Sun, Sep

It’s District 15 – Not Area 51

RANDOM LENGTHS NEWS - The harbor district has always held some kind of mystique for the rest of Los Angeles, like the highly classified United States Air Force facility, Area 51, in north Las Vegas —

the Waterfront, Beacon Street, Sunken City and tunnels of old Fort MacArthur all have their mysteries and folklore. San Pedro’s distance from city hall and the awkward shape of the district make it distinct and isolated in the great metropolis. It’s part of why people move here, it’s also why many complain.

 The year was 1925 and the Los Angeles City Charter was changed to create 15 council districts as opposed to having “at large” councilmen. And even though women could vote and run for office in California well before the passage of the 19th Amendment, none were elected to office here until decades later.  In fact, the 15th district would not have a councilwoman until after the 30 year reign of John S. Gibson (1951-1981), for whom the boulevard was named, he was one of the most powerful politicians in LA in his day.

His unlikely successor was his female deputy, Joan Milke-Flores (1981- 1993), and the 15th district boundaries have stayed the most static of the entire city for almost a century with only the northern border shifting a little north or south between Watts and South LA.

The second councilwoman was Janice Hahn (2001-2011) who is now the LA County supervisor for the 4th district, the sister of former LA Mayor James Hahn and daughter of the famous Kenny Hahn.  All of the others were men of European lineage, but this district has changed in the last 100 years. 

Back in 1925 when Charles J. Colden was elected with just 4,750 votes he probably rode the Red Car to city hall, a luxury that is missing today.  The Port of Los Angeles had just been through its war expansion and the city had suffered the misnamed Spanish Flu pandemic. Prohibition fueled a surge in the illicit import business. And the immigration issue of the day was the influx of Yugoslavians, Italians and Japanese to the growing fishing industry.

The “radical” union on the waterfront was the Industrial Workers of the World, known as Wobblies, and they were despised by the white protestant power structure. Councilman Charles Colden was the past president of the San Pedro Chamber of Commerce that was not sympathetic to the Wobblies — whose motto was “An injury to one is an injury to all.” The International Longshore and Warehouse Union only later adopted this motto after the 1934 West Coast general strike.

So here we are some 98 years later with a city council race between two white men, a young first generation African-American man and Danielle Sandoval, the only Latina in memory to run for this office. Both Tim McOsker and Anthony Santich are former presidents of the San Pedro Chamber, which for over 100 years has wielded overbearing influence on district politics. I like to say that there’s a well-worn path in the sidewalk between San Pedro city hall and the Chamber office. They leaned to the conservative side of politics up until Hahn was elected and it became apparent that 65% of the registered voters here were Democrats, pro-union and not necessarily ethnic European. Still for some reason San Pedro voters were the ones that tipped the scale on district elections and this is what’s at play in the June 7 primary.

We would be well served to have Sandoval fighting for the people

Will the same power structure, which includes property owners, corporate interests and the Port of Los Angeles, get Tim McOsker elected as the chosen one or will there be a real contest that redefines District 15? The demographics of this district have changed markedly over the past two decades and I believe it is quite possible for a Latina, Danielle Sandoval, to force a runoff with either Santich or McOsker.

And I would say that it’s about time that this takes place.

Sandoval does not come from the old power structure, but has worked her way up the ladder of the neighborhood council system, if one can actually call it a “system”, and has earned some important “street cred” in running a her campaign by reaching out to some of the most disenfranchised areas of the district. Places that are only marginally recognized as being “in Los Angeles.”  And in my humble opinion most of the district feels “disenfranchised.” 

Although each of the four candidates for this race bring something unique to the discussion — Bryant Odega with his activism within the Sunrise movement, which is needed now to combat climate change at our ports, Santich with his eye on corruption at the Port of LA and city hall and McOsker with his deep ties to city hall politics. Sandoval stands out as the one who I find has the most tenacity to actually fight for this district and not roll over. She doesn’t come with conflicts of interest as does McOsker. 

 Santich has some of the most engaging ideas for getting the port to pay up on its deficit of pollution and environmental crimes which all need to be implemented no matter who gets elected. But I believe Sandoval would follow through with these initiatives and that McOsker would not. If the primary election came down to a choice between Sandoval and Santich, it would be difficult choice. But the way it’s stacking up now, Sandoval has the most momentum to get into the runoff and the district would be well served to have a fiery Latina fighting for the people of this district. It’s time to break from the usual practice of the traditional power structure buying the council office.

The secret of District 15 is that the majority of residents feel dissatisfied if not disempowered living in the shadow and pollution of the massive industrial port and so

(James Preston Allen, founding publisher of the Los Angeles Harbor Areas Leading Independent Newspaper, Random Lengths News, 1979- to present, is a journalist, visionary, artist and activist.)