Voter Guide for Los Angeles City Council and LAUSD Election, May 19, 2015

Polls close at 8 p.m. Find your polling place fast at
Polls close at 8 p.m. Find your polling place fast at

If you haven't chosen yet from the shortest Los Angeles-area ballot (for a non-special election) in awhile, here are your reminders about who is running, and where.

A lot is on the line in the Southeast cities, the struggling and aging 'burbs of L.A., some of which boast a nearly 100% Latino population. What do the voters want in places like South Gate, where the schools are among the worst in Southern California? Open up more charters schools? Or push to close charter schools? One race on the ballot, Ref Rodriguez versus Bennett Kayser, is a proxy for that debate.

In the crazily gerrymandered non-community known as L.A. City Council District 4, the choices are between a consummate, well-connected insider and a well-spoken, striving outsider. How are residents of upper/lower, East-ish/West-ish Los Angeles feeling these days? Stick with what you know? Or shakeup time? 

It takes about 20 seconds to find your polling place by going here, so no excuses ( The polls close at 8 p.m. Just decide to skip that second run to Starbucks and join the several thousand people who are participating in the civic life of L.A. and its suburbs. You could finally meet those interesting neighbors from down the way.

Los Angeles City Council District 4
As L.A. Weekly has previously reported, in March of 2012 the City Council redistricted this area, creating a much safer "white seat." Orchestrated by Councilman Herb Wesson, the new voting district for CD 4 lumps together odd pockets of unrelated communities in order to shift several thousand Latinos and other minorities to adjacent city council districts. The city council transformed CD 4 from 52 percent Latinos, Asians and blacks to just 39.5 percent Latinos, Asians and blacks. CD 4 is now one of the whitest districts in Los Angeles.

Because liberal Los Angeles still chooses its local politicians largely by skin color, as the Weekly reported here, a wide-open battle is under way for CD 4 between Carolyn Ramsay, who is white, and a rare L.A. bird — David Ryu, an Asian-American candidate who came in second in March to make today's runoff. Their debates often boiled down to which of the two, Ramsay or Ryu, will fight developers who are keen to override local zoning to erect outsized structures in this bustling district including Los Feliz, Hollywood, Sherman Oaks and Miracle Mile.

The bizarre CD 4 gerrymander, from Sherman Oaks to Miracle Mile. Some see a dipping bird with head plumage.
The bizarre CD 4 gerrymander, from Sherman Oaks to Miracle Mile. Some see a dipping bird with head plumage.
L.A. City Council

LAUSD School Board, District 3
For the first time in recent memory, the teachers union, UTLA, is funding a real-life actual Republican, Scott Schmerelson, a 63-year-old former LAUSD teacher and principal. The reason is that Schmerelson is running against one of the union's least-favorite school board members, Tamar Galatzan, a Los Angeles city attorney and mom. Galatzan, who was elected to the San Fernando Valley’s District 3 school board seat in 2007, has been a solid “school reform” vote, backing policies like using test scores to evaluate teachers. She’s also known as a budget hawk, someone who hates starting new programs without knowing how to pay for them.

You would expect Schmerelson, as a Republican, to not be the most reliable union vote. But take a look at his website. The issues section very closely mimics UTLA’s platform.

Galatzan is the certainly the favorite but by no means a lock. Voters love teachers, and seem to have a very low opinion of L.A. Unified, making it quite uncomfortable for any incumbent. And Galatzan can be linked to the bungled iPad program. 

LAUSD School Board, District 5
The race for the Westside’s District 5 school board seat comes down to a mortal struggle between the teachers union and the California Charter Schools Association. The teachers union is backing the incumbent, Bennett Kayser, perhaps the sole board member who actually thinks we shouldn’t have charter schools anymore. Challenging him is Ref Rodriguez, who founded a popular chain of charters schools in working-class areas, PUC Schools. The two candidates couldn’t be more different.

Rodriguez finished in first place in the primary, but that was before a story came out that PUC had awarded food service contracts to a company partially owned by one of its employees. A story like this gets to the very heart of voters’ fears about charters – that they’re some sort of back door to a corporate takeover of public education. On the other hand, Kayser has gained some negative press for voting against every charter school that comes before the LAUSD board, regardless of its academic success, 

But the most important factor in this election is probably race. "Low information" voters are extremely reluctant to vote for anyone of a different ethnicity than themselves. And while District 5 is majority Latino, the voters have, historically, been evenly split between Latinos and whites. And so this election will likely come down to the simple question: how many Latinos show up to vote?

The Charter Schools Association has spent more than $1.7 million on this race, which is said to be very close, with UTLA pouring in money on the other side. If Rodriguez wins, the balance of the school board will shift, ever so slightly, back to the school reformers.

LAUSD School Board, District 7
This is a race that was not supposed to be close. Richard Vladovic is not only the incumbent but he's also school board president, and very popular in San Pedro, an active if far-flung part of Los Angeles whose voters dominate the district. What’s more, he’s endorsed by both the teachers union and the reformers. He’s essentially a moderate.

But then Lydia Gutierrez came along. She’s a Republican, which doesn’t exactly play well in Los Angeles, but she’s also a teacher at Long Beach Unified, which does, and she’s Hispanic in a district whose Hispanic population is growing. And Vladovic, like all the incumbents, is tied to the district’s many recent mistakes, most notably the failed iPad program.

In April, an internal poll leaked to the website LA School Report had Gutierrez up by three points. That could indicate a tighter race than usual given that an incumbent is running. 

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