DEEGAN ON LA—-City Watch recently caught up with freshman Councilmember Hugo Soto-Martinez (CD13) for an assessment, after several months in office, of where he’s at now on a number of key issues for his district and the greater city.
Topics likes homelessness, affordable housing, the Hollywood Community Plan, and his evolving relationship with the LAPD are examined. One of his biggest take-aways, which he found to be “really startling”, is the lack of coordination between city departments and service providers.
CW-What are your top three priorities for Hollywood, in hierarchical order, now that you’ve been able to assess your district through the lens of an accountable politico, not as a candidate making campaign promises?
HSM- They are (1) Homelessness, (2) Affordable Housing/cost of living, and (3) Pubic Safety.
CW-Any problems with adjusting to the office? You broke the Garcetti-O’Farrell machine and way of doing business that had a lock on CD 13 for 21 years. Have constituents that may not have voted for you made you feel welcome? Have you been able to expand your political base to include the Garcetti-O’Farrell partisans?
HSM-The adjustment to being in office has been really good.
We represent the entire district, not just the people who voted for us, so it’s critical to bring everyone into the process, not just the people who agree with you. We like to run toward some of the tensions that might pop up to resolve our differences rather than letting those differences fester.
For example, earlier this year we took down the temporary fence that had surrounded Echo Park Lake since 2021. Some residents weren’t totally on board at first, but after knocking on doors throughout the neighborhood, holding Town Halls, and forming a Resident Advisory Committee for the park, we were able to bring folks into the process and get them on board instead of running away because of our differences.
CW-Now that you’ve been in office for several months and have had a chance to examine the district, what have you learned that surprised you the most?
HSM-I had some idea about what we were stepping into, but the lack of coordination between city departments and service providers, especially on homelessness, was really startling when we took office.
We have dozens of service providers and agencies working on homelessness in our district, but before we took office, no one was coordinating them. So as a result, we had some agencies doing the same thing in the same area, while other parts of the district were being completely ignored.
That’s why right when we took office, we hired a 3-person homelessness team to work on this issue full-time and coordinate between providers and agencies so we can finally start making progress on this issue.
CW-What looks to you like a possibly intractable problem in the district, and how will you try to fix it?
HSM-I think a lot of people see the homelessness crisis as an intractable problem not just in our district, but in the entire city. The lack of coordination I detailed in the last question is a big part of that, but I think we’re making progress in showing that we can actually solve this issue.
One way we’re doing that is by dispelling this myth that people living on the street don’t want help. By leading with services, and also with Mayor Bass’ Inside Safe program, we’re seeing a near-100% acceptance rate of services.
So we know that this isn’t a problem we’re going to solve overnight, but we’re also showing that if we have the housing and mental health & addiction services that people need, we can get out of this crisis.
CW- What program that you do in CD13 will be applicable to a citywide rollout that will position you not only as Hugo for Hollywood, but Hugo for the City?
HSM-One thing that we’re hoping to see citywide is our services-led approach to homelessness. Like we’ve seen through Inside Safe across the city, housing and services get people off the streets. So I hope the entire city can take this common-sense approach to homelessness moving forward.
Another topic would be to expand our approach to housing issues that we brought to the Hollywood Community Plan. In passing this plan, we were able to add amendments to strengthen affordability requirements, increase renter protections, and extend affordable housing covenants from 55 to 99 years. And now that the plan was passed in City Council, we’re going to continue our work to make our city more sustainable and equitable. That means building 100% affordable housing on city-owned land, turning vacant and underutilized commercial/office buildings into apartments, and exploring social housing models.
Lastly, we’d love to see some of the unarmed response programs being piloted in CD13, like the CIRCLE (Crisis and Incident through Community-Led Engagement) program, expanded to the entire city. All over the city, we have armed officers responding to things like homelessness, mental health calls, noise complaints – and frankly they aren’t trained to deal with those calls, and they also don’t have time to respond to them, especially if we want them to deal with real crime. So we have some successful alternative response programs right here in CD13, and we all could really benefit from expanding them citywide.
CW-You have a few allies on the council, but not enough yet to dominate voting. How do you manage to convert doubters to your viewpoint and get you and your allies closer to having a majority for council votes to win out over the doubters? Who bends…you or them?
HSM-At the end of the day, we’re about getting things done with our constituents. I think pretty much all the councilmembers want to do that, we just sometimes have different ways of accomplishing that. So we’ve been very successful working with our colleagues on council, even when we don’t agree on things 100%, to take positive steps for the city.
For example, some people were surprised by our motion with Councilmember Tim McOsker to improve the police discipline process by reforming Charter Amendment C since he was previously a police union lobbyist, and I’ve been a critic of the police many times. But we both saw a police disciplinary process that was clearly broken, and we both worked together to find some positive changes that will improve things.
CW- You came into office proclaiming that the LAPD was in your sights. How’s that going? Have you modified your position at all now that you have official access to the Police Chief and his commanders and the civilian Police Commission? Are you directly communicating with LAPD leadership?
HSM-Our top priority is keeping people safe, not picking fights. So we’ve had conversations with Chief Moore, and we talk with the Captains and Senior Lead Officers in our district. And to a large extent, they actually agree with us that we shouldn’t have armed officers responding to nonviolent homelessness and mental health calls. So our collaboration on some of the top issues facing our residents like homelessness and public safety has been strong – now we just need to get the funding to set up these alternative response programs that will make us safer.
(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.)