LA City Council will be welcoming new members, just weeks after the scandal of the leaked audio of former member Nury Martinez making racist comments to two other members. One of those new faces will be Hugo Soto-Martinez.
“What they showed is a rotten culture. Absolutely … we have to call it what it is,” Hugo Soto-Martinez says. “I do have faith that from that hurt can emerge something different.”
Soto-Martinez is hoping to usher in a new era, one that has more progressive members than in years past. In his campaign to unseat incumbent Mitch O’Farrell in District 13, Soto-Martinez was supported by the Democratic Socialists of America (DSA). He credits small group interactions with helping counter negative perceptions about socialism.
“What I found was most people, after having a conversation, very civil educated, conversation … most people walked away with a positive impression,” he recalls about the campaign.
Born and raised in South Central LA, Soto-Martinez credits his upbringing, union organizing, and time studying criminology at UC Irvine for giving him a different perspective on issues like housing and policing.
“It comes down to resources,” says Soto-Martinez. “A lot of the things that happen in South Central don't happen in Brentwood.”
As far as resources go, Soto-Martinez disagrees with incoming Mayor Karen Bass about the need for more police officers. He believes the cost of new police officers could be spent elsewhere to improve the city, and that EMTs and mental health professionals could instead be used to answer non-violent calls.
“Let's not continue to invest in a system that's already not working for the city,” Soto-Martinez says. “Let's try … a new vision of how to do things, a vision that other cities have tried, and it's been very effective.”
Instead of focusing on constructing new homeless shelters from scratch, Soto-Martinez believes existing buildings, like the Sears building in Boyle Heights, could be adapted for use more cheaply and quickly. Frustration with the pace of action is one of the reasons he chose to run for a council seat.
“Just seeing the urgency of the city really, really moved me in that direction.”