The real estate billionaire has become a household name in LA. But what does he actually stand for?
Anti-abortion developer Rick Caruso is running for mayor to “clean up LA.” His meaningless tagline runs as a thread throughout his bold blanket policy promises. Caruso is the lone billionaire running for mayor this cycle, and he’s able to self-fund his campaign (so far, he’s spent around $23-$25 million of his own money). If you live in LA, you’ve probably seen one of the ubiquitous TV and digital ads, mailers, or yard signs, often illegally placed in public medians (which is an ethics violation), that his personal fortune has afforded him.
The claims in these ads are often so generalized, one might think that Caruso has the city’s best interests at heart. However, the lies he is spreading with his millions are not only baseless, they’re dangerous. His irresponsible public safety claims, his inherently hypocritical solutions to homelessness, his exclusionary fortressed community centers, and his tenure as USC’s crisis manager all indicate that he’s not a good fit for the highest office in LA.
Caruso and Public Safety
Public safety is one of the fundamental pillars of Caruso’s campaign. He wants to further fund law enforcement, while the LA City Council has already approved an $87 million increase to the LAPD for the 2022-2023 budget.
Caruso uses his tenure as the president of the Los Angeles Police Commission (LAPC) to prove that he has the experience to solve public safety issues. He frames himself as a groundbreaking president who “stood up to political pressure to force real reform and oversaw a 30% reduction in crime while [fighting] for community policing and police accountability.” He was president of the LAPC from 2001 to 2003, and continued to serve on the board until 2005.
Caruso claims to be “the only candidate that has ever headed up a police department,” while he missed nearly 38% of all meetings he was supposed to attend, and was asked to resign after referring to Representative Maxine Waters as “the bitch Waters.” The president of the LAPC does not hold the power he implies, and does not have the “wherewithal to alter how the police department runs or to reduce crime by 30%,” according to former Police Chief Bernard Parks.
Parks wrote a highly critical response letter to an LA Times article published in April, pointing out several lies about what Caruso accomplished while serving on the board. Caruso and former Mayor James Hahn were responsible for denying Parks’ reappointment and replacing him with William Bratton, infamous for encouraging “stop and frisk” policies. After Parks was denied his reappointment, Black leaders said they felt betrayed. This resulted in uproar among community members, including a protest that shut down the Grove just prior to its grand opening.
Parks attributes Caruso and Hahn’s unwillingness to reappoint him to his encouragement of a disciplinary system that demanded all LAPD supervisors file all of the public’s complaints — no matter how small they seemed. This directly contradicts Caruso’s claim that he was invested in holding cops accountable.
In an interview with Knock LA, Parks said that Caruso also excluded the fact that when Parks left in 2002, “the department was at a 30-year low in terms of crime, including homicide.” Therefore, the accomplishments Caruso takes credit for happened before he even sat on the board of the Police Commission. To further debunk this claim, Parks points to an LA Times article that alleges there was an eight-year period where the LAPD was underreporting crime.
The Caruso campaign did not respond to a request for comment on this article.
Caruso and Homelessness
In his plan to “End Street Homelessness,” Caruso states that “economic hardship is the number one cause for the newly homeless.” Caruso also attributes homelessness to the lack of affordable housing, stating that “building in Los Angeles isn’t just expensive, it’s designed to incentivize building high-cost luxury housing over affordable housing.”
While Caruso currently operates four luxury apartment complexes, 10 retail centers, two office spaces, and a resort in Miramar, he has yet to build a single unit of affordable housing. Caruso’s personal actions contradict the “obvious” solution he proposes — that building “more housing of all types in all neighborhoods in a smart and community-appropriate way” will end homelessness.
One of his developments, 8500 Burton Way, looms over a chaotic intersection where Beverly Hills, West Hollywood, and the Fairfax district meet. Caruso’s own statistics state that “homelessness starts rising when median rents in a region exceed 22% of median income. In LA, the median rent is 46.7% (half of median income).” A 906 square-foot one bedroom apartment at 8500 Burton Way rents from between $6,500 and $8,500 dollars a month. If the overall rent median is $2,952 and $2,707 for a one bedroom, the lowest cost apartment unit is more than double the median cost.
There was a long-standing encampment just around the corner from Caruso’s luxury development on Burton Way, until it became a 41.18 zone in October 2021, making it illegal for people to sit, lie, or sleep in the area. Encampment sweeps subsequently displaced the unhoused community that lived there.
CD 5 Councilmember Paul Koretz, who represents the area, said he “filed the motion to address emergency calls relating to fires, violence and drug use.” The western half of 8500 Burton Way is technically located within the 41.18 zone, only about 0.1 miles from where the median begins. Considering the economic demographic that makes up the building, it is not difficult to guess where the calls came from.
Caruso and the Community
Caruso claims that he has provided the city with the “most loved community centers,” aka his 10 luxury malls, including the Grove and the Americana at Brand. While shopping can be considered “recreational,” it is limited to those with disposable income. If “economic hardship is the number one cause cited for the newly homeless,” and the majority of the population is spending 46.7% on their rent, a space dedicated to shopping simply does not serve the majority of the LA community.
Caruso.com, his online corporate headquarters, describes his properties as a “timeless collection of beloved destinations that reflect the unique fabric of the communities in which they live.” In reality, there have been at least two cases of discrimination against the Armenian community that surrounds the Americana at Brand.
The Americana is located in Glendale, home to a long-standing Armenian community that existed decades before the mall. In 2015, a vendor was told to stop selling shirts that read “We are still here 2015” because they allegedly referenced the Armenian genocide. The vendor was told that “guests at the Americana had complained about the clothing,” and Caruso Affiliated stated that their “greatest priority is and always will be making our properties family-friendly and welcoming venues for all guests.” A protest of about 50 people was held, and the decision was reversed.
In 2017, another controversy emerged when the Americana at Brand rejected an advertisement for the documentary Architects of Denial, which discussed genocides through the lens of survivors, with a focus on the Armenian genocide.
According to the Glendale chapter of the Armenian National Committee of America, the billboard was rejected for being “too political.” The Americana coincidentally reversed the decision right before the committee was set to announce a boycott of all Caruso-owned properties, including the Americana. By actively excluding and silencing a community rooted in Glendale long before the Americana ever existed, Caruso is directly contradicting his claims that his community spaces reflect the fabric of their surrounding community.
Ironically, this April, on the 107th anniversary of the Armenian genocide, Caruso tweeted, “I stand with the Armenian community … We must continue to keep the flame of vigilance lit and remember that the same forces of hate and oppression that initiated this brutal crime against humanity are still alive.” Both of these discriminatory incidents demonstrate how Caruso, in reality, could be considered a proponent of “oppression.” This tweet is merely a PR stunt that perpetuates his false narratives and contradictory policies.
Caruso the ‘Democrat’
One version of Caruso’s mailers, strategically colored blue, reads, “We all want a safer LA. Defunding the police won’t do it, I HAVE A PLAN THAT WILL.” The mailer makes clear that this is the plan of “DEMOCRAT Rick Caruso.”
Caruso’s political history is riddled with strong support for fundamentally anti-Democratic policies. As previously reported by Knock LA, Caruso has donated a total of $1 million dollars to right-wing politicians and organizations. Considering the draft reversal of Roe vs. Wade, it is extremely important to note the exorbitant amount of money he has donated to anti-abortion campaigns and causes.
Caruso made a $6 million donation to the USC Caruso Catholic Center, which is run by an anti-abortion group of bishops. He made his largest campaign contribution of $110,550 to former Ohio Senator John Kasich, who signed a ban on abortions that take place after 20 weeks.
Despite the facts, when the Roe draft leaked, Caruso tweeted, “My position has always been clear. Like most, I support a womens [sic] right to choose and if made final, this will hurt many of our fellow Americans.” Caruso’s position is actually absolutely unclear and self-contradictory, as he has backpedaled on his history of anti-abortion support for the sake of political convenicence.
Caruso and USC
Caruso’s relationship with USC starts on a personal level, as he is a proud alumni and former chairman of the school’s board of trustees. In fact, the USC mayoral debate was the first of only two debates Caruso has attended thus far. Caruso claims to have “cleaned up the mess” at USC by bringing “accountability, responsible leadership, consistent oversight, and effective and transparent reporting practices to our campuses.” In reality, Caruso is responsible for creating “the mess” at USC.
He neglects to mention his personal involvement in the 2019 admissions scandal, has silenced the voices of victims of sexual assault, and continued to contradict his newly Democratic politics with his monetary contribution to the USC Caruso Catholic Center. As previously reported by Knock LA, the Catholic Center aligns itself with the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops’ Safe Environment for Children (USCCB). The group has very clear anti-abortion principles and platforms other anti-abortion resources, including an analysis on the legacy of Roe v. Wade 30 years on, which concludes that the ruling “must be reversed.”
The 2019 college admission scandal occurred during Caruso’s reign on the board of trustees at USC. “Operation Varsity Blues” investigated parents of college applicants that bribed William Rick Singer to boost their children’s exam scores and bribe college officials to admit students. USC accounted for most of these cases, several of which involved celebrities and brought major media attention to the scandal.
Lori Loughlin and Mossimo Giannulli’s daughter Olivia Jade’s case caused even more uproar, since she was vacationing on Caruso’s $100 million dollar yacht during the indictment. In a statement to the Hollywood Reporter, Caruso commented, “My daughter and a group of students left for spring break prior to the government’s announcement yesterday. Once we became aware of the investigation, the young woman decided it would be in her best interest to return home.”
In April, the Trojan Democrats published an open letter in Knock LA. The letter explains how, under Caruso, USC’s administration both mishandled “allegations of sexual assault, abuse, and drugging by members of multiple fraternities at the University,” and ignored demands to hold both the school’s leaders and the assailants accountable.
Caruso and Los Angeles
Caruso’s campaign is clearly riddled with half-truths at best and egregious lies at worst, serving as attempts to cover up his endless hypocritical campaign promises. From covert PR cover-ups to obvious contradictions, his inconsistencies run the gamut. It’s not only important to debunk his campaign lies for the sake of transparency, but also to prove how his generalized claims are unfortunately a dangerous means of propaganda.
Caruso is a household name in Los Angeles, beloved by many wealthier constituents who celebrate the holidays by shopping at the Grove and paying homage to its absurdly enormous Christmas tree. If elected, Caruso will remain tucked away in his $29.2 million home in the infamously segregated enclave of Brentwood.
He has already proven to be disconnected from the experience of the majority of Angelenos. Rick Caruso is not the answer to ending corruption at City Hall, solving the housing and homelessness crisis, or bringing the community together. If elected, his ineffective, harmful, and self-serving “solutions” to LA’s “state of emergency” will ultimately perpetuate the political dystopian state Los Angeles has become.