City Council (D4): Tomas O’Grady
I have dedicated the last seven years to unpaid public service because I believe that Los Angeles could be the most dynamic city of the 21st century. Through our nonprofit EnrichLA, we’ve built more than 70 edible school gardens on a shoestring.
I have worked to offer the residents of Los Angeles more pedestrian- and bike-friendly roads and to save and repurpose historical gems such as L.A. Historic Monument #908.
Top three goals
List the top three things you would seek to accomplish as a city council representative.
I would seek to reduce waste prevalent throughout public services by identifying opportunities for streamlining and increasing efficiency. I would advocate for initiatives that promote public transportation and multi-modal transportation. I would work with the Mayor and other City Council Members to streamline permitting for environmentally friendly initiatives (such as solar), as well as business permitting to increase small business emergence in the City.
Is City Hall doing a good job handling development projects? If so, why? If not, how would change it?
City Hall is doing a terrible job of managing development projects, with some exceptions of course. Our problem is simple - Our zoning and planning codes are outdated and riddled with inconsistencies. Each project is decided upon in a vacuum as opposed to as part of a larger regional plan.
Secondly, while there is merit to the idea that if you build homes and apartments around mass transit, people will be more inclined to use public transportation, in the Hollywood area in particular we have appeared to have jumped the gun. We are going to need to slow down a little and have more units, particularly those around mass transit, that are affordable. That can easily be incentivized. The city is missing a golden opportunity given the amount of infrastructure dollars and new development dollars being invested on these corridors. We need a plan, we need to fight it out once and for all, we need to stick to that plan, and frankly at this point, if we are going to build with a view to less automobile use well then incentives need to be built not just into the development itself but to the life of the building. Examples here are in the case of condos, some form of lower property tax for those that do not use a car, or indeed for those who use mass transit.
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?
There are many groups that clearly have way too much sway over decision making in City Hall. Unions, business groups, political parties, nonprofits, and even some homeowner groups have unhealthy access influence over decision making. Obviously, one of the ways to counteract that is to have more so-called “regular” voters. Interest groups have access because they provide resources and money to election campaigns. Clearly, I am a community candidate, and if successful I would enter City Hall with no favors owed. Given a little bit of courage on the part of our Council Members and the 3 Executives, we can tweak an otherwise excellent city “matching fund” program to not only start to solve this but to realize an additional benefit. We should restructure the matching funds program so that participation required each political campaign to reach beyond likely voters. This would be relatively simple to enforce, and ensure a wider variety of opinion at the polling booth. Right now, most campaigns only canvas 15% of the electorate as those 15% are the ones that have a habit of voting in local elections. Insisting as a condition of the program that you cast a wider net would both increase turnout, and at least in labor’s case, limit the effect of every member of a union voting the union line.
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?
To be totally honest, every area of CD4, in fact every area of the city, has been underserved. The reason is simple – revenue going in to City Hall is not resulting in enough products coming out of City Hall. I have a long track record of not only working in private industry, but in working with bureaucracies to help them deliver more products for less money. Through our work at King Middle School, we turned King into an academic powerhouse. King’s API score increased in a time when budgets were declining. As an individual, Steve Lopez the LA Times columnist described me as indefatigable and “incapable of burnout.” There is not an area of CD4 that would not receive my energetic attention.
What do you see as the three biggest issues facing CD4, and what concrete proposals would you make to address those issues?
Fiscal responsibility and the resulting economic opportunities
Development reform and transportation
Environmental sustainability and public education collaboration
What three steps would you take to help balance the city budget?
The only way that City Hall can deliver more services at a lower price and can convince unions to contribute more towards their healthcare (and particularly retiree healthcare), is to stock the City Council with normal, down to earth, business minded people who understand that you cannot continue to borrow against the future. City Council Members also need to demonstrate their commitment to a return to fiscal responsibility by joining in a sort of “shared sacrifice.” I have committed to cutting my salary in half.
Tourism remains an untapped resource for the City of Los Angeles. When you arrive in a city like London at Heathrow airport, it is very clear to visitors right away where they should visit and how they should get there. In Los Angeles, that is not the case. We need a comprehensive plan to direct tourism to various places across Los Angeles via public transportation. We need to streamline permitting to encourage new businesses (and thus tax revenue), streamline existing inefficiencies, and deliver more.
Are there any major decisions in CD4 over the past three years that you would have opposed?
1) The entire blueprint for the two competing entities to run the Greek was flawed. It did not include community input and was simply designed to increase revenue with seemingly no regard to the impact of the surrounding community.
2) The City has lost many historical assets in the last few years; most recently, of course, the Bartlett House in Los Feliz, and L.A. Historical Monument #908, the last steel truss bridge in Los Angeles located just outside CD4. City Council failed to act in these instances.
3) Countless developments in Sherman Oaks and the Hollywood Corridor had been slated to be built with seemingly no regard to the surrounding neighborhoods.
4) To the city’s credit, the Universal Studios project was minimized considerably but decision making failed to anticipate the closing of the Barham ramp. The potential for closing the Barham ramp should have been discussed years ago at the first debate, not now at the last second.
In such a crowded race, what makes you different?
I am a political outsider and a doer. I have been working to improve the City by making real change. Over the last 7 years of unpaid public service, I have improved LAUSD by sticking to my principles of fiscal responsibility and community engagement. I am leading by example in not only the green sense but also through efficiency and community development.
What steps would you take to address L.A.’s failing pipes and other aging infrastructure, and how would you fund those steps?
As City Controller Ron Galperin’s report recently highlighted, the only thing more in shambles than our streets is the Bureau of Street Management, which is supposed to fix them. I will reform the bureau and upgrade the City’s plan to bring down the cost of asphalt production to vendor price. Los Angeles can purchase a fleet of “pothole killer” machines, which can fill holes with just 1 man in 90 seconds, as opposed the four men and 15 minutes it currently takes. Innovative and inquisitive actors within City Hall can streamline inefficiencies in all areas of our infrastructure in a similar manner. The more money we save by eradicating inefficiencies, the more money we have to invest in a stronger infrastructure for the future.
Do you support increasing the citywide minimum wage, and if so, to what amount and by what year?
I support increasing the minimum wage in Los Angeles, as long as it corresponds, in tandem, with a meaningful reduction of the Gross Receipts Tax. We must listen to small business owners and reform our bureaucracy which currently disincentives the emergence of new businesses. We need to foster a more vibrant and economically sound Los Angeles. I agree with Mayor Garcetti’s plan to raise the minimum wage to $13.25 by 2017.
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?
A constituent recently declared to me that only 2 kinds of folks can take money off the top – the mob, and the City of Los Angeles. I fully support the elimination of the gross receipts tax with a replacement by a net receipts tax, or some other form that is not simply based on turnover but based on profit. The City can further replace this tax by broadening the tax base by creating a City that welcomes small business and makes it easy for small business to open their doors. Despite promises of getting “back to basics,” the City bureaucracy is confusing (to say the least) when it comes to opening up a business.
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 am open to either option. What I want is a plan that makes sense economically and for the community. That takes bringing all parties to the table with mutual respect and honest reporting of numbers. We have to be beyond name calling.
Which company do you believe should be awarded the Greek Theatre contract – Nederlander-AEG or Live Nation? Why?
First, I believe the entire blueprint for the two competing entities to run the Greek was flawed. It did not include community input and was simply designed to increase revenue with seemingly no regard to the impact of the surrounding community. The Nederlander-AEG plan is supported heavily within the community surrounding the Greek, offers a better long-term financial opportunity to the City, provides a historic renovation of the venue, etc.