Nika Soon-Shiong is Hopping the Pond

The activist daughter of billionaire LA Times owner Patrick Soon-Shiong is leaving town to pursue her doctorate at Oxford. Not everyone will be sad to see her go

Nika Soon-Shiong, the daughter of the billionaire owner of the Los Angeles Times, has been thrust into the spotlight recently for her activism while grumbled about privately by some senior staffers over her informal role as “special advisor” to the paper, where she’s been focusing on newsroom diversity and its coverage of criminal justice issues.

But staffers wary of her presence at the Times can breathe a little easier now—the 29-year-old says she is heading back to England this fall to resume in-person graduate studies at Oxford University after she had returned stateside more than two years ago in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic. 

In an interview with LAMag, Soon-Shiong says that she will also be stepping down from her seat on the city of West Hollywood’s Public Safety Commission. Her departure comes a few weeks after she successfully pushed a controversial plan to cut the budget for West Hollywood’s Sheriff’s Station.

“I’m in the third year of a Ph.D. program at Oxford, which I have been pursuing remotely during the pandemic,” she says of her enrollment in the renowned university’s International Development program, where she is writing a thesis on cash transfer systems in India. “I have not confirmed my last day on the Commission, but it will be before the end of this year.”

While Oxford University’s 2022-23 academic term begins October 9, Soon-Shiong’s term as a member of WeHo’s Public Safety Commission is not set to expire until February. She was appointed to the panel in September by the city’s outgoing councilmember, Lindsey Horvath—who later won an endorsement from the Times Editorial Board in her campaign to succeed Sheila Kuehl on the L.A. County Board of Supervisors.

While the paper’s editorial board insists that it operates independently, its endorsement of other Soon-Shiong-supported candidates has raised eyebrows in some quarters of the paper. “I think there’s a general sense around here that she has pushed the paper steadily leftward even though she doesn’t have an official position here,” says a veteran Times editor. The complaints reached a fever pitch in April with the Editorial Board at the paper’s surprise endorsement of Kenneth Mejia, the 31-year-old dark-horse candidate for L.A. city controller who has drawn criticism for publicly defending Syrian leader Bashar al-Assad against charges that he gassed his own people and his 2020 branding on Twitter of Joe Biden as a rapist.

Nika, the elder of the two-sibling Soon-Shiong family, has made no secret of her own political opinions, occasionally issuing critical tweets about Times stories and reporters that fall short of her standards. The Stanford grad and one-time consultant to the World Bank Group recently helped convince a 3-2 majority of the WeHo City Council to support a proposal that will divert $3.6 million from the sheriff’s budget, urging the Council to make an example of the LASD on behalf of all “opaque, inefficient and unaccountable law enforcement agencies” in L.A.  

The council’s vote to replace five armed Sheriff’s deputies with dozens of unarmed, blue-shirted “security ambassadors” prompted sharp criticism from pro-police elements in the city, who pointed to reports that the city’s crime rate has grown by 38% in the past year. George Nickle, the captain of the Eastside Neighborhood Watch Group and 17-year West Hollywood resident, trashed her proposal to cut as many as 10 deputies from the local station, dubbing Soon-Shiong the “WeHo Ivanka.”

In response, Horvath, who shares Soon-Shiong’s view of law enforcement reform, characterized such criticism of her appointee as “rooted in racism, sexism, and othering of people in the community who had a different point of view.”

When she’s not consulting at the Times or fighting off her WeHo antagonists, the energetic heiress is also making a name for herself in philanthropy. The influential news website Inside Philanthropy recently named her as one of the up-and-coming “successors” to watch – placing her on a list that included the children of billionaires Charles Koch, Mike Bloomberg, and George Soros.

“[Soon-Shiong is] drawing attention in her role as executive director of the Fund for Guaranteed Income, as well as co-director of the Compton Pledge, a guaranteed income initiative in one of L.A.’s poorest neighborhoods,” said the website, which focuses on nonprofits and grantmaking organizations.

While Soon-Shiong says that she’s stepping away from her local political position, her social justice work will continue from across the pond. “I will continue to run the Fund for Guaranteed Income as I have over the duration of my Ph.D.,” she says, highlighting the org’s recent launch of an SMS-based court notification tool. The free program aims to reduce the rate of defendants who fail to turn up to court appearances, risking further jail time and hefty fines.

Word around town is that reporters at both Politico and the Washington Post are now working on stories about Soon-Shiong’s outsized influence at the Times, which her father scooped up in 2018 (along with the San Diego Union-Tribune) for $500 million. Neither publication has contacted her, she says, but she bristles at the notion of complaints that she has too much power over editorial decisions at the paper. “The insinuation is both untrue and insulting to the hard-working staff at the L.A. Times,” she says.

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