De Leon Comments Irk Local Officials

California State Senator Kevin De Leon. Photo: SD24.Senate.CA.Gov

Current President pro Tempore of the California State Senate and U.S. Senate hopeful, Kevin De Leon drew local ire recently over comments he made in an NBC Los Angeles interview that many perceived as disparaging to neighborhood councils.

During the interview, De Leon spoke in reference to Senate Bill 35 (SB-35), part of an affordable housing package that aims to ramp up housing development by streamlining the approval process.

“I’ve had city councilmembers say to me, ‘You know what—officially I’m going to oppose [SB-35], but behind the scenes, wink-wink, please get it passed because we have been strangled, we have been handcuffed by the NIMBYism and the threats from neighborhood councils within our own communities,’” De Leon said in the controversial September 24th interview.

De Leon did not respond to multiple requests for an interview, but a spokesperson for the state senator emailed a prepared statement on the matter. In it, he sang a different tune, saying he respected the work of neighborhood councils and calling them “an important way for Angelenos to have that level of civic engagement.”

But the damage from De Leon’s earlier words may have already been done.

Silver Lake Neighborhood Council (SLNC) Co-Chair Scott Plante said De Leon’s NBC Los Angeles interview is cause for concern among the area’s neighborhood councils. According to Plante, the politician’s comments indicate to him that state legislators are out of touch with the day-to-day needs of local communities.

The SLNC echoed this sentiment in a strongly worded letter to De Leon, where they said the politician’s statement reflected “a glaring lack of understanding of what neighborhood councils actually do” and criticized his implication that they were at fault for the current housing crisis.

“Any attempt to de-legitimize neighborhood councils, or to unjustly blame them for community ills caused by others, will cause irrevocable harm,” the letter read. “Your comments undermine our ability to serve our community, as well as maintain the mutually respected relationship between the SLNC and our city government.”

Additionally, in the letter the SLNC invited De Leon to attend their November 1st board meeting. De Leon did not attend that meeting and has not yet responded to the letter, according to an SLNC spokesperson.

The Los Feliz Neighborhood Council (LFNC) sent a similar letter to city councilmembers denouncing De Leon’s comments and disputing that the package of pro-development housing bills was the best way to fix the affordable housing crisis.

Instead, they requested he focus on repealing the Ellis Act, a California state law that allows developers to tear down rent controlled housing and build condos, hotels or non-residential projects.

“The current bills are focused on increasing construction of new housing, missing entirely the other side of the issue—the loss of existing housing,” the LFNC wrote in their letter.

Additionally, the council criticized the lack of transparency implied by De Leon’s description of private “winks” behind the scenes of City Council deliberations and asked for examples of projects that had been “strangled by neighborhood councils.”

De Leon did not respond to a request by the Ledger to clarify specific instances of neighborhood councils interfering with developments.

For their part, local Los Angeles city councilmembers David Ryu (Council District 4), who represents Los Feliz and parts of Silver Lake and Mitch O’Farrell (Council District 13), who represents parts of East Hollywood, Atwater Village, Echo Park and Silver Lake, both voiced their support for neighborhood councils.

Ryu spokesperson Estevan Montemayor said the CD4 councilmember “supports neighborhood councils and the community review process,” while O’Farrell spokesperson Tony Arranaga said the outreach neighborhood councils provide is essential to building it in a way that works for the neighborhood.

“We must strike a balance between creating more affordable housing while maintaining the character and integrity of our neighborhoods,” said Arranaga in an email. “Councilmember O’Farrell always requires extensive outreach to residents on any proposed project and encourages constituents to participate in the public hearing process.”

As for whether there was any truth to De Leon’s implication that city councilmembers privately supported the housing package, while publicly opposing it, Montemayor said Ryu was not aware of any instances of councilmembers privately trying to influence state officials, while O’Farrell spokesperson Arranaga declined to comment, suggesting De Leon would be a better person to ask.

De Leon did not respond to a request for comment on that issue.

Erin Hickey Pinheiro contributed to this story.

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