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It’s The First Day For LA’s New Councilmembers. For The Council’s Progressive Voices, Housing Issues Are Dire

Two portraits of new city councilmembers Eunisses Hernandez and Hugo Soto-Martinez
Eunisses Hernandez, a community activist, and Hugo Soto-Martinez, a labor organizer, join three other new councilmembers on the L.A. City Council starting this month.
(Eunisses Hernandez for City Council website; Hugo Soto-Martinez for City Council website)
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Five new members of the Los Angeles City Council take office Monday – the changeover is part of one of the biggest upheavals to city politics in decades. And with it, the progressive bloc of the council is growing.

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Angelenos elected Eunisses Hernandez (CD1), a community activist, and Hugo Soto-Martinez (CD13), a labor organizer, both endorsed by the Los Angeles chapter of the Democratic Socialists of America. They join Nithya Raman, who was backed by the group when she was elected in 2020.

“I think the voters were saying, 'We're sick and tired of this divisive backroom-dealing that happens in city politics, and we want a new perspective,'" said Soto-Martinez.

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“We want to go in there to really uplift our communities, and a lot of us ran to make sure that our communities would stop being left behind,” Hernandez said.

Both Hernandez and Soto-Martinez beat out incumbents who were running for their third and final terms: Gil Cedillo, who was defeated in the June primary, and Mitch O’Farrell, who lost in November.

Cedillo was among those who came under fire following an audio leak in October that included racist and derogatory comments from councilmembers. The tape sparked public outrage and set off rounds of protests that led to former council president Nury Martinez’s resignation. O’Farrell briefly served as her replacement.

Hernandez and Soto-Martinez are joining three other new members on the council: Katy Young Yaroslavsky (CD5), who is replacing Paul Koretz; Traci Park (CD11), who is replacing Mike Bonin; and Tim McOsker (CD15), who is replacing Joe Buscaino.

Housing Issues Are Urgent

Soto-Martinez, who is a renter in East Hollywood, said his priorities include addressing homelessness and affordable housing.

“The solution, for many times, has been to build our way out if it – and don’t get me wrong, we should be building for the future. But there’s a lot of vacant, empty, underutilized buildings in the city that we could be using to house people much quicker,” Soto-Martinez said.

As L.A. Mayor Karen Bass begins her term, tell us what issues feel most urgent to you.

Soto-Martinez said he also wants to redirect funds from the Los Angeles Police Department to mental health service teams, where an EMT and a mental health clinician respond to mental health crises calls, instead of the police.

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He also plans to remove the fence around Echo Park, which was put up last year after outgoing councilmember Mitch O’Farrell’s controversial decision to clear an encampment. The fence was originally put up for renovations, and stayed put after the park reopened.

Soto-Martinez represents District 13

Map shows boundaries of District 13 which includes all or some of the following communities of Atwater Village, East Hollywood, Echo Park, Elysian Valley, Glassell Park, Historic Filipinotown, Hollywood, Larchmont Village, Little Armenia, Melrose Hill, Rampart Village, Ridgewood-Wilton, Silver Lake, Spaulding Square, St. Andrews Square, Sunset Square, Thai Town, Verdugo Village, Virgil Village, Western-Wilton, Westlake, Wilshire Center and Windsor Square.
District 13
(Courtesy City of L.A.)

Echo Park Eviction Was City’s ‘Largest Failure’

Soto-Martinez called the eviction “the largest failure” to happen in the city. “I’ve never been so angry in my life,” he said.

Hernandez, whose wide-reaching platform includes closing Men’s Central Jail and enfranchising undocumented Angelenos to vote in municipal elections, also supports diverting police department funds to mental health services and youth employment opportunities.

“We need to figure out how we can redirect resources into the services, responses and line items that are going to help our whole city thrive,” she said.

Hernandez has also pledged to repeal the city’s ban on homeless encampments near schools and daycares.

Plus, she opposes the council’s plans to sunset COVID-19 eviction protections and wants to see the council do more for the city’s struggling renters.

“I don’t think folks really understand the gravity of how much of a hole certain communities are in,” Hernandez said. “Until we are able to develop the funding and programs to prevent thousands of evictions, I don’t think we should end it.”

Hernandez Says She’ll Bring Stark Changes

Hernandez’s district includes Highland Park, where she was raised and still shares a home with her family. Echo Park, Koreatown, Lincoln Heights, Rampart Village and many other neighborhoods where access to affordable housing is top of mind for constituents are also within her district’s boundaries.

Hernandez represents District 1

Map shows the outline of the district which has the 110 running through it. Neighborhoods include all or part of Glassell Park, Cypress Park, Highland Park, Mount Washington, Solano Canyon, Elysian Park, Echo Park, Angelino Heights, Temple Beaudry, Chinatown, Downtown, Westlake, Rampart Village, Lincoln Heights, Montecito Heights, Pico Union, University Park, Victor Heights, Koreatown
District 1 boundaries
(Courtesy City of L.A.)

Jamie Penn, president of the Wilshire Center Koreatown Neighborhood Council, said she’s seen residents get squeezed out of their apartments, particularly undocumented Angelenos and people with disabilities. For her, seeing Hernandez take office “is a breath of fresh air.”

“Her housing platform is exactly what our constituents need,” Penn said, adding that she likes that Hernandez is a community-focused politician.

When asked how her leadership will differ from the incumbent’s, Hernandez underscored that her campaign would not go along with the interests of real estate developers.

“For the last nine years, we've had a for sale sign on the community of CD 1. And now that is over, that's not the game we're playing here. No longer are there going to be 725-unit buildings going up with no affordable housing,” she added, in reference to an apartment project in Chinatown approved by the council in 2019. Cedillo sided with developers, who said they had no legal obligation to provide discounted rents.

A Galvanizing Moment

In Soto-Martinez’s district, Mansoor Khan, an at-large representative of the Echo Park Neighborhood Council, said the eviction of unhoused people in Echo Park last year was a galvanizing moment for his community. Hundreds of protestors gathered at Echo Park as LAPD officers in riot gear moved to evict unhoused residents from the park.

“It felt like an occupation in the neighborhood,” speaking of the heavy police presence and helicopters flying ahead.

“What happened was a failure of leadership… It mostly moved people around, as opposed to getting them into housing,” Khan said. A UCLA study found that fewer than 1 in 10 unhoused residents from Echo Park found permanent housing after the encampment was cleared.

Jennifer Hark Dietz, CEO of PATH, a nonprofit homeless services provider, said she looks forward to seeing how the new council prioritizes unhoused communities.

“We've seen a lot of council changes, we've been around for over 40 years. And I think for us, what’s critical is … putting folks who are experiencing homelessness, first and foremost, in the decision-making and the policymaking,” she said. “I think we see that with a lot of individuals who are coming into the council.”