The leaked audio of racist comments made during a redistricting meeting among LA City Council members is yet another scandal in the city’s government, which already included corruption investigations and convictions. Former Councilman Mitchell Englander, who represented the West Valley, went to prison for obstructing a corruption probe. Former Councilmen Jose Huizar and Mark Ridley-Thomas face criminal charges for racketeering and bribery, respectively. And Mayor Eric Garcetti was accused of mishandling sexual assault allegations against a top aide, which has likely kept him from becoming President Biden’s ambassador to India.
“This is, in my lifetime, the longest sustained period of instability caused by a number of things in city government,” says Zev Yaroslavsky, former member of LA City Council, former LA County supervisor, and now director of the LA Initiative at UCLA’s Luskin School of Public Affairs.
He says the leaked audio of Nury Martinez, Gil Cedillo, Kevin de León, and Ron Herrera doesn’t represent LA.
“The way those folks in that room were operating last year … it's a winner-take-all [approach], it's a zero-sum game. ‘In order for me to win, Blacks have to lose. In order for Armenians to win, Latinos have to lose.’ That's not the way to look at life. If we operate that way, life in Los Angeles will be unlivable.”
Some Angelenos are suggesting that the City Council should expand its number of seats (there are currently 15). But Yaroslavsky doesn’t support that idea.
“The size of the council does not mean you're going to reduce corruption. Chicago has 50-51 … our corruption problems pale by comparison to what's going on over there,” he points out.
Corruption is about the quality of people we elect, he says.
“We don't have a lot of people on the City Council these days who come from different walks of life. … Diversity of all kinds is a strength, not a weakness. And I think it would be great to have people on the council who have different life experiences.”
Yaroslavsky adds, “Something's got to be done to put the fear of God into members of the [City] Council, of the Board of Supervisors, of any legislative body — that you're going to pay a dear price if you transgress.”