Knock LA examines the nine-year city councilmember’s history on affordable housing, tenant protections, and meeting with the community.
With the COVID-19 pandemic exposing the extent of our city’s bureaucratic failures, Angelenos are counting on local officials now more than ever to address systemic issues afflicting the city’s working class: affordable housing, tenants’ rights, eviction, and homelessness. Yet in his nine years on the City Council, District 1 Councilmember Gil Cedillo has become a painful example of how LA politicians serve their corporate donors at the expense of addressing the systemic issues devastating the communities that elected them.
Between 2010 and 2020, soaring rents and lack of affordable housing caused CD 1 to actually shrink in population by 18,000 people, while homelessness surged in the district by nearly 50% between 2015 and 2020. During this period, the number of homeless individuals with access to temporary shelter shrunk from 645 to 451.
Voters will decide on June 7, 2022, between Cedillo and newcomer Eunisses Hernandez, a lifelong resident of the district who has criticized the incumbent for siding with luxury developers over communities he represents. CD 1 includes the communities of Glassell Park, Highland Park, Chinatown, Mount Washington, Echo Park, Elysian Park, Westlake, Pico Union, Koreatown, Angelino Heights, Lincoln Heights, and MacArthur Park
Cedillo’s Record on Affordable Housing
As the chairman of the City Council’s Housing Committee and a member of the Planning and Land Use Management (PLUM) Committee, Cedillo has a significant role in steering housing legislation and development approvals. Yet over the course of his nine years in office, Cedillo has taken more than $500,000 in campaign contributions from individuals and corporations in the real estate industry, and also benefited from massive amounts of independent spending by the California Apartment Association.
“I take money from developers to fund my campaign because people in my district aren’t as capable of providing resources for my campaign,” Cedillo said in a 2017 interview with KCRW. Cedillo’s votes on housing legislation have often benefited the interests of these campaign donors: luxury apartment developers, real estate brokers, and property managers.
For example, in 2019, he overruled an affordable unit requirement proposed by the City Planning Commission for a development project in Chinatown, resulting in a 725-unit apartment project with zero affordable units. Employees of the real estate company heading the project, Atlas Capital Group, have donated approximately $20,000 to Cedillo since 2015, according to contribution data from the city’s Ethics Commission.
With Los Angeles projected to lose 971 restricted covenant affordable housing units next year, each new development either quells or fuels the existing communities’ fears of rent hikes and displacement. “The fact that the city is going through so much transition in terms of gentrification across all of our low-income communities… What low-income enclave is now safe from gentrification? I don’t see a single one,” said Claudia Medina, a tenant rights attorney and decades-long resident of Koreatown.
Cedillo has been outspoken about his intentions to change the very fabric of his district, particularly the socioeconomic conditions. In 2019, Cedillo stated during a PLUM Committee meeting, “Yes, it is a low-income area, but it will remain low-income unless we change the composition.”
The bulk of the district’s households survive on extremely modest incomes, averaging approximately $32,375 per year, according to 2020 LA Census data.
Cedillo’s Record on Tenant Protections
In April 2020, during one of the bleakest periods of the pandemic, Cedillo voted against enacting a strict eviction moratorium, causing the bill to fail on a vote of 7–6. Despite impassioned pleas from renters experiencing unprecedented economic disruption due to the pandemic, Cedillo did not see a need for bold action. Instead, he sided with the corporate landlords and the conservative members of the City Council.
While the City Council would later pass a weaker eviction moratorium with Cedillo’s support, true protection came only from the state court system, which halted all eviction court proceedings for a period of six months. Upon the resumption of court proceedings, it became apparent just how badly Cedillo and the City Council had failed to protect renters.
Cedillo and the LA City Council have a reputation for passing housing and tenant measures riddled with loopholes exploited by landlords, according to Medina, who files civil suits on behalf of tenants facing displacement and harassment at the hands of property owners. Landlords often purchase rent-controlled property, file a swath of evictions to remove existing tenants, and hike up rent. This scare tactic was highly effective at getting tenants to move out without seeking legal representation, particularly in neighborhoods with dense immigrant populations, according to Medina. “Their business model is to buy buildings that are occupied by mostly low-income, Latino immigrant renters and harass them to leave so they can replace them with younger, hipper, whiter tenants,” Medina said.
Last August, affordable housing and tenants rights advocates pressed the City Council to pass a Tenant Anti-Harassment Ordinance. Yet during a key committee hearing, where Councilmember Nithya Raman sought to make the ordinance more protective for renters, Cedillo, in an unusual move, supported both an opposing amendment by Councilmember John Lee to weaken the bill as well as Raman’s amendment to strengthen it. Despite this dismal failure of leadership, the ordinance ultimately passed with the stronger language.
Housing advocates remain concerned by the lack of enforcement of the ordinance, which places much of the burden on tenants to find an attorney who is willing to take their harassment case.
Cedillo’s Record on Meeting with the Community
It is no secret that constituents have struggled to get in touch with Cedillo throughout his time in office. Last year, a disastrous time for housing affordability and renters in Los Angeles, Cedillo used his position as chairman to cancel more than half of the Housing Committee’s scheduled meetings. He nonetheless found time for an “off the record” meeting with billionaire Jeffrey Katzenberg, while concealing from the public more than a third of the events on his official City Councilmember calendar since the start of 2022 — including at least one fundraising event for his reelection campaign.
However, in August of last year, when Cedillo unexpectedly closed the popular Avenue 26 night market by erecting fences, he blew off a meeting with the displaced vendors.
When Cedillo was campaigning for a second term in 2017, he acknowledged in an interview with KCRW’s Madeleine Brand that he needed to work on his communication with constituents, particularly in multilingual and undocumented communities in his district.
However, residents facing displacement from Hillside Villa, a Chinatown-based apartment complex in CD 1, say they’ve struggled to secure a meeting with Cedillo for three years.
“Throughout the process, Cedillo himself has not voluntarily met with us even once. However, he always seems to have time to meet with his developer buddies at fundraisers,” the Hillside Villa Tenants Association wrote in a statement to Knock LA. “Because of this, he’s lost a lot of trust. Cedillo chooses who he meets — and it is clear that he has not chosen to be in community with the people that he supposedly serves.”
Following the expiration of the building’s decades-long affordability covenant in 2018, its residents have been inundated with illegal rent hikes. Some have been issued increases as high as 300%.
Efforts to purchase the building using eminent domain were stalled last September by the City Council’s Budget and Finance Committee. As months passed with no solution, Hillside Villa tenants publicly confronted Cedillo and other councilmembers for answers.
Residents pleaded with Cedillo outside a campaign fundraiser on April 25, an event that cost $800 to attend. The councilmember breezed past his constituents and into the venue where he later gave a speech brushing off criticism he has received over taking money from developers. Cedillo then explained to his corporate donors his governing philosophy, in terms too clear to be misunderstood:
“We need to really… protect those who protect our interests. And so I am partisan. I am very partisan, and I support you and your efforts and your work.”