Want to meet people with whom you'd enjoy playing trivia games, or somebody who'd actually lend you their ladder? Try heading to your voting precinct on March 3 to rub elbows with the rarest of rare — municipal election voters (also known as your neighbors). Big local races and controversial measures are on tap in Los Angeles, West Hollywood, Hermosa Beach, Bell and other cities.
An election scheduled for March 3 in mysterious Hidden Hills, a San Fernando Valley town of the very rich and their horses, which is off-limits to outsiders, got canceled due to lack of interest. But on the other end of the spectrum on March 3, there's political drama laced with allegations of spying, sexual impropriety and peeping-Tom antics — just grab a bag of popcorn and head to West Hollywood. In L.A., a tiny clutch of voters will choose the next, and increasingly rare, L.A. city councilwoman. And in Hermosa Beach it's neighbor versus neighbor as residents decide whether to allow oil wells in the laid-back surf town.
To find your polling place in less than 30 seconds, go to lavote.net/locator. There are a few thousand places to vote in L.A. and its suburbs, and your polling place will likely be in an atmospheric school auditorium or inside a neighbor's suddenly extra-sparkling garage. Now that you know where to go, here is L.A. Weekly's March 3 Municipal Voter Guide for L.A. City and County:
Los Angeles City Council Election and City Ballot Measures
L.A. City Council members are paid $184,610, the highest big-city council salaries in the United States, higher even than salaries of Congress members or Gov. Jerry Brown (his is $177,467). Each council member wields unusual power as the understood land development czar within their own district — a setup that, along with the pay, has distorted who runs for this seat and why. Council races draw legislators (salary $97,197) who move to L.A. just to run, along with loads of outside campaign money. The situation keeps sometimes superior and committed leaders from winning office in favor of interconnected inside players. One result is that the council votes unanimously about 99 percent of the time and serious public debate is rare.
L. A. City Council District 4 (Fairfax, Hancock Park, Hollywood, Los Feliz, Mid-City, Sherman Oaks, Van Nuys)
It's goodbye to CD 4 Councilman Tom LaBonge, pushed out by term limits. District 4 is the City Council's most absurd gerrymander, jumping from the Valley across the Hollywood Hills, then snaking far south to Miracle Mile. In a big field of 14 candidates, half seem to have at least some hope of reaching the top two on March 3, either due to massive campaign funding or serious track records in civic life. Jay Beeber is the “red-light camera hero” and transit activist who persuaded City Hall to abandon its hated red-light cameras by proving the $465 tickets didn't reduce accidents. Teddy Davis is a feisty debater who lent pizzazz to the virtually unseen campaign debates. Sheila Irani is an unknown with brains endorsed by the L.A. Times. Tomas O’Grady is a popular education activist in Los Feliz who did surprisingly well in his last political race. David Ryu has raised the most cash, about $300,000, and would be only the second Asian-American city council member in L.A. history. The insider candidate is LaBonge's ex-aide, Carolyn Ramsey; and Steve Veres is backed by Kevin DeLeon, who leads the state senate. Also running: Tara Bannister, Step Jones, Wally Knox, Fred Mariscal, Joan Pelico, Rostom “Ross” Sarkissian and Mike Schaefer.
L.A. City Council District 6 (NoHo, Sun Valley, Van Nuys, Lake Balboa, Panorama City, Arleta)
In a fascinating rematch between rare birds — powerful L.A. Latinas with experience in public office — Nury Martinez, a former LAUSD school board member and the CD 6 incumbent, faces the woman she beat in this very race in 2013, Cindy Montañez. Nury Martinez's victory stunned analysts, because in the 2013 primary Montañez had trounced Martinez. Now Martinez is the only woman on a city council that once boasted several females. An apparently competent council member, Martinez has to be furious at the L.A.Times editorial board, which has a history of holding its nose to endorse male incumbents it isn't thrilled about (see its recent endorsement of Herb Wesson). But in this case, the Times targeted L.A. City Hall's sole female incumbent, urging her ouster in favor of Montañez.
Not that it matters. The Northeast Valley is a fickle, unpredictable district that’s seen some political upsets, which are exceedingly rare in L.A.: in 2013, unknown teacher Monica Ratliff got elected to LAUSD's Board of Education over a far better-funded candidate hand-selected by Antonio Villaraigosa. Last year, even lesser-known Patty Lopez, with no money or serious backing, unseated the powerful rising political star Assemblyman Raul Bocanegra, possibly due to an odd ballot layout. Anything can happen in CD 6.
L.A. City Council District 8 (Baldwin Hills, USC, Crenshaw, Leimert Park, West Adams, South L.A.)
Former LAPD Chief Bernard Parks is termed out after 12 years, and the most widely endorsed candidate running for his spot would represent a significant change for CD 8. A fiscal expert on the City Council, Parks was a longtime cop, and was used to going it alone if he felt he was right. Marqueece Harris-Dawson is a community organizer, more interested in collaboration than confrontation. He's a protégé of Congresswoman Karen Bass who took over as president of Community Coalition after Bass left that nonprofit group and became a state Assembly member. Though he has worked on campaigns since the 1990s, Harris-Dawson has never run for office. He's been endorsed by most of the City Council, and has raised more than three times as much campaign money as his nearest competitor. Bernard Parks has endorsed Bobbie Jean Anderson, a veteran of Democratic Party politics.
Also in the race is Forescee Hogan-Rowles, a nonprofit executive who nearly forced Parks into a runoff four years ago, largely thanks to her strong backing from organized labor, and Robert Cole, who has drawn some support from the business community.
L.A. City Council District 10 (Koreatown, Palms, Mid-City, Arlington Heights, Wilshire Center, Leimert Park)
In this 48 percent Latino district with a healthy population of Asians (16 percent), the far more organized and active black voters (26 percent) make the call each election, so since 1963 a black candidate has always won. Black incumbent Herb Wesson made sure that pattern would hold, undertaking a controversial back-door manipulation of the 2012 redistricting process, when politicians draw new voting districts. The CD 10 gerrymander has been slammed by residents who wanted Koreatown united in one district to give Asian-Americans a chance at electing an Asian — in a city where 418,000 Asian-Americans reside but no Asian has held city office since Mike Woo left in 1993. The L.A. City Council now faces a federal civil rights lawsuit over its decision to split Koreatown among several council districts.
Grace Yoo, an attorney who emerged from the gerrymandering battle as one of L.A.'s few politically outspoken Asian-American civic leaders, is running against Wesson. Should Yoo force Wesson into a May 19 runoff, that alone would be considered one of the biggest upsets since environmental activist Ruth Galanter forced out longtime councilwoman Pat Russell in 1987. Also running is Delaney “Doc” Smith, a physician/lecturer/theologian.
L.A. City Council District 14 (DTLA, Boyle Heights, Eagle Rock, El Sereno, Garvanza, Glassell Park, Lincoln Heights, Monterey Hills)
Councilman Jose Huizar faces a strong challenge in CD 14 from longtime L.A. County Supervisor Gloria Molina, a popular figure in Eastside politics for more than 30 years who recently left her county post due to term limits. Molina's main charge against Huizar is that he has failed at the basics of “constituent service” — returning phone calls, cleaning alleys, fixing potholes. Molina was the first Latina elected to the state Legislature, Board of Supervisors or City Council, and when she announced in September that she was targeting Huizar, she noted that women had all but vanished from political office in L.A.
But two other issues linger in the background: encroaching gentrification into Eastside neighborhoods and sexual-harassment allegations leveled at Huizar by his former mistress. Huizar argues that he has delivered for his constituents, and takes credit for improvements in the district's quality of life. And while he says he regrets the affair, he believes most voters consider it a private matter. Molina has her own weaknesses. Among them, she supported the Secure Communities program, under which the county cooperated with immigration authorities, a very controversial position in a heavily Latino district. Other candidates include Mario Chavez, an activist and union organizer; Nadine Momoyo Diaz, a social worker/researcher; and John O'Neill, a community political consultant.
L.A. City Council Districts 2 and 12
In CD 2, Councilman Paul Krekorian will face county government watchdog Eric Preven. Although Preven is a well-informed citizen monitor, Krekorian is expected to win more than 50 percent on March 3 for an outright victory. In CD 12, Mitch Englander is unopposed.
L.A. City Charter Amendments 1 and 2:
When just 21 percent of registered voters showed up for the March 2013 city election, city leaders began to think about dramatic steps to boost civic participation. Commissions were convened, proposals considered. Among them was a plan to lure voters with a cash lottery, which was scrapped after some nationwide mockery. Finally, the City Council chose Charter Amendments 1 and 2, which in 2020 would move city and LAUSD school board elections to June and November of even-numbered years to coincide with presidential and statewide elections. The Municipal Election Reform Commission says this is the easiest way to boost turnout. But these measures face numerous criticisms. Moving the elections appears to work to the advantage of well-funded special interests, because running a campaign in the same year as a presidential or gubernatorial race is simply more expensive. This gives big money an advantage and could make it harder for grassroots candidates. Oddly, holding city elections on even years also makes it easier for the L.A. City Council to raise taxes, because of the different voter mix drawn to polling places for big races such as president. There's also concern over whether such a move would actually boost turnout during the primaries, when most elections are decided (because that's when the frontrunner usually becomes clear). Finally, several of the people who enthusiastically approved these two ballot measures — L.A. City Council members — will enjoy an extra 18 months in power if voters choose Charter Amendment 1 and Charter Amendment 2.
Los Angeles Unified School District Board of Education
Although L.A. City Council races get far more press, the biggest game-changer elections in L.A. more often than not unfold on the powerful LAUSD school board. This time, the election in District 5 could affect whether the charter reform movement, which Latino parents have embraced as a system that levels the playing field for working-class families, gets an outspoken new advocate on the school board. District 7 is considered a sure victory for Richard Vladovic, and District 1's George McKenna is unopposed.
LAUSD School Board, District 3
Tamar Galatzan, the incumbent in District 3, a San Fernando Valley seat, is a Los Angeles city attorney and mother of children who attend LAUSD. Along with Monica Garcia, she’s a firm “school reform” vote, meaning she was a big supporter of Superintendent John Deasy, who pushed for tougher academic standards and teacher review. A pack of five candidates is running to replace Galatzan: Carl J. Petersen, Ankur Patel, Scott Mark Schmerelson, Filberto Gonzalez and Elizabeth Badger Bartels. Curiously, the teachers union, which would love to oust Galatzan because of her desire to make it easier to fire ineffective teachers and her support of other reforms opposed by UTLA, hasn’t endorsed any of her opponents. UTLA seems to be waiting to see who, if anyone, makes the May 19 runoff against Galatzan. Can she get 50 percent of the vote in this big field, and avoid a potentially tricky runoff? That’s a tall order, but Galatzan has the financial support of the California Charter Schools Association Advocates, which may help her reach that threshold in a district that stretches from West Hills to Studio City.
LAUSD School Board, District 5
This year’s most competitive school board race pits incumbent Bennett Kayser — a staunch opponent of charter schools who has voted against even the top-ranked of these independent and rapidly growing schools — against two strong candidates. There’s Ref Rodriguez, who founded Partnership to Uplift Communities, or PUC, a chain of high-performing charter schools in mostly working-class neighborhoods, whose students achieve well above the statewide average. Some believe that a character in the new HBO show Togetherness may be inspired by his story. If elected, Rodriguez would be the first openly gay LAUSD board member. He’s the favored candidate of the “school reformers,” led by the California Charter Schools Association. The third candidate is Andrew Thomas, an education researcher and parent of LAUSD children. He’s positioned himself as the thoughtful, middle-ground alternative, and he was able to capture the L.A.Times endorsement. Wildly gerrymandered District 5 meanders like a narrowing trail through Los Feliz, Eagle Rock, Highland Park, Boyle Heights, Vernon, Bell, Huntington Park and Cudahy. The district is heavily Latino, at least in population. But because so few residents in the Southeast cities such as Cudahy are voters, the electorate ends up about half white.
West Hollywood City Council Election
This wild WeHo election features 12 candidates running for three at-large seats. Running as incumbents are John D’Amico, who’s in a mayor’s chair that goes to a different council member each year, and lifer Councilman John Heilman. Candidates Lindsey Horvath, a former council member and activist, and Joseph Guardarrama, an attorney, are running on a slate backed by “Friends of West Hollywood,” actually an independent expenditure committee. The WEHOville news site reports that most of the money in the election is coming from real estate and development sectors at a time when residents are increasingly concerned about the town’s high density and infamously bad traffic.
The dark horse hoping to break in is market researcher Lauren Meister, a former city planning commissioner and public safety commissioner who has run previously. Meister is a scrapping community activist with some name recognition. If Meister gets elected on March 3, it will be seen as another shakeup following voters' enactment of term limits — a bitter effort aimed at long-timers including Heilman, who has been on the West Hollywood City Council since Ronald Reagan was president.
This is West Hollywood, so intrigue and drama actually lead the ballot. This race drew allegations that Ian Owens, deputy to long-timer Councilman John Duran, bugged the office of Fran Solomon, Heilman's deputy, in order to allege that Solomon was illegally soliciting campaign contributions for Heilman at work. Owens then alleged that he met Duran through hook-up app Grindr, had sex with him, got hired as his deputy, and then had to rebuff Duran’s sexual advances. Then there’s the lawsuit against candidate Larry Block, which alleges that, as landlord to spray-tan guru Jimmy Coco, he installed hidden cameras in order to capture images of Coco nude. All of the above allegations have been denied, and then some.
The other candidates on March 3 are resident manager John Allendorfe; business owner Larry Block; apartment manager Brian Funnagan; sheriff’s deputy Christopher T. Landavazo; writer James Duke Mason, son of Go-Gos lead singer Belinda Carlisle; journalist Matt Ralston; and media executive Tristan Schukraft.
Measure O Oil Drilling, Hermosa Beach
Mayor Peter Tucker predicts the highest voter turnout in Hermosa Beach history, and while that may be exaggerated, Measure O, which asks residents whether to allow oil wells on city land and deep drilling beneath Santa Monica Bay, has split the city. Residents aren't speaking to one another and lifelong neighbors no longer attend one another's parties. All five Hermosa Beach City Council members personally oppose the plan by E&B, a Bakersfield oil concern. Hundreds of residents are turning out for fundraising, canvassing and public speeches, and the city is bristling with battling political banners that read “Keep Hermosa Hermosa” or “Protect Hermosa's Future.” “Protect Hermosa” argues that city infrastructure, public safety and schools will get a fiscal boost if E&B is allowed to use a 1.3-acre maintenance yard to erect 34 wells and an 84-foot drilling tower. “Keep Hermosa” argues that oil drilling will ruin Hermosa's beach-y beauty and presents a worst-case-scenario 17,000-gallon oil spill that could seep into the ocean. Drilling under the bay off Hermosa also is opposed by the city of Santa Monica.
Measure C Charter Amendment, City of Bell
Here's a mix of solid reforms padded around a potentially trouble-inviting change to Bell's city constitution. Bell's Charter Amendment C would allow people to move there, then run for office 30 days later. Currently you must live in Bell for 60 days. Are city leaders hoping to import reformers to Bell? Are outsiders chomping to run this still-vulnerable town, which was scandal-ridden in 2010? No. It turns out that a court has ruled that 30 days is all that's required to establish residency and the city's legal advisors hope to avoid to any legal challenges to Measure C by getting rid of the old 60-day rule. Bell's Charter C reforms are typical good-government practices worked out in the aftermath of the scandal: limit council member compensation for sitting on multiple city bodies, require written expense-reimbursement policies, limit indemnification of elected officials, establish a citizen planning commission, change recall procedures, eliminate the assistant chief administrative officer position, prohibit conflicts of interest or financial interests in city contracts, and prohibit franchises of indefinite duration, all consistent with state law.
Los Angeles Community College District Board of Trustees, Seats 1, 3, 5 and 7
The Los Angeles Community College District trustees control a $3 billion budget and oversee policies affecting 136,000 students but, more than any regional political body in Southern California, the trustees have a history of blundering. The board gained unwanted fame with a 2011 L.A. Times series about its botched expenditures from a $5.7 billion construction bond. A bastion of heavily pro-labor Democrats, the board has now gotten itself into another intriguing pickle: It enacted an incumbent-protecting rule doing away with election runoffs. At the March primary, the candidate who gets a plurality of votes now wins outright, even if the tally falls far short of 50 percent.
In gutting the fundamentals of majority rule, the trustees didn't think through what would happen if an earnest Republican ran in a big field of Democrats. Republican Mark Isler, a food and beverage distributor and radio and TV host who has tried many times to win office in Democrat-dominated L.A., understood the math. Neither a crackpot nor a player in Republican circles, Isler's interest in policy issues — from a conservative GOP perspective — could conceivably garner him more than one-quarter of the Seat 1 votes, by winning Republicans and a smattering of others. It's a long shot, but if Isler wins, say, 26 or 27 percent on March 3 while the three Democrats — Andra Hoffman, Maria “Sokie” Quintero and Francesca Vega — very evenly split the other voters, Isler could become the Seat 1 trustee.
The rest of the college trustee races include: In Seat 3, Jozef “Joe” Thomas Essavi, Sydney Kamlager, Yolanda Toure, Sam Kbushyan and Glenn Bailey; in Seat 5, Steve Schulte and Scott Svonkin; and in Seat 7, Mike Fong, John Burke and Joyce Burrell Garcia.