City Council (D4): Sheila Irani
My early business success in providing employer-sponsored child-care plans to large businesses and then award-winning, nationwide transportation strategies to local governments allowed me to devote myself to public and community service for the past decade.
Recently I served Councilman Tom LaBonge, first as field deputy in the Wilshire region and then as director of special projects, securing funding and pre-planning for up to 45 local projects.
Top three goals
List the top three things you would seek to accomplish as a city council representative.
1. Work with developers on the large scale, multi-use projects in the district to develop better trip reduction and congestion mitigation plans in their EIRs, offer enough parking for their tenants and incentives to use bus/rail.
2. Increase the contribution City employees pay for their benefits, cap salaries and COLA until our budget is balanced; adopt a Live within Our Means charter.
3. Create with CD13, Hollywood Chamber, and LA Tourist and Convention Bureau a for-profit visitor center on Hollywood Boulevard close to the Metro Red Line with skybox to photograph the Hollywood sign and attractions to keep tourists engaged in the commercial zone of Hollywood.
Is City Hall doing a good job handling development projects? If so, why? If not, how would change it?
City Hall is not handling developments well, because there are dramatic inconsistencies in how the laws for building and safety are applied to big developments. Too often they vary by Council District. There are far too many rules that are subject to interpretation and inconsistently applied even among inspectors on the same project. Plans are not adhered to and enforcement is lax. Too much power is held in the hands of the Council to bypass the existing laws utilizing Section 245, exemptions through variances and re-zoning. Neighborhood Councils express their opinions and are regularly dismissed by Council members because they are only advisory with regards to developments that have large, negative impacts on the quality of life for residents. This dismissal of the community’s needs has lead to major, costly lawsuits being filed against the City, summarily finding the City guilty of not following its own ordinances and plans by the courts.
The influence from Council has to be minimized and the letter of the law must prevail. Exceptions should not be the rule. Decisions may need to be vetted to the community through a paid Advocate within LADBS who is not beholden to Council or the Mayor’s office but to the community to insure their voice is heard and equally weighted against developer’s profits (like the Ratepayer Advocate for DWP). Additionally, the massive profits made from converting a parking lot to a high-rise should allow for the City to extricate more dollars for congestion mitigation than building hundreds of bike racks, much as Universal has invested into congestion mitigation measures for its them park growth. Large Scale Development needs to internalize the costs they are pushing on neighborhoods in terms of congestion and parking shortages by developing trip reduction plans that have elements proven to reduce congestion. Scaling back projects so that they are appropriate for the available infrastructure capacity is essential due to the rapid deterioration of our infrastructure since most of it is at the end of its useful life. Let’s be savvy about how each development can be built to provide housing, create an aesthetic to make Angelenos proud, and afford real options that won’t burden surrounding neighborhoods and their own tenants with nightmarish congestion.
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?
It would be hard not to notice the amount of power the labor unions have had in shaping the generous benefits for healthcare and pensions for City employees. These costs have eroded the City’s ability to maintain its decaying infrastructure because labor costs take up 90% of the General Fund. Once given it is extremely difficult to take this power away. I believe that if the City were to adopt a Live Within our Means Ordinance that caps salaries, and cost of living increases and increases the amount employees pay for their benefits until the budget is in balance, then unions will be forced to negotiate in good faith. Once labor costs are reduced the City should get its deficit down and then hire more employees specifically asphalters, arborists, cement workers, street sweepers, and park maintenance employees.
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?
I do think that Sherman Oaks was underserved until CM LaBonge became the representative for the area. They need more attention paid to the congestion rising from large residential projects being built there. I see the roads in Whitley Heights are the worst in the City and need to be paved immediately. The sidewalk issues in Larchmont, Los Feliz and Hancock Park where our older trees are, need to be attended to.
I have pledged to take a $50,000 reduction in my salary to invest in a discretionary account for mini grants to help communities fund the solutions they believe to be the best. Additionally I will double the maintenance crew to two trucks, four employees who will roam the district and deal with trash, graffiti, illegal dumping, and median weeding. CD4 will be the cleanest, best maintained district with this crew and 5 field deputies who will have the ability to work within their communities by meeting constituents daily with notebooks, cell phones and city hybrid vehicles thereby eliminating the need for costly field offices.
The Hollywood Hills have attracted a lot of attention as of late with regards to the surge of tourist activity in residential areas to photograph the Hollywood Sign. Here are some concrete ways to deal with reducing the illegal activity there:
1. Properly enforce the road and parking laws by increasing the number of Park Rangers dedicated to the areas adjacent to the sign.
2. Monetize the sign by lighting it for a limited number of days per year at a cost that is auctioned to companies. Limit of 4 nights – New Years, Academy Awards, LA’s birthday, etc. Use the funds for Rangers and other security to make it safe to access the sign by tourists, and pay for the down payment for #3.
3. Provide an alternative site location that is attractive, accessible and includes a viewing platform (or Ferris wheel a la CM LaBonge), and make it for-profit. Have tour vans pickup there, have Universal Studios sell tickets to their park, showcase a film about all the great sites in LA to visit, include celebrities on red carpet days to say hello and sign autographs.
The Hollywood Sign Trust must put up funds to help with security of the areas surrounding the sign, including focusing their MT LEE cameras on areas with infrared lighting to capture fires at night and contact LAFD/LAPD immediately.
What do you see as the three biggest issues facing CD4, and what concrete proposals would you make to address those issues?
1. PROBLEM: Congestion from rampant development and inability to access mass transit. SOLUTION: Work with MTA & LADOT to create better connectivity between commuters and rail stations and bus stops utilizing smart phone technology to reserve shuttles that will do group pickups/drop-offs in neighborhoods and connect to local stops. The cost is less than creating the thousands of parking spaces needed at transit stations, creates jobs for van drivers, uses existing “Uber” style algorithms that can be effectuated quickly and inexpensively and the funding can come from Measure R.
Why not separate parking from the rental unit and charge each as independent assets to the resident? Let the market dictate the value of parking. If a tenant has to pay for two spaces they will, but at least now there is a market force that shows what the value of the parking space is. If they are able to, they can take transit and they will save money on parking. The owner can sell excess parking in areas of Hollywood for public use. The owner can even offer monthly transit passes to tenants for 6 months free to encourage transit use, and provide a quick and easy vanpool service for drop-off and pickup from transit stations for free for one year. These are REAL congestion mitigation measures, not putting 900 bike racks when there isn’t a bike lane in sight of the building.
Adopt a citywide telework policy allowing employees to work from home one day a week, pay for employees to use transit or bike one day a week – back to Rideshare Thursday campaign.
2. PROBLEM: Overall, I hear about the frustration over hearing there is no money to fix the basic problems of tree pruning, sidewalk rehab and street repaving, when our sales, property, utility taxes and gross receipts taxes are so high.
SOLUTION: Work with state to reform gas tax from per gallon tax to percentage of cost or VMT tax so that vehicles that use the roads but don’t purchase any or a little gas (i.e. electric, and hybrid) contribute to the costs of street paving. Get utilities and MTA to pay for the damages they impose on roads from digups or heavy bus loads. A 50-50 program should be adopted with residents applying for a 50% rebate of the cost of repairing sidewalks and trimming trees from the City provided they use City approved vendors and have a free but permitted inspection before and after the job is done.
3. PROBLEM: Drought has limited our sources of water, increased the cost of importing water while the demand for water is increasing due to the push for greater density within LA.
SOLUTION: Over half of residential water bills are dedicated to watering landscape, mainly for lawn greening. Recreation and Parks is the City’s largest water user. The opportunity to incentivize commercial and residential use of gray water for landscape purposes through rebates for filtration systems is now more important than ever to pursue. DWP has to redirect its focus on putting in more purple pipes for parks and private golf courses should be mandated to use storm water recapture systems and grey water. Homes can adopt water filters to clean up the grey water enough to use for landscape. Lawn removal and xeroscaping need to be promoted better. Few know about the $3.75/sf DWP lawn rebate. Overall this will save DWP, ratepayers and the City millions in not having to build a desalinization plant as we deal with our water limitations through low cost conservation methods.
What do you see as the three biggest issues facing CD4, and what concrete proposals would you make to address those issues?
1. Review the City’s assets and monetize some of them to improve the city’s revenue stream, e.g. limited nights per year of lighting the Hollywood sign sold for hundreds of thousands, trash can ads at transit stops to ad recycling bins there, park field adoption, etc.
2. Work on pension reform, ask for increases in employees’ portion of benefit costs, cap salaries, forego increases in pay till deficit is conquered, adopt a live within our means charter.
3. The gross receipts tax has worked to push businesses outside of L.A., which is easy to do when we are surrounded by so many independent cities. However, it also attracts $440-460 million in taxes annually and with a $200 million+ deficit eliminating it would be fiscally irresponsible. The bed tax and other taxes associated with tourism (car rental fees, parking fees) have some room for increases to cover incremental decreases to the Gross Receipts tax. Converting the Gross Receipts tax to a Net Receipts Tax will make it more equitable, and assist businesses that now have to pay taxes on non compensated pass-thrus. The goal is to create a tax that is on par with surrounding cities, and to use those tax dollars to make the City more business friendly, workers greater skilled, and housing more affordable for new entrants to the workforce.
Are there any major decisions in CD4 over the past three years that you would have opposed?
I would have opposed the Millennium project (CD13) because of its effects on CD4 residents. I would have adopted more bike lanes in CD4.
In such a crowded race, what makes you different?
My biggest asset is the diversity of experience I bring to the job from my success in the private, non-profit and government sector.
My experience as a community leader and Director of Special Projects for Councilman LaBonge gives me insight into the problems unique to CD4 and the experience with solutions that work, so that I can “hit the ground running” my first day as Councilmember. I am a proven problem solver using my education as an economist, my business acumen, decades of experience and success, and my philanthropic work. I am an entrepreneur who has built 3 businesses from nothing to millions with each business focused on social issues – affordable housing, child care in the workplace and transportation planning and marketing in major cities, including Los Angeles. The last business which I still have is national in scope and has won numerous awards for the transportation strategies implemented to incentivize a switch from driving alone to ridesharing, transit, biking and telework. I have taken those profits and invested in real estate throughout Los Angeles because I believe this City is a great investment. I have been involved in providing affordable housing to low income and senior citizens; services and funding for high risk and foster youth in L.A. as a leader in multiple philanthropies, including my own Women & Words, and have served my community as a 5 term HOA President solving the issues of tourism up in the Hills with tour van weight and safety enforcement, and Outreach Chair for Hollywood United Neighborhood Council – volunteering countless hours for the greater good.
Serving as Councilmember has been in the back of my mind since the age of 15, after working for Councilmember Peggy Stevenson in high school. I made my goal to run clear to Councilmember LaBonge when I began my tenure in his office. After one day as a volunteer to help him with transportation issues in CD4, he asked if I would work for him full time. The challenges were great but the opportunity to serve allowed me to see if I had what it takes to work in the public sector. During the two years I served the Councilman, I lost my mother to colon cancer but before she died I took her to City Council chambers to be honored on a Friday session with CM LaBonge presiding and she couldn’t have been prouder. She thought I would make a great Councilmember as I have chosen to serve as a leader in most every organization I have been associated with – from my HOA, Neighborhood Council, high school and elementary school, even my sorority. My grandfather was a member of Iranian’s parliament and fought for women’s right to vote; my father was an Iranian community leader who helped get Mohammad Mosaddegh elected in the 50s, the first democratically elected leader in the Middle East. Dinner table conversations from grade school on included topics from watching the evening news with Walter Cronkite to reading Newsweek with my dad. Politics is a part of my DNA. The grass roots politics of City Council where I can affect positive change for the daily lives of Angelenos motivates my bid to seek this office.
What steps would you take to address L.A.’s failing pipes and other aging infrastructure, and how would you fund those steps?
See above on gas tax, greywater policy and 50-50 program for sidewalk and tree trimming.
Do you support increasing the citywide minimum wage, and if so, to what amount and by what year?
I believe that the value of the minimum wage needs to be raised so that so many employees who work full time are not living below the poverty line. The mistake is to set these wages on the municipal level. The minimum wage should be set by the State or Los Angeles will lose jobs to surrounding cities with lower minimum wages. Also, targeting one industry, especially hotels, an industry that currently needs investment for a greater number of beds to serve the rising number of tourists coming to L.A. is counterproductive. Let’s work on getting the state to increase the minimum wage to $15 per hour by 2017/8, starting at $11 an hour in 2015/6 and adding 15% increases annually.
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?
We should reduce the gross receipts tax in gradual increments mainly because it is provides a very large source of revenue, approximately $450 million, to the city annually, but it also serves to detract employers from coming into Los Angeles to set up shop. The first step is to change the gross receipts tax to a NET receipts tax. Too many businesses, such as my 20 year marketing firm based in LA, have pass-thrus such as media purchases, printing, postage, travel, etc. that we purchase on behalf of our clients but do not markup as a standard practice. If we don’t make a profit from these expenditures, why should the City? The second type of reduction would be to offer a tax moratorium on all new businesses who re-locate into the City of Los Angeles and hire locally. Since these are businesses that the City never taxed anyway, the moratorium will not reduce current tax revenues, but will serve to attract new businesses into LA who employ Angelenos, and in turn, other tax revenues such as sales, gas, income, utility taxes will increase from this growth in business. Other taxes should be increased such as bed tax, car rental fees as well as monetizing assets like selling the rights to light the Sign for millions, allow for advertising on LADOT buses, trash cans at the park and at transit stops, etc. would give the City the financial support to reduce the gross (net) receipts tax until it is on par with surrounding cities and other metropolitan cities that compete for new businesses with LA. We have been at a competitive disadvantage with the current way we tax businesses, giving us the deserved reputation that we are not business friendly.
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?
Yes, because this asset is languishing under LAWA control as it is truly a competitive asset to LAX and would cannibalize revenues if it were marketing and grew in passenger use. The area surrounding it would be better caretakers as they have a vested interest in its growth. It should be sold. I will let an appraiser and negotiations dictate the price – fair market value with potential financing mechanisms to not break the buyer’s bank.
Which company do you believe should be awarded the Greek Theatre contract – Nederlander-AEG or Live Nation? Why?
Nederlander-AEG because I have worked with them and I see them as a great community partner, and they have produced the kinds of shows that fit the environment. Their proposal actually offered greater revenues for the City with exciting amenities for the ticket holder and there was a stronger community component in their proposal. The remodeling elements for LiveNation has them pushing the boundaries of the facility up into the hillsides, razing trees, in order to get more seats in the venue and increase their profits with a stipulation that if their remodeling results in lost ticket revenues they do not have to pay their fees to Rec and Parks. Nederland offers a credible, better deal for the City.