September 5, 2000 - From the September, 2000 issue

Candidates For Mayor of L.A. Debate At Westside Urban Forum

Envisioning L.A. with an adequate school supply, a jobs/housing balance and a successful mass transit system is difficult to do. However, the mayoral candidates attending last month's Westside Urban Forum were able to explain with seeming ease how they'd retool L.A. to cure these historic ills. The panel announced that this race is about more than just "feel-good" ideas; rather, it's about the ability to implement real, positive change. TPR is pleased to present this edited excerpt of the forum, including mayoral candidates Steve Soboroff, Xavier Becerra and Antonio Villaraigosa, who discuss what they see as L.A.'s biggest challenges-and how to overcome them.

Xavier Becerra

What is the most intractable land-use problem in L.A.? What gives you the unique ability to solve it, and how would you do it?

Antonio Villaraigosa
Speaker Emeritus, California State Assembly

Affordable housing. We live in a city that has less homeownership and spends less for affordable housing than any big city in the country . We finally put together a housing trust, but are barely funding it.

So first, we would work with the federal government and others to fund that housing trust. And second, we would take that federal support and pursue a State housing bond-something we haven't passed in California in more than a decade.

Steve Soboroff
L.A. Parks and Recreation Dept.; Former Chair, BB Committee

There are a couple more things we can do for the housing trust fund in terms of implementation. Both our port and our airport employ many people that can't afford housing. Why not have them put some of their surplus funds-which can't come to the City because of their own trusts-towards participation in the housing trust?

We also must continue to make our City more business friendly for the right kind of projects.

The third thing is density. The key is to build additional density around our existing mass transportation to alleviate some of the traffic problems around L.A.

Xavier Becerra
Congressman, 30th District

In my view, it's the mentality of sprawl that has to change. If we can't get past that mentality we're never going to deal with the fact that Los Angeles is a city that needs to "come back home" to its inner portions.

If we do that, we'll realize that there is space for housing, that we can coordinate transportation and--most importantly--that we can build good schools. Unless we extract the mentality that says it's okay to have a home with a huge yard out in the suburbs, we're never going to deal with the issues of transportation, housing and education.

To me, if you have 10 million people and 6 million cars in a county, you have a problem. We've got to learn how to come back home.

What would you do in the first 100 days of your administration in terms of getting your arms around the transportation explosion in the Basin?

Steve Soboroff: We had a debate at the Museum of Tolerance where one of the candidates said, "Let's just double-deck the freeways." Another candidate said, "Well, neighborhoods are going to get so much better with the Neighborhood Councils that people won't need to travel out of their neighborhoods." That's another great one, and probably why these guys aren't here.

I have a list of 25 to 30 different approaches that won't cost anything and can happen quickly. First, stop construction during rush hour on major arteries. Second, left turn arrows that work on demand instead of timers. Third, reversible traffic lanes. Sepulveda Blvd. in the morning is backed up to Valencia, and in the afternoon to Torrance. Why not have three lanes going one way in the morning and three lanes the other way in the afternoon?

And what about a Downtown that has flexible work hours? Why do all the government employees have to get there at 8:30 and leave at 5:30?

Antonio Villaraigosa: The most important thing that we can do about transportation is correct the jobs/housing imbalance. Obviously public transit and some of the things that Steve talked about are important, but we have to find a way to deal with the fiscalization of land-use so that we can begin to attract jobs closer to housing. Frankly, that will go a long way to addressing the transportation issues in this City.

Xavier Becerra: I think you have to implement some of those very concrete ideas that Steve mentioned. But you're missing the big picture if you concentrate solely on those small things because they deal only with cars. Until Los Angeles removes itself from that mentality--that you can have 6 million cars with 10 million people--we're never going to deal with L.A.'s transportation woes.

We have to get people to believe that bus and rail can be for middle- and upper-middle class people-not just by explaining it to them, but by actually demonstrating that you can coordinate from bus to light rail to subway. If we don't extract the mentality that everyone needs a car, we'll never get there.

What land-use opportunity has been overlooked in the last decade that would help realize some of the kinds of things that you have spoken about? What areas would you pick to foster high density residential for moderate-income people?

Antonio Villaraigosa: Downtown is a great place to start. If we want to make Downtown a 24-hour city, if we want to revitalize it, we need to create affordable housing.

With the current office glut, there are some great opportunities that we can take advantage of . There are also opportunities along highly congested transportation corridors that we need to focus on as well. But Downtown is definitely the best place to start.


Steve Soboroff: Antonio responded to the second part; I want to answer the first part: joint-use. We have schools that are over-utilized, parks that are underutilized, and community colleges that are vacant 3/4 of the day-and it's because people don't communicate. So what's the answer? The answer is joint-use agreements.

We have completed 40 joint-use agreements in the last 60 days between LAUSD and our park system. The park system will put in playground equipment on school sites if the schools open it up to public use in the afternoon.

We have to use what we have instead of this "let's just double-deck the freeway system" mentality.

Xavier Becerra: Downtown will be renovated. We'll see homes go into Downtown, but they will be condominiums where adults without kids will reside. We still need to find places for families.

Quite honestly, if you're talking about where the middle-class will go--it's South Central, that industrial area of L.A. just south and a little east of Downtown. If we're smart, we'll start to redevelop that area with public-private partnerships. We're going to have a lot of work to do because there's a lot of environmental contamination, but we've got to do it. We just have to come back home. And, if we do it the right way-by coordinating the construction of new schools with new housing developments--we will attract families.

If we're going to increase density Downtown, the City is going to have to find a way to create open space because mixed-use buildings don't have backyards to play in. What are your plans to bring open space to Downtown so that our already park-poor urban center has some decent parkland?

Antonio Villaraigosa: I actually authored the largest parks bond in the history of the country--a $2.1-billion parks bond. And for the first time ever, half the money went to urban parks for precisely the reasons you just mentioned.

Open space is one of the keys to quality of life in any city, especially this one, which has less park space then any big city in the country . So you're absolutely right-creating livable space and urban reforestation are keys to mitigating the impacts of density and congestion.

Xavier Becerra: The key will be the L.A. River. I remember when I first took office I was approached by a number of folks who wanted to preserve the River. But they said that we had to do something about the Army Corps because the only thing the Army Corps would do is build more walls of cement.

Believe it or not, we now have a Secretary of the Army Corps that's willing to consider bringing that River back to its natural habitat while still preserving flood control. If we concentrate on restoring the River, then we'll green the urban center of Downtown.

Steve Soboroff: Your question about Downtown is critical because unless you have parks, a school, a supermarket and a Krispy Kreme doughnuts, people are not going to move there.

But seriously, why don't we use what we have already? Take Belmont for example. If they can clean it up to the right standards instead of spending $60 million on acquiring new land, we could do a joint-use agreement and probably have the largest urban park in all of Los Angeles. We just did just that with Pan Pacific, which is under construction now. It's going to be a great urban park.

I have a program called "The Greening of Los Angeles," which has three objectives. First is converting brownfields into greenfields. Second is a rails-to-trails program to connect the areas of the Valley together. And third, LAUSD is the number one owner of asphalt in California except for Caltrans. Underway right now is the largest greening project in the history of the City of L.A. Twenty million square feet at 400 schools is being torn out and replaced with grass and trees. And you know how much it's costing us? Nothing. The cost for new asphalt is the same cost for grass and trees. So it's all about implementation.

Steve, you talked about attracting businesses to L.A.; Congressman Becerra, you talked about coming home and focusing multi-family in South Central; and Assemblyman Villaraigosa, you talked about livability. One of the key components to really emphasizing those ideas is safety. You probably recall the headline from a couple months ago: "10 shootings in 10 days in South Central Los Angeles." We've got kids walking through metal detectors to go to school. So what will you do as Mayor to make our City safer?

Steve Soboroff: There are two sides to this issue--the preventative side and the LAPD side. And the preventative side is the big one. From that perspective, there are 100 programs like the one I chair, called Big Brothers. There are programs all over the City that need the resources and attention, or mentoring from corporations or other individuals, to double their programs. This is about recruitment versus letting kids get sucked into gangs.

Antonio Villaraigosa: We need to get guns off the street. I'm the author of the toughest assault weapons ban in the country.

We need to begin to invest in young people again and get them off the street. Someone took a chance on me. And we have to take a first and a second chance on kids again. We need after school programs, and we need prevention and intervention programs to get kids out of gangs in the first place.

We also need community-based policing so that we can begin to see the community as a player in making neighborhoods safer.

Xavier Becerra: There's no doubt-and I say this as the father of three kids-that you need to make sure there is something for your kids to do. In 1993-94 we tried to pass a crime bill that had three components-incarceration, apprehension and prevention. What got killed? Prevention. Why? Because our opponents focused on so-called "midnight basketball." That wasn't what it was about; it was about giving kids something to do.

What I will do as Mayor is make sure cops, firefighters and teachers live in the communities they work in. We need to see that our neighbors are the ones that are protecting us-not the guy who lives out in Chatsworth, but the guy that lives next door.


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