DEEGAN ON LA-In an exclusive interview with CityWatch, candidate Sarah Kate Levy shared some of her reasons for attempting to unseat incumbent City Councilmember David Ryu (CD4).
Kicking off her campaign exactly one year ago (September 4, 2018), for an election slightly more than one year from now (November 3, 2020), newcomer Levy is running on a platform of “Fair Housing, Smart Transit, and Trees and Green Space.”
CW: Have you held elective office before?
SKL: I was a WGA screenwriter who took at hard turn into politics in 2016. As President of the National Women’s Political Caucus, LA Metro, I have helped women get elected locally, and across the state. Doing that work has given me great insight into our local politics.
CW: Will you categorically refuse to take campaign contributions from developers?
SKL: I have pledged not to take campaign contributions from developers who have not shown a strong commitment to affordable housing. I haven’t taken any money from developers to date.
CW: What have you found is the number one issue in CD4, as you moved across the district meeting people in the past year?
SKL: Homelessness is the number one issue in CD4. Everyone is focused on it.
CW: When you said in a recent campaign statement that you want to “solve our housing and homelessness crises” do you mean by that broad statement that you want to be solving the problem of housing for the homeless, or doing that as well as creating affordable housing for the lower and middle classes?
SKL: There is a direct connection between homelessness and our lack of affordable housing. According to the county statistics, 71% of homeless Angelenos are simply people who have fallen out of our housing market. Those who are experiencing homelessness have no way back in because the cost of housing is too high, and we do not have enough inventory. We need stronger protections to keep tenants in place, but we cannot solve this problem in the long term unless we build more housing.
CW: How do you view the homeless? Are they on the streets just because of a lack of housing supply (no matter how they lost their housing -- eviction, loss of income or job, Ellis Act, etc.) or are they homeless because of a public health issue like mental health and addiction?
SKL: Our homelessness crisis is a humanitarian catastrophe. If 36,000 people were in the streets today displaced by earthquake, flood, or fire, we would act immediately. The housing funded by H and HHH and the hundreds of thousands of other units we need won’t be built quickly enough to help the people sleeping on the streets tonight. We have to act right now. We can offer better service and stability to unsheltered Angelenos by setting up safe parking and safe camping sites, with bathrooms, showers, and Coordinated Entry Services on site.
We need to entirely rethink how we help those who are struggling with mental illness or substance abuse. I am looking forward to seeing the implementation of the new pilot project the county is undertaking, based on the successful model created in Trieste, Italy.
CW: How does building expensive, non-rent-controlled, market rate housing result in more affordable housing?
SKL: My husband and I are small landlords -- we own a fourplex and sixplex, both rent-stabilized, or RSO. RSO units protect tenants who are in them, which is great -- but RSO rents can reset after a vacancy, so our city is naturally shedding affordable housing as RSO units reset. That’s why RSO doesn’t solve our long-term need to create more affordable housing stock.
CW: Can you be more specific about this?
SKL: We need to find better ways to incentivize affordable housing. Inclusionary zoning is one way to do that. With inclusionary zoning, you create affordability covenants that mandate units rent at a percentage of a renter’s income. Renters qualify for those units based on their income level -- middle class, low income, extremely low income, etc. The covenants from the last thirty years are all expiring, leaving our affordable housing stock at a deficit. Our Transit Oriented Communities (TOC) plans are meant to encourage these types of units, but we need to do more. That’s why we need to streamline the building process for affordable developers.
CW: Is this the only, or the best way to create affordable housing?
SKL: Another way to incentivize affordable housing -- or more affordable than we see now -- is to completely rethink how development works in our city, so that units can be delivered more quickly and more economically to market.
- We need to simplify our general plans, so builders and the public trust the process.
- We need to do away with behested payments, because every behested dollar a Councilmember requests from a developer gets added to the cost of building and delivered right back to the consumer.
- We need to find a way to limit nuisance lawsuits, as well, because the moment a developer gets brought into a legal fight, once again, those dollars get added to the budget and delivered back to the consumer.
CW: How do you feel about the proposed Transit Neighborhood Plan that would allow up-zoning along transit routes in the Miracle Mile-Fairfax part of CD4, including Wilshire Boulevard, Fairfax Avenue, and La Brea Avenue?
SKL: I’m in favor of the Transit Neighborhood Plan (TNP), that would allow up-zoning along transit routes in CD4 territory, not only because we need more density to meet housing goals, but because density is essential to solving our climate crisis. Newer buildings are more energy efficient, and by building near transit, we can encourage people to get out of their cars. That, in turn, will help clean our air, and slow the warming of our city and our planet.
We need protected bike networks, and protected bus lanes. We moved in the wrong direction when we ripped out our streetcars. As we cut bus service, we put more cars on the road and let ridesharing services fill our transit void. We continue to experience the bad effects of automobile-centric transit planning. Our traffic is terrible, our streets are deadly, our air is the dirtiest in the nation again.
We need to reverse course if we want safer streets, breathable air, and a sustainable climate. We need to make a real change now.
CW: Will you support an update of the Wilshire Community Plan first, before Metro’s Transit Neighborhood Plan can be implemented, so that Metro is working with the most relevant data?
SKL: We should insist that the City speedily update the Wilshire Community Plan. Good community plans are essential to meeting our housing goals. But I don't believe we should stall Metro’s Transit Neighborhood Plan (TNP). TNP is essential to meeting our transit goals. Stalling on any of this is no longer an option. We have to work more quickly if we are to meet our housing, transit, and climate goals.
Important Upcoming Election Dates:
- Filing deadline - Nov 12 to Dec 6, 2019 - candidates must file declarations of candidacy and nomination papers.
- Primary Election - March 3, 2020
- General Election - November 3, 2020.
(Tim Deegan is a civic activist whose DEEGAN ON LA weekly column about city planning, new urbanism, the environment, and the homeless appear in CityWatch. Tim can be reached at email@example.com.) Edited for CityWatch by Linda Abrams.
Tags: Tim Deegan, Deegan on LA, Sarah Kate Levy, CD4 election, homelessness, affordable housing, density, transit oriented districts, LA quality of life