LOS ANGELES–Heading into his ninth month in office, by most accounts City Councilmember Mitch O’Farrell of Los Angeles’ 13th District is settling into his new role nicely.
Local attention to his neighborhoods is proving a priority, as well as a focus on citywide issues. He has several “streetscape” projects in development to enhance major thoroughfares including Sunset Boulevard in Silver Lake and Fletcher Drive in Glassell Park with medians, sidewalk repair, trees, and other amenities like bike racks and benches. In Silver Lake he said he is working on securing a small parking structure for the neighborhood, to help alleviate parking issues.
As chair on the Los Angeles City Council Committee on Arts, Parks, Health, Aging and the River, along with Mayor Garcetti, O’Farrell is leading an expansive river revitalization project through the Army Corps of Engineers, advocating for the city on a federal level with support from representatives in Congress, Senate, the Obama administration and the Environmental Protection Agency.
And in legislation that might define this first term citywide, O’Farrell will present an affordable housing initiative with District 7 Councilmember Felipe Fuentes, addressing a complex issue fumbled by former mayor Antonio Villaraigosa more than a decade ago and later abandoned.
Taking a seat in his City Hall office, of which he’s still in the process of moving into, he looked comfortable in the part wearing a well fitting charcoal grey suit, a gold tie with a matching pocket square, his salt-and-pepper beard and hair trimmed cleanly.
Thinking back on his dozen years as a community activist in Glassell Park and then a staff member to his predecessor and now mayor, Garcetti, he said since assuming this role last July his perspective has been less street-level and “more up at the 30,000 feet level of the district.”
“That’s the difference,” he said. “I see the whole district now with a broader lens [than] when I was responsible for just the projects or just the neighborhoods I was responsible for.”
O’Farrell ran last year in a highly contested race, facing off in the city’s runoff election against labor-supported former Public Works Commissioner John Choi and defeating him soundly despite being outspent almost 2-to-1.
Speaking with community leaders around the district, O’Farrell’s first months in office have been widely praised.
In Echo Park, where O’Farrell is moving his field office, President of the Greater Echo Park Elysian Neighborhood Council Ari Bessendorf said, “Mitch is doing great. He’s keyed into what’s going on, he comes to the important meetings, the people love him. . . .He’s been very responsive.”
President of the Echo Park Chamber of Commerce, who goes by the name KamranV, said he was impressed by the “Business Community Leadership Breakfast” O’Farrell hosted last August where several Echo Park businesses provided guidance for a CD13 “road map” focusing on key issues such as permitting and compliance.
He said, “[O'Farrell's] focus on quality of life improvements and safety in Echo Park is especially important to our members’ business growth.”
In Atwater Village, both neighborhood council co-chairs Courtney Morris and Torin Dunnavant spoke favorably of O’Farrell’s attention to their community needs including beatification and quality of life projects such as planning several tree plantings, neighborhood cleanups and building a bike corral on Glendale Boulevard. And to larger issues like the Los Angeles River Revitalization Plan and weighing in at the Hyperion Bridge public hearings.
“I think Mitch is definitely creating a presence here in Atwater Village,” said Morris. “It’s nice to get so much face time with your councilmember and his staff. . . . I personally feel like we have an ally in making Atwater Village a great place to live.”
Current opinion from others about O’Farrell ranges from a wait and see attitude to wondering where the councilmember stands on key issues.
“He’s still getting his feet wet,” said Andy Hasroun, president of the Atwater Village Chamber of Commerce. “Imagine anybody going into office, figuring who’s who, it’s going to take him some time to get his staff together [and] put [together] strategies,” he said. “So far he’s done a good job for being there for nine months.”
A big issue that will impact the community is the Glendale Boulevard-Hyperion Avenue Complex of Bridges Improvement Project.
“We don’t know which way it’s going to go,” said Hasroun.“Imagine it’s like choking Atwater Village. It’s very simple when you shrink the lanes.”
He said the neighborhood wants to the option that includes four lanes of traffic, become a reality.
“[O’Farrell] should support whatever the neighborhood wants. There’s no room to even negotiate or talk about this. This is what we want,” he said.
Others like Netty Carr felt O’Farrell hit the ground running after being elected councilmember last summer. Carr is a board member on Friends of Atwater Village, a volunteer group dedicated to preserving and sharing the history of the neighborhood.
O’Farrell worked really hard behind the scenes when he was part of former councilmember, now Mayor, Eric Garcetti’s office.
When it came to the bridge issue, Carr said she thought O’Farrell would support a “sensible plan.”
Neighborhood advocate Alexander De Ocampo, who ran against O’Farrell in CD4′s 2013 election, said he feels O’Farrell is doing a “fantastic” job. De Ocampo noted, particularly, O’Farrell’s neighborhood meetings and street walks as crucial to leading such as diverse district.
O’Farrell is “listening to everyone,” he said, “that’s the most important and valuable asset that he is doing within his office. . . .”There’s always room for improvement but I think he’s really doing the work that needs to be done in the neighborhood, reaching out, building coalitions, really listening to the needs of the district,” said De Ocampo. “I’m giving him some very good high marks.”
O’Farrell has not, however, been without his detractors.
According to Silver Lake Neighborhood Councilmember Charles Herman-Wurmfeld, people are “disappointed” that the councilmember has “persisted in support” for the Glendale Boulevard Corridor gang injunction in Echo Park, “when crime is at an all-time low.”
Herman-Wurmfeld said he hoped O’Farrell would reverse his position. But, he praised O’Farrell’s championing a transformation of the Silver Lake Reservoir for “creative, ecological and recreational purpose.”
“Even more, generally, O’Farrell seems to continue to be interested in making our spaces more sacred — the river, the reservoir, and new parks and green spaces beyond — so that’s good,” said Herman-Wurmfeld.
O’Farrell’s support for the Millennium Hollywood project has followed in his predecessor Garcetti’s footsteps and brought similar unpopularity from opponents in the neighborhood and hills to the north that fall out of his district.
But O’Farrell stresses the restrictions he’s negotiated on the projects, such as height restraints, he says make it more appropriate for the area.
“[My constituents understand] I’m a deliberate, independent thinker and at the end of the day I base my decisions on logic and what’s best for the district, whatever the neighborhood is.”
Regarding the contentious issue of youth baseball fields in Griffith Park at Crystal Springs, O’Farrell said he supports at least one ballfield at the site but he wants to make sure the adult sized diamond—“Pote Field”—is being fully utilized as well.
He said, along with the Atwater Village Neighborhood Council, he does not support youth ballfields at the proposed alternative site North Atwater Park.
The fields at Crystal Springs are not in O’Farrell’s district, but the issue does affect his constituents in Atwater Village, Silver Lake and Hollywood.
Additionally, in January, O’Farrell was appointed vice chair of the Ad Hoc Committee on the Entertainment Industry. He had spoken out about the need for such a committee to stem the city’s runaway film and television production during his campaign and said he plans to approach the issue locally, regionally and statewide.
The committee will bring in leading professionals across all aspects of the entertainment industry, he said, “hear them out, take their suggestions seriously and synthesize best practices. . . and [roll] out a policy in real changes.” “It’s going to be challenging, he said.
Still early in his position, O’Farrell does not seem adverse to facing difficult issues.
“At the end of the day,” he said, speaking of himself and his staff, “we all want to be useful to the service of the 13th.”
Ameera Butt contributed to this story.
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