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A flat-out feud Nov. 8 between LA District 11 City Council candidates Erin Darling and Traci Park

By Marianne Love

Candidates Erin Darling and Traci Park, vying to replace current Councilmember Mike Bonin in the election on Nov. 8, have been slugging it out on the campaign trail — each accusing the other of missteps in their legal careers and glaring differences between their approaches to homelessness and public safety.

Bonin represents the district which includes parts of Venice, Mar Vista, Westchester, Playa del Rey, Brentwood and the Pacific Palisades and is considered the wealthiest of the 15 Los Angeles council districts.

Homelessness and public safety are key issues in this district similar to many districts throughout the city.

The feud is between Venice residents Darling, who received 23,000 votes in the June 2022 statewide direct primary race and out of eight candidates, followed by fellow Venetian Traci Park with 19,000 votes.

If money talks, it could be a win for Park who had raised $821,000 as of Sept. 24 compared to Darling’s $248,000, according to the Los Angeles City Ethics Commission. But then there’s the power of being endorsed by the outgoing councilmember, which Bonin has given to Darling.

Bonin, a progressive incumbent, said earlier this year he was stepping down for health reasons. His toddler son was one of the targets in the racism-laced recording of former City Council President Nury Martinez and council members Kevin de León and Gil Cedillo, and a powerful labor leader who has stepped down amidst the scandal.

“There’s a clear difference in the city council races … especially out of a lot of public disgust of what happened with Nury Martinez, Gil Cedillo and Kevin de Leon,” Darling said in a telephone interview Saturday after door-knocking for votes. “I think leaders have to change and the city is demanding leadership that reflects their values and not bigotry.”

Bonin is one of the more progressive council members who supported the concept of prioritizing housing for the unhoused without requiring them to accept services for mental health support or drug treatment.

Bonin also opposed L.A.’s anti-camping ordinance, known as 41.18.

“The encampments across the Westside and the city, of unregulated encampments, are not working for anyone,” Park said of Bonin’s approach. “The 41.18 ordinance enumerates certain sensitive-use areas where camping can be banned and that includes day cares, parks, and libraries. I would seek to enforce 41.18 in all permissible areas.”

 

Los Angeles City Councilmember Mike Bonin speaks as Bob Blumenfield listens, during Tuesday’s council on October 11, 2022 at Los Angeles City Hall, Council Chambers. (Photo by Dean Musgrove, Los Angeles Daily News/SCNG)

Darling could easily step into Bonin’s shoes in terms of his support for the homeless, and is often referred to as a “champion” for the unhoused.

“I think I’m a champion of getting people off the streets and getting them housed, and a champion of renters to keep people in their homes because people are entering homelessness at a faster rate,” Darling said. “I don’t want to be mistaken as a champion of keeping people on the streets.”

But in Park’s opinion, Bonin has been clear that he will not enforce the discretionary part of the city’s anti-camping ordinance and that Darling will follow in his footsteps.

“In contrast,” Park said, “I would also expand (the ordinance) to include no-camping prohibitions in our high-fire risk areas, like our dry canyons and hillsides, as well as environmentally sensitive habitat areas.”

She argued, “There is nothing compassionate or progressive or humane about leaving people who are sick and suffering in piles of garage on the side of the road, and that is what we have done for the last decade. I want to be very clear that nothing I’m proposing is about criminalizing homelessness. It’s about restoring a balance and putting some guardrails in place to protect our overall community.”

Both candidates believe they have solutions to alleviate the unhoused issue citywide and especially in Venice where there are believed to be more encampments than any other neighborhood in Los Angeles.

The two candidates’ ideas include expanding the city’s transitional housing, building tiny and modular homes and converting hotels — all with mental health services aimed at seniors, families with children, women who suffer domestic abuse and those with  disabilities.

Darling said the city needs to rapidly re-house people who have fallen into homelessness and focus on combining county mental health services that include mental health specialists, trained clinicians, psychologists and social workers to maintain a mental health social safety net.

“We don’t want to see someone without clothes on, talking to themselves,” he said. “That’s not good for anyone in the community. I think that has to be a priority.”

Park wants to combine city services with county mental health, and offer people alternative places to go if unhoused.

“I would start with safe sleeping and safe camping and parking sites with services on site, and then I would move to a combination of adaptive use of existing infrastructure, shared housing … and emergency transitional housing,” Park said. “I will get very granular about who is in the demographics we are trying to help and make sure we bring the right kinds of housing and programming online to meet those specific needs.”

In September the Los Angeles Homeless Services Authority (LAHSA) released the results of the 2022 Homeless Count, which suggests homelessness may be rising more slowly than in previous years.

The results of the point-in-time count, conducted over three nights in February, estimated 69,144 people were experiencing homelessness in L.A. County, a 4.1% rise from 2020, and 41,980 were experiencing homelessness in the city — up 1.7% from 2020. A homeless count was not conducted in 2021 due to COVID.

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Both candidates believe there are not enough police officers patrolling the streets and rolling out on emergencies and crimes like assault, battery and burglaries. Both would like to see civilians take over desk jobs to free officers to work the streets, hire more officers and train individuals to answer mental health 911 calls where appropriate.

“(There) is a slow response time, a lack of police officers’ presence in our community, and an increase of the community overall being unsafe on the Westside,” Park said. “Overwhelmingly, people on the Westside support the police and want a stronger police presence in the community. I am very proud to stand with our public safety partners.”

Darling believes the city is diverting police resources to handle issues for which officers haven’t been properly trained, and the city hasn’t caught up with mental health crisis worsened by the pandemic.

“We are not going to arrest our way out of a mental health crisis, but we can at least begin to provide services to deal with people in crisis,” he said. He noted that Bonin’s is the wealthiest council district in Los Angeles, saying, “We have the resources, are the most educated. We can be a role model for solving problems. It goes down to solutions and not scapegoating. I get that people are frustrated.”

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