Candidates for Los Angeles City Council District 14 traded ideas and the occasional jab in a wide-ranging discussion regarding affordable housing, gentrification, and basic services in Boyle Heights during a Candidate Forum Saturday at Boyle Heights City Hall.
It was standing room only for the more than 200 community members who came out in force to the forum, which was hosted by youth reporters at Boyle Heights Beat, a youth-written bilingual community newspaper and project of the USC Annenberg School of Journalism and Hoy newspaper.
Youth reporters opened the forum with questions on topics ranging from park space to the redevelopment of the Wyvernwood Garden Apartments. In the second half of the forum, community members asked candidates questions about gang violence, ethics and care for senior citizens.
Four of the five candidates running for the city council seat participated in the forum: incumbent Councilman José Huizar, termed-out Los Angeles County Supervisor Gloria Molina, social worker Nadine Diaz, and former union organizer Mario Chavez. John O’Neill, a fifth candidate, did not attend.
Molina, who many expected to retire, said she decided to run for office because of what she described as the lack of leadership by Huizar in the district. Molina complained about basic services in Boyle Heights and said leaders shouldn’t just be leaders when there’s an election. “You have to be a leader on day one,” Molina said. She also referenced the controversy surrounding the Councilman’s affair and alleged harassment of a staffer, saying, “You have to serve with integrity and responsibility.”
Huizar defended his record on improvements in the district. “I don’t think there’s been a time in the history of Boyle Heights that we’ve seen so many improvements to our parks,” he said, also noting low crime rates and improvements to roads and basic services.
When asked about plans to raze the Wyvernwood housing development and replace it with a mega-housing and shopping complex, Huizar declared his opposition to the development but kept returning to the issue to demand that Molina reveal where she stands.
The room seemed evenly divided between supporters of Huizar’s “4 more years” and Molina’s “No Way Jose,” but both Diaz and Chavez held their own and received applause from the crowd.
Chavez called gentrification “the elephant in the room,” and called on the city to change the affordable housing committee meetings to a time and place when community members could actually attend, not on “the tenth floor of City Hall on a Wednesday at noon.”
Diaz received shouts and support from the room when she asked what ‘affordable housing’ really means, and asked the audience if they could afford $1,300 a month for rent.
In regards to development, Diaz complained that deals were being done without community knowledge and said, “People who live here need a seat at the table.”
Huizar, who has been serving on the City Council since 2005, hopes to be re-elected for his fourth and final term. As of last month, the councilman has raised more than $820,000 for his campaign.
Molina has raised just over $137,000. Molina, who was going to retire before deciding to run for the council seat, has said she would give two-thirds of her salary back to the district for services for the community.
Together, Diaz and Chavez have raised just over $30,000.
After the forum, supporters for all candidates rallied outside in the parking lot, posing for photos with candidates.