The 14 candidates seeking Tom LaBonge's L.A. City Council District 4 seat agree on a lot. At least they say they do. It's one of the things that has made their many, many debates so mind-numbing. The candidates are practically tripping over one another to declare themselves anti-development, anti-density, pro–neighborhood council, anti-DWP, pro–community plans and anti–bond measure to fix broken streets.
And, curiously, they've all (all but two, anyway) signed on to take something called the "Transparency Pledge."
The pledge was designed by Miracle Mile Residential Association president Jim O'Sullivan, a retired actor (he did mostly soaps, though he did have a very small role in Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas) who is fed up with City Hall.
"Our neighborhoods are being raped and pillaged," he says. "We have all these community plans we put years into, and all of a sudden a [city] councilman comes along and says, 'That’s not what it means.'"
At candidate debates for the March 3 L.A. city election, O'Sullivan has found that the moderators chosen to run the show aren't asking intelligent questions and fail to ask follow-ups. At any rate, the important thing, he thought, was to get the candidates on the record, so that if they went back on their word, people in L.A. could hold their feet to the fire.
So he wrote the Transparency Pledge. The Transparency Pledge is a promise by the City Council District 4 candidates that whoever wins the coveted CD 4 seat will immediately disclose, on a website, the moment his or her council office/staff is approached by a developer, as well as immediately posting any contemplated changes to the neighborhood's community plan or bike plan — important documents that say what is expected to happen to that neighborhood in the future.
In fact, much of the CD 4 race, whose winner will represent some 280,000 people in an area stretching from Sherman Oaks and Van Nuys to Los Feliz and Miracle Mile, has been about how little its residents trust the L.A. City Council and its tight relationship with private developers.
Joan Pelico, a former staffer to City Councilman Paul Koretz, was the first candidate to sign the pledge. Others soon followed.
The move snowballed. Only two candidates have refused to sign: self-described "vapor activist" Step Jones and Mike Schaefer, a former San Diego City Councilman – in the 1960s – and a perennial candidate here, as well as a former slumlord.
OK, so the major candidates (and most of the minor ones) have signed the pledge. Who's to say they'll keep it?
O'Sullivan doesn't expect complete fealty. He knows that the new council member elected in the May 19 runoff (nobody is expected to win outright on March 3) will take some prodding to prevent natural onset of flip-flopping.
But if he or she ignores the pledge, O'Sullivan says: "I’ll do anything I can to recall them." And he's a smart, retired guy with a lot of time to do that, and to make a council member's life a little awful.
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Los Angeles voters have never recalled a City Council member. But they did recall corrupt mayor Frank Shaw in 1938 (and Californians recalled Governor Gray Davis in 2003). Efforts to recall councilman Jack Weiss in 2007 failed after organizers couldn't gather enough signatures to make it viable.
But O'Sullivan says he's learned from that experience: "I know the people who tried to recall Jack Weiss. They say they made one mistake: They didn’t hire professionals. I’m pretty sure if I raise money, I can get the petition to recall anyone."