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Meet The Candidates: Tomás O'Grady, Council District 4

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City Council District 4 candidate Tomás O'Grady.

City Council District 4 candidate Tomás O'Grady.
To prepare for the upcoming March 8, 2011 elections, LAist has contacted each candidate on the City of L.A.'s Official Candidate List to participate in a Q&A. All candidates received the same set of questions, with the exception of West Hollywood city council candidates, who received a WeHo-specific list of questions. LAist does not endorse political candidates, and responses are posted in the order they are received.In this edition of "Meet the Candidates," we hear from Council District 4 candidate Tomás O'Grady (Facebook, Twitter, YouTube). The district includes Atwater Village, Griffith Park, Hollywood, Los Feliz, Miracle Mile, North Hollywood, Silver Lake, Studio City and Toluca Lake.

Other candidates in the March 8, 2011 CD10 race are Stephen Box and incumbent Councilmember Tom LaBonge. Not sure about your district? See the map to find out if your neighborhood is within district boundaries.

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Tell us about your background and what you'll bring to the table in City Hall. What makes you different from the other candidates, and what qualifies you to represent your district?

I grew up on a farm in the west of Ireland where I learned the values of hard work, honesty, resourcefulness, and watching our pennies. That’s how my wife and I, together with our four children, live today. That’s how I’ve worked with our neighborhood schools, for the environment and our community here in Los Angeles. That’s how I am dedicated to represent our district on the City Council.

I have years of experience working on the ground level as a volunteer with community members, parents, teachers, and government officials. I know what kind of problems people encounter in their daily lives as I own a small business, and very much understand the city policies that can create or solve these problems. I am on the neighborhood council. I am looking less to begin a career in politics and more to continue my career as a public servant. I simply want to make long-lasting changes that are fiscally responsible and improve the quality of life for people here.

I worry about things. I worry about our planet. (That is why we as a family live as sustainability as possible; we make our own electricity and hot water, we capture rainwater, and we use grey water for the vegetable garden.) I worry about public money spent and who will pay it back. (Justine and I saved and saved over the last nine years to pay off our mortgage.) I worry about fairness, particularly when it comes to children. (Fairness is supposed be an American thing. At 38 kids to a classroom, that is not happening right now.) My children attend public middle school. I have self-interest in making public schools better. I am less into photo ops and more into real work. I think we need that now more than ever.

What are your top priorities for your district? How do you plan on tackling them?

Public Safety is number one. I will honor that sworn responsibility with ferocity.

Practicing fiscal discipline with the city's budget also affects us directly in CD4.

My response to virtually every long term need of the district is about transforming our public schools. The city council needs to and can take an active role and partner with LAUSD. Many think that it is necessary to send their children to private or charter schools to receive a good education, but every child in CD4 deserves a great, safe education, regardless of whether or not their parents can afford to send them to a private school. We need to make whatever changes are necessary to ensure this happens. We need to work with LAUSD and come up with creative ways to make our schools work better. Parents want schools to prepare their children for the future, and that is exactly what we need to do. Good schools create good citizens who create good communities.

Once and for all, establishing a real watertight master (not vision) plan to preserve Griffith Park as a wilderness area must get done. I will extend the engagement of the communities, those who have an abiding interest in seeing that the park is simply left alone to be what Col. Griffith intended it to be - a place of wild, natural beauty to get away from the city.

The environment has been a key concern of mine. I will encourage and assist our services and schools to have green, sustainable practices in place. We will have an integrated waste plan for commercial spaces, multi-families and schools.

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Both in our district and beyond, housing, economic development, planning and development and transportation round are among my priorities.

Los Angeles is now the homelessness capital of the country. It is shameful that there appears to be no leadership on the issue of ending homelessness.

Above all, my focus will continually be on making strides in preparing for our future rather than trying to maintain the ways of our past.

How would you address the city's projected $350 million budget deficit?

If elected, I will not look for a silver-bullet solution such as selling future revenues to the private sector and giving away our own assets such as the Mayor and current City Council had been trying to do with the City Garage Contract. We cannot expect to magically dissolve our 2010-11 $350 million fiscal woes through the sale of one-time revenues, and we cannot make such shortsighted decisions in a panic. We need REAL leadership in Los Angeles. Everyone will have to make a sacrifice. The rank and file is going to have to pay a little more for their healthcare and their pensions. They’re going to have to freeze their salaries for the foreseeable future. But this has to be a shared sacrifice. These cuts have to apply to politicians and city administrators as well. The only way an elected leader is going to have any hope at all of cutting through the rhetoric and negotiating concessions is if he or she has credibility. Walking the walk.
a. If elected, I see the solution as two part;
i. We need to share the burden of our immediate budget deficit across the board. While Public Safety is a non-negotiable City service, we will need every City department to develop sound financial solutions to deliver cost reductions in these lean times with the understanding that we will all share the ability to grow as our fiscal conditions improve. I will lead by cutting my salary in half, if elected.
ii. We need to increase our revenue streams immediately through the creation of jobs and the production of goods and services. Los Angeles is experiencing, by optimistic standards, a 14.5% unemployment rate and a 20+% reduction in taxable sales in recent years. IMAGINE what we could do for this city (and for the budget deficit) if we put our hardworking taxpayers back to work and stimulate our local economy rather than waiting for those jobs to return to Los Angeles. As a forward thinking, business-minded representative, I would not expect someone to perform some magic trick, but would activate our market fundamentals through the work that our government can perform….
b. To put the problem into it’s proper perspective, if the officials who project the $350 million shortfall are correct (and please remember that the shortfall has grown to this amount over the 8+ months we have been operating without an approved Budget), this represents 5.2% of our total receipts...
c. To this I have two important comments:
i. If the families of Los Angeles were so lucky to face such a limited shortfall this year, we would be thanking our lucky stars given that their family homes are now worth 50% what they were 5 years ago and their incomes have plummeted (if they are fortunate enough to have a job at all). 5.2% of any family’s spending plan is achievable without having to sell the house.
ii. If our government cannot find a smart solution though cooperation across all expenditure streams to resolve such a comparatively small problem, our City government is no longer a system which is representative of the People of Los Angeles.
d. The City Council must quit waiting for the Mayor to propose shortsighted budget solutions, they must stop abdicating responses and subsequent policy proposals to the Administrative Officer and they need to stop hiding behind the sentiment that it’s not their job to solve the City’s budget crisis. The City Council members must take charge when others have failed to craft protective public policies that should have been based upon fiscally sound budget projection regardless of the 2000 City Charter Amendments. To silently (or in Tom Labonge’s case, openly) point to the 2000 City Charter which retooled the balance of power in favor of increased Mayoral and CAO responsibilities and decreased City Council responsibilities as an excuse for the limited nature of their role in the City’s current fiscal crisis is exactly why voters need to replace this incumbent. Regardless of how we got here, who contributed to the problem and what could have been done to utilize readily accessible fiscal forecasts to enact truly balanced policy, we are all in this budget mess together and I believe it is now incumbent upon EVERY City voter to tell EVERY City leader to step up, stop reacting and start PROacting by electing representatives that will.

How do you plan on working with your constituents in addressing their concerns?

I am a neighborhood councilman, so, I’ve taken a serious and active interest in listening to (and hearing) the voice of constituents. I am a small businessman, so, I understand the needs of this very important constituency in terms of driving our local economy. My first responsibility is to the people who live and work in CD4. My duty to be accessible to them is an essential one which I will welcome.

Also, constituents must have access though a meaningful neighborhood council process is. The way I see it, given the incredible fact that we are now creating a “rate payers’ advocate” to watch over the Department of Water and Power and the city council, I would submit that we, the neighborhood councils, seem to be the only trustworthy institution left around here.

I intend to see that neighborhood councils have a real (more than advisory) seat at the table when it comes to making decisions, particularly planning. I love checks and balances. I intend to make real the ability for NCs to be able to introduce files to the city council and to participate in debate.

Public transportation is an important issue for LAist readers. What role should public transportation have in LA?

Expanding public transit is key. I am a big fan of light rail and heavy rail where appropriate.

A world class bus system. We must realize though that the vast majority of transit boarding in L.A. are on buses. I believe that our region needs to have the world’s most advanced bus system. The Orange Line dedicated busway in the Valley has been a huge success.

Encouraging ride sharing. The least expensive and easiest way to reduce traffic and provide balance with increased public transit is by encouraging ride sharing. We need to have clear enforceable goals for businesses and governments coupled with developing the park and ride and networking infrastructure that will make ride sharing and van pooling easier for commuters.

A bicycle infrastructure. With over 330 sunny days a year LA should be the world leader in bicycle commuting. We need many more miles of safe, connected, bike ways and adequate secure parking. I support the Bicycle Master Plan and, if elected, will work vigorously to ensure funding for it.

Beyond this however, we continue to look at our traffic congestion challenge with solutions anchored in the past. It is time we place ourselves squarely in the future by exploring new technologies that are available now. I am committed to meeting this challenge as a councilmember.

The City Council has had to revisit the medical marijuana ordinance repeatedly. How would you like to see the medical marijuana issue addressed?

I’d like to see the medical marijuana issue addressed as I would any and every issue confronting the city - with honesty, common sense and clarity. The City Council has had to re-visit it because they botched it the first time with it’s characteristic kick-the-can-down-the-road approach. They initially took action too late. Then they imposed a moratorium on dispensaries, which did nothing because of the “hardship” loophole. I appreciate the need from a genuine medical standpoint. But we have to take responsibility to regulate this to a point where the procurement process for a prescription is airtight, that the mafia cannot gain entry on the business and that the product itself is not chemically treated. Of course all of the above are moot points until we have clarity about the legality issue.

What are your priorities for development and planning?

I believe that the cumulative impact on traffic, schools, water supplies, air quality and public safety should be taken into account when assessing new development.

One 20-unit condo building may not have much of an impact, but if 200 of them are being built at the same time, in the same area, the impact will be enormous.

We need to recognize that some areas of the city are already built out, like the 4th Council District. (Here, I make the sharp exception of Griffith Park - don’t touch it! The MTA/Universal Evolution Plan needs fierce scrutiny and new leadership in representing the community's needs).

And other areas in the city are crying out for new housing and quality development. The City must play the role of development traffic cop, directing new development into areas that truly need it - and protecting the neighborhoods that are already choking on over-development and traffic.

I will stop the process of issuing negative declarations that exempt developers from complying with the EIR (environmental impact report) process.

I will give neighborhoods a greater role in helping plan development in their area, requiring that developers meet early and often with neighborhood groups to ensure that the interests of existing residents are protected.

I am keenly interested in working to ensure that practical new housing solutions such as Transit Oriented Development (TOD) is built where appropriate.

Endorsements (provided by candidate):
L.A. Times
Southern California Chapter of Americans for Democratic Action

LAist does not endorse political candidates. All candidates from the City of L.A.'s Official Candidate List were contacted to participate and were given the same set of questions, with the exception of West Hollywood candidates, who were sent a WeHo-specific list of questions.