Serena Oberstein, formerly the Los Angeles City Ethics Commission president, announced at the start of the new year that she would be campaigning for L.A. City Council, to represent the people of the 12th District. Councilman Mitchell Englander recently retired from politics, leaving open the seat representing northwestern and western sections of the San Fernando Valley. A special election will be held in July to fill the seat.
“It's time that we have a city government that better reflects the people, neighborhoods and ideals of our community,” she said in a statement. “I'm running for City Council to fight for all of the people in the 12th District — women and men, children and families, and to build safer, healthier and stronger Valley neighborhoods.”
We spoke to her about all of this and more.
L.A. WEEKLY: Why should you win?
SERENA OBERSTEIN: I grew up in this community, attended public schools in this community, and work and raise a family in this community. From where I sit, it's clear we need fundamental change to ensure we have clean streets, safe neighborhoods and a leader who will hold herself accountable. I should win because of our broad-based grassroots support from small business owners, teachers, moms, dads and hardworking families who are each day searching for answers to the many issues that plague our city. Stakeholders in the northwest Valley want its leaders to work together to improve public safety, address the crisis of homelessness and modernize our outdated infrastructure. As someone born and raised in the Valley, and as the former president of the L.A. City Ethics Commission, I'll fight hard every day to restore trust in our government, deliver more resources and better services for Valley neighborhoods and families.
Why will you win?
For too long, people have felt shut out of the process and lacked confidence in their government to get the job done. I will win because of the coalition of working families, women, men, young people, seniors, grassroots activists and neighbors who are propelling our people-powered campaign to victory. My campaign is about creating solutions, not continuing politics as usual. There's a crisis of confidence in City Hall and voters deserve ethical, proactive leadership to make the tough decisions our community and city need.
How will your experiences with the L.A. City Ethics Commission help with the City Council?
As L.A. City Ethics Commission president, I worked tirelessly to provide greater transparency on campaign finance reform and elections. During my time on the commission, we levied hundreds of thousands of dollars in fines, holding those who violated ethics laws accountable while ensuring everyday voices were heard to create and implement common-sense policies. As with my time on the commission, I will actualize proactive solutions, informed by community stakeholders, to create answers of, by and for our neighborhoods.
Were you to win, what would be your first act in office?
On my first day as a city councilmember, I will create a Neighborhood Strike Team. In addition to my staff, it will include residents from every community in Council District 12 to help inform and solve many of the most immediate and pressing issues of our district. I will commit to issues being addressed within 24 hours of our office knowing about the problem.
It seems like politics needs a lesson in ethics right now. Would you agree?
Yes! When I was 9, I joined my parents on the picket line as they left their classrooms in search of livable wages and the ability to provide for me and my brother. That teachers strike in 1989 left a lasting impression on me that to fight for what you believe in, you must do what is right. For two decades, I have worked in the nonprofit and public sector to fight for the values we hold dear. As the former president of the L.A. City Ethics Commission, I've seen how corrupting power can be and worked hard to root out fraud, waste and those who abuse our system. I am running for City Council to protect our neighborhoods and fight for those who deserve a voice in City Hall.