City Council: Your Guide To The 4th District Race

Published Sep 30, 2020

You'd be forgiven for mistaking a map of Los Angeles City Council District 4 for a multi-limbed Rorschach test: Is it a hornet? A squid? There could be a man waving a flag in there?

The district contorts over the eastern end of the Santa Monica Mountains, including Coldwater Canyon, Sunset Hills and Laurel Canyon. It juts off for several square miles of Sherman Oaks, then rolls over the Cahuenga Pass through Griffith Park and down to Los Feliz, sprouting an arm northward to embrace Toluca Lake. Finally the CD 4 boundary grows a hook down Highland Avenue, through a slice of Hollywood, grabbing the neighborhoods of Larchmont, Hancock Park and part of Koreatown.

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(It's not the strangest shape of any council district -- that honor probably goes to CD 15.)

In this relatively wealthy and majority-white section of Los Angeles, two Asian American candidates are squaring off: incumbent City Councilmember David Ryu is campaigning to hold off progressive challenger Nithya Raman, who would become just the third woman currently on the 15-member body.

THE CANDIDATES

David Ryu became the first Korean American to sit on the L.A. City Council when he won a tight 2015 contest for the open seat vacated by a termed-out Tom LaBonge. Before he ran for office, Ryu worked as the director of development for a large nonprofit psychiatric hospital in Los Angeles and served as a senior staffer for former Los Angeles County Supervisor Yvonne Burke. (Here's Ryu's campaign website.)

Nithya Raman is an urban planner by training and in 2017 co-founded SELAH Neighborhood Homeless Coalition, an outreach organization that provides meals and support to homeless communities in neighborhoods including Echo Park, East Hollywood, Silver Lake and Cypress Park. She also co-chairs the Silver Lake Neighborhood Council's Homelessness Committee. Raman was previously the executive director of Time's Up Entertainment and headed a nonprofit in Chennai, India that used data to help people living in slums to fight for services such as clean water. (Here's Raman's campaign website.)

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ON THE ISSUES:

Many of these answers are sourced from a recent online candidate forum hosted by the L.A.-based Jewish group IKAR Community Organizing.

City Hall Corruption:

Ryu says he's been working to clean up city politics since he first took office. "I've championed these issues well before they were popular to talk about," he said at the IKAR forum.

He introduced a new law cracking down on campaign donations from real estate interests with business before City Hall, and he says he's the only sitting council member to swear off developer campaign donations. Ryu has also called for establishing an inspector general's office to root out corruption at City Hall.

"The once unthinkable legislation is now law, and I'm only getting started," Ryu said. He first proposed the developer donation rule change in 2017, but it failed to advance until revelations surfaced about Councilmember Jose Huizar allegedly taking gifts, campaign cash and bribes from real estate developers.

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But ethics organizations, including California Common Cause, lamented loopholes in the ordinance they say still allow developers to host fundraisers and major subcontractors to give at will. Even fellow councilmembers said the law doesn't go far enough.

Ryu's also been accused of breaking campaign finance laws by sending mass communications using improper officeholder funds. The Los Feliz Ledger newspaper filed an ethics complaint about a misleading Ryu campaign email. And the councilman refunded developer donations last year -- he said they were "errors" that flew under the radar.

Raman, who has also taken the no-developer pledge, said she's committed to root out influence peddling by corporations and special interests, what she calls "legal corruption" in city politics.

She favors Los Angeles strengthening its campaign matching program until the city can transition over to fully publicly funded elections, which would likely require a charter amendment.

"We have walked the walk," Raman said of her city council campaign. "We have only accepted donations from individuals in this election."

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Homelessness and Housing:

"This is what gets me out of bed in the morning," Raman said of her homelessness work.

She's released a detailed homelessness plan that proposes a network of "Community Access Centers" to reach people where they live, and decriminalizes living on the street.

Raman also pledges to increase the supply of affordable housing by allowing more density near transit, "while keeping design restrictions like setbacks and building height."

She has floated the possibility of allowing more "Single Room Occupancy" (SRO) housing to be built or converted from hotel rooms. Raman would also like to remove or reduce parking requirements from new affordable housing construction.

There are, according to Raman, "a huge number of rules we can change here to incentivize exactly the kind of units we want."

She also slammed the current city council for moving too slowly to protect tenants in areas such as ensuring a "right to counsel" for tenants facing eviction.

"We waited to move on it for a very very long time, and it was only just now after the pandemic that we took action," Raman said.

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Ryu touts his work advocating for affordable housing in CD4, including protecting affordable units in a building on Fairfax that was slated to be torn down. He said he fought to get existing tenants apartments in the newly constructed complex going up on the same site -- at their same low rent.

Ryu claims he's been pushing "for years" for a FEMA-like approach to the homelessness crisis -- treating the issue as a citywide emergency. Once the coronavirus hit, Ryu said, Project Roomkey showed what that style of approach could do, rapidly housing around 6,600 people in L.A. County in hotel rooms. But the program fell far short of its goal, and it has had mixed results getting people into permanent housing.

Ryu said he's been advocating for greater protections for renters who are suffering because of COVID-19, and he deflected Raman's criticism.

"My opponent is saying a lot of stuff that I'm already fighting for," Ryu said at the online forum. "We need someone who can turn progressive talk into real progress for our city."