CD 15 candidates offer divergent views on policing, environmental justice, and housing.
The Los Angeles residents of Watts, San Pedro, Wilmington, Harbor City, and Harbor Gateway will vote for a new City Council representative on June 7, 2022, to replace current City Councilmember Joe Buscaino, who opted to launch a now-failing bid for mayor rather than seek reelection.
The four candidates in the Los Angeles City Council District 15 race are Bryant Odega, an educator and community organizer; Danielle Sandoval, a former neighborhood council president; Tim McOsker, an attorney and former lobbyist for the Los Angeles Police Protective League; and Anthony Santich, a businessman. CD 15 has a population of approximately 250,000 residents.
Knock LA interviewed Odega, Sandoval, and McOsker to understand why each is running and how each proposes to address three chief issues in CD 15: policing and community safety, environmental justice, and housing justice. Santich did not respond to our request for an interview and has not reported any campaign contributions or expenditures to the city.
Policing and Community Safety
Community organizer Tim Watkins, president and CEO of the Watts Labor Community Action Committee (WLCAC, which has provided medical services, housing, an urban garden, and employment and after school programs for the community since 1965), argues that leadership in District 15 has not prioritized the interests of people in Watts. Watts was a west-coast bastion of the KKK in the 1900s, and Watkins says that the community still suffers from systemic racism and over-policing: “We’re not getting beaten with batons like we used to as much — it still happens. But we’re beat; we’re beat by the system, we’re contained, pressurized. We are constantly threatened with negative repercussions if we’re not behaving in a civil manner.”
Watkins argues that the cost of policing leads to a lack of funds to improve the district as a whole. “[We don’t get] public art, public spaces, green spaces, all kinds of improvements that make life more livable, more sustainable. Our recreation centers get shut down. Places where people have cultural experiences get outlawed, so they have to shut down.”
Candidate Tim McOsker is a former lobbyist for the Los Angeles Police Protective League, which favors increasing the LAPD budget and recently made a $98,004.34 independent expenditure in support of his campaign. In terms of policy, McOsker wants to expand the Community Safety Partnership program within District 15, where police officers make a commitment to work in the community for five years and engage directly by attending sporting and community events. However, CD 15 residents have had negative experiences with the program and research has shown that these programs have no discernible effect on reducing crime.
McOsker did not answer whether he supports reducing the overall budget of the LAPD, but he favors reducing overtime costs through reassigning officer responsibilities for responding to psychiatric, behavioral, or substance abuse crises to social workers and medical professionals, imitating the CAHOOTS model used in San Francisco. He is also in favor of technological investments for the department with the aim of further reducing officer overtime, and of shifting police administrative work from officers to civilians.
When asked how he would mitigate both financial and physical harm caused by police officers killing citizens, McOsker believes that officers should be continuously retrained and the department be further reformed to hold them accountable. However, despite an LAPD statement in 2020 committing to enhancing training, expanding transparency and accountability, and providing new guidelines on use of force and de-escalation, there was a 42.3% increase in police shootings in the city from 2019 to 2021. McOsker supports the recently passed legislation SB2, which created a decertification process for police officers.
Candidate Bryant Odega is in favor of reallocating current LAPD responsibilities to social workers, counselors, and peace mediators. Odega believes that what keeps a community safe is not the presence of police officers, but creating social conditions for public safety: “A safe and secure roof over your head; having a job that pays a living wage that supports your family; it’s having access to healthy high-quality food so that you can be nourished, so that you don’t have to go to school or work hungry; it’s having access to free public transportation so that you don’t have to walk 30–60 minutes or wait 30–60 minutes for the bus to come. It’s after-school programs, it’s community gardens; it’s a variety of things that we see in the wealthier neighborhoods. Wealthy communities have resources we don’t; we get police.”
While not excusing criminal actions, Odega stresses the importance of addressing the root causes of crime: “If folks don’t see any type of prospect in their future, they’re going to find other ways to get by because, at the end of the day, folks need to be able to eat right, or take care of their family.” He is in favor of reallocating police funds into public works and social programs, and supports the People’s Budget LA. He stresses the importance of transparency for budgeting sessions as a whole to prioritize listening to community needs: “Instead of doing these behind closed-door lobbyist meetings, we need our elected officials to be out here meeting us where we’re at… actually having town halls, having community seminars, deep canvases. Everything that you need to do every month to get the word out there.”
Candidate Danielle Sandoval believes that there should be more definition to the scope of the LAPD’s responsibilities, and more accountability: as a neighborhood council budget advocate she describes calling for an audit to the use of police in jobs such as securing parking lots, providing event security, or being present at sanitation sweeps of homeless encampments — due to the high cost of overtime. However, Sandoval contributed to the Neighborhood Council Budget Advocates White Papers for 2020 and 2021 (detailed proposals for allocation of city funds that budget advocates compose and send to City Hall), and both white papers show a concern that the LAPD is short-staffed. The 2020 paper specifically recommends increasing the police budget for officer recruitment, retention, technology upgrades, vehicle acquisition, and additional training.
Sandoval believes the city needs to prioritize third-party investigations of police officers who kill citizens in the line of duty: “I think that we need to have a real conversation about if that gun is used, there should be more accountability. Police should not police the police… we need the DOJ to actually do their job and do those investigations.” However, during previous outside oversight of the LAPD during the Federal Department of Justice’s Consent Decree with the City of Los Angeles between 2001 and 2009, the number of police killings rose by an average of 44.4%. Finally, Sandoval believes that District 15 needs more police presence around schools: “There’s kids that are trying to cross and there’s no crossing guards; and cars are zooming by at speeds. And how do you stop that?”
While the LA City Council recently voted to draft an ordinance to prohibit new oil and gas extraction activities, study phasing out existing oil extraction, and ensure proper plugging and abandonment of unused wells and site remediation, the negative impact of the oil and gas industry on the community persists unabated. Many of the people in District 15 live, work, or go to school adjacent to active oil operations, and the harm of this proximity has been well documented.
Sylvia Arredondo, the civic engagement coordinator for Communities for a Better Environment (CBE) and CBE Action, organizations that aim to reduce pollution and its disproportionate impact on low-income communities, says that the City Council’s vote is not enough to address the problem: the community needs buffer zones, and plans to quickly phase out current neighborhood drilling operations and remediate affected land.
Arrendondo explains, “I grew up right across the street from oil pump jacks. …community members [are] calling on our councilmember to take action, to speak out on these polluting industries that are impacting our health. Our lived experiences, the health impacts from things like asthma to more serious illnesses like cancer or other really life-threatening illnesses that our community members are experiencing in health complications — this should be reason enough to call into question the proximity of these oil drilling sites to communities and the fast-tracking or rubber-stamping of permits.” [Note: CBE Action has endorsed candidate Bryant Odega.]
Watkins at WLCAC adds that the people of Watts are “living in housing developments where the soil is completely inundated by heavy metals that cause them to have some of the behaviors and maladies that we see them living out… yet no one, no one, not the mayor, not the head of the housing authority, not the governor, is willing to respond to the fact that public housing is poisoning children at a rate that is unprecedented in the nation, right here in Watts.”
Sandoval believes that a long-term phase-out of urban oil drilling and extraction is not enough to address the problem, and the district needs to not only cap off unused wells, but remediate the soil and clean the land so that the city can build in the future. While light on specifics, Sandoval favors working with local organizations who have already been involved with the issue. However, she calls oil extraction a federal issue, and says the area’s federal congresswoman and state officials should be fighting for the district.
McOsker, who has been endorsed by the United Steelworkers Local 675, a union which represents workers at the Tidelands West Wilmington Oil Field, supports the recent vote to phase out oil and gas extraction, but wants to address just transitions for workers. “If we’re going to be transitioning from one industry to another, we need to make sure that we are also protecting the future generations by making sure that we have good jobs that people can raise families on, that people can pay their rent on time.”
McOsker supports having developers or former owners exiting the property bear the responsibility for land remediation, depending on the statutory structure; but in terms of supporting the residents who have suffered serious health issues due to drilling, he suggests using nonprofits to provide services to community members, or creating unspecified “opportunities for folks to participate in funds that will go to improve the overall health of the community.”
Odega, who has endorsements from Sunrise Movement LA and CBE Action, supports a Green New Deal to address both the health impacts of oil on District 15 and create good-paying jobs for the community. As fossil fuels remain a dominant industry for many parts of District 15, Odega wants to invest in economic justice and infrastructure for those communities, ensure a just transition, secure pensions of affected workers, and provide paid job-retraining programs or employment opportunities with LADWP: “The fact that we rely so much on oil has led to the continuation of polluting and sacrificing the health and futures of the working class and communities of color.” He supports ensuring a 2,500-foot buffer zone between oil wells and homes, and creating more green space and tree cover, particularly for underserved communities.
Odega is also committed to Streets For All LA’s 25×25 initiative to repurpose 25% of the streets for the people and increase resident access to parks or plazas, as well as resident proximity bus-only access lanes, among other goals.
A third pressing issue for District 15 is the housing crisis: not only does the district lack affordable housing, but proximity of oil drilling and developments built on toxic land means that the existing options are often inequitable and unhealthy for residents. According to Arredondo, District 15 needs a holistic approach toward housing justice, with units that are truly affordable for the district and the community having a say in what projects are built and approved: “We need to ensure that community members are able to give input, that they’re engaged around proposed projects; and we also need to see the promotion of inclusionary housing policies, zoning policies.” At the same time, she believes there should be anti-displacement measures for families who live in affected areas.
Watkins describes how homelessness has risen due to rising rents and costs of homes, driven by real estate speculation. Unless city council addresses these underlying issues, he says, housing injustice will persist: “If you get kicked out of Jordan Downs [affordable housing units in Watts] because you’ve violated one of their rules, you don’t go down the street into a market-rate rental; you basically either move in with someone else, you couch surf, you live in your car, or you end up on the streets of Downtown LA.”
Watkins argues that the underlying beneficiaries of even affordable housing are the developers — because while the residents pay a lower price, the city makes up the full unit price with subsidies. He believes that residents would be better served by rent-to-own housing: “The logic of it escapes me, that somehow we’re fixing homelessness by giving someone someplace to sleep that costs $700,000 a unit to build.”
McOsker, Sandoval, and Odega all support a housing-first model and reevaluating the metrics of what constitutes “affordable” to address growing numbers of unhoused LA residents, all agreeing that temporary projects like Tiny Homes are not the ultimate solution to homelessness. But they differ in how they would address rising rents and resident inability to buy single-family homes.
McOsker proposes creating greater housing density. He argues that, economically, there are only so many variables involved in the cost of housing — land, materials, labor, and number of units — and by increasing density, the city can bring down the per-unit cost, which McOsker says would translate to a lower price for residents. In order to do this, he plans to work with the Housing Authority to use federal and state funds to acquire existing properties where the city has covenants to ensure affordability and increase housing opportunities for residents with vouchers; and he suggests using the properties as financial investments for the future.
McOsker also advocates for preventing homelessness by giving residents direct assistance and protecting properties with existing covenants. However, when asked about his perspective on LA Municipal Code 41.18 (which bans sitting, sleeping, and lying upon any street, sidewalk, or other public way), McOsker did not specify whether he was for or against the ordinance, but said that doing a sweep “without having a place for a person to go that is a volitional choice is of itself a failure,” and focused on the need to create services and permanent supportive housing options for those who want them. Finally, McOsker wants to increase transparency by creating a public tracking system for any project that he or District 15 is involved with, so that residents can see the stage of each project and McOsker’s position on it, and why he’s for or against.
McOsker also blames the short-term vacation rental market for driving speedy home-buying and flipping, thereby driving up market prices, and points to his work in helping to pass the city’s short-term rental ordinance. He adds, “We have to enforce that ordinance; we have to make sure, if anything, strengthen that ordinance and make sure that property that is residential and capable of being rented to long-term renters and to residents stays available to residents.” However, in a market where one in five homes are purchased by real estate investors at a median price point of $1.02 Million, McOsker did not have an immediate solution for how residents could compete as home buyers, other than advocating to increase housing stock and partnering with the federal and state organizations and local private entities to participate in down payments for new buyers.
Sandoval believes that the city needs to be held accountable for promises it has already made. “We were told, when we voted for those taxes for the HHH funds, the building units were gonna be about $300,000, and they ended up being upwards of $355,000 a unit.” (Sandoval’s estimate of the price change was conservative: the city’s original projection for HHH was $350,000 per unit, while the city’s current estimate is $579,616 per unit.) Sandoval believes that the City Council needs to go back to the drawing board and increase oversight to ensure that taxpayer money is being used responsibly.
Sandoval is also in favor of increasing the percentage of affordable housing units in mixed-use developments, and expressed concern about overuse of public-private partnerships for affordable housing developments. “Working too much with the private sector — you are now becoming a lobbyist, an agent for your district, and that’s concerning to me… I think there’s a fine line of what you’re actually advocating or bringing into the district as far as developments.” She is in favor of a vacancy tax for empty units, and wants to prioritize building single-family homes for residents so that they can build generational wealth. She aims to work with nonprofit organizations to help constituents afford home down payments and connect residents with programs to increase financial literacy.
While Sandoval is concerned about real estate speculation, she believes this should be addressed on the state level. However, she believes that LA residents who plan to live in the homes should have the first right to purchase: “Just like with the veterans’ loans, you have to live in the property in order to receive that loan.” She also plans to use District 15’s discretionary funds and apply for federal and state grants to expand services for existing nonprofit organizations to mitigate harm to the unhoused while housing is built.
Odega maintains that the city needs a multi-faceted approach to address what he believes are the underlying causes to the housing crisis: he proposes vacancy tax for empty units, expanding rent control, stabilizing rent, banning real estate speculation, using eminent domain to take over unused lots (either by themselves or through a community land trust or tenant co-op), and taking advantage of affordable housing covenants before they expire. The purpose of the vacancy tax is to remedy what Odega believes is developers’ inherent conflict of interest toward driving down unit prices: “Real estate developers are in the housing business for business purposes. They’re not in the business of housing people, they’re in the business of making money. It is in their best interest to keep lots vacant, even if that means rent keeps going up and more folks don’t have a home.” Odega advocates for a public-only approach toward affordable housing moving forward.
On ending real estate speculation, Odega supports Assemblymember Alex Lee’s 2022 bill to deter speculator abuse by establishing a five-year holding period before an Ellis Act eviction could occur. Although Lee’s bill failed in the state legislature, in order to advance affordable housing in Los Angeles, Odega plans to work in collaboration with groups like the Los Angeles Tenants Union who have already been organizing on these issues. “Whether it’s applying public pressure on other folks on the City Council, or mobilizing the public, with enough public pressure, these things can work.”
In terms of approving projects, Odega would be more selective, “favoring those proposed by community land trusts, by tenant co-ops, by folks from the community, as opposed to banks or outside actors.” He supports expanding rent control, creating a city tenants’ bill of rights, and guaranteeing tenants’ right to legal counsel. As for harm mitigation for those who are currently unhoused, Odega supports rescinding LA Municipal Code 41.18 and banning encampment sweeps, prioritizing investing in non-police outreach to connect unhoused people with services for IDs, documentation, and healthcare and employment opportunities.
As the June primary approaches, Arredondo sees this election as a chance to change the status quo and give the residents of CD 15 a true voice in city government; most of all, she believes District 15 needs “someone who understands what it’s like, who has been in the trenches, who has a lived experience of being on the front lines of these serious health impacts — to really be able to speak up because they have that lived experience.”
Watkins has not provided an endorsement for this race, but his sentiments echo Arredondo’s — community voices must come first, or no candidate’s solutions will lead to lasting positive change for District 15: “We need representations that are closer to the ground, that understand trials and tribulations of people of color, especially in a world that is dominated by white policy makers. And if we’re not willing to say it like that, if we’re not willing to face it like that, then everybody who said Black Lives Matter probably didn’t give a shit and probably shouldn’t have said it because in the aftermath of it, we’re still trying to figure out the evidence of it. Where’s the evidence of how much anybody’s life matters in this city if they’re not steeped in political and financial power?”