[CD13 ELECTION] Overdeveloped & Under Heard? Competitors Say So
A dozen candidates have filed to run against incumbent Mitch O’Farrell in Los Angeles City Council District 13, according to filings with the Los Angeles City Ethics Commission.
According to the most recent campaign donation filings though September 2016, only one candidate, Jessica Salans, has raised any money—$2,328—for the March 2017 election, compared to incumbent Mitch O’Farrell who has raised just over $330,000.
Salans, who identifies herself as an activist/advocate and organizer, did not respond to multiple requests for an interview.
According to O’Farrell’s campaign donation filings, 583 donations have come in thus far for the 56-year-old incumbent, who won he seat from a crowded field of candidates in 2013. Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti previously represented the area.
Council District 13 includes Atwater Village, East Hollywood, Echo Park, Elysian Valley, Hollywood, Little Armenia, Silver Lake and other communities.
According to an analysis by the Los Feliz Ledger, almost 75% of O’Farrell’s campaign donations are from donors outside of Council District 13. Under city rules, individuals can donate up to $700 for a candidate.
Of O’Farrell’s current donations, the Ledger’s analysis reveals 33% from donors outside the district and 24% from within the district are from those with ties to developers, real estate or construction.
Concerns about O’Farrell’s proclivity for development was echoed time and time again in interviews with some of his opponents.
“There are many reasons I am running,” said 33-year-old Juan Markos, who lives in the Los Angeles City College area south of Los Feliz and west of Silver Lake. “I think [O’Farrell] took opportunities for himself without thinking of the community, like overdevelopment. My community in the district is a dump.”
Markos, who said he moved to the area five years ago from the Westside, is a property manager in the area and has never run for public office. He added he is not concerned about O’Farrell’s current war chest of donations.
“I am not afraid of Mitch’s money and advertising,” he said.
Candidate Doug Haines shares Markos’ concerns about some of O’Farrell’s development choices.
Haines, who describes himself as being “in his 50s,” has been at the forefront of fighting one of O’Farrell’s most controversial projects, a Target store which currently stands half-built in the district at the corner of Sunset Boulevard and Western Avenue.
The development is still embroiled in litigation, mainly over its proposed height, which exceeds zoning rules in the area, but which was approved by the Los Angeles City Council.
Haines pointed to O’Farrell’s penchant for development in the district for the formation of the “Neighborhood Integrity Initiative,”—a measure that seeks to stop what’s known as “spot zoning”—where the Los Angeles City Council approves projects on a case-by-case basis against current city zoning rules—that will also be on the March ballot.
The initiative, if approved, would impose a two-year moratorium on real estate projects that require changes of the city’s current zoning rules.
Some such developments, including those large in scale and “small lot sub-divisions” where multi-unit housing is built on what was previously zoned for single-family housing, end up in the courts.
“Most of the litigation,” Haines said, is in O’Farrell’s district.
“The Neighborhood Integrity Initiative is a direct result of that. It’s because of Mitch. Mitch does not seem to understand he is creating all these problems for everyone. He has blinders on,” Haines said.
But Haines, who served four terms on the East Hollywood Neighborhood Council and is a current boardmember on the Hollywood Studio District Neighborhood Council, said another reason he chose to run is because O’Farrell, he said, has turned a deaf ear to the community he serves.
“The community needs to be respected,” he said. “It’s not just development or planning. Mitch has isolated himself from the people he is sworn to serve.”
Haines, who works as a freelancer film editor, moved to Los Angeles from Michigan in 1989.
He said he also chose to run for O’Farrell’s seat because the district is “a mess.”
“Let’s be frank,” he said. “You drive [Council District 13] and it’s no paradise. It needs to be cleaned up.”
He said he would seek a reduction of the building of luxury condos and apartments whose rents are out-of-reach for most.
“People are leaving here,” he said, “because they can’t afford to live here.”
While acknowledging that challenging an incumbent is “a huge hurdle,” Haines also said he’s not concerned about the money O’Farrell has raised for his campaign.
“People who are upset with Mitch will not be persuaded by fliers that Mitch has paid for,” he said. “We can crack the incumbency,” he said. “Look at Trump.”
Francis “Coyote” Shivers, has also declared as a candidate.
Shivers, 51, a Canadian-born actor and musician, is currently a councilmember on the Hollywood United Neighborhood Council.
Shivers was named in 2008 a “vexatious litigant” by the Los Angeles Superior Court, meaning one who files reoccurring lawsuits against others as a way to harass or intimidate, in the case of Shivers, against two former wives and a girlfriend.
According to a statement, Shivers said he chose to run in the race because of “rampant police corruption and celebrity favoritism at our local [Los Angeles Police Dept.] precinct,” including “sustained practices of civil rights violations,” that have cost taxpayers hundreds of thousands of dollars and the victimization and exploitation of the homeless, Shivers wrote.
“These issues have gone unattended to by councilman Mitch O’Farrell,” Shivers statement read.
Candidate Billy Zide, when asked why he was running, pointed immediately to the winner of the race’s longer than usual term of 5 ½ years.
The longer term is a result of the 2015 voter approved initiative to align city council elections in odd number years—as is the case in 2017—with state and federal elections. The approved measure, which will take effect in 2020, means CD13 will not have another election until 2022.
“There’s no time like the present,” Zide said in an interview, especially, he said, after the results of the November presidential election.
Zide, who said he is in his 40s, like the other candidates pointed to O’Farrell’s decisions on development and what he said was O’Farrell’s disregard for the community.
“Mitch is very pro-development,” Zide said. “But what they are building are large projects, large luxury developments. We do need more units, but these don’t fall in the category of [affordability]. [O’Farrell] has ignored the community.”
Zide, who has served on both the Hollywood Studio and East Hollywood neighborhood councils, said that while O’Farrell and his staff attempt to get community input, his feeling is it is not being heard.
“The end results,” Zide said, “is the decision was already made. The input is not taken seriously. People feel that no one is really listening.”
Zide, who lives in Thai Town in East Hollywood and works in freelance film and television writing and production, pointed to his concerns of development, affordable housing and other quality of life issues like traffic and parking that led him to run.
“I decided to run to put my money where my mouth is and try and do something rather than be on the other side complaining,” Zide said.
He also said renters rights have been encroached upon by so-many evictions under the Ellis Act, a 1985 California law that allows property owners to evict tenants if they no longer want to be in the rental business.
Under the law, landlords can’t rent the newly vacated units for five years. Owners can, however, remove tenants for long-term building renovations, conversions to condos or for their private use, say for a duplex, for example.
“Everyone I talk to says the cost of renting anything in Hollywood or in [Council District 13] is at the top of the list,” he said. “There are a lot of people that are unhappy.”
While Zide, who said he worked on O’Farrell’s 2013 campaign, said O’Farrell is a “very likable guy [and] a very capable guy, he just does not seem to respond,” to those that have supported him or to community concerns.
When asked for policy that O’Farrell has put forth that Zide admires, he could only answer with a complaint.
“He has a specific agenda. He believes the best way to improve Hollywood and the 13th is through large-scale development geared towards bringing in people with more money and larger businesses.”
Zide said he knows of businesses in Silver Lake that can no longer afford their leases, due to higher rents.
“He sincerely believes this is the way to improve the area as a whole. I don’t think that is what makes these diverse neighborhoods Los Angeles. We don’t want to be New York. The district is getting more unaffordable and people are getting pushed further and further out. We can see the writing on the wall and it’s not good.”
Zide also said he wants more historic homes and places preserved and pointed directly to the demolition of a famed architect A.C. Martin home on Kenmore Avenue that the city council voted to tear down in 2014 for a small lot subdivision.
“Once we lose a [home] like that, it’s not coming back,” he said.
When asked of his chances, Zide said his or any other competitor’s is not a long shot.
“Mitch has a huge war chest, but he is more vulnerable than people realize. There is a lot of unhappiness out there,” he said.
Gordan P. Markham, known by the long-standing family nickname of “Puck” said he is running for O’Farrell’s seat, in part, to find creative solutions for the area’s homelessness.
“I have experience with poverty elimination,” he said. “There has to be creative ways to address these issues and find solutions.”
Markham has a background in financial services, both in the United States and in London, where he lived for 14 years. While living in the United Kingdom he worked on community initiatives to improve and fund community projects across London.
Recently, concerned about the high rate of suicide among LGBT youth, Markham founded two summer camps—one in Los Angeles and the other in Cape Cod, MA—for gay children between the ages of 14 and 18.
Born in Michigan, Markham currently lives in the district near Hollywood Boulevard and La Brea Avenue but has spent considerable time both in London and in Holland, where he was raised as a child. He only recently returned to Los Angeles last year.
“When I returned to L.A., I realized how happy I was,” Markham, who has never run for public office, said. “L.A. feels like home. I thought to myself, ‘How do I give something back?’”
Markham said he, too, is unconcerned about the amount of money O’Farrell has raised thus far to finance his re-election campaign.
“It does not all come down to money,” he said. “Look at our presidential election. It’s all about feet on the ground.”
Lehi White, 58, said he is running mostly because he is frustrated with city services, like so many potholes.
According to White, where he lives, near Glendale Boulevard, the street condition, he said, is “nauseating.”
According to marks posted by the city of Los Angeles, many streets in the district receive poor grades and, according to media reports, are not a priority for the city to improve.
“The bottom line is the [streets in the] area where I live gets a ‘D’ or an ‘F’ and the city has no plans to do anything about it.”
White’s idea is to possibly levy a tax for property owners in the area to fund such repairs. He said monies collected could be managed by various district neighborhood councils and could only be used for such repairs locally.
“I think a reasonable solution is to survey the people in the neighborhood councils and say would you be willing to pay an extra property tax if we could guarantee the money would go toward fixing streets in the area…I think a lot of people, like me, would be happy for this.”
White, who runs a translation business with his wife, Ines, relayed a story where he had a water bubbling up from a broken water line in a parkway near his home. Repeated attempts to get the city to repair it, he said, were futile something he said confounded him because of Los Angeles’s lack of rain.
“Either we seriously have a water shortage or we don’t,” he said.
With water conservation on his mind, he additionally said he is unsure how the water needs for so many new residential units being built in the district will be met.
“I always wonder,” he said, “did the city get enough from the developer to absorb so much additional infrastructure?”
Candidates that did not respond to a request for an interview were: Derek Fuchs, Salans, Nelson Alexander Alfaro, David de la Torre, Shakana “Shay” Beatty, Sylvie Shain and O’Farrell’s campaign.
Candidates have until December 7th to qualify for the March ballot by paying a $300 fee and receiving 500 verified signatures within the district or paying no registration fee but getting 1,000 signatures.
The next campaign donation reporting period is January 10, 2017 for monies received between October 1st and December 31st.