By Robert Garrova and Frank Stoltze/LAist
Originally published Sep 22, 2022
L.A. mayoral candidates Congresswoman Karen Bass and real estate developer Rick Caruso took the stage Wednesday night to debate issues including homelessness, public safety, and street vending.
Caruso continued to tout his experience as a “builder” and businessman, while Bass highlighted her background as a social justice advocate and champion for vulnerable children.
The candidates sparred on most topics, but there was some agreement. When asked what single word they would use to describe L.A. right now, both replied: “crisis.”
The debate took place at Skirball Cultural Center and was the first time the two candidates faced off in a one-on-one debate.
Here’s what the candidates said on key issues.
Caruso repeated his plan to declare a state of emergency in order to address the city’s homeless crisis.
Whether Caruso will have the authority to do so is something our own reporting has called into question, since it requires city council approval. Caruso also said he would immediately start building 30,000 shelter beds as part of his plan.
Bass said shelters are not the answer.
“These shelters have become so dangerous that people don’t even want to be in these shelters,” she said. “So we have to have interim housing, but it has to be very limited in time.”
Bass said the focus should be on building more permanent housing that offers support services like mental health care. She told the L.A. Times that she would use both shelters and permanent housing, including tiny homes, to get 15,000 people off of the streets.
L.A.’s unhoused population has increased by 1.7% since 2020, according to the latest count.
Caruso touted his background as a businessman and real estate developer.
“I’m a builder, I know how to build. We have over-regulated building in this city to the point that it’s so expensive to build in the city, people aren’t building,” he said, adding that he’d strip away unnecessary regulations and help reduce construction costs.
Bass agreed that some regulations need to be cut and said she would work to streamline the building approval process, especially for affordable housing.
As for COVID eviction protections that could expire next year, Bass said she would be in favor of extending them as long as assistance for landlords was offered. Caruso said he wouldn’t extend eviction safeguards unless there was a better process in place to prove someone is in need of help.
On public safety, the debate touched on an incident that made national headlines earlier this month when Bass’s house was broken into and two firearms were stolen.
Caruso questioned whether or not the guns were properly stored and registered. Bass responded saying they 100% were.
As far as the city’s police force, Bass said that LAPD needed to be brought up to its budgeted number of about 9,700 officers.
Caruso said people in L.A. don’t feel safe: “People are taking off their jewelry before going to dinner.”
Caruso has said in the past that he supports increasing the city’s police force by 1,500 officers.
Watch The Full Debate
Tell Me More About The Candidates
Both candidates are Democrats, although Caruso was registered as a Republican as recently as 2016. He switched to independent in 2019 and then Democrat before entering the mayor’s race.
Bass — who represents the 37th Congressional District (Mid City, Westwood, Exposition Park, Baldwin Hills) — founded local social justice organization Community Coalition and became the first Black woman in U.S. history to lead a state legislative body when she was elected Speaker of the California Assembly in 2008.
Caruso is known for properties in L.A., including The Grove and Americana at Brand. He has served as president of the L.A. Police Commission and as a commissioner for the L.A. Department of Water & Power. He was also elected as chair of the USC Board of Trustees in 2018 as the university was grappling with decades of sexual abuse allegations against former campus gynecologist George Tyndall. He served in that role until earlier this year when he stepped down to run for mayor.
Bass and Caruso were the top vote-getters in June’s crowded mayoral primary: About 43% of votes went to Bass, with Caruso earning nearly 36%.
They’re competing to replace L.A. Mayor Eric Garcetti, whose second term comes to an end in December, a 5 1/2-year run that was extended due to a change in the election calendar.
Ties To USC Scrutinized
Earlier this month, the L.A. Times reported that a scholarship Bass received valued at roughly $100,000 from USC’s social work program, along with her interactions with the school, have become “critical” to prosecutors investigating a federal corruption case involving former L.A. County Supervisor Mark Ridley-Thomas and the former dean of USC’s school of social work, Marilyn Flynn.
The U.S. attorney’s office in L.A. told the Times: “At present and based on the evidence obtained to date, Rep. Bass is not a target or a subject of our office’s investigation.”
At the debate, Bass said she did nothing wrong. “I was offered that scholarship so I could be a better legislator to take care of the nation’s most vulnerable children,” she said. “I didn’t apply for an MBA so that I could be a venture capitalist. It’s a social work degree that was given to me on merit.”
Caruso has also faced scrutiny for lacking transparency during his time as chair of the USC Board of Trustees. In that role, Caruso helped USC reach $1 billion in legal settlements.
This report is reprinted with permission from Southern California Public Radio. © 2022 Southern California Public Radio. All rights reserved.