9th District Candidate Closeup: David Roberts

imagePhoto provided by David Roberts campaign.

The Ninth Council District in South Los Angeles is up for grabs and supporters, ranging from the local community to the Los Angeles Times, claim former economic developer David Roberts is the man for the job.

“The musical chairs from Sacramento to city hall has changed the culture here for the worst,” said Roberts. “It’s very disturbing for someone who has worked in government. It sounds corny, but I’m doing it for the right reasons. I’m running [in order to] improve the quality of life here in South L.A.”

For years, Roberts watched local officials attempt to satisfy the needs of the residents living in South LA. However, the finalization of the redistricting of the Ninth was the last straw, ultimately motivating him to run.

Last year, the Los Angeles Redistricting Commission approved the removal of portions of Downtown L.A. from the Nint District, including the financial district, Little Tokyo and the Civic Center.

“They created a poverty challenged district,” said Roberts. “It was pretty obvious early on that deals had been cut and there were conflicts of interest. I don’t think we will ever recover from that. South L.A. was totally dismantled and the culture was stripped away.”

Roberts added that local officials need to bring more resources to the community and fight for those residents because “it is imperative that somebody is there to fight for them. I’m not afraid to.”

imagePhoto provided by David Roberts campaign.

Roberts was born and raised in Southern California. After graduating from high school, he went on to pursue a Bachelor of Arts degree in Political Science with a minor in Business Administration from the University of California, Los Angeles.

Roberts eventually went on to work as the Economic Development Director for Council members Bernard C. Parks and Mark Ridley-Thomas.

Roberts also serves on a number of local boards including Figueroa Corridor Partnership, Friends of Expo Center and the South LA Initiatives Working Group. Roberts hopes that his wealth of experience exhibits his potential to revitalize the Ninth District better than his opponents.

“Government can be a positive impact on people’s lives. I want to restore some credibility and confidence in city hall,” said Roberts.

His supporters recognize and understand his efforts. The Los Angeles Neighborhood Initiative honored Roberts with the Outstanding City Partner Award for his expertise and passion for the community. Additionally, in a recently released campaign video, supporters describe Roberts as a man of integrity and passion.

“My support is from inside this district. [I can do this] because these folks are pushing me along and encouraging me,” said Roberts in a recently released campaign video.

Critics might pin Roberts as just another politician with conflicts of interest. Most recently, Roberts worked as the Associate Director of Local Government Affairs at the University of Southern California.

South L.A. residents could be turned off by Roberts’ ties to USC. Some residents are unhappy with USC’s Master Plan, a development project creating mixed-use spaces, including student housing, with the potential of displacing current residents.

“When I went over to USC, I was told I could not work on that plan. I have not done any work on behalf of the university for that plan. There is no contradiction with me and the university,” said Roberts.

Roberts listed the unemployment rate, education system, sidewalk repairs and average household income as some of the district’s most pressing challenges. He plans to redevelop South L.A., expand educational opportunities, ensure safer streets and create job opportunities, which he is already doing by hiring local adults to canvass neighborhoods on his behalf.

“They’re going out and registering some of their friends and family members to vote. It’s a real grassroots level,” said Roberts. “For some of these kids, it’s the first time they’ve had a real job or a real paycheck. It feels so good to be involved in that.”

9th District Candidate Closeup: Curren Price

image Curren Price, second from the left, with County Supervisor Mark Ridley-Thomas, City Council President Herb Wesson and Los Angeles Congresswoman Karen Bass.

When Curren Price opened his campaign headquarters to kick-start his race for the Ninth District Los Angeles City Council seat, he was joined by some of the city’s most prominent elected officials.

No other candidate running has taken photos with the City Council president, a Los Angeles County supervisor and a U.S. congresswoman – at least not all at once and while holding the candidate’s campaign signs.

Of all the candidates running to represent the Ninth District, Price has the most experience, high-profile endorsements and campaign cash, which makes him seem as the clear front-runner in the March 5 primary election. Price said he has experience making laws, something most of his opponents can not claim, and he has served a portion of the Ninth District before as a senator for the 26th District.

“I’m excited about the prospects of serving in the Ninth, of coming back home, and being a part of a process that’s going to really revitalize and rejuvenate the Ninth District,” Price said.

City redistricting in 2012 removed much of downtown from the former “Great Ninth” and added USC and L.A. Live to what Price now calls the “New Ninth.” Price said he is pleased that the redistricting “preserved the voting power of minorities.” He said making sure South L.A. gets its fair share of the city’s resources is a major priority for him.

In January, eight candidates filed their most recent finance report. Los Angeles Police Department Deputy Chief Terry Hara leads the pack with over $220,000 in cash on hand. Price is the only other candidate with over $100,000.

Some of his opponents have called Price a carpetbagger, a man seeking office wherever he is most likely to be elected. Supporters say those attacks are false and distract voters from what really matters in the race. On campaign materials and his websites, Price says he was “born and raised” in the Ninth District, which is true.

image Photos from Curren Price headquarters.

Price, who was born at Queen of Angels Hospital, attended Normandie Avenue Elementary School then Morningside High School, in what is now Los Angeles’ Ninth District. He majored in political science at Stanford University and graduated with a law degree from Santa Clara University in 1976.

In a district where going to college is far from a guarantee for many students, Price believes his own educational background should not unnerve voters.

“I think every kid growing up in the Ninth should have those options, should have those opportunities,” Price said to a group of supporters.

Price left California in 1979 and spent the next 10 years in Washington, D.C. working for international companies specializing in communications infrastructure. He returned in 1989 to become a deputy for two members of the L.A. City Council, Robert C. Farrell and his successor, present Los Angeles County Supervisor Mark Ridley-Thomas. Current Los Angeles Council President Herb Wesson began his political career as a council staffer as well. He said for Price and himself that experience was invaluable.

“We know how to do things hands-on and don’t have to rely solely on staff because everything we’ve asked our staffs to do we’ve already done it,” Wesson said.

Price found his first political break when he was elected to the Inglewood City Council in 1993. He was defeated for mayor of Inglewood in 1997, but then returned to his council seat in 2001. In 2006, he was elected to the State Assembly and overwhelmingly won re-election in 2008. Victorious in a special 2009 California State Senate election, Price currently serves part of the Ninth Council District in Sacramento. According to Wesson, the relationships Price has in the state capital will help him if he is elected because many residents call the city asking for things that are actually controlled by the state.

L.A. County Supervisor Ridley-Thomas described Price as a “consensus builder.”

“He’s someone who you can easily talk to,” Ridley-Thomas said. “He’s not standoffish; he’s not one who will put you off. He will listen to you and he will mobilize his staff to help you.”

At campaign events Price talks about improved public safety, more attention to public works including street cleanups and potholes and more incentives for local businesses. In 2007 and 2009, the University of California Student Association awarded Price “Legislator of the Year” for his work to increase access to Cal Grants for students, among other initiatives. For young voters, Price notes his efforts that led to laws allowing 17-year-olds to preregister to vote and dependents under 26 years old to stay on their parent’s healthcare plans before it became the national law.

With his past elected experience, Wesson believes the obvious next step for Price is a seat on the L.A. City Council.

“I think that it’s a natural progression for him to come home and back to the people that live in the area where he grew up and went to school,” Wesson said. “He is a homegrown product.”

Elections needed for neighborhood councils, Parks says

imageOne thing was clear after Thursday night’s special city council committee meeting: the neighborhood councils need change. And fast.

Neighborhood council systems are established in several major cities throughout the country, including Tacoma, Wash., and San Diego, Calif.

In communities like South Los Angeles, neighborhood councils are supposed to function as an extension of the city council that involves resident participation. They are supposed to be responsive to local needs and serve as the voice of their constituents to the city government.

Several neighborhood councils make up South Los Angeles including the Empowerment Congress north, central and west councils, the Vermont Harbor Neighborhood Council and the Vernon/Main Neighborhood Council, to name a few.

After holding four special committee meetings throughout the city, Councilmember Bernard Parks said he heard complaints across the board about the 12-year-old neighborhood council system — everything from the councils needing clearly defined rolls to calls for dissolution of the whole system.

“From listening to the four meetings (the election process) seems to be the No. 1 issue,” said Parks, who was recently appointed chair of the Education and Neighborhoods Committee of the Los Angeles City Council.

Elections in the various councils has been cancelled for the last year in an attempt to save money, but council board members and stakeholders urged Parks to reinstate them so that they could elect their peers, rather than having only appointed representatives.

The Department of Neighborhood Empowerment is a network of 90 neighborhood councils throughout Los Angeles and many of the complaints heard Thursday were about its failure to hear complaints from shareholders about abuses of power by members of the councils.

Nora Sanchez from the Greater Echo Park area said she filed a grievance in 2009 because her council wouldn’t provide materials translated into Spanish — a language she believes is spoken by many of the residents in her neighborhood.

“They want the Latinos’ help once it comes time to voting,” Sanchez said. “But they don’t care the rest of the time (if we are informed).”

After getting the runaround for years, Sanchez simply stopped going. She now hopes that Parks will be able to reform the system.

David Rockello, president of the Rampart Village Neighborhood Council, said an easy way to fix the grievance process would be to put everything online.

“There are no forms, there is no real, formal way to complain,” he said. “It’s a venting and a catharsis that people need if there are issues in their neighborhood.”

But reform isn’t good enough for Ida Talalla, an Echo Park resident who previously served on her neighborhood council. She wants the system obliterated, or at least the Great Echo Park Elysian Council.

“The council needs to be investigated by the FBI and de-certified,” Talalla said. “We are going to be the Bell City poster child of neighborhood councils.”

Talalla said that she was pushed out of her neighborhood council as a result of the appointment system that replaced elections and when she tries to voice her opinion now, she said she is verbally harassed and laughed at.

“What does it take to be heard?” she asked Parks.

Parks will be meeting with his committee in the coming weeks to sort through what was said at the various public meetings and make recommendations to the full City Council.

Democratic politicians attend labor rally

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Despite the background music, there was not much running going on at this get-out-the-vote labor rally. While democrats elsewhere are scrambling, in Los Angeles, they seemed ready to celebrate.

John Chiang: We are seven hours and 23 minutes from a huge victory. I count the minutes, and I am a math man.

That is democratic State Controller John Chiang, who is expected to win re-election.

Other candidates there included United States Congress hopeful Karen Bass and incumbents Xavier Becerra and Lucille Roybal-Allard.

Few of them face more than token opposition, either. Los Angeles County democrats have nearly a 30-point lead in registration over republicans. That lack of competitive races in Los Angeles poses a challenge: getting voters excited for a midterm election.

Chiang says that is crucial.

Chiang: We need help from the top to the bottom of the ticket because every single elected official makes a difference.

United States Secretary of Labor Hilda Solis also sounded optimistic. But the former Los Angeles Congresswoman called on the crowd to boost the turnout in California.

Solis: Today’s a special day. We’re going to change the course of California. And I just got word from back East, from some of our friends, that the voter turnout is surprisingly high in the Northeast. So please understand, if they can do it, you can do it.

Antonio Villaraigosa: I can tell you that at my own polling place, it looked like people were coming in greater numbers than you might expect. My hope is that people do go out and vote because this election matters.

But the Los Angeles mayor and other Los Angeles democrats have focused their attention largely on other races.

Villaraigosa and Bass have campaigned for more vulnerable democrats in other states, including Colorado, Kansas and Mississippi.

Union members convince South Los Angeles residents to vote


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Union members looking to make a difference for the democrats have been working the voters of South Los Angeles for weeks. With Election Day here, Service Employees International Union members Yolanda Richard and Pamela Harris took to the streets of Inglewood, trying to wrestle last-minute voters to the polls.

By 10 a.m., only about 150 people had voted at La Salle Elementary School, the polling place where Richard and Harris were responsible. They made phone calls, often to disconnected numbers, and they knocked on doors where no one answered.

But even one voter who answered the door and showed off his or her “I Voted” sticker was enough to make Harris and Richard feel like Election Day would be a marvelous day. It was, they said, all about keeping positive and keeping the faith.

Redrawing the lines: The controversy behind Proposition 27


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The American Association of Retired Persons, American Civil Liberties Union and the League of Women Voters are among the chorus coming out against Proposition 27.

In 2008, voters decided to take the power to draw voting districts away from politicians and put them in the hands of an independent 14-member commission. Passage of Proposition 27 would overturn that decision and give redistricting responsibilities back to legislators.

Clarissa Woo of the ACLU believes letting legislators make the call is not good governance.

“Allowing lawmakers to draw their own district lines is a conflict of interest that is hard to resist abusing,” Woo said.

Janis Hirohama of the League of Women Voters echoed that complaint.

“We had politicians carving up communities and neighborhoods to suit their own interests,” Hirohama said.

Many proponents of Proposition 27 are calling the new citizen commission an expensive add-on during a state budget crisis. Environmental groups, including the California League of Conservation Voters, are supporting it for entirely different reasons.

Mark Murray of Californians Against Waste said creating districts with secure seats for incumbents is crucial in passing environmental legislation.

“When Democrats are in a district that is considered politically safe, they tend to vote and support environmental policies,” Murray said. “When Democrats are in a competitive district, they tend to not support environmental policies as well.”

And while Murray concedes he understands the good governance argument from groups like the ACLU, he said that having every district be competitive is not good for public policy, especially environmental policy.

But opponents see the independent commission as more diverse than the legislature and less likely to break up communities.

“Right now, it’s polling really close,” Woo said.

Both sides are hoping people will pay more attention to a proposition that is tended to be overlooked.