Since leaked audio recordings of Councilmember Nury Martinez making racist remarks prompted her resignation last October, the 6th council seat in the San Fernando Valley has been vacant.
Now, two life-long residents of the district, Imelda Padilla and Marisa Alcaraz, are seeking to finish what remains of Martinez’s term, which ends in December 2024.
After no two candidates received the majority of the vote during the April 4 primary, the two advanced to a runoff election. Ballots were mailed out a few weeks ago, and voters in the district can cast their ballots before polls close Tuesday, June 27.
Padilla, of Sun Valley, is a longtime community organizer, who points to her work in the east Valley on environmental issues, worker wages as well as advocating for bringing in a light rail line to the area. Alcaraz, of Lake Balboa, highlights her experience working at city hall to shepherd programs such as the minimum wage increase, hero pay for grocery workers, and a pilot for guaranteed basic income.
Whoever wins the seat may not inherit the powerful position Martinez held on the council, as its president, but they will have influence on important assets in the central and eastern portions of the Valley.
More than a quarter of a million people live in this part the Valley, which includes Panorama City, one of the densest communities not only in the Valley but also the city, as well as Van Nuys, the seat of the Valley civic center, where a satellite city hall, city offices, a library and courthouses sit. The sixth district also includes Arleta, North Hills, Lake Balboa and Sun Valley. Other regional landmarks in the area include the Van Nuys Airport and the Sepulveda Basin park.
Major changes are in store for communities in the district, including in Panorama City, where big development projects are underway, including a tower that will replace the long empty Montgomery Ward building, as well as the redevelopment of the Panorama Mall. The East Valley Transit Corridor, a future Metro rail line running along Van Nuys Boulevard, is also slated to bring change to the area.
A City Hall scandal led to the election. What do Alcaraz and Padilla say about them?
The Los Angeles City Council has been hobbled in recent years by a revolving door of members departing in the wake of corruption indictments and other types of scandals. The one that led to the current special election to fill the 6th district seat came after its former representative, Nury Martinez resigned from her seat last October.
Martinez had been caught in a leaked audio speaking freely on a variety of topics, including her annoyance with a fellow council member’s adopted Black child, who she compared to a “little monkey” using a spanish term. That audio is believed to have been secretly recorded a year prior, around October 2021, potentially at the offices of the LA Federation of Labor, and included not only Martinez, but also 14th district council members Kevin de Leon and then-1st district councilman Gil Cedillo. The primary discussion revolved around possible ways to manipulate the process for redrawing council district lines, particularly in ways that would benefit their own political futures, or disadvantage the futures of other members. The discussion touched on matters that also came up during one of the most heated moments of the redistricting process during the fall of 2021. Since this latest redistricting process, and due to other recent scandals, there have been calls made for city charter reform, including by making the redistricting process independent. City leaders are currently having discussions on what to put on the ballot, potentially by as early as 2024.
While campaigning, both Padilla and Alcaraz have had to address the scandals at City Hall. They agree on increasing the number of city council members from the current 15. Proponents of that idea argue that it would allow more everyday people to run for those seats, and make elected officials more responsive and accessible.
Some disagreement has been voiced over addressing corruption through changes to how development projects are handled at City Hall.
Alcaraz says she wants to reduce council members’ decision-making power over such projects, by making approvals of permits for projects based more on an administrative approval process. The idea to do this has grown in popularity recently among city officials, amid corruption scandals that typically centered around development projects. But Padilla has voiced apprehension over doing this, and points to the discretion council members should still be able to have over certain projects as a way to leverage community benefits from developers.
Both have also had to fend off questions about their own associations with council members already embroiled in some of these scandals. Alcaraz is a policy director for Curren Price, who was recently charged for breaking conflict of interest laws, as well as for perjury and embezzlement. Padilla worked for 18 months as a field deputy for Martinez, about a decade ago.
Alcaraz, who had described Price as her “mentor” during a campaign kick-off event, said during a debate in Van Nuys a few weeks later, when news about the charges against Price broke, that she only learned of them when it was reported in the news. “We have to let the justice system take place and let things move in that direction,” she said.
Padilla addressed her own association with Martinez by saying that she worked for the former councilwoman’s office “before that office ever had to do with any kind of scandal, and if there was anything shady happening in the office, I was never involved.”
Alcaraz and Padilla say they want to tackle homelessness better than Martinez
Both Alcaraz and Padilla have been critical of Martinez during this race, not only due to the scandal, but also of how she handled homelessness.
Padilla says that unlike the prior councilwoman, she would be more open to housing and emergency shelter projects. While working as a field deputy for Martinez early on, she witnessed the former council members’ opposition to a shelter project that appeared to her to be based on Martinez’s distaste for people lining up outside shelters.
“I don’t know … why that would make somebody feel uncomfortable, but that isn’t me,” Padilla said in an interview. Padilla also said she wants to see housing, with “wraparound services,” that do not seem institutional, but are more like homes.
Meanwhile, Alcaraz also characterized the former councilwoman as being resistant to addressing the homelessness crisis through shelters. She spoke of joining forces with Mayor Karen Bass to “push forward on moving people into housing solutions, whether that be Inside Safe or other programs we can do even in a short amount of time,” she said. She also said she was sure there were “government parcels” in the district that could be used for “safe parking” sites, temporary shelters and navigation centers, as well as ways for leasing up motels to temporarily shelter people through a process called “master leasing.”
Both candidates say they support the city’s anti-camping law, Los Angeles Municipal Code 41.18.
While the law is broadly supported by members of the City Council, with the exception of four members who regularly vote against new resolutions to designate anti-camping zones, it is widely unpopular among people who are themselves unhoused, many of whom view it as criminalizing them for being homeless, a situation they have no choice over. The law is also opposed by one of the main local homeless services providers in the area, LA Family Housing.
A candidate who failed to advance in the primary, Marco Santana, had been the target of attack ads from the Los Angeles Police Protective League, the union for rank and file officers, partly due to this issue of the anti-camping law. The union’s ads criticized Santana’s opposition to LAMC 41.18. Santana, who works for LA Family Housing, had described the law as a “band-aid solution” to addressing homelessness that he does not support.
During recent interviews, neither candidate seemed aware of the Aetna Bridge Home congregate shelter that Martinez built in the Metro parking lot next to the Orange Line in Van Nuys. That shelter, which is run by the Salvation Army, has been described as having prison-like conditions, and recently handed out a letter warning participants they would be kicked out of the program if they kept a tent outside the shelter or parked their car in the Metro lot.
LA City Council members stump for Padilla and Alcaraz
The race is expected to be a close fight, and at their respective campaign kick-off events — held on the same morning — their biggest supporters on the City Council painted the candidates as having two very distinct sets of qualities. Padilla was described as someone who knows the needs of the communities of the 6th district well, and Alcaraz as capable and experienced on policy at City Hall.
Councilwoman Monica Rodriguez, who represents the neighboring 7th council district, said Padilla “isn’t going to be introduced to what the challenges are, she knows what the challenges are.” Rodriguez endorsed Padilla early on in the race, during the primary.
“We have had to overcome these challenges for decades,” she said. “And I need an ally and a partner at City Hall that is going to help continue to deliver the long overdue resources that our community deserves.”
Meanwhile, council president Paul Krekorian, who represents the 2nd district that also neighbors the 6th district, was in Alcaraz’s corner, drumming her up as someone with the City Hall know-how to get the city through a tumultuous time.
“What we need, what the entire city needs, more than anything is smart, stable, experienced, ethical leaders,” Krekorian said. “And that’s what we’re going to get in Marisa.”