Editor's Note: This article is a first in a series of interviews with candidates running in the 2022 elections.
Ron Galperin was elected Los Angeles City Controller in 2013 after an unsuccessful run for City Councilmember from CD5 in 2009, and re-elected in 2017. An attorney and journalist, he is the first person elected to Citywide office to have started his political career in the Neighborhood Council system, as a member of the Bel Air‐Beverly Crest Neighborhood Council, where he served as Outreach Chair and Budget Advocate.
During his tenure as City Controller, he's received a great deal of acclaim for his efforts to increase government transparency, in particular through the creation of Control Panel L.A., an extensive, online digital trove of data about all things L.A.-related. His much-cited 2019 report on the high cost of permanent supportive housing projects funded by Proposition HHH inspired and informed my reporting on two such projects in Venice.
Galperin announced his candidacy for Supervisor in late May of 2021, stating in an opinion piece in Wehoville that "Doing more of the same isn’t an option. The world around us is changing rapidly, and government has to keep up — and even be ahead of the curve in anticipating needs and shaping better communities."
Ronald Shalom Galperin is both the son and the spouse of rabbis. He and his husband, Rabbi Zachary Shapiro, live in West Los Angeles together with their young twins, Maya and Eli.
The Third Supervisorial District covers the Westside as well as parts of Los Angeles, Santa Monica, West Hollywood, Calabasas, Agoura Hills, Malibu, Westlake Village and Hidden Hills. Spanning more than 400 square miles, the district’s population is close to two million -- a number greater than the population of 13 U.S. states. The role of the Board of Supervisors is very broad and includes the adoption of an annual budget outlining the expenditures of all branches of the County on a fiscal-year basis. With the recent election of Supervisor Holly Mitchell, every current member of the Board is a woman. Thus far, Galperin's opponents in the race are current West Hollywood Mayor Lindsey Horvath and former Santa Monica Mayor and current State Assemblyman Richard Bloom.
Galperin met with me over Zoom in late September. This interview has been edited for clarity.
CURRENT: Let's start with homelessness and how it's being dealt with and not dealt with in L.A. and what you would do differently as a County Supervisor. Both of your opponents have pointed out in their interviews with us that there's no elected official, or an elected board like we have for Metro, that are accountable for this issue.
GALPERIN: Certainly I believe that homelessness right now is the existentialist crisis that is facing Los Angeles. We know that it's not unique to L.A. Every city, every county across the nation is dealing with it. But only New York has a larger number of homeless than we do in Los Angeles, and we have a higher number of unsheltered homeless. In New York, many of them are not on the street, on the sidewalk, the way they are here in Los Angeles. And I call it the existentialist crisis because first of all it's a humanitarian crisis with, tragically, three or four people a day dying on our streets. Imagine that. A city with so much wealth, so many resources, that three or four people a day are dying on our streets. And it's also, I believe, not for lack of money. The fact is, there's a lot of money that's being spent but the question is how is it being spent and what results are we getting? So it's a humanitarian crisis. It's a public health crisis. And it also is one impacting everybody's quality of life, no matter what neighborhood they're in, no matter who they are, it impacts whether Los Angeles is going to be a place where people want to come and visit, to book their conventions, to do business, to invest, to raise their families. All of those things. That's why you see it being first and foremost -- and rightfully so, I think -- in everybody's mind. And so we have to get this right.
There have been years of pronouncements about "ending homelessness" and setting deadlines for it and all of those have been missed. I believe that there's a lot that we can and have to do in the interim. While I'm a big believer in permanent supportive housing, you very well know just how unbelievably time-consuming and expensive it is to create it. There's a lot that we can do to reduce those costs and make it much faster, but meanwhile, what are we doing about the people who are dying on our streets? There are a variety of what I would call imperfect interim approaches that we can take. And this can be more safe parking and safe tenting areas. More pre-fab and shed housing. More vouchers. More use of motels. More adaptive re-use projects. And very much coupled with supportive services, particularly mental health services and drug and alcohol services.
You know, it's interesting. I'm in Sacramento attending the California League of Cities Conference. I attended a program that was an hour long on homeless housing. And I was shocked that not once in that whole one hour program did the three people on the dais mention mental illness or addiction. I was stunned! Because we all know that housing is absolutely essential, but it is not the only component. So that's part one in the answer to your question.
But to come back to the issue of who's responsible…the county has a lot of silos. The city, in and of itself, has a lot of silos. And the relationship between those two entities has not always been as smooth and as collaborative as it needs to be. And then of course you have the role of LAHSA, which was created many years ago for a purpose very different in many ways than what it's being called upon to act as nowadays. The budget for LAHSA alone is 888 million dollars this year. You divide that by the number of people who are in the continuum of care and you're talking about $16,000 per person just for LAHSA. And I have, as you know, conducted audits about how they do outreach and how they keep their statistics, and there's a lot that is left to be desired. I don't know that you're going to get to the point where there is a "Czar" as some people have suggested, for homelessness. But I do think you need to look at how do you make some entity -- and it can be LAHSA -- one that is much more effective. And I think that the way that you do that is by having principles be a part of it. Meaning actual elected officials.
Now mind you, the Metro Board is not perfect, there are plenty of issues there. It's also a somewhat different model, because Metro is something that we anticipate stick around in perpetuity. Whereas you would hope that the need for an agency to address this particular crisis doesn't need to be quite that same model. Although there's always going to be homelessness and mental illness and poverty and addiction issues and lack of housing. But I do think that bringing elected officials from those agencies together, be it from the city, or the county, or maybe some other cities within the county could be very successful. And then look at all of the pools of money at one time, and then plan and strategize accordingly. But having said that, that takes a while to set up. Meanwhile, people are dying. So there's a lot that can be done without even doing that that would make a lot of progress in ameliorating the disaster that is on our street.
CURRENT: What do you think the county can do better as far as addressing this as a mental health crisis?
GALPERIN: Well, first of all, I think that on a statewide basis we need to re-examine what is our definition of "grave disability". I've heard, and I think we've all seen, what is happening on our streets. There are many times when, be they outreach workers or be they other representatives of the city or county, encounter people who are on the street, and they clearly have some significant challenges. And the last thing that I want to do is to grab people off the street and put them into a facility. But there are some people who really desperately need our help. And by not taking them in, at least for some evaluation, for some assistance, to look at the role of medicine and what that might do to help them, what we're doing is not humane, but rather the ultimate in cruelty by allowing them to just die on the street or become very sick and go into a spiral of mental illness that's even worse.
I think that all of us could be subject to it in the sense that, imagine any of us who have not experienced homelessness, just a couple of days on the street and the traumas that one encounters are enough to be a real mental challenge to anybody, but particularly those who've been on the street for quite a while. So I think we need not just more outpatient mental health, but more inpatient. Where people can be there for whatever period of time it takes for evaluation and to help to stabilize in a variety of different ways. I think that would be really crucial and really helpful. And there are people also who are suffering many physical ailments. You look at, particularly people who have been on the street for a long time, it's both a mental health and physical health. They're having trouble just being able to get around. There's been such a focus, and understandably, on permanent supportive housing. But before people can get into that, they need to be stabilized.
CURRENT: You did a study of HHH, and in light of that, do you think it's even possible for us to build enough permanent supportive housing with the funds that we have? Is there a way to do it more cost-effectively?
GALPERIN: HHH was never meant to solve all the issues of permanent supportive housing for those experiencing homelessness. However, everybody had, I think, a reasonable expectation that it was going to happen a lot faster and a lot more cost effectively than it has. And there's a lot of reason for people to be dissatisfied with the pace and the costs associated therewith. Having said that, I don't know that government is capable of solving all problems. If you want to look at our dirth of available housing, not just in Los Angeles but throughout other parts of California, we did not get here by accident. It is very difficult to get anything built in California. And the road to hell, as they say, is paved with good intentions. We have so many different rules and regulations that are meant to control density and height and setbacks and energy efficiency and water use and design and CEQA compliance, and accessibility for those experiencing handicaps and for various kinds of mitigation fees that are paid by developers. And by the way, all of these are important, but there is a cumulative impact that they have and we also know just how long and how bureaucratic a process it is to get anything developed. Many developers are saying they're going elsewhere to build because they can do it much faster, much cheaper, much more easily somewhere else. And so a lot of this is about supply and demand.
I don't believe that the private sector alone is going to be the one to fill all of the needs, but as long as you make it really difficult to build, you're going to have this crisis in California
CURRENT: There's also been, especially at the state level, a real emphasis on increasing density and, to some degree, eliminating single family homes all together -- I'm referring to SB9 and SB10. Homeowners feel a little under siege right now and vilified for the affordable housing crisis. Do you think increasing density is the answer to this crisis? And do you feel there's still a place in California for single family homes?
GALPERIN: Well, I believe that density is important. I think it's part of the puzzle but not the whole of the puzzle by any means. And by the way, I think that you can achieve density without eliminating single family zoning. What I'm also very interested in is not just how do you create more units, but how do you create more ownership opportunities? We're seeing the percentage of people who can ever dream of owning anything going down in so many of our cities, which, by the way, will have a lot of implications in terms of how people can build generational wealth, how people can have money to start a business or to send their kids to school, and to create some personal wealth and to have something for retirement and much, much more. Pretty much all of the money that we see that is in the billions of dollars that is focused on creating more affordable housing -- or supposedly affordable housing -- is in the rental market. And I think that there's a huge opportunity to create more ownership opportunities in terms of condos, coops, TICs (tenancies in common). And it also creates more stable neighborhoods in the final analysis as well. But I think that there are plenty of places where we can and where we should have more density. I don't think that has to come at the cost of single family neighborhoods.
CURRENT: As City Controller, you've emphasized accountability and transparency. How do you take those core values into county government? And how do you see the need for those at the County level?
GALPERIN: Well, I have a lot of experience in dealing with a very large bureaucracy in the form of the City of Los Angeles, and with finding different ways in which one can exercise power. Sometimes it's about calling people out for what they're doing, sometimes it's about working collaboratively with them, sometimes it's about helping them do their job in a better way. There's a lot of ways in which to exercise that power.
Now, the County has been much less transparent than the city. We really tried to move, in the City of Los Angeles, to a much greater level of transparency, and I'm sure you're familiar with the open data initiative which I've started, which has really grown tremendously to a lot of departments. You look at our own control panel on the website of the Controller's Office and you'll find just a tremendous amount of transparency and dashboards and mapping and ways that can be used by those within the city as well as advocates and others to demand that we use resources in a better way. And the County is still tremendously lagging in this area. I don't believe that, by the way, transparency in and of itself achieves efficiency and effectiveness. But I do think that it is a necessary prerequisite to being able to have much more effective and accountable government.
What I intend to do is to bring that same sense of openness. Let's share with everybody what we're doing well, what we're not doing well, what we need to improve. And let us partner with those non-profits, with those that are in the private sector, to achieve the best results that we can on so many different things. There's just tremendous potential. The County has a budget of $36.5 billion a year. That is more than half the states in America. That is larger than many countries around the globe. And there has to be a lot more accountability for how that money is being spent.
CURRENT: A vast part of CD3 isn't actually occupied, except by bobcats and mountain lions and other wildlife. As its Supervisor, it seems like there's an enormous responsibility for the wild environment as well as the built one. Can you talk a bit about your approach to protecting and preserving the coast, and also the Santa Monica Mountains?
GALPERIN: Absolutely. Let's not forget why so many people came to California and Los Angeles, and why so many people stay here. That is because we have been blessed with an incredible, wonderful, beautiful natural environment. Let's not spoil it. There is a tremendous need for that open space, for a place for wildlife, for a place for so many natural plants and things that are necessary for the future of our city, of our county, of our planet. And I'm interested in those areas, in the ocean, in the coast, but also in the community, we could be doing a lot to better maintain our trees, so that we can have much more shade, so that we can become a much more walkable city and county. So that we can keep temperatures down, so that we can reduce the need for energy use, so that we can improve our air quality. I've done a number of reports on this, looking at just how we handle our trees. I've done a number of reports and recommendations and worked a lot on the quality of our parks. We can and must keep those up, by the way. We have a lot fewer park spaces that are usable than other cities around the country or world. And that makes it all the more important that those spaces that we have are preserved, are maintained, for generations to come.
CURRENT: If elected, you'll be taking over the position from the venerable Sheila Kuehl, who has a long history in L.A. County politics in various roles. Can you talk a little bit about her legacy and how you would build on it or differ from her approach?
GALPERIN: Sure. Everybody brings to the job their own set of experiences, their own set of skills, and their own set of perspectives. She's been a public servant for many years and has been also very much a leader in the LGBTQ community, of which I'm very proud to be a member of as well. And I look forward to the opportunity to continue to be a voice for the community and everybody in the county. And not just in the district that I will be serving but actually, with just 5 Supervisors, we actually have an obligation to look out for everybody.
By the way, I know how much interest you have in Prop HHH, and we are actually doing annual audits of this which are required by the actual terms of the bond measure. But our audits are actually much more than what's merely required. And we have another one coming out looking at what progress has and hasn't been made, and more recommendations about how to bring costs down.
As I'm sure you know, yesterday the city and the county won their appeal of Judge Carter's ruling. One of the things the ruling contained -- and I've had many conversations with Judge Carter -- was for our office to do work to identify properties that we thought would be appropriate for various homeless housing solutions, be they short or long term. Despite the fact that that appeal was, at it were, won by the city and county, I've long believed that it is vital that we create that list. We have actually been working on this for quite a number of months now. We have our auditors actually out site-visiting, making their evaluations, and we're coming up with a variety of property proposals. I'm sure they'll be debated and discussed, but with such vast holdings owned by the city, the county, the state, Metro, even if we use a fraction of those, imagine the amount of good that we can do.
CURRENT: One of the things I did in my reporting was to talk to three different developers of multi-family housing, and run those figures by them. And that was an eye-opener.
CURRENT: The thing that gets overlooked in my opinion is that we talk about all the loopholes and CEQA requirements that these developers have to go through and that they add to the cost. But private developers have to jump through the same hoops. And they're telling me they could do this for less. One of them suggested the City just buy completed properties from private developers. But I didn't realize until I did my reporting that HHH developers who were chosen have to have already built developments like this, so you're already limiting your pool of developers.
GALPERIN: 100 percent correct. The city tremendously limited that pool by having that as a requirement. That actually meant a lot fewer bidders, and fewer bidders meant fewer bids, and fewer bids means fewer options for prices. You are 100 percent correct about that. Plus, also the kind of developers who are able to deal with these massive bureaucracies. Because it's not just what it took to get a commitment by the city of HHH funds, but these have to be pieced together, often involving the state and bond money and tax credits. And then going to each of these agencies separately instead of one-stop shopping for it, which I think would make a huge difference in the future. And also the kind of design requirements for these buildings. We want this housing that gets built to last, we want it to be nice, we want it to fit into communities, we want nice amenities, all of those things. But we are in a crisis. Let us be honest about it, and let us stop making the perfect the enemy of the good.
CURRENT: One of the reasons I did the article was because I was also part of my neighborhood group negotiating and ultimately approving the Thatcher Yard project, which has yet to be even broken ground on, although we went ahead and approved it years ago. Given that this is a crisis, and new construction apparently takes so long to create, do these solutions have to include new construction?
GALPERIN: New construction is probably the most expensive way at this given moment in time that you can get people into housing. And obviously we need more units, it's just a question of utilizing the units that exist out there right now. However, this kind of construction is the slowest and the most expensive way to do it. It has its place, but if we're really serious about getting people off the street, there has to be a greater sense of urgency.
What we know, by the way, is that when you have people in tents and on the sidewalk, it's a more difficult population to serve. It's much harder to do the outreach. It's much harder to get people into housing and much needed medical and mental health treatment. So I think we have to look for those transitional solutions that will make things better, help stabilize people, and get them inside. By the way, it can be permanent supportive housing, it can be permanent housing that is not necessarily supportive -- there are many levels of what supportive housing may or may not be. There are some people who may need it for x-amount of time before they get back on their feet, there are some people who may need it for the rest of their lives. So there's not one kind of supportive, and there's not one definition of what permanent may be. You need a mix.
CURRENT: At some point can we get back to enforcing the laws about camping on the sidewalk, and pitching tents on the beach, and so forth? Is that even on the horizon?
GALPERIN: I think that we need to be having an honest conversation about it. The last thing in the world that I want to do -- and I think that most Angelenos want to do -- is to criminalize mental illness, to criminalize homelessness, to criminalize poverty. That would be a terrible shame. Having said that, what we do need to do is to have some of what I call reasonable and thoughtful enforcement for everybody's benefit. For people who want to be able to walk the streets of their neighborhood, to go to the park, to go to the beach, who want to feel safe in their community. Also there's many people who are experiencing homelessness themselves who are being victimized by some others. And we've seen fires breaking out in some of the tent communities, which are a terrible risk to everybody be they experiencing homelessness, be they a property owner, be they someone who happens to be in the neighborhood. And we've all seen some sidewalks that are impassable. Imagine if you are in a wheelchair, imagine if you are with a stroller. I was actually driving on Olympic recently and around a bus stop tents were not just taking up the sidewalk, but there were cones taking up one of the lanes, the bus lane. And I saw an elderly woman have to get off the sidewalk and she's now walking in the bus lane to be able to get to the corner of the street. Heaven forbid she gets run over by a car. And we have to find a way to balance those rights and to help people. But there has to be a reasonable, humane, and necessary way to do enforcement.
CURRENT: Thank you for talking to us. And thank you so much for the work that you've done that's helped me, as a journalist, to understand what's going on better, and report on it better.
GALPERIN: That's heartening, to hear that people are using it. I think the more people who have access to that information, the better reporting on it, the better advocacy they can engage in, the better partners they can be with helping to move this city and this county forward. Look, with all of our issues, with all of our problems, I still think that this is the most wonderful place to be. I've spent most of my life in Southern California. I'm the first in my family to be born in this country -- my parents came here speaking no English -- and were thankfully able to make a really good life for themselves and their children. And what I want to see is that we make it possible for the next generation to also realize their dreams, their aspirations and their talents. And that we give them the tools to live in a city and a county where they can do that. And it's in all of our best interests to do so.