Voters in the Valley Are Getting a Rare City Council Rematch

Incumbent John Lee and astrophysicist Loraine Lundquist go head to head in what is arguably the most contested council race on the ballot
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For more than a year, Los Angeles city council candidates have been raising money, hitting community meet-and-greets, walking precincts and fielding questions at neighborhood forums. Now the finish line is in sight: election day is March 3.

This is more consequential than many might realize, as council reps wield tremendous influence over major projects in their district. Officeholders can serve for up to 12 years.

Seven of L.A.’s 15 council seats are up for grabs, and this page has been checking in on the most interesting races. This week, it’s a journey to the deep Valley, with a focus on Council District 12.


About the District

CD12, perched on the northwest edge of the city, is the second largest of the 15 council districts, measuring 58.7 square miles. Portions of the 405 and 5 freeways hug its eastern edge, and the 118 cuts through the territory. It’s got a lot of single-family homes, a lot of horses in communities such as Chatsworth, and the Cal State University Northridge campus (go Matadors!). It’s also home to neighborhoods including Granada Hills, North Hills, and the Robin Hood-reminiscent Sherwood Forest. When Mike Doughty, the frontman of the ’90s alt rock band Soul Coughing, warbled, “You live in Los Angeles and you are going to Reseda,” he was referencing a neighborhood in CD12!

The district is known as Los Angeles’ most conservative territory, and has a history of sending Republicans to City Hall, where they are vastly outnumbered by Democrats. In 2016, the 12th claimed the fourth-highest median household income ($75,100) of all council districts, and the second-lowest unemployment rate (5.3 percent), according to a study conducted by Beacon Economics and the L.A. Area Chamber of Commerce.

Representation

Like many council districts, the 12th saw little turnover in the pre-term limits era. Hal Bernson represented the district from 1979 until 2003, when he was succeeded by his chief of staff, Greig Smith. In 2011, Smith gave way to his chief of staff, Mitch Englander. But that’s when the carousel stopped, kind of—Englander, who got walloped in a 2016 run for County Supervisor, stunned his constituents in 2018 by quitting his council post for a private sector gig with Oak View Group, the business run by former AEG executive Tim Leiweke. Smith was appointed to serve as the interim council rep, and in August 2019, John Lee won a special election for the seat (Lee had served, natch, as Englander’s chief of staff). If you’re wondering why another election is taking place so soon, it’s because the special election was to finish Englander’s term, which closes at the end of 2020. A new four-year term then begins.

In the Running

Lee is a lifelong Valley resident who worked in the offices of both Englander and Smith. He knows how City Hall works—a plus or a minus, depending on your point of view—and has a platform built on issues such as addressing homelessness, providing safe communities and bolstering the economy. He strongly opposes having bus-only lanes on busy Nordhoff Street. Lee is just the third Asian American to serve on the City Council, and he boasts the endorsements of Council President Nury Martinez and former Council President Herb Wesson.

His sole opponent is Loraine Lundquist, who was also his foe in the special election (Lee and Lundquist made the runoff after emerging from a primary with 15 people on the ballot). An astrophysicist and college educator who lives in Northridge, Lundquist touts her environmental bona fides, declaring on her website, “I am an expert on clean energy.” She says homelessness will be a priority, as will challenging the Department of Water & Power. She claims the endorsements of the L.A. County Democratic Party and the Los Angeles Times.

Money Matters

Lee has raised more cash than Lundquist, but the financial disparity is not as great as often occurs in council races with an incumbent. Through January 18, according to documents filed with the City Ethics Commission, Lee had pulled in about $235,000, and had $163,000 in cash on hand. Lundquist, meanwhile, had raised $160,000, but is spending at a far faster clip, leaving her with about $40,000 in her war chest. However, Lundquist has also received $147,000 in city matching funds (granted to candidates who demonstrate an ability to secure a number of donations from local residents), which will allow her to keep sending out mail as election day approaches. Lee could receive matching funds, too, and through February 5 he had also seen $45,000 spent on his behalf by independent groups not affiliated with his campaign, including the union that represents city firefighters.

Big Issues

The 2019 Homeless Count found that District 12 had just 660 homeless residents, the lowest tally of all 15 council districts (the highest, District 14, which includes downtown, counted 7,872 homeless people). Still, homelessness is a crucial matter for area residents, and there was a fierce fight over a proposed permanent supportive housing project in Chatsworth. Many residents charged it was out of scale with the neighborhood, but the development was ultimately approved.

Traffic and the aforementioned Nordhoff Street bus lane are hot topics, as is the shutdown of Aliso Canyon, the natural gas storage site that leaked in 2015. The environmental disaster caused the evacuation of thousands of Porter Ranch residents, and people remain angry.

Next

This is arguably the most contested council race on the ballot. While incumbents rarely lose in Los Angeles city council elections, the shifting of local voting dates to align with state and federal contests could significantly increase the number of Democrats who turn out, a potential benefit for Lundquist. Then again, some political observers assert that with the new timeline, and with regional voting centers replacing traditional polling places, no one knows what will happen.

Ultimately, with two candidates going head to head, there will be no runoff, and the winner on March 3 will get a very important job for at least four years.


RELATED: The Race to Represent L.A. City Council District 4 Could Get Competitive


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