In what would normally be a sleepy election, there is an unexpectedly exciting runoff next week in a Los Angeles city council race. Bike activist Joe Bray- Ali faces incumbent Gil Cedillo in District 1, which covers parts of northeast LA, including Eagle Rock and Highland Park. That district is pretty much the face of the gentrification battle in Los Angeles. Home prices in Highland Park have gone up 15 percent in the last year. Joe Bray-Ali has been the center of a scandal after he posted racist and demeaning comments on a website and admitted to having extramarital affairs. The L.A. Times rescinded its endorsement of Bray-Ali.
LA City Council District 1 incumbent Gil Cedillo spoke to Press Play’s Madeleine Brand.
Press Play: Well nice to have you. I just want to play a clip of tape from Joe Bray-Ali. He spoke with KCRW last week and he explained that he is staying in the race and here’s why.
“The reason that I am here is because we have an incumbent who has been a very poor servant in this district. People have criticized me for being an experience they’ve criticized me for having no money having a political friend not being savvy enough not being good enough. And yet here I am able to push this in coming into a runoff it has really been his race to lose.”
Press Play: So how do you respond to that that this is your race to lose and that he has pushed you into a runoff.
Gil Cedillo: He’s hardly a neophyte. His father’s a political consultant. He’s well aware of how politics works, his first job out of college his father called up a state assembly member and got him a job so that he can go learn the trade. His father remains a consultant for the state Senate so he’s hardly a neophyte. He’s hardly a citizen Joseph as he would like to portray himself.
Press Play: Still he’s saying that, yes it’s been a pretty tough race, and that usually incumbents face little to no significant opposition and in this case you have faced significant opposition. Why is that?
GC: One, there’s a tremendous clamor, a desire for change in the nation. Two, I think and I’ll accept this as a criticism, that we need to do more at my office to communicate the tremendous work that we’re doing for our district. And while you did focus on the northeast, there’s also the other part of the district the part that’s 85 percent immigrant, the part that’s significantly undocumented. Pico Union, Normandie and Venice, Normandie and the Olympic. This is Washington in Magnolia. This is over by University village. And so our district is very diverse, multilingual and those parts of the district were really popular.
Press Play: A lot of the complaints have been that you have been absent, out of touch, you haven’t met with constituents, they can’t get their phone calls returned. Is that what you’re talking about in terms of better communication?
GC: That’s part of it. Part of it is that we do a lot of great work. The number of parks that we’re opening up is really impressive.
Press Play: But what about this idea that some constituents have that you’re not meeting with them, you’re not talking to them, you’re not hearing from them. What about that?
GC: Right. And I think that’s very important I’ve heard that during the campaign and we’re going to work to improve that. But there’s also, let me put this on the table for people, you have to understand that my district, you’ve got to speak about five or six languages. There are places like Pico Union and Venice and Olympic, Venice and Normandie, Olympic and Normandie. There’s a whole corridor down Washington Boulevard. I mean there’s a lot of places that you won’t hear that complaint. You’re going to hear that we’re there are Friday night movies you’re going to hear that we’ve got our concerts you’re going to hear that we’re there at church.
Press Play: And so you think that’s just one part of one part of your constituency that’s complaining.
Press Play: And the other part is just fine. But you don’t have a problem of communication with the other part of the district?
Press Play: So is it that you don’t communicate with one part of the district or that they just complain more?
GC: People have different expectations. And clearly, I think if we reflect on where I’ve been over the last four years. There’s a community of greater need in the more southern part of our district and we try to be responsive to that. Parts of our challenge is to make sure that people vote and are enabled to vote.
Press Play: But why is it that the L.A. Times endorsed Joe Bray-Ali before the scandal broke, and then rescinded that endorsement, saying: “Joe Bray-Ali presents fresh ideas, grounded in reality and a clear commitment to the district and its issues.”
GC: He’s articulate. He impressed them with things he said, but all they had to do was challenge him, just go one inch deeper and they would find that he wasn’t all the things he said he was. And they found that out, much to their embarrassment, much to their chagrin and have abandoned him, as everybody has. His hedge-funder from New York has abandoned him, as Mitch O’Farrell has abandoned him, as the environmental community has abandoned him. They found him to be a charlatan, a fraud. A good one, capable, but one nevertheless.
Press Play: But what about the underlying issues that he raises and his campaign has raised, that is the underlying issue of housing prices, gentrification, some longterm renters who can no longer afford to live in their neighborhoods because of rapidly rising housing prices and your opponents have said that you haven’t done enough to fight that.
GC: So, major issue, in the city: housing, we need 100,00 units of housing. Our district is doing its share, over 3000 new units of housing has been built. Sixty-six percent of those units, 21oo new units of housing have been affordable. There’s much more to do, there’s no question about that, we’ve got a lot to do it’s a crisis. We recognize we have to build housing for the homeless. We have to make sure there’s an abundance of housing for everybody.
Press Play: How do you plan to do that? Do you support legislation that would, for example, require developers to set aside a certain amount of units as affordable.
GC: We don’t want to be that proscriptive, but we recognize that that’s one that’s one of the strategies. We’re happy to have that, but I don’t want to think that’s the panacea, because that only produces at the maximum 400 units annually and we need a lot more than that. The better idea is to pursue these very aggressively with developers, create the conditions and circumstances so we can create abundant housing. Here’s our strategy: take advantage of property that the city has, the county has, the Metro has, the community colleges have, use that property, take HHH money, take Measure H, bring that together with experience, great developers like people who do affordable housing downtown. Work with them then work with the community through a community process, find the places that we can begin to build housing that’s affordable, deals with the question of homelessness and then work our way up from there. But also, we have to build market rate because there are people, young college graduates, professionals who also need a place to live. If they don’t have housing available to them, they’ll be looking at affordable housing that’s throughout the city.
Press Play: I understand you have taken campaign donations from developer Geoff Palmer.
Press Play: He has led the charge against requiring developers to include affordable housing in their developments. He’s known for big developments in the downtown area. That’s pretty controversial. Why do you take money from him?
GC: Well it’s, I took one check from him in the beginning of the first primary. I take money from developers to fund my campaign because people in my district aren’t as capable of providing resources for my campaign. I think the next question to ask though is what’s the influence? what’s the impact? This question came up at a community meeting. Weigh the impact of all the funding that I get and then tell me one vote of the hundreds of thousands of votes that I’ve taken that have demonstrated that I’ve been influenced by that money. And there’s not one.
Press Play: Well, he would be against a requirement that would require developers to include affordable housing developments and you have just said that that’s not exactly a great tool in the tool box.
GC: It is a tool and I’m not saying it’s not a great tool it’s just not a panacea- 400 units -we need more than that. I appreciate his donation but it’s not going to influence my vote. I think it’s important to note that our working with him has produced more housing. He works with the unions and he’s more open to these types of suggestions than he was in the past.
Press Play: How would you help a renter stay in his or her apartment at an affordable rate?
GC: We’ve created a rent registry. We want to fortify the rent control ordinance. We want to relook at the Ellis Act. We want to relook at the buyout agreements we have to basically get a clean sheet and look at what are the things that we can do to protect and stabilize these communities and then continue to build housing. But we have to create some stability for renters. The laws are outdated. The laws are from the ’70s and the ’80s and they’re not sufficient rent control units have to be before ’77. So a lot of the concern.
Press Play: So you would you favor rewriting that data to what date?
GC: Yes, absolutely.
Press Play: Present date? Going forward?
GC: You know I’d have to see what we could get done in Sacramento and what were the governors that I’ve had this conversation with the governor have had it with the president pro-tem this is part of a two year bill that we’re going to look at. And so I do support that. But we also have to build as you know more housing as well. And so we want to figure out how we can do both.
Press Play: Is that something you can do at the city level?
GC: Not completely at the city level, no. It needs some support from Sacramento
Press Play: A large part of your district, I imagine many of the residents are undocumented or are related to undocumented residents. What is your stance on Los Angeles being a sanctuary city?
GC: I support it. I say it every single day and I work towards that goal. For example I’m the chair of the immigrant and civil rights committee. I put forward the motion for $2 million so we can provide legal representation for all immigrants. I have a relationship with Peter Schey who is now our advocate who is one of the most prominent immigrant rights attorneys. I am conducting workshops almost every other week working with the Central American consulates the Mexican consulate with the churches and with the LAPD informing people of their rights. I am very focused on this case around Mr. Romolo, a man who is taken from our district. So he dropped off his child and working to try to address the concerns related to that case.
Press Play: What if what you’re doing and what others are doing results in some kind of pushback from the federal government from the White House in terms of funding Los Angeles and funding the police, for example?
GC: I think the courts have already indicated that that’s inappropriate, that that is illegal, unconstitutional. They did that around cases related to Obama. But there’s also case law that goes back to I think the late ’90s in which the federal government cannot ask to quote the court put a gun to our head simply because we don’t embrace their policies. I think the mayor and the president of the council share confidence that we will be protected by our Constitution from actions from the Trump administration.
Press Play: Now the mayor has not declared Los Angeles a sanctuary city. Is that just semantics in your mind or do you think he needs to take a more forceful position?
GC: I don’t know. He is pretty forceful, I mean few people have done more than the city of Los Angeles. We have our infrastructure in place to make sure that immigrants have an opportunity to become citizens. We’re using our libraries our family source centers, et cetera. But he’s passed executive orders not to share information. We’re constantly working with our police chief and Special Order 40. I guess he could make a declarative statement. I’m happy to make a declarative statement. I support sanctuary cities. I don’t want one person deported who is hardworking, who is taking care of his family, who is integrated into the social fabric of our community who is part of the foundation of our economy. I think that’s necessarily disruptive. I think what we should do is what I did in the past with respect to driver’s licenses we should change the law to accommodate our reality.
(Photo: Gil Cedillo at KCRW, by Amy Ta)