LOS ANGELES — City Councilman Gil Cedillo and opponent Joe Bray-Ali sparred for an hour April 17 about who is best fit to represent the First District on the Los Angeles City Council over the next four years on issues of affordable housing, evictions and how to turn around drastically expensive rents in neighborhoods besieged by gentrification.
The two candidates tried to cast their opponent as an outsider and both sought to establish themselves as trustworthy to tackle wealthy owners of housing units and to control recent spikes in rent in Highland Park, Echo Park and Westlake.
The two are running in the May 16 runoff election after finishing first and second March 7.
Hosted by the Center for the Central American Immigrants Rights (CARECEN), the debate attracted about 450 people.
Cedillo’s opening remarks aimed to portray him as a local candidate eager to stop any attempt from President Donald Trump to arrest and deport undocumented immigrants living in Los Angeles and in his district without criminal records. He said thousands of them live and work peacefully and pay rent in the First District.
“We have a crisis in Washington attacking this community and we want to keep working with you the community in these difficult times,” Cedillo said. “It’s difficult to tell whether [Bray-Ali] is telling the truth. I have the integrity to work with you.”
Bray-Ali branded himself as a multicultural individual mirroring the diversity of Los Angeles: his father was born in India, his stepmother is from Puebla, Mexico, and he speaks fluent Spanish.
“I represent a mix of what is L.A. today,” Bray-Ali said. “I want to end the machine, neighborhood-boss politics that have ruled District One for years.”
He blamed Cedillo and the rest of the City Council for ignoring the need to build and preserve low-cost housing for people with moderate incomes, and said the lack of affordable units must be solved by partnering developers and land owners with public and private money.
“The last four years the city council has been so disrespectful on the issue,” Bray-Ali said. “Public and private funds are needed to build and preserve neighborhoods and character.”
Cedillo said new and refurbished low-cost apartments have opened during his term on Sixty and Main streets, on Seventh Street and Whitmore Avenue and on Marmion Way and Avenue 52, units that met “the highest architectural standards.”
Cedillo also scolded Bray-Ali for registering as a Republican in 2012, and called him as untrustworthy.
He promised to work on measures to alleviate displacements caused by new landlords who use the Ellis Act to evict tenants and refurbish the apartments to increase their rental value and shrink the number of units in the market.
Bray-Ali, who said he worked as developer of housing units in Pasadena, and sold a bike shop he owned for eight years in Highland Park before the March 7 election, questioned Cedillo’s housing record and credited former Councilman Ed Reyes with the new and refurbished units.
Bray-Ali defined gentrification as an issue “that’s staring at us all now,” and blamed the Great Recession of 2007 and 2008 for displacing many residents.
“We need to stop the 2008 economic trash policies that rip off our communities and renters and only benefit the rich and [big] owners,” Bray-Ali said. “I know of a woman who was displaced and had to move to Tijuana because she couldn’t afford rent anymore.”
For his part, Cedillo underscored the need to decriminalize homelessness, because many street residents were city dwellers before they became victims of evictions.
“I’m incredibly sour and frustrated to learn how slowly government moves. I have a sense of impatience to move forward on this issue,” he said.
Bray-Ali outlined a proposal to install street toilets for the homeless and temporary showers to help this population stay clean and healthy.
“This is a big election,” Bray-Ali said. “We had four or five months of a national elections tearing us down. People on the streets need access to bathrooms and also showers on the short term,”
Cedillo added seismic retrofits are key to keeping a constant supply of housing that would be threatened if a strong quake hits the region. He said he will work to ensure repairs aren’t too expensive.
Bray-Ali said he supports strong housing codes to encourage good management of capital and safe housing.
Margarita Lopez, president of the MacArthur Park Neighborhood Council, said both candidates addressed the housing issues as best they could so the audience could decide who they will vote for on May 16.
“The feisty behavior of the audience was in response to the interest and platforms of each candidate,” she said. “It was a good debate. The election will be competitive.”