The race is on to succeed Joe Buscaino as the San Pedro-to-Watts representative on the Los Angeles City Council, with the Nov. 8 runoff pitting an experienced establishment candidate against one entrenched in neighborhood politics and foundations.
The winner will become the first new District 15 councilmember in a decade.
Tim McOsker, of San Pedro, came out on top during June’s statewide primary, winning about 38% of the vote, with Harbor City’s Danielle Sandoval finishing in second, about eight percentage points behind.
With vote-by-mail ballots already on the way, both candidates say they have a wide-range of support across the oddly shaped district, which encompasses San Pedro, Wilmington and Harbor City, then snakes its way up the 110 Freeway along a thin swath of the Harbor Gateway area before winding up in Watts.
District 15 is composed of eclectic communities with strong identities, none more so than the historic port town of San Pedro. But the district also faces several issues, including homelessness and housing, public safety, and pollution caused by the Port of Los Angeles.
It is also a district that has typically reelected incumbents – John S. Gibson Jr. served 30 years (before term limits) and current LA County Supervisor Janice Hahn served for 10 years, immediately preceding Buscaino – potentially giving either McOsker or Sandoval the opportunity to shape the future of the district and Los Angeles as a whole for the next decade.
McOsker, 60, is an attorney with deep family roots in San Pedro and with significant experience working with government — in cities both big and small. He was chief of staff for Mayor James Hahn in the late 1990s, as well as deputy city attorney, and a contract city attorney for many smaller cities. In December, he relinquished his position as CEO for AltaSea, at the LA port, so he could make his first bid for elected office.
Buscaino has endorsed him.
Sandoval, 46, has served on neighborhood councils and worked with the Los Angeles Homeless Services Authority, Meals on Wheels, the City Lights Gateway Foundation and the environmental advocacy organization Tree People.
If elected, Sandoval would be the area’s first Latina representative in an area that is predominantly Latino. Latino residents, in fact, made up 64% of District 15’s population, as of 2018, according to a profile of LA Council Districts by the county Department of Public Health from that year.
Sandoval has received endorsements from the other two contenders in the June primary, Anthony Santich and Bryant Odega, and United Teachers Los Angeles.
McOsker has eschewed arguments that he is the insider candidate, instead pointing to his decades of community involvement, which, he said, gives him a “broad tent” of support. Sandoval, meanwhile, has drawn on her grassroots experience with neighborhood councils as evidence she’s well-connected to what voters most want.
Both candidates list housing and solving homelessness as the district’s top issues, and both have talked about the need for wrap-around services to better address affordability and lack of shelter.
But McOsker, like Buscaino, has cited public safety as another critical concern, while Sandoval has said she’s more worried about the environmental impacts from the port, including trucking, on communities such as Wilmington.
Like many politicians, McOsker has accused the LA City Council and mayor of lacking sufficient urgency in dealing with homelessness.
“There’s a reason, McOsker said in a recent interview, why everyone says homelessness is the existential crisis of our time.”
Solving the homeless crisis, McOsker said, requires the city to provide “continuum of care” services – addressing physical and mental health needs, and offering wrap-around services. It’s important, he added, that the government ensures not only that it is housing people but also keeping them housed.
Which, in turn, requires the city to ensure housing is affordable, McOsker said.
McOsker also said it’s important to address public safety issues in the Harbor Area. Certain types of crimes, he said, have increased, leading to a need to rebuild police forces – to ensure safety in neighborhood parks – and institute afterschool programs.
Sandoval, for her part, has also cited affordable housing as a priority for District 15.
Besides advocating for expanding mental health and crisis support, workforce development programs, paying a living wage and programs to help renters with security deposits are key factors in keeping people housed, Sandoval said.
Sandoval is a staunch supporter of blue collar workers and anyone struggling to get ahead, she said.
Sandoval, in a recent interview, pointed to a program she started offering low-cost legal advice to people of color. She began that effort, she said, while working as a legal assistant in Costa Mesa.
The service, she said, helped people with issues such as child support payments and fender benders.
Despite that work, Sandoval has also faced recent allegations that she owes up to four restaurant workers compensation from 2014.
The restaurant, Caliente Cantina, closed less than a year after it opened on Seventh Street, in San Pedro, Sandoval said.
Sandoval has denied the allegations, which the LA Times first reported, and said she does not recognize the names of the workers who made them.
Sandoval also said she was one of many people who managed the restaurant and, in a high-turnover industry, she relied on staff to manage a lot of the day-to-day activities.
She first learned of the allegations, Sandoval said, when contacted by a reporter.
“I am an open book,” Sandoval said in an interview. “It’s sad that we have to stoop so low and take the spotlight off the community.”
Sandoval also said her relatively narrow experience on neighborhood councils won’t hinder her ability to navigate City Hall.
Besides serving on these councils — which are often larger than the 15 member LA City Council — she’s chaired several committees and has been in leadership on another as a vice chair, she said.
“There’s been some negativity about my background,” Sandoval said. “But I think the neighborhood council system is an amazing way to learn about (City Hall).”
Sandoval said she’s been out talking to people in her district one-on-one for more than a decade and such experience “goes above and beyond what a typical councilperson does on a daily basis.”
People in District 15 want change and not career politicians, Sandoval said, adding, “we need to take the money out of politics.”
McOsker has significantly outraised Sandoval this year.
McOsker had about $944,424 in contributions this year, as of Sept. 24, according to the most-recent campaign finance information. Sandoval had about $115,861.
McOsker also had $371,211 in cash on hand, as of Sept. 24, compared to Sandoval’s $12,775.
McOsker, for his part, said he does not represent the establishment.
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“I would not call myself an insider,” McOsker said. “I would call myself the community person with deep knowledge and the ability to work across all groups.”
Even though he has significant experience in City Hall, McOsker said, he’s spent the better part of 20 years working in the community in various capacities, on boards at local hospitals, chambers of commerce and on business improvement districts.
He’s been walking District 15 multiple times a week, McOsker said, ensuring he’s getting out to every part of the district: the Harbor Gateway area, Wilmington and “smaller communities of interest” to hear from more than just San Pedro residents about what’s needed.
His broad tent of support, McOsker said, comes from a range of areas, from environmental groups to labor groups.
Sandoval, meanwhile, said she’s proud of the small donations her campaign has brought in.
“The pulse of the community will prevail,” Sandoval said. “The voters are not for sale. My community is not for sale.”