This story is a part of a collaboration between LA Public Press and Boyle Heights Beat.
Residents packed the multipurpose room at Mendez High School on Saturday morning as Boyle Heights Beat hosted its CD 14 Candidate Forum. Some came almost two hours before the event began to grab a front seat. Boyle Heights Beat led the event in partnership with local news outlet LA Public Press and the Boyle Heights Neighborhood Council.
Nearly two hundred people gathered to listen to the candidates’ plans for addressing critical issues in the district. Council District 14 includes Downtown L.A., Boyle Heights, Eagle Rock, Highland Park, El Sereno, Lincoln Heights, and other areas of Northeast L.A.
This forum was held to allow residents to hear from the candidates and enable youth reporters to engage with those running for the LA City Council. The Boyle Heights community has historically been a critical voting block in every CD 14 election since the 1980s. All elected councilmembers since Richard Alatorre have had some ties to the neighborhood, whether they lived there or represented Boyle Heights as a state assembly member.
Candidates Assemblymember Wendy Carrillo, Genny Guerrero, Dr. Nadine Diaz, Eduardo “Lalo” Vargas, Teresa Y. Hillery, and Ysabel Jurado participated in the forum. Noticeably absent were current Councilmember Kevin de León and Assemblymember Miguel Santiago. Both were no-shows despite multiple requests from Boyle Heights Beat to attend.
Some scandals have marked this year’s district election. De León, who is running for a second term, has struggled to maintain credibility with constituents after tapes leaked last year, which featured the councilmember and other city officials making racist remarks. Assemblymember Wendy Carrillo was arrested last November for drunk driving and subsequently apologized for her actions. Late last month, a federal judge sentenced former CD 14 Councilmember José Huízar to 13 years in prison after being convicted of racketeering and corruption charges.
Boyle Heights resident Adeana Alvivs, 27, said she came to the event to hear candidates explain how they intend to solve Boyle Heights’ most pressing issues, such as more affordable housing, a lack of green spaces, and public safety. “I just want to know what their plan is for addressing these issues for future generations,” Alvivs said.
Before the forum began, BHB youth reporters spoke to some candidates who arrived early. Highland Park native Ysabel Jurado, a tenants’ rights attorney, said she appreciated the event had youth engaged in the local political process. “It’s important that youth are directing the forum because they should be the center of the policies we are drafting and are so often mentioned but never heard,” Jurado said.
Wendy Carrillo, Boyle Heights native and State Assemblymember for District 52, agreed. “I think it’s an opportunity for all candidates to be able to present their ideas, but also, I think even more important for young people and students to understand how their impact creates change at a local level,” Carrillo said.
Eduardo Vargas, a science teacher and Party for Socialism and Liberation (PSL) candidate, said it was important for all candidates to show up and let CD14 residents see who the best potential replacement for de León is.
“It’s not enough to just think about removing someone as corrupt as Kevin de León from office. What’s important is to see who’s going to replace him, what are their values, and who they’re willing to fight for,” Vargas said.
After opening remarks by MC Angela Caliz, a senior from Roosevelt High School, Boyle Heights Beat reporters Kathryn Mora and Stephanie Perez served as moderators for the event. The two took turns asking each candidate thoughtful questions based on responses from a BHB-conducted community survey. Topics ranged from addressing LA’s homelessness crisis, gentrification and displacement, fixing decaying infrastructure, public safety, and more.
Mora kicked things off by asking all candidates how they will restore community trust and provide transparent leadership. Each candidate offered similar responses and claimed they were morally and ethically individuals who would continue engaging with their constituents, unlike corrupt leadership, past and present.
When asked how she planned to prioritize the housing needs of specific communities within CD14 that are experiencing higher rates of displacement, Jurado, whose campaign heavily focuses on affordable housing and alleviating homelessness, said she would disperse the COVID-19 fund, adjust the relocation fund, and more.
“We have all the resources to seize all the empty units in the city and guarantee residential units for the people,” said Vargas, responding to a question about how he would help CD 14 residents dealing with high rents and cost of living.
Carrillo said community engagement, language access, and involved leadership are necessary to connect unhoused folks with resources. She also spoke out against the proposed Tiao Properties development project, saying the City Council risks the further displacement of residents with the housing developments they approve.
Vargas, who has protested the proposed Tiao development project, said, “I was fighting alongside the tenants, both commercial and residential, of the project every step of the way. They organized themselves into a collective [El Apetito-La Finessa Colectivo] because they knew the system was rigged against them,” Vargas said. He wants to codify bargaining rights so tenant associations have the power to negotiate their fair rights.
When asked about the difficulties residents have applying for affordable and Section 8 housing, Teresa Y. Hillery, a lawyer, said she agrees that the system is too hard to understand. “We need to overhaul LAHSA and streamline the process,” she said.
Dr. Nadine Diaz, a geriatric social worker at USC’s Memory and Aging Center, was asked how she would include the needs of the unhoused population in her community initiatives. “As a social worker, I worked on skid row from 5 p.m. to 5 a.m.,” Diaz said. “I have the scope of practice to determine the best assessment for their needs and include lawyers and social workers in this process.”
When asked how she would work with transportation providers to create a safer public transit experience, Teresa Y. Hillery, a lawyer, and public transportation advocate, said, “I will make transportation free for everyone and make sure people [drivers] are responsible for their actions.”
After being asked about making the streets safer for pedestrians and non-motorized vehicles, Diaz said, “We need to document what’s happening and create solutions for what’s happening,” Diaz said. “Also, Where are the police? Aren’t they supposed to take care of us?”
Genny Guerrero, an El Sereno resident known for her local activism, explained how she planned to address deteriorating public infrastructure issues and ensure consistent maintenance of streetlights and sidewalks.
“We need to replace lighting in some sections [of the district] and place additional lighting,” Guerrero said. “We’re waiting for the community to replace the copper wire that was stolen, and my community has been dark for a long time. What can we do in the meantime? Let’s rent lighting and get some out there.”
When questioned about the increase in homicides and gang-related crimes in Boyle Heights and what she will do to decrease this violence, Jurado said, “The safest cities in America are the ones that invest in parks, recreational services, education, and that’s what solves the violence issue every time.”
Carrillo said she agrees with Mayor Karen Bass’ approach to public safety and policing, combining public health strategies with traditional policing.
“We are facing a shortage of police officers,” Carrillo said. “We also want to see a police department that protects our community instead of one that treats our Black and Brown community incredibly unfairly.”
With a question regarding the Exide Technologies battery recycling facility and its lasting health impact on Eastside residents, Diaz said the effects of Exide are not over. “Where is the $60 million that Hilda Solis received [for cleanup],” Diaz asked.
Both candidates Hillery and Guerrero stressed the need to protect historic properties throughout CD 14, with Guerro adding the need to create preservation zones to stop luxury developments.
Moderators opened up public comment and allowed attendees to address questions to the panelists. One attendee asked what candidates would do to solve the ongoing theft of catalytic converters. Carrillo promptly responded, “If you commit a crime, you should go to jail.”
An attendee named Araceli Brito shared her experience with homelessness and asked what would be done to help get her out of these circumstances. “I’m out on the street with my two kids, and what can you do to help me because I’m tired? A lot of people have been helped, but why not me,” Brito said in Spanish.
Candidates were given one minute each for closing remarks. One community member interrupted the comments and demanded in Spanish that candidates show up and follow up on their promises to CD14 residents. “I want to say to all of you that if you get elected, you need to show up.”
Youth mentor Alejandra Molina contributed to the reporting of this article.