VENICE - Erin Darling has pushed back hard against accusations from Traci Park supporters that, if elected, his tenure will simply be more of the same divisive (some say failed) policies as his predecessor Mike Bonin. But his public statements on a few of the issues most important to CD11 voters seem to indicate otherwise.
In 2013, campaigning to replace the late Bill Rosendahl, for whom he had served as Chief of Staff, Bonin promised CD11 an increased police presence. After his election, in 2014, in the wake of a deadly, intentional car crash on Ocean Front walk as well as the murder of a restaurant worker nearby, Bonin told the LA Times, "You can never regulate or restrain or direct the spirit of Venice, but you can crack down on criminal behavior and you can clean things up…This is one of the places the world sees when it comes to Los Angeles.... What face are we showing?” He supported a proposed series of safety measures for the boardwalk, including security cameras, more lights and a public address system -- a proposal which brought him the ire of then-Venice Neighborhood Council President Linda Lucks, who stated at the time, "If you can’t even go to the beach without being watched, where can you go?”
In 2017, campaigning for re-election, Bonin unveiled a plan to move more LAPD officers onto the streets, citing complaints from constituents that there were too few patrol officers in their neighborhoods and 911 call response times were far too long. Endorsed by the LA Times, Bonin was re-elected by a wide margin. But cracks in his support were already beginning to show. His single-minded implementation of a road diet on a one mile stretch of Venice Blvd. through Mar Vista led to gridlock for commuters and a call for his recall.
Fast forward to 2020. The Venice Bridge Home opened in February to much fanfare, with promises of increased public safety in the surrounding neighborhood and the promise that its residents would "be good neighbors".
Instead, the promised cleanups never materialized and Bridge Home neighbors contended with increased violence and chaos. As the pandemic dragged on, encampments took over the entire boardwalk, drawing the attention of national media and the Sheriff's Department before finally being cleared.
Not only did Bonin renege on his election promise of increased law enforcement, he voted to slash $150 million from the LAPD's budget and famously retweeted "F*ck the Police!".
Now staunchly allied with Linda Lucks and the organization for which she worked -- Venice Community Housing Corporation -- Bonin steadfastly persisted in fast-tracking VCHC's massive project on the Venice Median despite community opposition. Between 2019 and 2021, seven Venetians were murdered, mostly near the Boardwalk, with no mention from Bonin's typically active Twitter account (although in December of 2021, when police officers at a Burlington Coat Factory in North Hollywood accidently shot a teenage girl, Bonin was quick to condemn the killing as "not what public safety looks like").
By 2021, 25,961 registered CD11 voters had signed a petition to recall Bonin -- not enough to remove him from office, but more than 6,000 constituents than had voted for him in his last re-election campaign. By January of this year, he had announced his decision not to run for a third term.
CD11 still carries the trauma of eight years of Mike Bonin's tenure as Councilperson. One might even call it political PTSD. So it's understandable that voters are anxiety-ridden at the prospect of being represented by "Bonin 2.0".
Darling has pushed back against accusations from his opponent's campaign that he is a Bonin clone, calling such accusations the hallmark of a "nasty, negative campaign".
"Traci Park is hinging her efforts on what can best be described as political guilt by association," he told YoVenice!, describing Bonin's endorsement as just one of many from progressive supporters.
In March of this year, he told Clara Harter of the Santa Monica Daily Press that, “I’m not just like Bonin…I commend him and the housing first model, but you know, I think I am my own man." Darling described himself in the same interview as having been tapped by "a coalition of progressive Westside organizations, who are seeking a progressive candidate."
In an April, 2022 appearance before the Culver City Democratic Club, Tim Phan, Darling's campaign manager, stated, "The primary reason that Erin's running is with Mike Bonin dropping out of running for re-election, progressives and grassroots organizers wanted someone to run for office without criminalizing the unhoused communities in his district," implying that Darling was, in fact, recruited by Bonin's supporters to replace him.
Like Bonin, Darling's stated opposition to restricting encampments -- in particular, the enforcement of 41.18, L.A.'s no camping law -- appears to be absolute. In May of 2022, he told LALand that he would not enforce 41.18 if elected, and has said he feels any enforcement that requires unhoused persons to relocate, including from within parks and in front of schools, is simply playing a game of "whack a mole". Darling called the cleanup of encampments at the Venice Library a failure, despite the fact that two thirds of the campers were re-located to shelter, primarily nearby hotel rooms and bridge housing. Darling stated "it was done without adequate planning on where to move unhoused people."
When it comes to shared housing, at a recent forum held by the Venice Neighborhood Council's Homeless Committee Darling stated that he thought shared housing was a viable option that should be funded moving forward.
A week later, however, the LA Times published a profile of both CD11 candidates in which Darling said "congregate housing does not work because the vast majority of homeless people won’t move without a room of their own." In that same profile, he refused to state whether or not he would have voted to extend 41.18 enforcement to schools or parks.
Under his plan to address homelessness, Darling does not include creating more temporary shelters, nor does he mention shared or bridge housing. He did, however, tell a group at a fundraiser that he was open to converting Penmar's golf course into affordable housing (he later denied saying this) and told another group of stakeholders at another fundraiser that he supports VCHC's proposed development on the Venice median because of VCHC's "track record that has worked" (the Coastal Commission has ruled that the project's approval process was rushed and they've extended their review of the project). Like Bonin, Darling's emphasis is clearly on creating permanent housing rather than on more immediate solutions, and he will likely do whatever he can to prevent enforcement of no-camping zones. But his insistence that nothing will do except permanent housing is an extreme version of Bonin's "housing first" approach.
Darling's enthusiasm for the Venice Blvd. road diet appears to exceed Bonin's as well, particularly when it comes to bicycles. In an interview with Streetsblog, Darling blames opposition on the Mar Vista Road Diet to a lack of "community engagement and design input", calling the conflict that ensued after the Mar Vista project was opened a case of "overheating". He also stated, "I would want a bicycle lane that extends all the way from the beach to Downtown. Whether it’s all on one street or not I’m ambivalent about it. I do think we need an interconnected route all the way downtown."
As previously reported here, both the Mar Vista Neighborhood Council and the Venice Neighborhood Council were effectively ignored when it came to outreach on extending the road diet from Lincoln Blvd. to Palms, while Streets for All, an organization which advocates for making "alternatives to driving real options for Angelenos" has been included in discussions of the project from the beginning. Darling has not only received SFA's endorsement, he recently co-hosted with them a meet and greet in Venice to "discuss the future of transportation on the Westside".
As for dealing with crime, Darling's website states that he will not divert law enforcement resources to non-violent crimes and minor traffic violations, an approach which also echoes Bonin's, whose website calls for reducing armed response to non-violent issues and "allowing officers to focus on violent crimes and theft." Interestingly, this is the only reference to law enforcement on the entire section of Darling's campaign website dedicated to "public safety". Other solutions he suggests include investing in mental healthcare and workplace development, emergency response teams consisting of trained medical and behavioral health clinicians, investment in bright street lights and clean parks, and universal healthcare.
Darling has stated on numerous occasions that he is not in favor of defunding the police, but on social media his wife (in posts that Darling has liked) has called for complete abolition of the police, including an Instagram post asking, "Wondering What a Future Without Police Looks Like?" and others that make it clear (in her words) that she doesn't "support policing…and I don't support research that legitimizes police reforms".
Despite his public statements to the contrary, there is plenty of evidence to suggest that Darling neither respects nor trusts law enforcement. Every case of his headlined in the "Press" section of his website is about law enforcement misbehavior (“Muslim woman sues Ventura County Sheriff’s Department, says deputies forced her to remove her hijab while jailed’’, e.g.), despite the fact that Darling mainly refers to himself in the press as a "tenants' rights attorney".
That site features a headline about co-founder of Black Lives Matter L.A. Melina Abdullah's 2021 lawsuit against the LAPD. She sued them because their response to a swatting call to her house was (according to her) "terrifying" and "designed to intimidate her". Darling represented her in that suit, and in another lawsuit against the LAPD three years earlier (which has been dismissed), in which Abdullah claimed that the police had "falsely imprisoned" her for flinging a powdery substance she claimed were human remains on Police Chief Charlie Beck.
In the LA Times coverage of the swatting incident, Darling stated, "This sure looks like retaliation for filing a lawsuit". It may have taken Bonin eight years to arrive at "F*ck the Police", but it appears that Darling is already there.
Perhaps Bonin's most galling failing as a politician is his unwillingness to listen to his constituents, which has devolved over the years from merely ignoring complaints of non-likeminded stakeholders to referring to anyone critical of him (including this publication) as "fascist-friendly" and refusing to give interviews to (or even answer questions from) any media outlet deemed insufficiently progressive. His appearances at Neighborhood Council meetings are rare (he hasn't made an appearance in Venice since a Bridge Housing Town Hall held in 2018). In March, he told L.A. Taco that one of the first things he would do after leaving the city council would be to "probably spend most of the day blocking some sons of bitches on Twitter."
As for Darling, on the "Constituent Services" section of his website he pledges to attend one neighborhood council meeting a month. But to what end, and which ones? After all, Darling literally refused to serve on the Venice Neighborhood Council after having been elected to a second term because he believed they did "not reflect the values of the majority of Venetians". And in his interview this year with Streetsblog, Darling stated that "We should also acknowledge that neighborhood councils speak for people, but they’re not completely reflective of society." He went on to say, "I served on the Venice Neighborhood Council. One time I got the second most number of votes, and that was under 150. So let’s be honest in terms of the scope of the role." In fact, in 2014 Darling received 97 votes for Community Officer (placing him 12th out of 14 elected), and in 2016 received 76 votes, putting him in 8th place.
Darling was also the only candidate who did not participate in the Current's CD11 candidate forum (he initially agreed, but then dropped out at the last minute). And lately Darling's campaign staff has been on a blocking spree on Twitter, shutting down access to his account to dozens of CD11 stakeholders who've questioned his proposals.
Once again, his actions are a reflection of Bonin's. But, as with so many other issues, he appears to have arrived at this point much sooner.