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An Open Secret in Eastside LA Council Race?

POLITICS LOS ANGELES--As the race to replace Councilman Jose Huizar in CD 14 heats up, rumblings about possible candidate residency fraud are circulating.  

It was just five years ago that two local politicians were prosecuted for residency fraud. Former LA City Councilman Richard Alarcon and State Sen. Rod Wright were convicted of lying about living in the districts they represented, a requirement under California law. Alarcon was the ninth politician prosecuted since 2002 for residency fraud and both men are barred for life from holding elected office again. 

What about today?  “Any politician who doesn’t take this seriously is really very self-destructive,” Raphael Sonenshein, executive director of the Pat Brown Institute for Public Affairs at Cal State Los Angeles, told the LA Times. 

After Rod Wright’s conviction on eight felony counts, state legislators loosened residency requirements (SB 1250) for their members in 2018. The address listed on their voter registration is now acceptable for eligibility purposes, as long as they live at that location for “a specific period of time”—a vague requirement that invites hedging. 

But for LA city council members and candidates, the residency rules are not vague and have not relaxed. According to the L.A. City Charter, “a candidate is required to live at the address they provide on their filing, beginning at least 30 days prior to when they file.” 

Where Does Kevin Really Live? 

Former state Assemblyman and then Senator Kevin DeLeon has the biggest name recognition in the CD 14 race. And he also invites doubts from Democratic insiders and some of his neighbors about whether he actually lives in the district, as he claims. In January of this year, voter records show he registered as Kevin Leon, at an address in CD 14 on Range View Avenue in Highland Park.  (The district stretches from there to Eagle Rock, Boyle Heights and downtown.) 

LA County Tax Assessor records indicate the 2-bedroom Range View house belongs to Isabelle and her son Adrian Vazquez, a longtime DeLeon friend and currently a staffer on his CD 14 campaign.  “My neighbors and I chuckled when he announced his candidacy,” recalled Caroline Aguirre, a long-time neighbor on Range View and the area’s Neighborhood Watch Captain.  “It’s such a joke to those of us who live here because Kevin drops by Adrian’s house maybe a couple times a month, and he gets mail there, but that’s it.” adds Aguirre, a retired state parole agent. 

DeLeon is a seasoned California politician who has lived in Southern California much of his life.  Does it matter that he may not actually live in CD 14? Or that as some contend, he lives on Bellevue Avenue in CD 1? 

The law says yes, and voters seem to care that he does. 

“If he doesn’t really live in the district, then he doesn’t qualify to run,” says Art Camarillo, an Eastside community activist. “I’d be really disappointed if he or any other candidate would sink to the level that they would lie about where they live.  And if they do, they should be exposed.” 

“Drive-by Politicians” 

“Of course it matters that he actually lives in our community,” says longtime Eagle Rock resident Eileen Hatrick, a former Dahlia Heights School Principal. “It’s essential to know firsthand the complex issues we face, like landfills, parks and housing needs in order to implement real solutions. And we need to know that Kevin DeLeon is serious about the job of representing us in CD 14, and that his plan is not to throw us over in a couple years to run for mayor like Antonio Villaraigosa did.”   

Other leading CD 14 candidates include Monica Garcia, LAUSD Board Member for District 2. Born in East LA, Garcia’s voter registration filing remains the address in CD 14 in El Sereno where she has reportedly lived for several years. However, Garcia has also faced questions about her residency claims, including at School Board meetings where she’s alleged by some parents to be “a drive-by politician.” 

Candidate Cyndi Otteson, a marketing business owner, called the “homegrown” candidate, was born and raised in CD 14, in Downtown LA, and currently resides in Eagle Rock where her children attend public school.  

So, does Kevin DeLeon actually live in CD 14?  His spokesman, Jonathan Underland, said, “I'm pleased to confirm for you that de León does, in fact, reside at the Range View Avenue address.  As for Bellevue Avenue, adds Underland, “DeLeon lived there when he ran for Assembly over a decade ago.”  

For District Attorneys, residency fraud still clearly matters. On September 12, Santa Ana Councilman Roman Reyna pleaded guilty to falsely claiming he had lived in his residence for at least 30 days before filing papers to run for office.  Reyna resigned his seat and was ordered to pay $578,053 to cover a special election for his seat in November. 

In Los Angeles, D.A. Jackie Lacey decided in May not to pursue a second trial against former councilman Richard Alarcon after the state District Court of Appeals overturned his conviction on improper jury instructions. But, Lacey says today: “We will continue to aggressively investigate and prosecute these [residency] cases. “The public deserves no less.”

(Mary A Fischer is an award-winning journalist, Eastside community activist and CD 1 resident.)

-cw