March 9, 2022 - From the March, 2022 issue

LA Council President Nury Martinez On LA City Governance In Transition

 With Mayor Eric Garcetti’s ambassadorship pending Senate confirmation, TPR checked in with Council President Nury Martinez to shed light on LA City governance and equitable economic recovery in this challenging moment of transition. The Council President highlights her Elevate LA platform and priorities related to housing affordability and increasing opportunities for homeownership and generational wealth building for low-income communities in LA. Martinez also highlights Council's recent actions on building decarbonization and improving access to open space in CD 6.

Nury Martinez

"Elevate LA is focused on four major issues: breaking the cycle of poverty, uplifting women and families, building a livable city, and economic recovery as it pertains to recovering from COVID.” —LA Council President Nury Martinez

Council President Martinez, in January you introduced your Elevate LA platform. Let's begin by having you address what's included in that platform and your policy priorities related to increasing opportunities for homeownership and building generational wealth for low-income communities in LA.

Nury Martinez: Elevate LA is focused on four major issues: breaking the cycle of poverty, uplifting women and families, building a livable city, and economic recovery as it pertains to recovering from COVID.

Breaking the cycle of poverty is really about ending family and childhood poverty in LA by 2035. In Los Angeles, one in five children under five years old live in poverty. In saying that, building generational wealth is something that I believe in. Through ADUs, the city's new housing element, and SB 9, we are going to finally be given an opportunity to find a path to legalize and upgrade some of these units where people already live. The process will hopefully stabilize our neighborhoods for particularly those that are at risk of gentrification: for families who are holding on to their homes to have the ability to upgrade them and perhaps rent out the back house or upgrade that garage. It gives them an opportunity to garner more income, finish off paying that mortgage, and build that generational wealth that can be given to their children or grandchildren. So, establishing a financing program for families to be able to give themselves an opportunity to become homeowners is very important, particularly for low-income families. We used to have programs like this many years ago. We need to keep people in their homes, but we also need to help them build that generational wealth and create that homeownership opportunity in their own neighborhoods.

Another point is uplifting women and families. I really think we need to make this city more “mom-friendly.” I happen to be a mom, and I happen to be a working mom. We need to start with looking at the price of childcare. For a lot of families, it becomes really expensive to figure out childcare, and we've seen almost 3 million women across the country give up their careers and their jobs because it's just not feasible for them to go back to work. They're having to make very complicated financial decisions for themselves and for families. We need to ensure that this city is a more “mom-friendly” city for women to return back to work

What I mean by creating a livable city is making sure that we're committed to ensuring that all Angelenos have access to resources, which is not necessarily the case right now. When it comes to open space, recreation opportunities, parks, libraries, and things that more affluent communities often take for granted, these resources sometimes are scarce in low-income communities or don't even exist. We need to make that equitable across the board no matter what neighborhood you live in.

Economic recovery has to do with not only recovering from COVID, but I also introduced an amending motion to a previous motion on creating the Office of Job Quality Stabilization. This is simply to say that as Angelenos, we all can agree that we support new technologies and innovations, but some of our industries are changing. We have to be honest with the idea that some industries are not going to exist moving forward. What are those who do that work for supposed to do? How are we training the new workforce in Los Angeles to meet new technology challenges that we're going to be moving into? This is important, especially for low-income families and the working poor who depend on these jobs. We need to figure out a path for them and make sure that they're not left behind as we're constantly trying to innovate. As technology is moving forward, we need to think of the workers.

The other piece to this is a website that I launched a couple of months ago regarding the “mom-friendly” city I hope we can become. We launched Women at Work LA, which is a guide and a framework for the private sector to create policies to adjust and acknowledge that working moms need to return back to work.

One of those would be childcare. Another one would be, for example, flexible work hours. So many of us have the ability and luxury to work from home, how do we create those tools for the private industries to take advantage of this because there are a lot of things we can do from home? Technology has advanced so much, not all of us need to be in a building to get the job done. So many of us can juggle a lot more and be there for our kids if we simply have those flexible work hours to be able to do it from home.

Does the City of LA intend, via its new housing element, to go beyond SB 9 in terms of incenting density in low density single-family neighborhoods? 

I think that we can probably piggyback on what SB 9 is intended to do and how ambitious our housing element is to provide the already-existing resources to homeowners to upgrade their units is something that we should take advantage of. I think by creating more affordable housing, more families can certainly save up for a home and, hopefully, spend less income on housing. No one should be spending half of their income on housing.

What I've been saying to my colleagues is that the pandemic has shown us that too many households can't even afford a $500 emergency. How can families afford a down payment for a mortgage that's nearly half of their yearly income? I believe these are all tools that can be incredibly beneficial.

With the ink barely dry on SB 9, which upzoned R1 neighborhoods statewide with no requirements for affordability, the California Assembly last month subsequently rejected AB 854 to limit the ability of real estate speculators from to evicting tenants and removing housing from the market within 5 years of acquiring it. Considering this policy context, what’s your strategy for insuring an increase in LA’s affordable housing supply?

In LA, we have some of the highest rents and highest home prices in the country. Each year California passes down a mandate of housing to be built in each city—the Regional Housing Needs Assessment—and so many cities have fought and continue to fight this housing allocation.

LA has not only accepted challenge, but we're actually seeking to exceed the expectation. Our housing element has made it a point that we're going to have to deal with the equitable distribution of affordable housing. I think part of our challenge in Los Angeles is not all neighborhoods can or are willing to build any type of housing, let alone affordable.

I don't agree with all aspects of SB 9, but I will tell you that through our housing element in Los Angeles and in looking at the equitable distribution of affordable housing, we have got to make the argument that affordable housing also needs to go into some of the most prestigious neighborhoods in Los Angeles. The program will rezone certain parts of the city, and it's going to allow us to build over 250,000 new housing units in the next four years. That's what's currently in the plan. This plan really puts LA on track to meet our state requirement which is nearly 500,000 units by 2029.

Is it possible to buy the most expensive land in Los Angeles and expect to build affordable housing without a redevelopment agency. Elaborate on how that happens?

It's very difficult. I think probably one of the worst decisions Governor Brown made in his tenure as governor is getting rid of redevelopment agencies. It makes it very difficult for communities that I represent to be able to leverage and incentivize developers to want to look at some of our parcels of land and be able to create that affordable housing that we desperately need. I think the point here is that we have to continue to be able to build to hopefully bring prices down and make it affordable for families to be able to buy something in LA.


You've recently joined Councilmember Nithya Raman as a cosponsor of a motion to decarbonize new building construction in LA, joining a growing chorus of cities across the state seeking to locally ban gas hookups in new buildings. Elaborate on your intentions, plans and expectations.

Decarbonization has been an ongoing issue. In communities like mine, we've been begging for this for decades. This issue does primarily affect low income and minority populations. It's something that our communities urgently need.

People debate the LA 100 plan, which is to achieve the 100 percent carbon free energy by 2035. What's missing in this conversation and is something that I've talked to Nithya about is the need to prioritize job security. That's something I mentioned earlier in our conversation with this Office of Job Quality Stabilization. With both automation and this move away from fossil fuels, it's going to cause a lot of job loss. What are we going to do to protect those workers?

As much as we agree with decarbonization moving forward, we also have to recognize the major impact that it's going to have on working people who construct our buildings. I agree with the motion moving forward, but I think there's another job piece that we tend to often not talk about.

As we tackle our city's infrastructure, we've got to talk about not only the environmental piece and how badly some of these polluted neighborhoods need this, but we also need to talk about how we're going to protect their jobs. Some people have only known this type of construction, and we need to quickly figure out what that working piece is going to be for so many people.

Could you comment on Elevate LA's platform to develop a master plan for the Van Nuys Civic Center Plaza, given the green space inequities in your district?

The Civic Center is unfortunately currently underutilized. What we want to do is improve the Civic Center’s integration into the surrounding community. It’s such a dense part of my district with so many families living in cramped apartments. What I'd like to do is take a look at some of the apartment buildings that are close to green space and figure out what the recreational areas look like and how they can have a real positive and long-lasting impact.

Low-income areas have less community resources because we don't invest in these neighborhoods, whether it be the systemic racism that impacts them through our community planning process or what have you. We need to look at these open space opportunities as a way to connect neighborhoods and bring something different to these areas.

There's a companion motion to this that's asking DOT to look at empty DOT surface lots as well. We can look at them and figure out how we can consolidate them to create more green space in Van Nuys. There isn't a surplus of free space, so we need to look for ways in which we can improve existing spaces.

Pivoting to the expected confirmation by the Senate of Mayor Garcetti as President Biden's Ambassador to India, you as the City Council have the ability to appoint an interim mayor. What can you tell our readership about the City Council’s plans for that transition?

The charter states that whenever there's a vacancy in the office of the Mayor or he travels, City Council President automatically becomes the acting mayor. So, I would assume the position of acting mayor as well as soon as the mayor is confirmed and resigns from office.

Regardless of the distractions, we have to remain focused on the work for me and Angelenos. The work continues, and so the city is designed to be able to adapt and sustain these types of situations. I will serve as acting mayor, just like I have in other times when the mayor has been out of town, which has happened quite a few times in the last two years.

Lastly, in your capacity as President of the City Council, elaborate on your decision, now stayed by the Court, to appoint a replacement for Mark Ridley Thomas?

Yes, I've been meeting with members of the community of Council District 10 over the last several weeks. Like I indicated to Mr. Ridley Thomas’s chief of staff last year before we went on a winter break, my intent was to come back this year and take a look at appointing a temporary voting member to that district because it's been four months that this district has gone without a voting member. We worked through redistricting last year, we protected the district, and I think the constituents can tell you they're very happy with the redistricting lines. I gave them my word that I would do that, and we did it.

Moving forward, we've got the budget right around the corner. We've got major policy discussion conversations and votes on homelessness. We’ve got the rise in crime that we have to grapple with. These are very serious and often controversial issues. We need a voting representative that can vote on issues that pertain to Council District 10.

Like I've said before, if Mr. Ridley Thomas's case gets dismissed or he is exonerated, he is to return to his seat as soon as possible. If there's a motion that gets introduced, that is something that I will make sure gets included because he should have the ability to resolve his legal matters. If they get resolved, he has absolutely every right to return back to his council seat.


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