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LA's Next Mayor: How Karen Bass Would Tackle The Big Issues Facing The City

An array of candidates features Karen Bass in the center
From left to right: Mel Wilson, Kevin De León, Rick Caruso, Karen Bass, Gina Viola, Craig Greiwe and Alex Greunenfelder
  • LAist sent all candidates actively campaigning for L.A. Mayor the following questionnaire. Their responses have been published in full, adjusted only to fit the formatting and style of the page.

  • We also highlighted 12 questions that we think give you a sense of where the candidates align with your own views on issues that are important to Angelenos. And we wrapped it all up in our interactive "matchmaking" quiz, Meet Your Mayor. Curious? Take the quiz!

Headshot of Karen Bass. She has light brown skin and short, curly light brown hair. She is smiling and wearing a dark suit jacket or blouse, black and brown horn-rimmed glasses, and small hoop earrings.
(Courtesy of Karen Bass for Mayor campaign)

About The Candidate

Karen Bass represents the 37th Congressional District (Mid City, Westwood, Exposition Park, Baldwin Hills).

Bass was elected Speaker of the California Assembly in 2008, making her the first Black woman in U.S. history to lead a state legislative body. She founded the Community Coalition and the National Foster Youth Institute. Bass lists her occupation on the ballot as Member of Congress.

CLIMATE CHANGE

Q: California is in a chronic drought. Which of the following strategies most closely reflects what you think should be done at the city level to improve individual water conservation?

A: California is now experiencing the worst drought in recorded history, and climate change is a big part of the reason why. Our warming climate means we will see a smaller snowpack, more severe heat, and longer droughts. It means Black and Brown communities across the city will be hit hardest by the impacts of this crisis, and we’re already seeing the devastating impacts of climate change on our land, our businesses, and our lives. Climate change is here, and we need to address it. Los Angeles can no longer count on the imported supplies we’ve relied upon in the past, and our aging water infrastructure will need to be adapted to 21st-century conditions. I will leverage my experience working on water issues at the state and federal levels to modernize our aging water infrastructure and make sure Angelenos can always trust the water that comes out of their tap. As Mayor, I will work to ensure a holistic approach to securing our local water future through more conservation, rainwater capture, groundwater recharge, and landscape transformation. There’s no one solution — but by choosing a strategic balance, investments in our water future will not only reduce greenhouse gas emissions, but sequester carbon, mitigate flood risk, improve air and water quality, reduce heat impacts, advance health and equity, and expand parks and open space throughout the city.

Q: What should the next mayor prioritize to lower the costs of converting to more sustainable electric options for homeowners and businesses? (i.e. solar power, electric vehicles, etc.)

Our next mayor is up to you, L.A. Who should you choose? Take our quiz to find your candidate matches.

A: Los Angeles must be a nationwide leader in transitioning towards more sustainable sources of energy. Buildings in Los Angeles account for a substantial share of our city’s greenhouse gas emissions, because many are run on gas. The City Council recently moved to require all new residential and commercial construction in Los Angeles to be zero-carbon by 2030, but the bigger challenge remains millions of existing buildings. I will work to accelerate weatherizing retrofits and the transition to electric appliances, and will enact programs to help low-income renters who cannot bear increased retrofit or utility costs. And I’ll support small property owners and mom and pop landlords through the transition. Lastly, Los Angeles needs to be a nationwide leader in transitioning to electric vehicles, which is why I will expand the network of charging stations needed to sustain broader EV adoption. I’ll focus on communities where access has traditionally been limited, which will both encourage EV adoption and create jobs installing and maintaining charging stations in under-served communities.

Q: As mayor, Eric Garcetti promised to get to 100% clean electricity for city operations by 2035 by electrifying city buildings, vehicles, and public transit. Will you continue working toward this goal? Why or why not?

A: Climate change is an urgent crisis, and Los Angeles needs to be the tip of the spear in addressing it. I not only affirm L.A.’s goal of achieving 100% clean power by 2035, but also commit to dramatically reducing vehicle emissions, getting people out of their cars, decarbonizing buildings, securing a zero-emission Port of Los Angeles, and appointing environmental champions to get the job done. I will make sure we meet our goal in a way that keeps electricity reliable and affordable.

Q: Transportation is the largest source of greenhouse gas emissions in Los Angeles. Where do you see the biggest opportunity to lower those emissions?

A: At its inception, L.A.’s transportation infrastructure was designed and built to accommodate single-passenger vehicles and the movement of goods, not to prioritize people, public health or the environment. As a result, the health of Angelenos has suffered while our communities have been divided by freeways and major thoroughfares. It’s time to reset. As Mayor, I will transform our streets to become safer and more walkable — and will champion mobility options so that walking, biking, and transit are accessible to all communities. I’ll transform our city streets to become public places and spaces where livability and wellness are priorities, and where all the city’s major corridors are walkable, bikeable, green, and safe. And I’ll expand our EV network, and work to electrify our bus fleet. Those steps will not only make our city healthier, but will also reduce transit-sector emissions and address the urgent crisis of climate change.

Q: What's the most important action the next mayor can take to help the city's most vulnerable residents deal with extreme heat?

Heat waves routinely send hundreds of Angelenos to the hospital, while the city’s few cooling centers sit virtually empty. I will provide an alternative: resilience hubs. Angelenos already visit their libraries, community clinics and local service centers, and I’ll transform these community assets into centers that can help during heat waves, wildfires, earthquakes, and floods. These hubs can provide a place for people to meet, recharge their cell phones, grab a cup of water and stay out of the elements — even operating off the grid when power lines are down. I’ll also work to expand green spaces in Los Angeles by partnering with LAUSD and the Los Angeles Living Schoolyards Coalition to transform asphalt-covered playgrounds into tree-filled spaces that improve public health and help cool our city.

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Q: What should the next mayor’s top priority be for addressing the city’s poor air quality, especially for those communities most impacted by pollution?

A: The catastrophic effects of climate change require us to address decades of environmental injustice that have left communities overburdened by pollution and underinvestment. All communities deserve to breathe clean air. Two of the biggest sources of air pollution in Los Angeles are the Port of L.A. and Los Angeles International Airport, leaving the surrounding areas with some of the highest asthma rates in California. As Mayor, I will expedite the transition to clean trucks and achieve 100% zero emissions for all Port operations by 2030, and I will partner closely with the FAA and LAX leaders to address airport emissions and improve public health. I will also expand Green Zones to ensure environmental justice for communities hardest hit by pollution. The Clean Up Green Up ordinance created Green Zones to prevent conflicts between industrial and residential land uses through more stringent development standards, including setbacks, landscaping requirements, and buffers between industrial operations and residential areas. The Clean Up Green Up ordinance also supports small businesses upgrade their operations to protect the health of their workers and neighbors.

Q: Climate is also affecting fires in the city and its surroundings. How would you tackle this problem?

A: Climate change has lengthened the “fire season” and increased the severity of fires — smaller, episodic burns that would occur normally have been replaced with mega-blazes that raze entire forests and bring down neighborhoods. As Mayor, I would ensure that the L.A. Fire Department has the resources and equipment it needs to prevent and respond to fires. I will also leverage my experience and relationships to partner with the state and federal government to ensure that L.A. receives the resources it needs to respond to, and recover from, fire. That includes helping Angelenos learn and apply techniques to harden their homes from embers and plant landscapes that are more fire-resistant.


HOMELESSNESS

Q: Los Angeles Municipal Code 41.18, better known as the “anti-camping law,” bans people who are unhoused from camping on public property close to locations such as schools, parks, libraries, and underpasses. Should 41.18 be kept as is, repealed, or changed (and if so, how)?

A: I supported the intent of the anti-camping ordinance passed by the City Council and believe it is unacceptable for homeless encampments to exist near schools and child care centers. What I have a problem with is its district by district, encampment by encampment approach. We need coordinated, citywide leadership to solve this problem, and we need to ensure that housing and services are available for homeless individuals because what I will never accept is simply moving an encampment from one neighborhood to another. That’s not a solution — it’s just passing the buck.

Q: Should the city be clearing encampments where people experiencing homelessness have taken up temporary residence? Why or why not?

A: There are some things you just don’t do outside, and sleeping is one of them. I have laid out a comprehensive plan to tackle our homelessness crisis, that seeks to dramatically reduce homelessness and end street encampments. That includes the construction of temporary and permanent housing, the deployment of neighborhood service teams to implement a coordinated street engagement strategy, rebuilding our broken mental health and substance abuse systems, and marshaling the resources of the city, county, state and federal governments around a single plan to address this crisis.

Q: I believe the primary cause of most homelessness in Los Angeles is…

A: Not simple. This is a complex, multi-faceted problem that requires a multi-pronged, whole of government solution. As Mayor, I will ensure that our solutions are designed through the lens of equity, and actually address the glaring disproportionality of the issue. Nearly 60% of individuals who enter homelessness for the first time cite economic hardship as the primary factor for losing their home. Nearly 50% of unsheltered individuals are either suffering from severe mental illness or substance abuse. Sixty percent of the homeless population are formerly incarcerated individuals who confront barriers to housing and employment because of their backgrounds. Our communities of color are also disproportionately homeless. The Black population of L.A. is only 9% but 38% of the homeless population — and Latinos make up another 33% of the homeless. When foster youth age out of the foster care system, resources are terminated and within a few short months, many fall into homelessness. In fact, one in four homeless youth in L.A. are former foster youth and one in five homeless youth identify as LGBTQ. I have been fighting to prevent homelessness for decades and will be relentless in addressing the unique needs of these populations.

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Q: The Los Angeles Homeless Services Authority (LAHSA) estimates that 25% of people who are unhoused have a severe mental illness. What is your opinion on the current state of mental health support for unhoused people?

A: It’s not enough. Nearly 50% of unsheltered individuals are either suffering from severe mental illness or substance abuse. Meanwhile, our mental health and substance abuse systems have been decimated, the county is short thousands of beds, and a maze of bureaucratic hurdles prevents progress in the same way it does for housing. I have been a leader in the fight against addiction and mental illness for decades. From founding the Community Coalition in South L.A. to address the crack cocaine epidemic in the late 1980s, to helping pass laws to expand access to health care for families, I believe deeply in the importance of expanding mental health care. As Mayor, I will leverage that experience to take the lead in working with the county, state, and federal governments to address the severe shortage of mental health and substance abuse disorder services, support, and capacity across our city.

Q: Do you agree with Angelenos who say that the large number of people living outside makes the streets less safe? Why or why not?

A: Homelessness is unquestionably a threat to public safety — it’s unsafe for the housed and the unhoused. The fact of the matter is this: if the tens of thousands of people living in tent encampments lived in houses or apartments instead, all of Los Angeles would feel safer. So addressing homelessness will be my primary focus as Mayor, and it’s why I have a comprehensive plan to get thousands of unhoused Angelenos off the streets and under roofs.

Q: Should the next mayor commit to ensuring that people who are experiencing homelessness are at the table when decisions are made on the city’s homelessness policies?

A: Yes. As a former community organizer, I believe deeply that those impacted by issues should have a seat at the table. That’s how I’ve always governed and the same leadership I’ll bring to the Mayor’s office. My homelessness policy will be directly informed by a wide variety of stakeholders including community leaders, businesses, housing developers, service providers — and people with lived experience. It’s the only way we’ll develop solutions that work.

Q: Proposition HHH is a $1.2 billion bond measure approved by voters in 2016 which supports the development of 8,000-10,000 permanent supportive housing units within the city of Los Angeles over 10 years. Has its implementation been effective?

A: Through the city’s Proposition HHH and the county’s Measure H, the voters of Los Angeles have invested billions of their dollars to solve this problem with not enough to show for it. These funding sources supplement an unprecedented amount of money flowing from the federal and state governments. We must spend these resources effectively and efficiently — and that means getting more bang for our buck. Case in point: spending nearly $750,000 per unit of housing is outrageous. We need to be smarter about how we spend these resources. As Mayor, I will be laser-focused on ensuring accountability, transparency and proper oversight for each dollar spent.

Q: Who should build housing for the unhoused community: the city or private developers? Why?

A: Both, because this problem requires an all-of-the-above approach, and that starts with ensuring the city makes it easier for developers to build. I will make all general plan compliant, permanent supportive housing and 100% affordable housing projects by-right — avoiding a long drawn-out process and getting shovels into the ground quickly. And I will consolidate all planning, and building and safety functions in a single unit with only one job: fast-track all affordable housing through the development process.


EDUCATION

Q: LAUSD is the largest school district in the country in which residents directly elect their school board and the mayor doesn’t have direct control over that board. This means the mayor has little to no influence over education in the city of Los Angeles. Should anything about this arrangement change?

A: I do not believe the Mayor needs more formal authority over the schools but I won’t let that be an excuse to take a backseat when it comes to the education of our city’s youth. I will be a strong partner with LAUSD and the Board of Education — and a strong advocate for our kids and their families. Together, we can support working families by providing more child care and after-school programs, bolster the community school model to provide physical, mental health and other services to students and their families on school campuses, and we can address the needs of too many homeless students. I will also partner with LAUSD, colleges and universities, and the private sector to build diverse career pipelines and help young people access the kind of social capital and professional network that facilitates professional growth, putting more students on the path to college and career.

Q: What role does the city play in addressing a lack of affordable child care, which is particularly acute in low-income areas?

A: I believe that access to quality child care is not only a critical component of children’s early development, but it’s also a critical economic development tool to support working families and grow our economy. As Mayor, I will coordinate existing state and federal funding, and advocate for additional investments, to expand access to child care and support child care providers. I will also direct my office to assist new child care facilities to get the permits they need as quickly as possible so that we can begin to rebuild our child care infrastructure. And I will partner with public and private employers to offer child care to more employees, particularly at non-traditional hours to meet families’ diverse needs. I’ll also increase investments in after-school programs and summer youth jobs and internship programs because I know that they boost academic achievement, promote safe neighborhoods, and help parents navigate family and work.


EQUITABLE ECONOMICS AND HOUSING

Q: I believe the biggest barrier to building more affordable housing is…

A: Red tape and limited funding. In meeting with developers and providers alike across the city, I constantly hear stories of red tape and barriers we’ve erected over time that drag out projects and lead to ballooning costs. Too many departments take too long to approve programs and the cost of development is too high. The city should never be the obstacle standing in the way of progress. As Mayor, I will cut through red tape, expedite approvals, waive development fees and work with the community to build more permanent and affordable housing. That includes approving general plan compliant permanent housing and 100% affordable projects for immediate development, creating a unit to expedite affordable housing, and converting more existing properties. Expediting projects will bring down the cost because time is money. I’ll also secure bridge loans from the private sector to get projects underway while long-term financing is finalized. I will also leverage my experience within Congress and the State Assembly to secure additional funding for affordable housing throughout Los Angeles.

Q: Due to the city's emergency decree, rent increases are currently not allowed for tenants living in most apartments built before 1978. But before the pandemic, Los Angeles generally capped annual rent increases at 3% for apartments covered by local rent control. Should the city keep its existing rent control ordinance, eliminate it, or modify it?

A: While we need to significantly increase our supply of housing, we also need to take steps to protect renters and our existing housing stock. If we don’t, the numbers of homeless individuals on the street will only grow. I support expanding the city’s rent stabilization ordinance, which is a limited tool to ensure tenants and landlords can predict and plan for rent increases in older buildings. We must protect the balance between predictability for renters and the need for landlords to be able to reinvest in their buildings — not just to protect their financial assets — but also to ensure long-term quality housing stock for Los Angeles’ tenants.

Q: Landlords also say they’ve been struggling amid rising costs, inflation over 7%, and pandemic-era restrictions such as temporary bans on rent increases and evictions. What, if anything, should the city do to help landlords?

A: I understand that many rental property owners, particularly owners of small properties, face unique challenges that have only been exacerbated by the COVID-19 pandemic. In fact, my father owned rental property so I have a personal understanding of some of the issues you encounter. I helped pass the American Rescue Plan, which included emergency rental assistance not just for renters, but also for landlords. I am committed to leveraging my current position as a member of Congress to ensure that the federal rental assistance funds are reaching landlords as quickly as possible. As we continue to experience additional variants and recover from the pandemic, I will work to ensure that we don’t lose sight of our small rental property owners and that COVID-related rent relief policies are targeted to those experiencing hardship caused by the pandemic. I am committed to working with rental property owners to ensure their financial stability while simultaneously advancing policies to protect renters.

Q: What statement best reflects your position on the minimum wage of $16.04 that goes into effect on July 1, 2022?

A: It’s too low.

Q: Mayor Garcetti piloted a universal basic income program. Do you support the idea of a universal basic income in Los Angeles? Why or why not?

A: I support the Mayor’s pilot program and am eager to see its results. Universal basic income is not the solution to poverty but it could be an important tool in our toolkit.

Q: Street safety advocates say at the current pace of improvement, it will take 200 years to fulfill Vision Zero, which was supposed to be accomplished by 2035. What’s the first step to getting Vision Zero back on track?

A: The Vision Zero program set the right goal but it has been chronically underfunded. Los Angeles boasts the tragic distinction of having one of the highest rates of fatal traffic crashes — and sadly, more people died or were injured in traffic collisions in 2021 than the year prior. I will fully invest in Vision Zero to create safer streets and make zero traffic fatalities a reality.


POLICING

Q: Should the Los Angeles Police Department remain at its current size of 9,500 sworn officers, should it be downsized, or should it increase? Why?

A: The LAPD is down hundreds of officers from its authorized force of 9,700. As Mayor, I will return the LAPD to its full authorized force, and provide funding to the Personnel Department to aggressively recruit new officers who are invested in reform and accountability. Today, hundreds of officers are stuck behind a desk doing administrative work. I will immediately hire and deploy civilians to free up at least 250 officers to take over the paperwork and free up officers for patrol, enabling the department to quickly deploy officers to neighborhoods requesting increased police presence.

Q: The current LAPD budget of $1.76 billion represents almost 16% of the overall city budget. Should LAPD funding stay the same, increase or decrease? Why?

A: I am advocating to bring the force up to the size that is already budgeted. Los Angeles has not made the necessary investments to secure a strong enough social fabric to ensure that people’s basic needs are met. Instead, we ask police officers to address every societal issue that results from the tears in the fabric, whether it be mental illness, addiction, homelessness, or poverty. We ask these overstressed police officers to fill roles they are not trained or equipped for — doubling as social workers, conflict negotiators, and medical responders. I will immediately increase co-response and alternative response teams, like the new CIRCLE initiative, that include mental health, homeless outreach and other specialists who can respond to people in distress, freeing officers to focus on crime. That’s how we maintain the current spending.

Q: Is it possible to reduce crime in the city without increasing the LAPD budget? If so, how?

A: Yes. Los Angeles cannot arrest its way out of crime. It’s not law enforcement’s role to focus on the root causes of crime and violence — community organizations and trained experts can and should be given the resources to do just that. Prevention is better than cure. Not only is crime prevention more cost effective — it is also more humane. Stopping crime before it happens will liberate countless Angelenos from terrible suffering, loss, and anguish. To achieve this goal, I will use a public health approach to violence prevention and crime reduction. And I will make deep and structural investments to rebuild communities that are most affected by crime and most impacted by mass incarceration. I’ll refocus Los Angeles around safeguarding our communities, preventing the conditions that lead to crime, and rehabilitating people who have made mistakes, so they do not offend again.

Q: A rising number of Angelenos say that Los Angeles no longer feels safe. As mayor, how would you address their fears?

A: I firmly believe that the Mayor’s most important responsibility is to keep Angelenos safe. When someone commits a crime, they must be held fully accountable. And if they serve time, they need access to the employment opportunities, education, and housing that will help them successfully re-enter society, and prevent future involvement in crime. Public safety means different things to different neighborhoods: some communities want to see increased visibility from police patrols, while other neighborhoods find more value in proven model programs that build trust and cooperation between community members and law enforcement. It’s time to tailor crime response to the needs of individual communities. That’s why I will bring the department up to its authorized level of 9,700 officers, hire civilians to move police officers from behind the desk to patrol, and launch the Office of Community Safety in the Mayor’s Office, to support cooperation and collaboration between the community and the public and private sectors to build strong and healthy neighborhoods across Los Angeles.

Q: Media investigations have found that LAPD officers have disproportionately stopped Black drivers, and were much more likely to search Black and Latino drivers. Do you believe racial profiling is a problem, and if so, what should be done to address it?

A: I have spent my adult life working on police reform, and will continue to do so if elected mayor — by focusing on how to safeguard our communities, preventing the conditions that lead to arrests, and rehabilitating people. In Congress, I authored the George Floyd Justice in Policing Act, which would provide hundreds of millions of dollars to police departments across the country to improve their abilities to effectively serve the communities they have sworn to protect. Due to the historical legacy of institutional racism in Los Angeles, arrests and incarceration disproportionately fall on the shoulders of Black and Brown people in our city. We must end harmful policing practices like racial profiling — all of which actively undermine public safety and community trust in law enforcement.

Q: Would you be willing to meet with groups that have been sharply critical of the police, such as Black Lives Matter and Reform LA Jails?

A: I have always met with all stakeholders on all issues.

Q: District Attorney George Gascón came to office on a progressive agenda that includes fewer prosecutions for low-level crimes. What statement best reflects your opinion of his agenda?

A: While I don’t agree with all of the District Attorney’s policies, I do not support the recall — even though his approach has failed to consider some critical elements of public safety. I fundamentally believe that we can have safety and justice at the same time.

Q: Who should be sent when a call is made about a mental health crisis?

A: I will immediately increase co-response and alternative response teams, like the new CIRCLE initiative, that include mental health, homeless outreach and other specialists who can respond to people in distress, freeing officers to focus on crime.

Q: How would you want the police chief to address the frayed relationships between the LAPD and many of the communities it serves?

As a lead author of the George Floyd Justice in Policing Act in Congress, I believe deeply in the need for improved police-community relations. I will be a hands-on Mayor who looks for leaders who embrace accountability, are committed to preventing and reducing crime, and increasing mutual trust between officers and communities. I will lay out clear goals and expectations for the Police Chief and Police Commission — and I will expect them to meet those goals. That includes better training for officers. I will require the LAPD to use evidence-based training models that support reforms, including transparency, accountability and de-escalation tactics. Crucially, I will follow through and hold department leaders accountable for ensuring training policy is translated into actual, quality training of officers, with clear timelines and verification.


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