WESTSIDE -Traci Park moved to Venice in 2015, drawn here by what she called "the culture, the people and the lifestyle". She received her Bachelor's degree in History at Johns Hopkins University in 1997, her law degree from Loyola Marymount in 2001 and is a partner at Burke, Williams and Sorensen, a large law firm specializing in public entities, where she has worked since 2009, specializing in employment law, labor relations and litigation. Until recently, Ms. Park, a registered Democrat, had no intention of pursuing a career in city politics.
But that began to change several months ago when a good friend -- a local contractor -- called to let her know that the Ramada Inn, just a few doors down from her home, had been sold and was being converted into transitional, homeless housing, to be managed by People Assisting the Homeless (PATH) under the auspices of Project Roomkey. Further outreach showed that no one in the neighborhood was informed.
Along with the lack of engagement and the repeated due process violations that occurred thereafter --" It was also clear to Park that the City was not, in fact, entitled to various CEQA exemptions of which they were taking advantage, and were in violation of the Coastal Act's edict that affordable visitor accommodations like the Ramada are to be protected and preserved.
Our concern was the lack of any commitment from the city or PATH to protect public safety," she said. "We repeatedly went to the city with ideas and potential solutions that would set the project up to be a success...We asked for some basic security conditions, and the city rejected every single one of them without explanation...We asked the city to identify a target population of individuals that would make it lower risk," such as seniors, or domestic violence victims. "The city told us no.
We asked if they could at least have a rule that prohibits people who live in the facility from also maintaining a tent for living outside, the city said no...Every time we've gone to the city we've been met with no's, excuses, delays and reasons why they can't accommodate those requests. Frankly, if the city had been reasonable and cared about engaging with the community, hearing what the concerns are and willing to work with us, it could have been open and housing people in a safe and responsible manner months ago."
At the urging of several Venetians, Park began exploring a possible run against Mike Bonin in the 2022 election for CD11 City Councilperson. After consulting with political advisors and receiving the blessing of her law firm, on July 1st Park announced her candidacy. We spoke at her home a few weeks later.
CURRENT: Your website indicates that you want to take what you call a "different approach" to ending homelessness. How, specifically, does that work? For example, Joe Buscaino has stated that he would dismantle LAHSA (the Los Angeles Homeless Services Authority). Is that something you would consider specifically?
TRACI PARK: Do you know where LAHSA came from?
CURRENT: I know it's had a long history...
TRACI PARK: Back when Mayor Hahn was our mayor, in 2001, he established a blue ribbon commission to address homelessness. He didn't feel as though the county was doing its part, particularly to address mental health. He filed a lawsuit against the county -- his father was on the Board of Supervisors -- and the settlement agreement between the county and the city at that time created LAHSA, which is an independent JPA [Joint Powers Authority], which is funded by the city and the county. So we've had 20 years now of hundreds of millions of dollars being pumped into LAHSA. It serves as the clearinghouse for homeless housing and services citywide. And yet, to anyone observing the current humanitarian crisis on the street, the conclusion is that it's not adequately doing its job or effectively filling the role that it was designed to serve, at great expense to the public, and to the detriment of the people who need services.
So I do have serious questions about the viability of LAHSA and its efficacy as a government entity. If LAHSA was going to be dismantled, there would certainly need to be a replacement structure. We've got to have some type of clearinghouse or coordinated approach to addressing homelessness citywide. And one of the things that I have always found astounding about this is the fact that there is no comprehensive plan, budget or timeline to address this problem. And the city's effort to deal with this in piecemeal fashion -- 33 people being housed here, another dozen or so here -- is not adequate to deal with the issue.
Some of the ideas that I've heard as an alternative to LAHSA would be to create the city's own department to deal with and address homelessness, appointing a homelessness czar to oversee it. It has always been a head-scratcher to me as to why the city hasn't brought in an outside auditor, to take a look at our approach to homelessness from top to bottom.
If you're a failing business you bring in someone like McKinsey & Company or the RAND Corporation to come in and analyze and audit your processes, your procedures, your financing, what's working, what's not working, and help you design a better, more efficient approach. And what we know for sure is that despite pumping billions of dollars at homelessness generally over the last decade, the city has been completely inept in its effort to address and remedy the problem. Which of course is the product of decades of bad planning and bad policies.
This is bad education policy, bad healthcare policy, bad criminal justice policy. All of that is coming to fruition on our streets. So I think among other things we're going to have to be better stewards of public funds when it comes to housing interventions and solutions. [City Controller] Ron Galperin has consistently said for the past couple of years that the rate and level of spending is not sustainable. Even when voters passed H and HHH in 2016 and 2017, those funds have been squandered. We're going to get about half the units that we were initially promised. We only have a handful of them currently online, I think about 500 or so, which is not anywhere near adequate to address the problem. And if the projections are right that homelessness is going to double and triple over the next 5-10 years, we're never going to get ahead of it with the way that we're spending money.
CURRENT: In a recent ruling in the L.A. Alliance suit, Judge Carter pointed out that the city made the decision to spend virtually all of the HHH money of it on new construction. He specifically called the city out for literally, in his opinion, killing people by focusing on these expensive solutions that take a whole lot of time to come to fruition while people are dying on the streets. Mike Bonin has said in several interviews that "we can't treat mental illness without first housing people" or "we can't treat drug abuse without first housing people". Where do you stand on this housing first/harm reduction approach?
TRACI PARK: Mike Bonin talks about wanting to have a full menu of options, but when you read his menu, there's actually nothing on it. There's one thing , and that's housing first and harm reduction. I think that having some housing interventions and shelter interventions that are based on harm reduction and housing first modeling is really important. But it is irresponsible, in my opinion, to not also offer treatment-based interventions that are built on a culture of recovery. It's just intellectually dishonest to ignore the fact that addiction and mental health are significant drivers of the crisis that we see on our streets. And Mike Bonin claims to be a humanitarian, but I don't think that there is anything humane about leaving people who are sick and suffering and in many cases not able to care for themselves or make decisions on their own behalf because of addiction and mental health issues.
We're going to have to scale up different types of models, solutions and interventions beyond just housing first. For example, Ramada is housing first. So you are taking individuals who may be very mentally ill, who may be seriously addicted to drugs or alcohol and putting them all in quarters with no requirement to accept services. I mean, we saw in the LA Times that 49 people died in Project Roomkeys. And so if we're not going to mandate those services you can't just expect someone in a hotel room by themselves to get well. We've got to take a look at community living solutions as well. HAAVEN and SHARE! are great examples of that that have had a great level of success. Mike Bonin has ignored and shunned those types of interventions for years. He has recently said that he wishes now that he would have considered those sooner, but he has presided over this crisis for the last decade with this stubborn and wrong-minded attitude that the only approach we're going to take is harm reduction and housing first.
The other thing that we need to take into account is what is appropriate for the host community? If you're going to put shelters or transitional housing into residential neighborhoods where there are families or children, you have got to take into account public safety. And [Bonin] absolutely refuses to do that. You cannot deny the increase in crime around these facilities and the encampments that he's allowed to proliferate in the immediate vicinity. You just can't deny that those two things are linked. And so if you're going to ask a neighborhood to host a shelter, you're going to get a lot less pushback and a whole lot more buy-in if you can commit to the community that it's going to be safe.
Unfortunately, Mike Bonin has done a tremendous disservice to his successor, whether that's me or someone else, because of the lies and the broken promises around the Venice Bridge Home. I will tell you that when he came forward with the beaches and parks motion -- for the feasibility study that's really already done and that was a lie and a charade from the get-go -- I went to the neighborhood council meetings, I listened to all of them, and at every single one of those meetings the community overwhelmingly was against the idea in part because of the failures surrounding the Venice Bridge Home. It was repeatedly pointed to as an example of why communities and neighborhoods don't trust Mike Bonin or his ideas.
If they had kept the promises, if [A Bridge Home] had done what they promised it was going to do, I think there would be a lot of community support. But the failures and the increased crime and the uptick in encampments around the Bridge facility -- and in others -- has made people reluctant. With Ramada, we didn't have a say in this at all. The city couldn't have cared less about the neighbor's concerns. But they're legitimate, and they're valid, and they need to be part of the discussion.
CURRENT: Do you support the current effort to recall Bonin?
TRACI PARK: (long pause). I understand the anger and I empathize with why the community wants to do this. This is happening because of Mike Bonin's own failed policies and the disastrous consequences that they have had in our community. I wish they had happened sooner, frankly. You know, the timing of it, with the election being so close is not ideal. But this is a community that has come together across the political spectrum because they are outraged at the way they have been treated by Mike Bonin and his staff. And I have been in meetings across the district since early this year, and consistently I am hearing a high level of anger and frustration about the fact that Mike Bonin won't engage. He won't return emails, he won't return phone calls. When his staff does respond, it's a non-response. Mike Bonin won't attend community meetings. Venice has been crying out for a Town Hall for more than a year now, and he won't come here. If Mr. Bonin had kept his promises and been responsive to the concerns of Venice over the last 18 months, we wouldn't be where we are. But frankly, this is a product of his own doing.
CURRENT: What is your stand on reforming the LAPD? What role should and shouldn't the police be playing with regard to the homelessness situation?
TRACI PARK: I believe that our law enforcement and our first responders are absolutely essential to our community. They're currently significantly understaffed, thousands below where they need to be to adequately serve and protect our community. We have just witnessed, over the last six or eight weeks, a very effective partnership between law enforcement and our service providers in dealing with the problem at Ocean Front Walk that should never have been allowed to proliferate the way it did.
CURRENT: Are you talking about the Sheriff's intervention?
TRACI PARK: Yes. And we all know that Mike Bonin didn't roll out his program until the Sheriff showed up. Finally, someone came to address the concerns of the residents in Venice. And it is a shame that things had to get so bad on Mike Bonin's watch that that was the result. And I do believe that our law enforcement needs to be able to enforce existing criminal laws and to regulate, in a compassionate way, our public spaces.
CURRENT: When you talk to law enforcement proponents about this, they tell you the police are being asked to do too much. That they didn't sign onto this job in order to be, for instance, at the front line of mental health response. And so what about the issue of having more non-police outreach?
TRACI PARK: I think it's absolutely an essential component of what needs to be done to address the problem. That really isn't the job of law enforcement to have to do that, and frankly the problem on the streets has become so bad that its what's taking up their time and resources. And that's leading to increases in response times, which is dangerous for the community generally. So I do think that re-imagining different types of outreach and mental health unarmed response interventions for mental health issues is appropriate
CURRENT: Specifically with mental health, do you feel, as an attorney, that we need to reform our laws regarding how we treat the mentally ill?
TRACI PARK: Back in 1967, then governor Reagan signed into law the Lanterman-Petris-Short Act, the idea behind it was that you don't want to have people in carceral settings, in institutional settings, just because of mental illness. And that makes sense, right? For people who are able to care for themselves and make decisions on their own behalf, those people should have the opportunity to integrate into society and live independently. The problem is that currently, for people who have severe mental illness and in many cases dual diagnosis of mental illness and substance abuse, they don't have a housing intervention option that's treatment or recovery based to address the issue. That is something that we are absolutely going to have to look at and address.
The county as the operator of the department of mental health really is the entity that needs to step up and do more. Local government is set up to deal with potholes and tree-trimming and municipal issues, and here we are holding the bag on very complicated mental health, substance abuse and housing issues that are so far out of the general purview of municipal government that it's really difficult and unfair, in many ways, that local taxpayers are left holding the bag on that.
CURRENT: Where do you come down on the proposed Reese-Davidson development on the Venice median? The plan appears to be to fund it at least partially with Proposition 2 funds, which were supposed to for specifically housing the mentally ill.
TRACI PARK: We're talking $1,000 a square foot. A million dollars a unit. The average working class family in Los Angeles could not afford that. The taxpayers and the voters have been lied to repeatedly and misled about the benefits of these propositions and measures. And worse, our city council has failed to be a good steward of those funds. There are far less expensive solutions that the city could utilize. There are thousands of existing government-owned parcels of land that could be converted. There's far less expensive locations. Trying to put properties like that a few feet from the beach, a mile from the beach -- the construction costs on that are absolutely enormous. And at the rate the city is currently spending money, it will take the city 25 billion dollars to house the existing homeless population, and that's just not sustainable. There's money currently coming in from the CARES act and Coronavirus relief funds, but at some point that's going away. And who, at the end of the day, is going to pay to address this problem? Local taxpayers here in Los Angeles. That is an unreasonable ask, and it's just not tenable. And so the city has got to look at more cost-effective solutions, which is exactly what Ron Galperin has been calling for since 2019.
CURRENT: The city has repeatedly blamed lawsuits -- ACLU lawsuits in particular -- for hamstringing their efforts to clear the sidewalks. What they've all said is that we can't force someone to get off a sidewalk unless we first offer them another place to go. So how do you square that circle as far as balancing the need to protect civil liberties and protecting public spaces?
TRACI PARK: I believe that our city has over-read the requirements of Boise. The 9th circuit said that you cannot enforce a no-camping ordinance unless you can offer shelter. And our city has conflated housing and shelter. Two different things. Both are important. Housing is a long term solution. Shelter is an immediate solution. And we have focused almost exclusively, our funds and attention, on the housing solution and very little on the short term solutions, which is what is required to enforce the no-camping ordinance. The other thing that the 9th circuit said very clearly was that the city could implement time and place restrictions, and we have failed to do that. So time and place restrictions could be, just to name a few, banning camping in the canyons in Brentwood and the dry hillsides of the Pallisades. Those are very high fire risk areas and there's an extreme danger and catastrophic consequences when there's a fire in those areas. You could immediately protect areas around playgrounds, parks, elementary schools, daycares and our city has elected not to do that. It has taken all of this time since the Boise decision came out in 2018 and they only just recently approved Motion 55A, which is the revised camping ordinance which finally addresses some time and place restrictions in a manner that's consistent with Boise. But it concerns me greatly that our councilmember in CD11 voted against it. I have no reason to believe that he will enforce it in our district. You heard him during the city council meeting. He needs to have a map to reach the conclusion that dangerous encampments around schools is a bad idea. And that, I'm sorry, just does not resonate with his constituents, and his voting is not consistent.
CURRENT: He seems to be opposed to enforcement of any kind.
TRACI PARK: Yeah. He is. Which is why we need to scale up the shelter solutions. We're going to have to identify people who don't want to accept the shelter, we're going to have to identify safe camping and parking areas, which if I'm elected will not be in our public parks or at our beaches. You can require people to go there, and if they don't, you have the ability to regulate your public space and enforce the existing laws. So I hear what he's saying, and I understand where he's coming from and I appreciate his empathy, but it cannot come at the expense of children's ability to thrive in their own neighborhoods, their ability to go to Little League and to use their parks.
I'll just briefly comment on the beaches and parks motions because it's so controversial and there's so much outrage over it. I find every single one of the locations that he identified in the motion to be problematic. Dockweiler is a draw for our underserved communities from around greater Los Angeles and has been for decades.
I just recently spent some time at Dockweiler talking to people and asking where they were from. Virtually all of them were large families that come from all over Los Angeles, most of whom are outside of CD11 and have no say in what happens to that parking lot. Almost everyone we talked to were families of color.
I have spoken to people in Lot 3 [the RV parking lot at Dockweiler which has been proposed as a location for safe camping], and that is a vibrant, busy and critical coastal asset that should be preserved for the enjoyment of all Angelenos. We asked people how they would feel about bringing their families if 400 of those parking spaces were converted into homeless shelters, and almost unanimously they said they would not feel comfortable with it and they would not be coming to Dockweiler. We also asked them, would you take your family to Venice? Almost universally they said no way would they come to Venice with their families.
In Fisherman's Village [where a safe parking site has been proposed] in Marina del Rey -- that's a death sentence for those businesses. They're already holding on by a thread. And there's been absolutely no consideration given to the fact that those are small businesses that have families and employees depending on them.
Will Rogers State Beach is obviously is a huge draw for tourism. It's an iconic part of PCH, home to numerous different summer camps and activities, and ironically used as the staging area recently to fight the Palisades Fire. Westchester Park -- heartbreaking.
I've spent a lot of time at Westchester Park in the last couple of months. Since the 1940s, Westchester Park has been used not only by Westchester residents but by people from all over Los Angeles for sports leagues, children's activities, youth programming...that sort of thing.
Since Mike Bonin has allowed these encampments to proliferate, the fields are full of dead grass, there are gopher holes and piles of garbage. There is open-air drug use, crime and violence are rampant, fires are a near daily occurrence there, and there's no kids playing. The city's not issuing permits for the ball fields and attendance is down almost 50% for all of the youth sports activities, tennis lessons...it's just dying.
Our parks are a very important community resource. Some recent polling data confirms that both Mar Vista and Westchester Park are used by very diverse communities. In many cases people are coming to those parks from other parts of the city where there is a shortage of public green space, and often times they're used by families that live in apartments that don't have outdoor space for children. Westchester was serving meals to senior citizens, and I've talked to senior citizens who are afraid to come there anymore. And we can't sacrifice those spaces when there are other alternatives that should be considered first.
CURRENT: You've said that the environment is a huge priority for you. How do you think Mike Bonin -- who I'm sure would swear he's an environmentalist -- has failed the environment?
TRACI PARK: Well, it's interesting how everything ties back to the humanitarian crisis on the streets, but if you look at the human waste that's being dumped into our environment, the toxic runoff that's coming from the encampments on 3rd and Rose goes right into the storm drain and out onto the sand in Venice Beach. When they do these cleanups, thousands of tons of trash and garbage are being removed. That's not consistent with our values on the environment, and the fact that he has allowed those problems to proliferate to the extent that they have tells me he doesn't really care about committing to the environment.
I would love to see the city drastically speed up its conversion of its fleet to EV and clean energy vehicles. I would love to see the city rapidly move over to clean energy sources in all government-owned buildings and facilities. I would love to drastically see the [Electric Vehicle] charging ramped up around the city. Obviously expanding bike lanes and making our neighborhoods more walkable are important. There's a lot more that could be done. Look what we just saw happen down at the Hyperion Station a week or two ago. And we don't know yet if that is negligence or just a failure of the infrastructure. But our infrastructure is crumbling. The pipes under the city are 100 years old or more in some places. And there are environmental catastrophes waiting to happen all over the city and all over CD11. Mike Bonin has done little if anything to address those concerns.
CURRENT: What about the push to densify LA.? There's been legislation proposed in Sacramento to effectively do away with new single-family zoning all together, and the justification is that we have an affordable housing crisis. Where do you come down on that?
TRACI PARK: I have concerns about the state taking away local control of its own planning and its own zoning, and I don't want to see single-family neighborhoods be detrimentally impacted. We certainly do have a housing shortage and a problem with that. The reality is that many people who work in the city of Los Angeles can't afford to live here or buy a home here. So they're buying homes much further away. That's leads to long commutes and congestion and there's environmental concerns that go with that. So there are places where densification is appropriate. If we're going to be a modern, growing, thriving city we're going to have to build for the fact that we have an increasing population of individuals. But there's got to be a mindful approach to where and how that happens. Currently, the city's approach to that seems to be increasing the density around transit hubs. And to some extent, that makes some sense. Getting people to make the switch to public transportation and using the subways.
CURRENT: How do you make sure those units getting built are actually affordable? With some of these new, transit-oriented apartments, the buildings have no parking but one-bedroom apartments are renting for $3,000 a month.
TRACI PARK: It has become so expensive to build and develop that for any small developer it's already overwhelming. Just the permitting process and the associated additional costs with all of that are extreme. And it deters a lot of good ideas out of the market. I question what they're calling affordable housing. Who is actually eligible for that? Workforce housing is a way to take a different look at that. Because I want our city to be a place where a working class family has a real shot at having a home and building a life here. And currently it's just not happening. And the incentives and blunt force objects that we use to try to force that into the market aren't adequately getting the job done.
CURRENT: What role do you think neighborhood councils should play in city government and what obligation do you feel a city councilmember should have to them?
TRACI PARK: My view is, what's the point of having them if your councilmember doesn't care? Which is the status quo. Mike Bonin doesn't engage with his, he doesn't use them in any advisory capacity. He rules by mandate, and that is something that I am committed to changing. I think that the neighborhood councils are an absolutely vital aspect of our local democracy. They do incredible work. Their committees are made up of community experts that have boots on the ground addressing these issues. It is irresponsible not to seek their guidance or take their direction. Ultimately, the councilmember is going to have to evaluate any issue based on the information that's presented and do some value-based decision making -- which group does this benefit? How does this benefit them? Is this the most cost-effective way to achieve that benefit? But I think that the Neighborhood Council System is an absolutely vital aspect of our community structure and I welcome the opportunity to work with neighborhood councils. I don't pretend to have all the answers! I expect my neighborhood councils to come to me with their concerns and their resolutions and that's what I'm going to go advocate for at City Hall.
CURRENT: Would you be willing to make a commitment to attending at least one neighborhood council meeting in each of the neighborhoods in CD11 every year if you are elected?
TRACI PARK: Absolutely! Absolutely! Yes!
CURRENT: Even if they don't like you?
TRACI PARK: Even if they don't like me. The way I view this relationship with constituents is similar to the way I view my relationship with my clients. My job is to identify the issues and to devise a strategy to achieve a resolution to the problem. And my task is to advocate and to represent their best interests. And I want to do that for the constituents in this district. My job is to take direction from the voters who are going to put me in office and then go to City Hall and advocate for what they're asking me to do. And we don't have that relationship with our current councilmember.
I don't believe that Mike Bonin represents the views of his constituents. He's made it perfectly clear that he doesn't care to hear from them. He lives in a echo chamber of people who agree with him and the rest of the constituents be damned. And I just don't think that that's effective governance, and it's certainly not representative governance. I recognize going into this that I'm going to have to make hard decisions on some things and demonstrate leadership and that some people won't agree with what I decide to do. But I am fully committed to being accessible and to being engaged with the community. That's why I'm taking this on -- in direct response to how Mike Bonin has treated our community in Venice. And you have got my word that I'm going to be a different kind of councilmember.
CURRENT: Traci Park, thank you for speaking with us.