 10,000 eateries in the city.
Chris Essel promoted her experience in the film industry and feared a continuation of runaway production, although she also stated her husband was in Michigan working on a film project. There were some boos.
Paul Krekorian claimed credit for chairing the Assembly Committee that authorized incentives to the film industry.
Tamar Galatzan said the City has to stop converting industrial land into housing, an interesting point that should be examined in greater depth, in my opinion.
The closing arguments were mostly general in nature. Some notable comments included Zuma Dogg saying he has been thanked by the people on the street for his tireless efforts at challenging the City Council, Pete Sanchez urging the audience to reject big money candidates and Tamar Galatzan stating she had stood up to the Mayor and public unions.
Chris Essel said she was not a shill for anyone.
Mary Benson regretted the loss of all types of businesses to San Bernardino and Riverside and the need for everyone at City Hall to make sacrifices. She also wants zero-based budgeting by the City.
Frank Sheftel said he is a businessman, not a job hopper.
Augusto Bisani cited his success in opening two businesses with a national reputation in the restaurant industry. He also noted he is the father of triplets and grandfather of six.
Michael McCue was proud of his work on the “Defeat Measure B” campaign and his fight to increase relocation funds for tenants evicted by developers.
Paul Krekorian was proud of how he has represented his district in the Assembly.
Jozef Essavi told the crowd to vote for “the average Joe.”