City Council (D4): Teddy Davis
Attorney/educator Teddy Davis, 36, is the new generation leader running for Los Angeles City Council in District 4.
Born and raised in Los Feliz and Sherman Oaks, Davis is focused on fixing streets, protecting neighborhoods, and holding City Hall accountable. Davis rejects campaign money from the DWP and will demand a full accounting of every public dollar. He rejects campaign money from developers and will make land use decisions on the merits.
Top three goals
List the top three things you would seek to accomplish as a city council representative.
(1) Taking care of the basics (fixing streets, repairing sidewalks, trimming trees) while holding down the cost of pay, pensions, and health care.
(2) Overhauling the city’s planning process so that developers know what they can build and neighbors know what they can expect.
(3) Reforming the DWP while upgrading failing pipes and aging infrastructure.
Is City Hall doing a good job handling development projects? If so, why? If not, how would change it?
The planning process at City Hall is badly broken and needs to be overhauled.
I would make the following changes:
(1) Revise Our Community Plans: We need to revise our outdated community plans so that developers know what they can build and neighbors know what they can expect. Too often, planning in Los Angeles is done on a project-by-project basis. Major new developments should create good jobs, adhere to strong environmental standards, be directed towards our transportation lines, and include adequate parking.
(2) Fight McMansionization: We need to move swiftly to close loopholes in the 2008 Baseline Mansionization Ordinance that are allowing McMansions to proliferate. We should not have to rely on a neighborhood-by-neighborhood Interim Control Ordinance. Fighting McMansionization will require additional staffing at the Planning Department and a new sense of urgency from the City Council.
(3) Overhaul the Planning Department: The Planning Department has suffered a series of legal setbacks recently in the Hollywood area. Either the planners are coming under political pressure to approve projects that they know will not survive legal challenge or the regulations are so complicated that the planners do not know what the law is. Either way, the situation is unacceptable and calls for a top-to-bottom overhaul. The City of Los Angeles cannot ignore its own zoning restrictions or approve projects that cannot survive court scrutiny. The half-built Target in Hollywood is a clear example of what happens when we fail to make our zoning laws and new projects cohere. It’s not enough just to hand out permits for new construction. We must anticipate that legal challenges will come and do the hard work on the front end to survive court scrutiny.
(4) Cut Red Tape for Projects That Enhance the Community: As a Senior Aide to the Mayor, I was part of an administration that brought together staff from five different departments into one Development Services Case Management Office. The unit walks businesses through the development process so that complex projects can get approved with greater speed and efficiency. The five departments are: (1) the Department of Building & Safety; (2) the Department of City Planning; (3) the Bureau of Engineering; (4) the Department of Transportation; and (5) the LA Department of Water & Power. With additional staffing, the Case Management model can be used for more projects.
(5) Advocate for CEQA Reform at the State Level: The California Environmental Quality Act requires builders to disclose the environmental impact of their projects in detailed reports and to mitigate any harm caused. CEQA has improved proposed developments but it has also been used to stop development by opponents whose objectives have nothing to do with protecting the environment. We need to reform the law in a way that preserves its important environmental protections while limiting its unnecessary costs and delays.
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?
Public sector labor unions and real estate developers currently have too much influence at City Hall. We need public officials who will put the good of the city ahead of special interests.
City politicians have allowed public sector labor unions to exert too much power at City Hall over the cost of pay, pensions, and health care. In 2007, the City of Los Angeles approved a 25% pay raise over a five year period of time. It has had a devastating impact on the city’s ability to deliver basic city services.
Counteracting labor’s power and building a healthier budget must start during the campaign. I have been explicit about the need for employees to contribute more towards the cost of their pensions and health care. We must do this to ensure a secure retirement and funding for basic city services.
Having studied the contrasting experience of the City of Los Angeles and the County of Los Angeles, I am guided by a simple principle: We cannot make promises in good years that we cannot keep in bad years.
Given a council member’s enormous power to ease zoning restrictions, real estate developers and their allies are able to exert undue influence over the city’s planning process. I send back developer money because I want the independence to make land use decisions on the merits. Ultimately, I believe that the city should prohibit developer contributions just as it prohibits people bidding on city contracts worth more than $100,000 from making contributions to members of the City Council who have to vote on those contracts.
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?
Five groups have been underserved in District 4:
(1) During the recently completed redistricting process, the Korean American community asked to be unified into one Council District. Its requests were ignored and the community’s political influence has been limited as a result;
(2) The division of Council District 4 and Council District 13 in the Hollywood area has limited the voice of hillside residents regarding planning decisions that get made in the core of urban Hollywood.
(3) Residents of Hancock Park have been repeatedly told that the City of Los Angeles has no capacity to fix concrete streets. In reality, the city does have the ability to use contractors to do this work. This has led to deep frustration on the part of the residents of Hancock Park.
(4) A lack of coordination between Council District 4 and Council District 2 in the area between Sherman Oaks and Studio City has had adversely impacted parking in District 4. New parking restrictions were implemented on the District 2 side without considering the implications for nearby District 4 residents.
(5) The Hollywood Sign is one of LA’s most famous landmarks, but lack of proper city planning and enforcement has allowed hazardous conditions to develop in surrounding neighborhoods. The breakdown has left residents of the Hollywood Hills feeling like they do not have a voice at City Hall.
These are steps I would take to rectify the situation:
(1) During the next redistricting process, I will advocate for uniting the heart of the Korean American community into one Council District. I am open to exploring an expansion of the size of the City Council if necessary to achieve this aim.
(2) In general, I believe that council members know their districts best and I respect the practice of deferring to a council member over planning decisions in his or her own district. But in the case of Hollywood, because of the way that the community is divided between two council districts, I will not hesitate to speak out against a decision in District 13 that would adversely impact the quality of life in District 4. Case in point is the way that I spoke out publicly against the controversial Millennium skyscraper project. I told the Los Angeles Times on September 3, 2013, that I would have opposed it and that the city has an obligation to conduct extensive seismic testing before voting to approve projects.
(3) If the residents of Hancock Park want to maintain the integrity of their Historic Preservation Overlay Zone and keep concrete streets, their share of street resurfacing funds should be used for this purpose. The Council office should not continue to tell them that asphalt is the only option.
(4) I will step up coordination between District 4 and District 2 to ensure that decisions in Studio City are not adversely impacting the quality of life in Sherman Oaks.
To ensure community safety near the Hollywood Sign, I would: (1) speed the implementation of permit parking on Beachwood; (2) crack down on illegal parking, reckless driving, commercial vehicles that exceed weight restrictions, and prohibited smoking; (3) retain more Park Rangers in Griffith Park; and (4) develop alternative ways for residents and visitors to get an up close view of the Hollywood sign without impinging on neighborhood quality of life.
What do you see as the three biggest issues facing CD4, and what concrete proposals would you make to address those issues?
The three biggest issue facing CD 4 all involve the breakdown of basic city services. As the next City Council member, I will focus on taking care of the basics: fixing streets, repairing sidewalks, and trimming trees.
Here are the four steps I would take:
(1) Utilities and telecommunication companies owe us $190 million for cutting up our streets. It’s time to bring that money back to our neighborhoods. I would work with Controller Ron Galperin to make that happen.
(2) Repair the most severely damaged sidewalks in District 4 by redirecting discretionary funds. Last year, District 4 had $1.5 million in discretionary funds from seven different sources. While the number fluctuates each year, I would devote a substantial portion of our discretionary funds to sidewalk repair. This is crucial given that 42% of the sidewalks in Los Angeles are broken. Councilmember Bernard Parks has taken this approach in his South LA district, making it possible for him to repair some of the most severely damaged sidewalks.
(3) Hire an emergency tree trimming crew using part of the District 4 staff budget. Councilmember LaBonge uses part of his staff to employ a beautification team. As a result, District 4 does better than other parts of the city when it comes to bulky item removal. I would extend this idea to tree trimming. At present, the City of Los Angeles goes 50 years without trimming its trees. This is in contrast to the City of Santa Monica which trims its trees every 1-5 years.
(4) Increase employee contributions to pensions and health care to ensure a secure retirement and funding for basic services. A decade ago, the city of Los Angeles devoted 3% of its budget to pensions. Today, that number is 18% and rising, according to the 2020 Commission. We have to take on pension reform if we are serious about taking care of the basics.
What three steps would you take to help balance the city budget?
To balance the city budget, I would:
• Refuse raises for city employees;
• Hold down pension and health care costs; and
• Improve collection of money owed to the city.
Ultimately, we need to generate new revenue by spurring economic growth. Specifically, I favor: (1) reforming the business tax in a fiscally responsible way; (2) cutting red tape so that it is easier for businesses to open and expand; (3) aligning training programs with the career-path jobs being created; (4) creating a regional tourism authority; and (5) revising our community plans so that developers know what they can build and neighbors know what they can expect.
Are there any major decisions in CD4 over the past three years that you would have opposed?
Ball Fields at Crystal Springs: I would not have pushed for the construction of ball fields in the Crystal Springs section of Griffith Park. While I support the expansion of youth recreational opportunities, I would have opposed ball fields at Crystal Springs because it will require the removal of mature trees and fencing off of what is now valued open space. I would have more fully explored Atwater and other potential locations.
(1) Il Villagio Toscano (IVT): I would have opposed violating the Ventura Boulevard Specific plan to allow the building of the Il Villaggio Toscano (IVT) project on Sepulveda Blvd. just south of the 101 Freeway in Sherman Oaks. I am committed to defending the integrity of our specific plans throughout our district.
(2) Street Repair in Hancock Park: Streets in Hancock Park have fallen into disrepair as the Council Office incorrectly told local residents that it is not possible to do work in concrete. I would have asked the Budget and Finance Committee to allow funds that otherwise would be allocated for asphalt street repair in Hancock Park to be used for work in concrete.
In such a crowded race, what makes you different?
Three things set me apart in this field:
(1) I was born and raised in Los Feliz and Sherman Oaks and have taken the time to go door-to-door throughout our district. I began knocking on doors on a daily basis starting March 1, 2014 – a year before the election. My extensive personal canvassing has given me in-depth insight into local concerns throughout our district.
(2) I reject campaign money from developers and the DWP union. I want the independence to make land-use decisions on the merits and I want the freedom to hold the DWP accountable.
(3) I am focused on taking care of the basics – fixing streets, repairing sidewalks, trimming trees – and I have not shied away from leveling with voters about the need to increase employee contributions to pensions and health care to ensure a secure retirement and funding for basic services.
What steps would you take to address L.A.’s failing pipes and other aging infrastructure, and how would you fund those steps?
A quarter of LA’s water pipes are more than a century old and at increasing risk of failure. Proposition 1, the recently approved state bond measure for water projects, will make new money available for infrastructure improvements, but it alone will not be enough to solve the problem.
Ratepayers will ultimately have to pay more to update and repair old, broken pipes. But first, they deserve significant DWP reform including an honest accounting of public dollars and lower labor costs.
In order to garner public support for an infrastructure overhaul, I would take the following specific steps to rebuild trust in the Department of Water and Power.
(1) Force the DWP to account for how it spent $40 million in ratepayer money;
(2) Oppose unaffordable DWP pay raises;
(3) Push DWP employees to start contributing towards the cost of their own health care; and
(4) Improve oversight of DWP spending.
Do you support increasing the citywide minimum wage, and if so, to what amount and by what year?
I support raising the citywide minimum wage to $13.25 an hour by 2017. Of the 567,000 employees who would be impacted by the citywide minimum wage proposal, most are middle-aged and supporting families. We have a chance to help lift them out of poverty and to increase the purchasing power in our local economy.
To guide our implementation and mitigation efforts, we need an independent analysis of the economic impact of raising the minimum wage. To instill confidence, the study should not be conducted by UC Berkeley’s Institute for Research on Labor and Employment because they have been directly involved in helping Mayor Garcetti promote his minimum wage proposal.
While favoring a higher LA-wide minimum wage, I oppose industry-by-industry approaches to raising the minimum wage and would have voted against the recent hotel measure.
Given that the City of Los Angeles is surrounded by small municipalities that compete with us for jobs we must push surrounding cities to join us in raising their minimum wages.
Ultimately, we should seek a change in law that would empower the Board of Supervisors to set a county-wide minimum wage. This could improve the lives of the 10 million people who live in LA County – not just the 4 million who live in the City of Los Angeles.
Currently, the Board of Supervisors has this power for unincorporated areas. I would like the power to extend to municipalities in the area so that we can avoid a race to the bottom in the region. In a state as vast as California, high-priced counties should have the authority to set higher minimum wages. The cost of living is considerably higher in Burbank and Manhattan Beach than in Bakersfield and Modesto.
Beyond raising the minimum wage, we must step up efforts to help workers qualify for the federal Earned Income Tax Credit. No person who works full-time should have to raise their family in poverty.
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?
LA City’s business tax is the highest in the county, putting us at a disadvantage when competing for jobs. I support reducing the business tax in a fiscally responsible way. Mindful that the tax generates around $440 million per year (equal to about 90% of the Fire Department’s budget), I support a phased-in reduction tied to revenue milestones. As new businesses open, there will be revenue growth from sales and property taxes, allowing the City to lower the business tax without reducing overall revenue. If the revenue does not materialize, the revenue milestone approach will protect basic city services from harmful budget cutbacks.
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?
There is no persuasive rationale for the City of Los Angeles to continue operating Ontario Airport. Passenger volumes at Ontario Airport have plunged about 40% since 2007. Local control over a revitalized Ontario Airport is in the best interests of our whole region because it can decrease traffic into the heavily crowded Westside of Los Angeles and give passengers new low-cost options.
A new audit by Ernst & Young concludes that the city of L.A.’s asking price for LA/Ontario International Airport may be $181 million too high.
Keeping in mind that our price cannot be based on wishful thinking alone, we should pursue as good a deal as possible.
Which company do you believe should be awarded the Greek Theatre contract – Nederlander-AEG or Live Nation? Why?
The Greek Theatre is a special outdoor venue embedded in a quiet residential neighborhood. No matter who is awarded the contract, I will push the operator to work closely with the Los Feliz community to control noise, trash, and traffic.
The awarding of city contracts should not become overly political.
The Parks and Recreation Commission’s decision to award the contract to Live Nation was based on bid scoring by the Strategic Advisory Group. If the City Council finds that there was a flaw in the scoring process, the bids should be reconsidered. Barring such a flaw, the recommendation of the Parks and Recreation Commission should stand.