54th District Assembly Special Election Dec. 3

Chris Armenta, John Jake, and Mark Waksberg, three of the 54th District Assembly candidates.

Chris Armenta, John Jake, and Mark Waksberg, three of the 54th District Assembly candidates. | Stephanie Monte

The four candidates running for the 54th District Assembly discussed jobs, prisons, guns, traffic and the environment Saturday at the Holman United Methodist Church ahead of tomorrow’s special election.

The 54th District includes Westwood, Century City, Baldwin Hills, the Crenshaw district and Culver City.  The election was called by Governor Jerry Brown to fill Holly Mitchell’s vacancy after she took a position in the California senate.

At the forum, Sebastian Ridley-Thomas, son of Supervisor Mark Ridley-Thomas, pledged to fight for jobs, education, and healthcare. Chris Armenta, former Mayor of Culver City, named the economy and the environment among his priorities. John Jake said growing up with adversity in South L.A. made him the right assemblyman. And Mark Waksberg, the independent among three democrats, said both democrats and republicans need his vote for legislation.

Read on for highlights from the candidates’ forum…


Prison overcrowding was the first topic of debate, with candidates in agreement about offering services.

Armenta said he’d like to help offenders get their lives together through education programs and easier sentences for non-violent crimes. For Jake, youth education and counseling programs would merit consideration. Waksberg similarly supported youth education, particularly through recreation centers. Sebastian Ridley-Thomas said he would strive to prevent crime.

“There needs to be an opportunity for mental health treatment,” he said. “We can’t even hold all the people we’re putting away.”


Another question concerned the Inglewood oil field and the technique called hydraulic fracturing. The controversial process drills thousands of feet underground and uses water, sand, and chemicals at very high pressures to extract natural resources.

Armenta said he would propose a  ban to hydraulic fracturing, arguing that it has caused cancer rates, respiration, and asthma to swell within the community.

“There are many schools, parks, and homes surrounding the 1,100-acre, largest urban-populated oil field in the nation,” he said.

Jake similarly supported a ban, saying a moratorium should be the first step.

Water distribution and conservation issues, meanwhile, left some candidates stumped.

Jake explained water was not his strong point. Waksberg said jokingly, “Check my website in a couple of days, we’ll all be experts on water then.”

Armenta seemed better informed. “Pipes are leaking underground, we need to fix infrastructures,” he said. He also pointed out that hydraulic fracturing wastes millions of gallons of water.  Ridley-Thomas said there would be a water bond by next year.

Sebastian Ridley-Thomas after the forum.

Sebastian Ridley-Thomas after the forum. | Stephanie Monte


More talk of legislation was tossed about when the discussion turned to gun control. Ridley-Thomas spoke out for anti-violence legislation. Armenta said he would support such a move, but believes in “castle doctrine” for the home.

“Gun violence plagues our state, we need to eliminate that,” said Armenta.


The candidates were asked to contemplate a much more mundane topic, too: traffic.

Waksberg said he thinks there should be more incentives for ride sharing.

Ridley-Thomas said he envisioned improving public transportation to LAX, upgrading the bus fleet  and completing to the 405 freeway enhancements that have been delayed nearly two years.

Armenta brought up the red car tracks that used to provide transit in the city and wants to expand economic opportunities to link lines.

Jake said he would study what other major cities are doing, and thinks the Metro Line to Crenshaw should be underground so that it does not disrupt local business.

Julia Williams says she's voting for Ridley-Thomas.

Voter Julia Williams | Stephanie Monte


Next candidates were asked how they would address homelessness. L.A. County has the country’s largest homeless population.

Armenta highlighted a program in Culver City that houses the homeless in “upward bound homes.” Waksberg noted that many veterans need more help. “They’re the biggest heroes in our whole society,” he said.


In regard to jobs within the district, Armenta said he’s a tax guy who knows how to create revenue and would use transit projects to stimulate the economy.

“We are at a 9 percent unemployment rate. We need to find money to stimulate opportunities for jobs,” he said.

Jake said there is no cap on the entertainment industry and that it should be kept in California instead of shipping jobs across seas. He said we should study new environmental sciences likes Germany’s solar and wind power program that sells energy abroad.

Waksberg said he loves unions and thinks California has a high sales tax that should be friendlier state for business.

Ridley-Thomas said he would create more public-private partnerships.

Closing statements

At the end of the forum, each candidate was allotted two minutes to give final closing statements.

Ridley-Thomas said he comes from a family invested in public service.

Armenta told the audience, “Look at the record, I managed a city offered as a democratic representative, I will use that experience to represent our district in Sacramento.”

Jake said he is a dependable family man who wants his constituent family to live in a safe community.

Waksberg said he would reflect the needs of the community to Sacramento and that both democrats and republicans need his independent vote for legislation.

If no candidate wins a majority in December, a runoff election will be held Feb. 4.

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