[MAYORAL RACE] Garcetti Not Taking Schwartz’s Challenges

Mayoral candidate and Windsor Square resident Mitchell Schwartz spoke to potential voters at an event at Larchmont Village Pizzeria on January 21st.

Los Angeles mayoral candidate Mitchell Schwartz, of Windsor Square, turned the screw on his opponent in January, demanding incumbent Mayor Eric Garcetti pledge he will serve at least one year if re-elected in March and explain why he has opted out of a campaign finance program he’s previously supported.

Whoever is elected mayor, either with majority of the vote in the March primary or in a May run-off, will serve for 5 ½ years due to recent changes in the timing of city elections.

But some speculate Garcetti, who has been mayor since 2013 and prior to that, councilmember in the 13th District since 2001, may have his eye on running for governor of California or for Diane Feinstein’s U.S. Senate seat if she retires.

Garcetti, who will be 46 in February, is not taking Schwartz’s bait.

“Pledges are tired political gimmicks,” said Garcetti campaign spokesperson Yusef Robb in an email. “Mayor Garcetti is running for mayor. Period.”

Schwartz, who has raised $370,000 in donations according to filings with the city’s ethics commission through January 21st, also asked the mayor to explain why he has opted out of the city’s public matching funds program, which was created in 1990 to ensure candidates don’t have to rely on large campaign contributions or excessive fundraising and expenditures to fund their campaigns.

To receive matching funds, a candidate must agree to a handful of requirements, including attending at least one public candidate debate for the primary. Additionally, candidates must show strong donor support within the city, which Garcetti has done according to public campaign filings.

Having raised just over $3 million, Garcetti, through a spokesperson, said he did not accept matching funds because he wanted to save the city the expense.

“We are proud that such a diverse and large group of people have come out in support of our campaign so that we are not dependent on the tax-payer funded matching system,” Robb said.

Currently, the city is evaluating possible campaign finance reforms, after three Los Angeles City Councilmembers, including Council District 4’s David Ryu, authored a motion, which would, in part, ban developers with current or recent business before the city, from making donations to city officials or their campaigns.

According to Schwartz, who pledged not accept developer donations, the possible reforms fall short. Developers, critics say, could donate at other times to city officials well before or after their projects are decided.

“Developers aren’t all bad,” he said, “but we have the reality of corruption…and we have also have the perception of it. So, why not eliminate” developer donations entirely, he said.

The issue of developers’ donations to push real estate projects through City Hall and how the practice may be adding to the city’s rental affordability crisis has taken front stage in this year’s election.

According to a nationwide study released in 2016 by the Joint Center for Housing Studies at Harvard University, nearly 60% of renters in the Los Angeles-Orange County area pay more than 30%—the benchmark of affordability—of their income to rent.

Meanwhile, vacancy rates, according to U.S. Census, were 2.7% in the last quarter of 2015. Nationally, the number is 7%. When vacancies are low, demand and rents rise.

Currently, a one-bedroom apartment in Los Angeles rents for $2,301 a month, according to Rent Jungle, an online company that analyzes rents nationwide. A two-bedroom, as of the end of December 2016, averaged $3,026.

According to figures from the American Community Survey by the U.S. Census, over 61% of Angelenos are “house burdened,” meaning paying more than 30% of their annual income on housing.

According to Schwartz, he will release his own plan on how to increase affordable housing the first week of February, including a strategy to eliminate exceptions to the city’s zoning laws called “spot zoning” and to increase the affordable housing stock by 300,000 units within 10 years.

He said the plan will also advocate to repeal or change state laws he said are impacting the creation of affordable housing and to name a “housing czar.”

“Once you add vacancy as opposed to replacing [affordable] units [with luxury units], the vacancy rate will rise and you help middle class and poorer people stay here,” said Schwartz January 21st shortly before a campaign event at Village Pizzeria.

A handful of high-profile spot zoning approvals have occurred recently, specifically with luxury developments planned by Rick Caruso near the Beverly Center and a Frank Gehry designed project on the Sunset Strip in Hollywood. In each case, some affordable units will be built in exchange for the city relaxing rules on height and density.

In both cases, community activists have said the trade-off for a smattering of affordable units is not worth the size and density trade off and have threatened lawsuits against the city.

“Spot zoning is what destroys trust and credibility [in government],” said Schwartz. “People get upset when their voices aren’t heard and these community plans and zoning codes are [ignored.]”

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