DEBATE RECAP: Holly Mitchell And Herb Wesson Clash On Police Reform And Housing Policy

KPCC/LAist senior politics reporter Libby Denkmann moderated an Oct. 14 debate between Holly Mitchell and Herb Wesson who are running for the open District 12 seat on the L.A. County Board of Supervisors. (Screenshot via KPCC/LAist)

It's been 12 years since the L.A. County Board of Supervisors 2nd District last had an open seat. The candidates, State Senator Holly Mitchell and City Councilmember Herb Wesson, met Wednesday in a KPCC/LAist debate to make their cases — and sparks flew over the direction of housing policy and law enforcement accountability.

THE DISTRICT

Wesson and Mitchell are vying to represent parts of west and south L.A.: cities such as Inglewood, Carson, Compton, and Culver City, neighborhoods including Crenshaw and parts of Koreatown and several unincorporated areas of the county.

Jump to key issues: CRIMINAL JUSTICE | HOUSING

WATCH THE FULL DEBATE BELOW

CRIMINAL JUSTICE

Both candidates tried to position themselves as the best choice to deliver criminal justice reforms in the county.

Mitchell criticized Wesson's record championing Charter Amendment C, a 2017 measure that gave LAPD officers facing disciplinary proceedings a choice to face an all-civilian review panel. Critics pointed out at the time that civilians rule in favor of officers more often than experienced command staff.

"Is it appropriate to allow a police union to write language to police themselves?" Mitchell said. "I think the fundamental answer is no. [Charter Amendment C] took us decades back."

Wesson pointed out the city council wrote the amendment and voters passed it — and he said he worked with the ACLU to ensure the requirement for civilian experience was reduced, opening the review panels to people with more diverse backgrounds, and added the program would be audited.

"Is it better today than it was before? Yes," he said. "Is it perfect? No. But I always believe in moving the ball forward."

HOUSING

Housing policy was also a flashpoint.

Wesson attacked Mitchell's votes to advance SB 50 and SB 1120, legislation from State Senator Scott Weiner that would have promoted higher density near transit options and eased zoning rules to allow triplexes and fourplexes in most neighborhoods across California. Both measures fizzled out, in large part because of opposition from L.A.-area lawmakers.

"[SB 1120] would have hastened gentrification. It will put our community at risk of losing our residential neighborhoods that we long for," Wesson said. "We live in Southern California, [for] a certain lifestyle."

Mitchell eventually opposed both bills, she said, after talking to community groups in South L.A. that organized to resist what they saw as infringement of local control ("I did my due diligence," she said).

But Mitchell also emphasized the need to make it easier to build new affordable housing in L.A. County.

"The critical issue is: if not SB 50 or 1120, then what do we say yes to? Because we are 500,000 housing units short." Mitchell said. "And the local governments who have the authority to okay development have not done what they need to do to keep pace with L.A.'s population."

"What really upsets me the most...they just try to force this down our throat," Wesson said of the backers of SB 1120 and SB 50.

In the future, would Wesson support any change to local zoning that favors single family homes?

"I am open to that," he said. "Have a conversation and let us give input."

Wesson brought up his support for Measure JJJ, which passed in 2016 and allowed extra height and density for projects that provided affordable housing near transit.

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CORRECTION: An earlier version of this story misstated the year of the last open seat on the Board of Supervisors. LAist regrets the error.