Ten of the 15 candidates trying to win the right to fill the unexpired term of former L.A.

Councilwoman Janice Hahn turned out for a candidate forum in Watts Saturday, and the common themes they stressed were that the 15th District needs to receive its fair share of funding and resources to address concerns such as public safety, housing, and unemployment.

The election is Nov. 8, and with so many people running, the chances of one person winning 50 percent plus one vote are pretty slim. Consequently, residents can expect a runoff election on Jan. 17, 2012.

The winner will hold office until June 2013.

The field includes 11 people appearing on the official ballot, including former 15th District Councilman Rudy Svorinich and current Assemblyman Warren Furutani, as well as four official write-in candidates, including former councilman for the 8th District Robert Farrell.

The 15th District is a plum area that stretches south from Watts and includes the lucrative Port of Los Angeles.

Branded as America’s Port®, this powerful economic engine consists of 7,500 acres of land along 43 miles of waterfront. In fiscal year 2010, 157.8 million metric revenue tons valued at $236.6 billion passed through the port, and $88.2 million in net income was generated. The port also generated $5.1 billion in tax revenue for the state.

The port authority itself employs nearly 1,000 people directly, and there are more than 10,000 longshore jobs directly connected with the various shipping businesses. All total, the port estimates that 1.1 million related jobs statewide are supported by activities within its boundaries.

The employment numbers will jump substantially because during the next five years, the port plans to invest $1.5 billion in capital improvements. This is projected to create as many as 20,000 predominantly temporary construction jobs.

Jobs are definitely one of the top five needs Watts activists have identified for the community.
According to Maudine Clark, president of the Watts Neighborhood Council, jobs are the third key need behind safety and housing.

“If you give them [young people] a job, it automatically cuts down on crime. If you give them even $5 an hour for four or five hours a day, it makes them feel good that they can do something for their kids,” says Clark.

Stuart Parham, known at “Pastor Stuart” in Watts, pegs a gainful living wage as the No. 1 need in the community. “. . . When you have a Black woman working and a Black man working, the rest of the nation follows suit.”

Arturo Ybarra, head of the Watts/Century Latino Organization (WCLO), echoes the call for jobs, and considers it the second priority behind safety.

At the forum, write-in candidate James T. Law took the issue even further, adding that not only do the young people in the community need jobs but they need careers as well.

Unemployment in Watts has been a historic problem.

In addition to jobs, safety and housing were identified as key problems.

Clark of the neighborhood council points out there are too many boarded-up homes in the community caused in part by the high rates of foreclosure.

Ybarra of WCLO says investors are coming in and buying some of the homes and renting them out to Section 8 tenants, which expands the percentage of subsidized housing.

Among the proposed solutions on the table to improve the housing situation in Watts is the renovation of the Jordan Downs and Imperial Courts housing projects to transform them into owner-occupied units.

But one key concern community members expressed at the forum was ensuring that promises made that no one will be displaced are kept.

Candidate Gordon Teuber, who is currently director of economic development for the 15th District, believes the projects should be rebuilt as a public-private partnership and taken out of the hands of the city’s housing authority.

Teuber also noted that the housing authority has purchased 22 acres adjacent to Jordan Downs, which he says should enable the agency to build new housing and move residents seamlessly from location to the other.

Candidate M. Candice Graham, a businesswoman and property owner in Watts, cautions that someone must be watching to ensure that promises are kept. She also noted that she is currently working with 140 families that were promised resettlement by CRA, but are still waiting for permanent housing.

Candidate Justin Brimmer, a legislative deputy who grew up in Watts/Willowbrook and now lives in San Pedro, said the issue goes even deeper than promises. He stressed the need to look at the checklist of qualifications for moving back into the units to ensure that people won’t be excluded by virtue of the fact that “they don’t qualify.”

Pat Mocker, a firefighter who says he has worked in every fire station in the district, says the key to ensuring that residents are not displaced is to demand that there is a plan that details how residents will be accommodated, and then a proactive councilperson who will fight to make sure that the plan is implemented.

John Delgado Jr., a businessman, who says he is running to give back to the community, advocates working with nonprofit organizations such as Preservation Partners to ensure that the long-term housing, supportive social services and resources are available.

Joe Buscaino, a Los Angeles city police officer, whose platform keys in on public safety as one key element of changing the district, says making sure that the entire process is transparent and holding officials accountable will be one way to ensure that people are not displaced.

Activist Pastor Stuart says he wants to propose a “sweat equity” program to the next councilperson that will allow individuals to work on their own homes, and therefore not have to worry about the ability to “qualify” to return.

In addition to these individual issues that the next councilperson must face, there is an overarching district challenge. As write-in candidate Farrell pointed out, the 15th District is really a combination four or five different communities with distinctive needs that must be balanced.

There is the Harbor Gateway, a roughly 2-mile-wide community of just a little more than 42,000 people situated between Vermont and Figueroa and Normandie and Western avenues. It was specifically annexed to connect the city of L.A. with the Port of Los Angeles.

Ethnically, Hispanics make up slightly more than half of residents, Whites were 31.99 percent and Blacks were 16.33, as of the 2000 census. According to the website LocateLA.org, which helps companies figure out where they might want to locate a business, unemployment is 12.59 percent. About 42.57 percent of residents have at least a high school diploma, and nearly 11 percent have a bachelor’s degree or higher.

Wilmington is coupled with Harbor City and is home to a little in excess of 76,000 people. The unemployment rate is 12.52 percent, according to LocateLA.org, nearly 37 percent of residents have at least a high school diploma. About 9.25 percent have a bachelor’s degree.

Watts, which is not included on the LocateLA.org website, is home to a little more than 48,000 people, primarily Blacks and Hispanics, with an unemployment rate of 13.40 percent.

In contrast to other communities, San Pedro is home to a little more than 76,000 people and has an unemployment rate of 9.78 percent. The area is predominantly White, more affluent and more than half of residents have high school diplomas; about 18 percent have college degrees.
To successfully satisfy the residents of such a diverse district will require that the councilperson listen to constituents and let them identify priorities, says candidates Jayme Wilson and Law.

The best way to do that is to work through the neighborhood councils, stresses Farrell.