Mayor-elect Karen Bass wants to build more housing. Funding, approvals will be huge lifts

Written by Danielle Chiriguayo, produced by Bennett Purser

Congresswoman Karen Bass speaks at an election party in Hollywood, CA, November 9, 2022. Photo by Shutterstock.

Congresswoman Karen Bass will be LA’s next mayor. The race was officially called on Wednesday, with Bass taking 53% of the votes over billionaire businessman Rick Caruso. She’s the first woman and second Black mayor in the city’s history. When she takes office on December 12, she’ll be in charge of navigating LA through difficult issues such as a growing homeless population of 42,000 people, a city council still reeling from racism and corruption scandals, and a frustration among voters that the city is dysfunctional.

While many areas were divided on their vote, Bass performed especially well in downtown, South LA, and parts of East LA, where residents were familiar with her track record. That’s according to Los Angeles Times writer Kerry Cavanaugh.

“She is known. She has a record. She has a reputation. And that means a lot to people in Los Angeles. When you've seen someone around doing the work, it has some resonance,” Cavanaugh explains. “For voters, a lot of the question was, ‘Who do I trust in this moment?’ Rather than significant differences on policy.’”

When it comes to homelessness — the biggest issue she’ll face — she previously announced plans to declare a state of emergency on her first day in office.

Cavanaugh says the idea of declaring a state of emergency has existed since 2015, when Mayor Eric Garcetti and the LA City Council said they would. Then-Governor Jerry Brown and Gavin Newsom both rejected the idea.

“What Karen Bass says now [is], ‘I'm a different politician and I have a different idea.’ And the idea being that if she gets the governor — and she says she’ll talk to the president about a state of emergency — that that will free up money. It will free up regulatory burdens that make it harder to build housing and homeless shelters. … The key thing is that she actually has to declare it.”

Bass has also promised to find interim or permanent housing for 17,000 unhoused Angelenos. Cavanaugh says it's an ambitious plan.

“She's been very clear about trying to get more humane shelters, and then temporary housing and permanent housing. But the property, the funding, the approvals, it is a huge lift. And she has wisely said that she cannot do it alone. She'll need the county. She’ll need the state, and probably even the federal government.”

Cavanaugh hasn’t heard a specific plan to restore faith in the LA City Council, but she credits Bass for calling a community panel of Black and Latino leaders from across the city.

“That is Karen Bass’ strength. She is a coalition builder, a collaborator. She's a person who has spent her entire career bringing people together to try and solve problems. So this is her moment to rise to that — the remarks that we heard on those audio and the divisiveness — and to really do some healing. … What she will do exactly, I do not know.”

While Bass was once seen to be too left-leaning to serve as President Joe Biden’s vice president, Cavanaugh says she could be a moderate mayor in comparison to the council that’s gone further left after the midterms.

However, Cavanaugh still sees room for City Hall to work together.

“She may buttheads on with folks on some of these policies, particularly the size of the police department, hiring police officers, and public safety spending priorities. That will be really interesting to see what pushback she gets on that.”

She adds, “But again, her M.O. is pragmatic solutions and consensus building. … Within city government, there's a consensus building about how the city wants to address public safety through the police department, but also alternatives to policing, crime prevention, [and] other investments in that area.”