City Council (D6): Nury Martinez
Los Angeles Councilwoman Nury Martinez faces Cindy Montanez, a nonprofit consultant and former DWP executive, in the race for the Sixth District council seat covering Van Nuys, Panorama City, Arleta, Lake Balboa and North Hills. The contest is a rematch of a July 2013 special election won by Martinez.
To help voters decide who to support in the March 3 primary, the Times asked the contenders to respond to questions on a range of issues.
Website: Nury Martinez
What are your top three priorities if elected?
My top issues focus on the demands of local residents whose neighborhoods have been neglected and plagued by challenges for far too long. This includes 1) cleaning up our neighborhoods, building new parks and installing streetlights; 2) Eliminating the prostitution corridors and human trafficking activity in the district; and 3) Increasing the availability and access to good jobs through quality economic development.
What makes you more qualified for this district than your opponents?
I am more qualified for this district than my opponents because of the diversity of my life, work, and political experiences. From my early life experiences as an employee of the Northeast Valley Health Corporation helping educate teens and adults about many of their life choices and consequences to serving as Executive Director of Pacoima Beautiful, where we worked hand in hand with local residents to fight for environmental justice in our hardworking neighborhoods, I have dealt with the issues that hit close to home. I have had to make the tough budget decisions to protect the quality of our children’s education when I served on the LAUSD School Board, and I have developed a critical understanding of the implications budget actions both in San Fernando and Los Angeles. As a result, I have both a macro and micro view- and understanding - of how various issues affect our community, and am effective at appropriate ways of solving problems in a fiscally responsible manner. Finally, I am more qualified, because on all of these issues I have been a person of action, not rhetoric. I am not someone who shies away from acting on those tough issues even when it may not be popular, if in the end it is for the greater good of the community. That is who I am, and the residents of the City of Los Angeles, but especially the Sixth District, will be able to count on me.
Would you consider offering incentives to attract more economic development to the Sixth District? If so, what type of incentives (be specific)?
I would strongly consider offering incentives to attract more economic development. To strengthen the economy of the City as a whole, we need to improve the economy in all parts of the City. We have seen the success of providing incentives with the renaissance of Downtown and Hollywood, and the subsequent renewal of Northeast Los Angeles shows that economic success in one area helps push economic success in surrounding areas – eventually leading to the whole City benefiting. Incentives need to be strategic, to ensure an appropriate return to the benefit of the City. While we have seen the use of hotel tax incentives for downtown, other districts may be in need of a different strategy for their economic development. For example, a district that suffers from a general lack of investment may benefit from free expedited processing of land use applications and building permitting in targeted areas, to reduce holding costs on land and overall building costs.
Additionally, with the elimination of Redevelopment Agencies, the State has been returning tax increment money back to the City. While critical to the General Fund, a portion of these monies should be dedicated to appropriately incentivizing targeted investments in districts that need it, either by direct financial assistance, or to cover the cost of city services such as the expedited processing of land use applications and building permits previously mentioned.
City employee pensions
The cost of city employee pensions and health care have been a concern in City Hall. Do you support the 2012 vote that reduced pensions for new employees?
Yes, I support those amendments that created the new retirement and health care tiers.
Trimming pension costs
Does the city need to take further action in trim pension costs? If so, what actions do you support? If not, why not?
There are always going to be actions we need to take to both honor the promise that employees were given when they were hired, and to protect the fiscal health of that retirement system but not consume the City’s ability to take care of the core services expected by taxpayers. First, we need to continue to recommend a consolidation and consistency of fees and expenses of our vendors and fund managers, so that the costs for our systems can be leveraged by the volume of business that our systems produce.
As far as additional contributions, fees, or modification of benefits for employees, we are obviously currently waiting on the court to uphold or overturn the City’s actions in creating the new tier. If the court overturns the City’s actions and requires the City to collectively bargain all future changes with the City unions for employees who have not been hired, we have an obligation to look closely into the Courts decision to determine how to proceed with establishing a new tier or identifying alternative approaches to realign future pension costs.
Do you support asking all city employees (unionized and non-unionized) to contribute a portion of their health care premiums (including the LAPD and LAFD)?
Yes, I believe that all city employees should contribute to their medical premiums.
City Hall workforce
During the recession, City Hall cut its work force by about 5,000 positions. Do you support adding back jobs to return to that level?
I support adding back jobs in a manner and at a level that will fulfill the City’s need to deliver public services while ensuring the long term financial obligation that comes with hiring does not undermine the City’s long term fiscal stability. Rather than looking at a blanket number of positions, I would support bringing back staff in targeted areas where we are finding that we are trying to add back City services (like sidewalk repair) or there is a demand for more service from City agencies, such as the Planning and Building and Safety staff. Our City needs to be able to be responsive and efficient in dealing with City issues and having staff available that can respond in a moments notice is essential. Additionally, we must not delay and bottleneck investment that wants to come to Los Angeles by not having enough staff to respond to the demand. I support targeted hiring when thorough analysis shows that the hiring will not only make the City more responsive and better equipped to move the City forward, but that the filling of any positions does not jeopardize our financial ability to deliver core services in future economic downturns.
Tensions with LAPD
Recent police actions against black citizens have sparked rising tensions with the Los Angeles Police Department (and other law enforcement agencies across the U.S.). Do you believe that the LAPD improperly targets black residents for enforcement? If yes, what changes should the LAPD take to mediate this problem? If no, what can the LAPD do to quell this perception?
I do not believe that the department targets individuals based on race. The Consent Decree was a critical tool in reforming the department, but as we’ve seen through various public demonstrations, there is a perception that problems continue. LAPD must remain committed, and perhaps increase its emphasis, to genuine community outreach and dedication to community policing. It is only through a mutual working relationship that we will change perceptions on both sides. In addition, an emphasis on recruitment will continue to ensure a diverse police force that offers and understands the perspectives of the community when it comes to law enforcement.
Do you support an increase in the minimum wage to $13.25/hour (as proposed by Mayor Garcetti) or $15/hour (as proposed by some council members and outside labor/social equity groups)?
While I strongly support an increase in the minimum wage, it is not a blind support. The appropriate level to take any wage increase is really going to be dependent on what we see from the economic impact studies that City is having prepared along with any additional studies that will get submitted for our consideration. With that said, we should also not be afraid to act boldly on this item. We can look back at success stories like Henry Ford who paid his people much higher than the average wage of the day, because he wanted to attract better talent, but more importantly wanted his employees to be able to buy his product. I believe that we will see increased revenues for our local businesses with an increased minimum wage, because the people who earn this minimum wage will spend it in their local communities. To help start that conversation, I am a co-author of the motion asking to look at the $15 amount. Regardless of the number, however, it is the actual studies that will be critical. I would like to see us move the wage as high as possible, but I am very cognizant of that fact that it must be done to an amount, and in a manner, that will allow business to make adjustments, maintain competitiveness, and continue to provide employment opportunities here in Los Angeles.
Graffiti, dumping and homelessness are a big issue in portion of the Sixth District. What do you support doing to address this?
There is a two-prong approach that I have been taking to address the issues of graffiti and dumping. The first, is to immediately deal with the situation. Whether it is dumping, graffiti or homelessness we need to get on it early and not let it linger at that place lest it attract more and become a bigger issue.
For graffiti, I have allocated funds from the district budget to increase the service levels and responsiveness from the City’s graffiti removal contractors. On dumping, I have hired an individual in my office whose principal responsibility is to drive the district to identify dumping that has occurred, and report it for removal by City forces. Where appropriate, he will pick up bulky items or provide spot cleaning to keep the dumping from growing at a specific location. While out there, he also informs residents about how to report these issues to the City. This has helped limit concentrations of dumping from occurring. On both of those issues the second step is education.
For illegal dumping we go to community meetings and we educate folks on how to appropriately dispose of these items and how to use the 311 phone number and MyLA311 phone app to keep this from ruining our public spaces. On graffiti, it’s educating the youth in our community how this destroys the assets brought to their community and the cost of removal that will limit bringing any new assets (parks, businesses, etc) to our community.
Finally, the toughest issue is how to deal with the long term issue of homelessness. That is going to require an investment of significant resources from all levels of government to provide housing and support services for the many different levels of issues facing those homeless citizens. In my district, I have been supportive of providers such as LA Family Housing, who are truly committed to those in need by providing thorough, wrap-around support to ensure their long term recovery and success.
Sex trafficking is chronic problem along certain corridors in the district. Is addressing this an appropriate priority for city funding?
I feel strongly that this is an appropriate priority for city funding. Certainly, the federal government has an obligation to address international and cross-state trafficking. However, there is also local trafficking that is occurring, with women being brought to the Valley from other parts of the City, and vice versa. I feel the City has a moral imperative, as well as local quality of life imperative to use city funding to address sex trafficking. In the same way that broken sidewalks, pot-holed streets and illegal dumping lead to larger problems of crime and diminished quality of life, sex trafficking and prostitution lead to a similar “broken windows” affect for the City overall. If prostitution and sex trafficking is not addressed in one area, it will lead to similar activity occurring in other areas.
Are businesses and new residents going to want to locate on or around corridors that have women being sold on the street? The lack of investment from business and residents drives down property values and property taxes (reducing City revenues) and does not allow the creation of new jobs for residents. As we discussed in the prior questions related to economic incentives, when one part of the City is dragging down it will pull on the surrounding communities in a way that hurts the whole city. In addition, when we use the increased focus on dealing with this specific issue we create a greater citywide knowledge based on how to deal with the issue.
Council District 6 is not the only part of the City facing this issue - it wasn’t too long ago that Hollywood or Downtown faced this issue, but when the prostitution and trafficking was removed those areas saw important growth that helped the entire city. I see the potential for the same success along our corridors if we can limit the issue.
What problems or challenges in this district do you feel have not been adequately addressed?
There is an array of needs in this district that remain, from infrastructure, quality of life, and public safety. Continuing the renewed focus will help with many of these issues, but one critical challenge that remains is with the lack of economic revitalization. I feel that we as a City have to create a process to help under-served communities rebound from disinvestment in those areas. As an example, the Sixth District is home to the Montgomery Ward site (9 acre site) in Panorama City that has been vacant for 20 years along with the Panorama Tower (4 acre site) that has been vacant since the Northridge earthquake. Van Nuys Boulevard is far from its glory days. As a City we need to have an economic development strategy with incentives that looks to increase investment in the areas of our city that are not seeing investment so that we lift up the City.
In addition, one of my frustrations has been with the slow pace of MTA’s East San Fernando Valley Transit Corridor project. Because of the undefined mode at this time, property owners are not in position to prepare for the opportunities, or react to the challenges, this project will create. As a result, redevelopment and revitalization of Van Nuys Boulevard, and the above mentioned properties, is stagnant. Until this project is defined, and funding is secured for construction, Los Angeles is leaving valuable property tax and sales tax revenues on the table.