There’s a Lot of Noise Around New Councilwoman Traci Park

Cityside Column: The Westside rep takes on homelessness, counts an ally in Mayor Karen Bass, and also has a lot of vocal opponents

When Traci Park picked up the microphone at a Downtown luncheon on Monday, the sound system was tinny and generating feedback. It took about three seconds to realize this was a no-go. So the new District 11 councilwoman put the mic to the side.

“Nobody ever in the history of everdom has said they can’t hear me,” Park told the audience at the event hosted by the Los Angeles Current Affairs Forum.

The comment was accurate—you could hear her just fine without amplification—as well as funny and perfectly symbolic, because ever since she started running for the Westside council seat, there has been a lot of noise around Park—some from her, and more of it from opponents. The decibel level increased as she advanced out of the primary and into a November runoff, where she battled Erin Darling, whose progressive views aligned closely with those of controversial outgoing councilmember Mike Bonin.

Park is a Democrat and a political centrist, though in left-skewing Los Angeles, anyone even in the middle can get slammed as conservative. That was the case for Park. She beat Darling, pulling 52 percent of the vote, and took office Dec. 12. But an activist crowd was so displeased by the will of voters that some interrupted her inauguration, before she even had a chance to do anything. More recently, protesters assembled outside her home.

I asked Park how she can possibly go forward and win over those so dead-set against her.

“It’s something I have spent a lot of time thinking about,” she answered. “After I won the election, I really was mindful of the fact that I don’t just represent the 51,000-and-change folks who voted for me. I represent every constituent in my district.”

She added: “If you can have conversations and be respectful in disagreement, transparent in your thinking and genuinely collaborative in the approach, I think we can get past some of those divisions.”

Is that wishful thinking? Perhaps. Los Angeles is politically fractured, with voters sending completely different messages. In November, Eastside residents elected left-leaning Eunisses Hernandez and Hugo Soto-Martinez, who want to abolish the traditional police force and redirect resources to initiatives that address the “root causes” of crime. On the literal other side of L.A. is Park, who is such a staunch supporter of the LAPD that I have heard her referred to as Officer Traci.

Park won an election that, like almost every other city race on the November ballot, was dominated by the issue of homelessness, and District 11 had become a hot zone. The encampments that sprouted along the Venice Beach Boardwalk early in the pandemic generated national attention. The sprawl of tents in other neighborhoods sparked so much anger that an effort to recall Bonin nearly qualified for the ballot. Soon after it fell short, Bonin announced he would forgo a third term, leading to the Park-Darling throwdown.

Park has been far more forceful than Bonin in dealing with encampments, and if you pay attention to social media, you will see as much anger as there is praise for her. Opponents assert that people experiencing homelessness are getting bounced from one block to another. Supporters post photos of once trash-strewn streets and public spaces that now are navigable.

Park has found a partner in Mayor Karen Bass, an interesting development considering that many people who follow this stuff presumed that Park would have been more aligned with Rick Caruso. But Caruso is out of the picture, and both Bass and Park are benefitting, in the lingo of the day, from locking arms.

A cornerstone of Bass’ effort to combat homelessness is the Inside Safe initiative, which aims to move people out of tent encampments and into housing. District 11, which includes the neighborhoods of Brentwood and Pacific Palisades, as well as landmarks such as LAX and the Getty Center, has been the site of two Inside Safe pushes. At the luncheon, Park said 80 people from an encampment at Sunset Avenue and Pacific Boulevard, who were moved into interim housing in January, remain housed. A second Inside Safe push in Del Rey got 50 people into temporary residences, she said.

While Bass can claim a victory for addressing homelessness in the district that became the flashpoint of the crisis, and Park can show supporters that she took quick action, this is the early stage—the city counts nearly 42,000 people experiencing homelessness, and everything is complicated by challenges such as sluggish housing development and individuals living with addiction and mental illness.

Still, any step forward is a step that is not backward, which has not always been the case in L.A. 

“She is bringing leadership and determination that has far exceeded any expectations that I had,” said Park of Bass. “I am incredibly impressed.”

What kind of leader will Park be? It’s impossible to tell so early on, particularly with a first-time office holder who previously spent 20 years as a municipal attorney. As I have written before, running for City Council is completely different than actually representing 260,000 constituents, and while promoting a political ideology may draw headlines, the more important part of the gig is delivering services and figuring out how to work with the dozens of city department general managers who have the capacity to make your life easier—or more difficult.

Park, who hits the 100-day mark next week, is learning on the job while casting a wide net. At the luncheon she made references to challenges from helping restaurateurs keep pandemic-era outdoor seating, to the need to expand the Los Angeles Convention Center, to working on green technology and economic development. She’s like many rookie pols, trying to do everything everywhere all at once.

She is also prone to effusive statements, calling her territory “The best district in the entire city of Los Angeles,” and saying of her 13-person staff, “We have the best team in City Hall. We are mini but mighty.”

While a political resume is built over years, some important moves, and reflections of Park’s alliances, are coming down the pike soon. Again, they involve public safety, in particular the LAPD. The department that before COVID-19 had 9,700 sworn personnel today counts 9,161 officers. Park called the staffing level “dangerously low in my opinion.”

Bass has advocated growing the department back to the pre-pandemic level, and at a recent LAPD graduation restated her desire to add officers. When she presents her first city budget next month, Bass could be asking for more cash for the department. With “defund the police” advocates on the council, sides will be taken.

Park has made clear where she stands.

“I will expect a fight on where and how those dollars are going to be allocated and spent,” she stated. “Anyone who knows much about me knows where I’m going to be lobbying for them to go.”

It is a stance that is destined to cement support from those who voted her into office, and at the same time keep opponents yelling. In other words, expect the noise around Traci Park to continue.

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