City Council (D4): David Ryu
David Ryu is director of development and public affairs at one of L.A.’s largest nonprofit health-care providers: Kedren Acute Psychiatric Hospital and Community Health Center. Part of his work is building coalitions to address public issues from healthcare access to chronic homelessness.
Top three goals
List the top three things you would seek to accomplish as a city council representative.
1. Ensure neighborhood concerns about city services and quality of life are heard and respected at City Hall.
2. Improve City-resident communications with ombudsman service, early community input on development issues.
3. Strengthen our economy by raising the minimum wage and phasing out the gross receipts tax.
Is City Hall doing a good job handling development projects? If so, why? If not, how would change it?
No. And I doubt you would find anyone that says it is.
The biggest problem is that the community is not heard early in the process, so it is no surprise that not only are there problems with how some of these projects are designed, due to a lack of community participation, but they are also held up in court after the fact because of the failure to get input. So the No. 1 fix has to be increased neighborhood participation at the outset, so these projects aren’t so far down the road that the only way to settle them is through a lawsuit.
Right now, developers feel they don’t need to gather the required input from the community or do so only in a cursory way, and that is what leads to lawsuits. We have to be responsive and transparent on these projects from the very beginning, or else you get what we have now, which can in no way be called an efficient or fair system.
Residents have little faith in the city’s process for reviewing and approving major development projects. The best way to restore public confidence is to avoid even the appearance of conflict of interest. People want to know that projects will be judged solely on their merits and their impact on the community – not by which developer has the deepest pockets. I want every resident, and every neighborhood, to trust that the review process at City Hall will treat all parties equally and fairly – but that kind of trust must be earned through deeds rather than words. That is why I’ve decided to put transparency first by voluntarily refusing all contributions from developers with current or upcoming projects in the City— both during my current campaign and throughout my service on the City Council.
City Hall power
Do you believe any particular interest – labor, business, or something else — has too much power at City Hall? If so, how would you counteract that power?
Yes, labor and big business voices are overrepresented in City Hall. But I am not their stooge. The most underrepresented community at City Hall is residents. Homeowners, small businesses, taxpayers, ratepayers, parents all don’t have their own lobbyist roaming the halls doing their bidding, so they need a [council member who] will articulate their point of view early in the process, not after the key decisions have been made. I have close to 1,100 donors, and approximately half of my donations are under $100, often from people participating in the political system for the first time. So I am not reliant on special interests for my support, financial or otherwise.
I am running to represent neighborhoods first. I am running the same way that I would govern – by listening to residents. I have been knocking on doors for months now, seven days a week. I use social media to stay in touch with residents and have given out my cell phone to people all over the District. That’s why labor and big business special interests are not bankrolling me, because they know I’m not beholden to them. Those are the tools that I would use to make sure that those with the loudest voices in City Hall don’t drown out the people that we were elected to represent.
Council District 4 includes an unusual array of neighborhoods, from Sherman Oaks to Los Feliz to Hancock Park. Do you believe any parts of the district have been underserved, and if so, how would you rectify that?
The District itself was drawn in a very odd way. It splits up some neighborhoods that have defined interests and issues, and includes some neighborhoods that have little in common with the rest of the District. It splits many of the business districts from the adjacent residential areas.
So the underserved parts of the District are not geographically-defined neighborhoods, but the people throughout the district that have no voice in City Hall. That is how we get developer agreements with zero follow through in the concessions that were agreed upon. This is how we get out-of-compliance homes built in historic parts of the City. Small businesses are left with no one to turn to, in part because they were drawn into/out of the District for political reason, but also because they haven’t hired a “fixer” in City Hall. That is who is currently underserved – the residents and businesses that haven’t bought themselves an advocate.
The way to remedy that is simple easy to say, but will take much hard work to accomplish: our representative on the City Council must make a real effort to engage the community early in the decision-making process. Indeed, I think that community and neighborhood concerns should be the starting place for any City Council member. Today, I think the debate gets framed by lobbyists for special interests.
What do you see as the three biggest issues facing CD4, and what concrete proposals would you make to address those issues?
1. Development. How is the City going to grow, and what are the various candidates’ visions for the City. I approach each project fresh, and I support neighborhood-appropriate development. I also believe in transparency and community engagement as we move through the development process. Because if we short-change those things, we usually end up in court, where nobody needs or wants to be. A related issue is mansionization, which is a huge problem in many of my neighborhoods, and the BMO needs to be fixed faster than 18 months from now.
2. Business Tax. A gross receipts tax is not fair, and it doesn’t do us any benefit in competition with neighboring cities. It has to be replaced with a net income tax – just like personal income. The process of phasing out the gross receipts tax, then replacing it with a net income tax correctly and responsibly is going to be a huge undertaking going forward, because the net business income tax then has to be calibrated to meet our needs.
3. Minimum Wage. I believe we will succeed in raising the minimum wage in the city, which I strongly support. The question is how to ensure it is done responsibly and equitably both for the working poor, but also their employers — and I believe the Mayor’s proposal is a reasonable place to start. Longer term, I hope we can move towards a true living wage.
What three steps would you take to help balance the city budget?
1. Squeezing every line item of every budget. I know that waste/fraud/abuse is a cliché, but I have worked on public budgets, and I know that often times they can be bloated, inefficient and ill-conceived. I know how agencies and departments can “hide” money. I’ve seen streets [that have] been repaved, then torn up for water mains immediately after. I’ve seen trees go untrimmed until there is an actual lawsuit on file. So I would use that experience to squeeze and streamline city budgets until I am satisfied that there is no more savings left.
2. As stated in previous answers, we have to replace the business gross receipts tax with a net business income tax. But then that has to be calibrated to meet our needs. And once the tax is fair and equitable, it may be that it brings in more money – with less pain inflicted, because it is at least fair.
3. Consider an infrastructure bond, but only after the DWP has regained the trust of the public. Right now, our crumbling infrastructure acts as a small tax – in the form of flat tires, lawsuits, flooded houses etc. If we don’t address these problems, then we really are just putting our finger in the dyke until one day it explodes. So if the DWP can actually show their ratepayers that they can properly spend ratepayer dollars, then I would consider a bond to pay for infrastructure updates and repairs. This is something that no other candidate has said.
Are there any major decisions in CD4 over the past three years that you would have opposed?
One is a localized issue that has gotten a lot of press recently. The issues with getting people access to the Hollywood Sign has boiled over into a full-fledged problem. I would have preferred a long-term solution that would have actually included a place for tourists to go. It is unfair to make Beachwood Canyon residents bear the crush of tourists that go there now that smart phones are directing to one spot. We need to support the tourism industry, but this is first and foremost a public safety issue.
The City needed (and needs) to establish a proper location with adequate parking and supervision for tourists to go. The short answer is that they won’t stop going to these residential neighborhoods until we give them a better option – and that was a huge mistake not to get started on that option earlier.
In such a crowded race, what makes you different?
There is a lot that makes me different. First and foremost, I’m not from City Hall or the Capitol in Sacramento. I’m starting fresh, without any baggage or debts. City Council isn’t just another ride on the carousel or a stepping stone to something else. This is an office that I have been preparing myself for, and one that I will be ready on Day 1 to take on. I may not be part of the Good Old Boys Club, but I know that if I’m elected, it is because of my ideas and my approach to governing, and not due to some backroom deals, or some sort of succession plan.
LA is the most diverse city in the world, but the City Council does not reflect that. We elected our first and only Asian American City Council member in over 200 years, more than a quarter century ago. I will help City Council look like L.A. residents, and that is a bonus for a representative government.
What steps would you take to address L.A.’s failing pipes and other aging infrastructure, and how would you fund those steps?
As said above, there is a lot of fat in the DWP budget, and that can be trimmed. There are also common sense solutions that would make the DWP more efficient, like the timing and computerized scheduling of services and work crews. The City Council can do much more in their oversight, but not if the same candidates indebted to the DWP are elected.
Right now, residents don’t trust the DWP or the City to manage their tax dollars properly, and we need to regain and rebuild that trust before any option to bring the City’s infrastructure into the 21st Century can be evaluated. No matter what the solution, I promise it will be done in a collaborative manner that seeks the input of all stakeholders to make sure the money is well-spent. If I am convinced that there is no more fat in the budgets, and if the DWP has regained some of the public trust, then I would consider an infrastructure bond.
Do you support increasing the citywide minimum wage, and if so, to what amount and by what year?
Yes. I support the Mayor’s plan and its timing. That plan was written in such way that it phases in the raises, and appears to be a compromise already to an expected fight on minimum wage. Further, I do support working towards a living wage.
One thing that I do not support is the Berkeley Institute supposedly acting as an independent reviewer of the plan that it helped write. Of course, we need a truly independent organization to provide unbiased analysis.
Do you think the city should reduce or eliminate its gross receipts tax on businesses? If so, how quickly should it do so, and how can the city replace the revenue it provides?
I support the Mayor’s reduction of the gross receipts business tax, but the only real solution is to eliminate it and replace it with a net business tax. Gross receipts are a poor way to tax businesses, as it doesn’t take into account businesses like general contractors, architects, etc. that generally take in payments that are
not actually income, and then immediately tender those funds. So why should a business get taxed on what is essentially a pass-through?
Just like personal income tax, which takes account of deductions, and payments made that reduce your adjusted income, the L.A. business tax has to be a net income tax that uses as its basis the actual amount of income that a company took in a given year.
On the question of replacing revenue, the net income tax has to be revenue neutral – calibrated to meet the city’s needs without adding to the total burden on business. I can envision increased revenues, not only from businesses returning to L.A., but also because what is so infuriating about the business tax now is that it is inequitable. Once it is fair, then businesses might pay more, might pay less, but at least it is fair.
Do you support returning control of LA/Ontario International Airport to the city of Ontario? Why or why not? Should the airport be sold or simply be transferred back? If you support a sale, what do you think is an appropriate price?
I would support returning control of the Ontario airport to Ontario, but not for free. Obviously there is a value to ONT, and to claim that it should simply be transferred back ignores economic reality. In this situation, the appropriate price is what the market will bear. Because there is really only one buyer in this situation, the market value is tough to estimate. But I would rely on the right independent appraisals (coming from inside and outside City government) to guide negotiations with Ontario.
Should the city operate the Greek Theatre as an open venue, at least temporarily? If not, what alternative should the city pursue?
Nederlander-AEG has promised to pay the City more for the contract, and at the same time has already established trust with the local Los Feliz neighbors over the years to the point where neighbors support Nederlander-AEG. If one bidder has a proven track record of working with the community, working with the City, AND will pay more to the City, then I am at a loss to explain why the City has decided to go down the path of of self-operation.
I think the city should extend their contract with Nederlander-AEG for an additional year, as I am concerned whether or not the City truly had enough time to evaluate if it has the capacity, knowledge, and experience to operate a major entertainment venue. The good news is that we can revisit this decision in a year and evaluate how the City has performed. When it comes to the Greek, my number one priority is community safety — not profit.