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Civics & Democracy

Karen Bass Gives First Remarks After Historic Win in LA Mayor's Race

Mayor-elect Karen Bass, dressed in a green pantsuit, gives remarks at a wooden podium as male and female supporters of different races applaud.
Mayor-elect Karen Bass speaks before dozens of supporters at the Wilshire Ebell Theater.
(Josie Huang
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During her first public appearance as mayor-elect of Los Angeles, Karen Bass said she would deliver on her campaign promise to declare a state of emergency on homelessness as soon as she enters office on Dec. 12.

Bass, a current member of Congress, said her transition team "will identify very specific areas where we will get people housed" in a city where more than 40,000 are experiencing homelessness.

As part of a plan to find housing for 17,000 people in her first year, Bass said she would turn to community-based and faith organizations that are already doing the work.

"The problem is that they have never been given the opportunity to get to the scale that is needed," Bass said in remarks made after giving a speech at the Wilshire Ebell Theater.

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'She's Going To Have To Produce Some Results'

The region’s housing crisis has been an ongoing challenge for city officials and the mayor’s role in addressing the problem is limited.

Homelessness jumped 31.9% in the city of L.A. between 2018 and 2020. The latest count of unhoused Angelenos released in September showed a slight 1.7% uptick from early 2020 — following unprecedented resources and help for renters during the pandemic.

But homelessness policy experts worry that with the city’s pandemic-era eviction protections tentatively set to end by February, the number of Angelenos experiencing homelessness could increase sharply in 2023.

Zev Yaroslavsky, a long-time politician who's served as a Los Angeles city councilmember and a Los Angeles county supervisor, said that by declaring an emergency, Bass can mobilize state and federal resources — but must act quickly.

"She's going to have to produce some results, or at least convince the public that she's moving in the right direction," said Yaroslavsky, who has personally advised Bass to work closely with county supervisors.

Rick Caruso Defeated Despite Record-Breaking Spending

Bass, 69, takes the helm of a city stricken not just by rising homelessness but corruption scandals and racial tensions — issues raised during acrimonious debates with opponent Rick Caruso.

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Caruso, a developer known for properties in L.A., including The Grove and Americana at Brand, poured record-breaking spending into his failed mayoral bid, including about $100 million of his own money.

Bass described emerging from "a tough campaign to say the least" but said she welcomed the chance to work with Caruso in the future, indicating they had put their rivalry behind them.

"A political campaign to me, it's like an athletic competition," Bass said. "You fight with everything that you have. But when when the game is over, it's over."

Asked how she would represent Latino Angelenos, who represent about half of the city's population, Bass pointed to her long-time experience working with Latino leaders and said her administration would reflect the city.

"It's not just one or two staffers, but it's on every level," Bass said. "It's jobs, it's appointments."

Bass spoke in front of dozens of supporters, many of them well-known leaders in the city's Democratic establishment who befriended her over a decades-long career that saw her transition from a community activist in South L.A. to a veteran politician.

"She's somebody that's been deeply embedded in communities: Latino, Asian American, Indigenous, LGBTQ," said Jessica Caloza of the Pilipino American LA Democrats. "All these longstanding relationships had been there."

During her speech, Bass said that a city that is as much of an economic and cultural powerhouse as Los Angeles "cannot settle for people dying on our streets."

"We cannot settle for Angelenos feeling like they must look over their shoulder when they walk down the street," Bass continued. "And we cannot accept that some of our neighborhoods, some of our neighborhoods in the city have been designated the most overcrowded neighborhoods in the nation."

A Symbolic Venue

The venue choice for the speech was symbolic for Bass, who is the first woman elected as mayor of Los Angeles. The Wilshire Ebell Theatre was founded as a women's club in 1894, decades before women had the right to vote.

Bass, whose daughter Yvette Lechuga stood by her side during the speech, said she felt responsibility as a vanguard "to not just pay attention to what I'm doing but to pay attention to who's coming after me."

Bass said she was in D.C. a couple days ago with Sydney Kamlager, who was elected to fill the House seat she's held since 2011.

KPCC/LAist housing reporter David Wagner contributed to this report.

Have a question about Southern California's Asian American communities?
Josie Huang reports on the intersection of being Asian and American and the impact of those growing communities in Southern California.

Updated November 17, 2022 at 3:27 PM PST
This story has been updated with details from Bass' speech, and additional quotes and context.
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