The delightfully wonkish Doug Sierra from Sun Valley, fresh off an endorsement from the Daily News, joined me for the second in a series of interviews with the candidates vying for the CD 6 Special Election.
Are you in favor of converting the Orange Line to light rail?
It never should have been built as a bus line to begin with. We have a right-of-way on the old Pacific trolley line all the way to the Burbank Metrolink station. The problem with the Valley is everything is islands. Not enough connectivity. If we had these nodes people would use public transportation exponentially more.
I don’t understand why they didn’t extend the Red Line all the way to Panorama or North Hills.
I agree. I grew up in Sun Valley and looking at the map you wonder why does it stop there? If you keep going up Lankershim you reach the NoHo West mixed use development…
After that it’s all service worker neighborhoods. Public transit people.
Right, and Metro doesn’t even talk about it, and I’m like ‘hey the Red Line is not finished.” If elected that’s something I would like to address. Unfortunately those decisions are made at the county level.
What explanations, if any, have been given?
Tunneling being cost-prohibitive. But those were the same issues effecting the Wilshire line, and we’re building that. But again, it’s the same story. The Westside gets priority for these heavy infrastructure projects.
In terms of transportation and the sales tax would you reallocate money from the Metro system towards greater roadway capacity?
From my research its more cost effective to build trains than expanding freeways one lane.
The Sepulveda pass is a great example of where we spent billions for very little. I was commuting to UCLA at that time and the marginal utility for an extra lane is not that great.
The one thing I want to emphasize is, and I strongly believe this though I can’t prove it, when it comes to these half cent taxes, the Valley is not getting its fair share. We’re basically subsidizing L.A.’s transportation infrastructure.
Shifting to homelessness, does someone have the right to get off the bus, pitch a tent on the sidewalk, declare residency and begin collecting county benefits?
According to our legal system, yes. That’s one of things I try to explain to people as to why the problem is so bad, it’s because we’re importing this problem from the states. Places like Michigan can just ship em here. They actually brag about it: “we don’t have a homeless problem,” then give them a bus ticket and send them to us. The warm weather and services we provide encourages it. This is a national problem and we are the recipient of a burden. We need federal dollars. There’s been talk of sending them to the Antelope Valley. Obviously they don’t want them. So the question is: does the buck stop with us? If we are taking the brunt of the homeless we need federal and state dollars. We don’t have the capacity at the city council level to contend with it. Then there’s the Homeless Industrial Complex…
Thank you for using that expression. It needs to be applied more often.
I’ll give an example, and I’m for building as a solution, but there’s an apartment building they did in Sylmar, $700K per room. I could have bought an entire house for that price and housed five people. This is where my business acumen comes in. I can read a financial statement. I can audit. My opponents can’t. They haven’t worked in the corporate world, except for Isaac. This is where I can bring that voice to City Hall. For the last three or four years people have been living under the assumption the printing presses are going to keep running forever and that worries me. No one is thinking about deficits.
In terms of enforcement, we have a lot of carrots for people living on the street but no sticks. As an example, we built Tiny Home Villages that are not being utilized. Would you compel people to accept shelter and how would you do it?
Right. So I’m more on the caring side. If you want to completely eliminate the problem there has to be a stick side, I’m not sure what it would be but
I would use the example of what Traci Park is doing in district 11. I don’t want to enforce 41.18 unless we are offering housing. In that case all you are doing is playing whack a mole with human life.
My understanding of what they are doing in Venice is mostly carrot based, as you put it. They were able to clear encampments that had been occupied for years. That is a model I want to look at closely to see if it would work for CD6. It has worked in the hundreds. Obviously we are dealing citywide with tens of thousands, but it gives me hope.
Do you support a ban on sleeping or drug consumption on the Metro system?
So this goes hand in hand with another program. Passenger fares only account for only 5% of Metro revenues. So it almost makes sense to have free fares for everyone. But if you can’t make Metro attractive and safe for working class people then that’s probably a bigger deterrent than fares. Right now, a lot of our police are doing fare enforcement. If we had social workers on the trains flagging behaviors -a line has to be crossed- if someone is exposing their genitals or defecating, at some point when you do nothing the riders get frustrated and say ‘screw this, I tried it for a month.’ At that point is not about the money.
Picture a hypothetical street person, no shoes or shirt, standing in the street screaming at cars, doesn’t have a weapon but has a crowbar, not accosting anyone physically, but clearly deranged, do you send a psychological outreach team or the police?
In that hypothetical with the crowbar its one wrong turn from injuring somebody. If you send CIRCLE teams and they get injured you just sent a message to the social workers and first responders you are not safe and that doesn’t make sense for anyone. I know people have suggested eliminating the police but that doesn’t work in the real world. Back to your hypothetical if there’s no crowbar you can send a psych team in an integrated system where the police are a block away and can be summoned at the press of a button if needed.
Moving on to economic development…
This is where I can make the most impact. Unfortunately the city gets in the way of businesses. I’ll give you an example:
the al fresco dining program saved a lot of restaurants during the pandemic. There is almost no downside to al fresco and businesses spent $10-20K in infrastructure to be in compliance. Now the City is telling businesses they have to pay $10-50K in fees and they may or may not get permanent approval. If you are a business owner who nets maybe $3K a month after expenses thats super cost prohibitive.
So someone may have taken a loan for the al fresco program and now you are telling them it sucks to be you. This is where I feel people in city hall have never worked outside of government and it shows. There’s a taco restaurant in Panorama where someone has placed a taco cart in front of his establishment and when the owner asked him to move he was told he couldn’t because rival vendors have claimed the other spots, and he will be harassed and there is this mafia thing going on. So now the business owner wants a wine permit because he can’t compete in the taco market anymore. He’s drafted plans, he ready to invest $20K and the city is very draconian about that. He has to pay $10K just for them to look at it and there’s no guarantee of a yes or no. You want to invest in a business but you can’t because you are not sure how the city reacts. Do I have to curry favors with politician? Thats one thing I want to address immediately. Creating transparent processes. No one jumps the line. We want to encourage innovation and investment.
Looking at the shape of the race, you have six fairly liberal people, Antoinette being the DSA lane, the three establishment candidates being in the middle. Where do you place yourself in this arrangement?
I think a linear left-to-right axis doesn’t cover enough. I consider myself a progressive capitalist. But too much progressiveness gets in the way of common sense.
Bigger than the difference between how progressive or un-progressive we are, is the difference between Imelda, Marco and Marisa, the three establishment candidates, and the non-establishment ones. Those are the lanes. Establishment and non-establishment.
Isaac, Antoinette, and I are not politicians. I see that as a much bigger difference.
So you would be opposed to de-funding the police?
Oh, yeah. I’ve said this publicly. Totally opposed to defunding. In Sun Valley, where I grew up, historically a bad neighborhood, when you hear the police sirens you know the cavalry is coming. They are welcome. I’m not in favor of lowering staffing.
You’re very much the immigrant success story, parents coming from El Salvador, and you making it to UCLA and Berkeley in one generation…
Yeah, so my parents lost their house in the mid-90s and then they split up and both remarried, 11 children in all. Fortunately my mother was able to buy a new house in 2000 despite working a low wage job, which is where I live now, with my wife and three kids. That’s one of the frustrations of Millennials and Gen Z. Home ownership is way out of reach. My mom was able to buy working two dollars over minimum wage. No one can do that now. She built an ADU and she lives there and my wife and I and our kids live in the house. My b-school classmates all live in Playa Vista. I’m at Deloitte, and I can work virtual out of anywhere. If elected I would be the first Councilmember of Salvadorean lineage.
Imelda worked for Nury and Marisa has been endorsed by Nury’s old rival Cindy Montanez. Are they representing two different factions in the political machine?
Imelda is definitely inheriting Nury’s place. Marisa place is more of a bilateral one. She works for Curren Price, so she’s part of the Los Angeles political machine, mixed with the remnants of the old Richard Alarcon Valley machine. I’m part of no machine, so I’m not sure who’s who, but I know there are rival factions.
Should voters look at Imelda as Nury’s mini-me, or is that unfair?
That’s up to the voters to decide. If the tape never leaked and Nury were to serve her term, I would bet my house that Nury would be supporting her in the next election.
Thats a very diplomatic answer. In a couple weeks we are all going to be buried alive in mailers. What is your plan for counteracting that as a non-establishment candidate?
Yeah, it’s going to be tough. It’s going to take canvassing. Here I’ll lump myself in with Isaac and Antoinette. The challenge we have with resources, and I’ve been quoted in the Times on this,
L.A. has become a modern day Tammany Hall. What I’m asking voters is: ‘here are your three establishment candidates, now take a look at the three people not connected to any machine’.
People are tired of business as usual. If you keep voting for the same type of politician, don’t be surprised you get a different result. Look past the mailers. Look for someone who isn’t part of the Homeless Industrial Complex, look for someone who hasn’t been affiliated with someone who has been (indicted vs. investigate) by the FBI [as part of the Huizar scandal]. When you have a multi-headed monster and you hack off one head and the others are still there, the best way to get rid of it is to pull it root and stem. I offer that opportunity. It’s a one and half year term. Give me a chance. If it doesn’t work out, you can get rid of me.