LOS ANGELES — After Herb Wesson was sworn into his third and final term as the 10th District representative on the Los Angeles City Council, he said he would work his “guts out” to do what his supporters re-elected him to do.
“Governing is not about doing what you want to do, but need to do,” Wesson said. “Leadership is about taking people where they don’t want to go.”
Nearly two months later, the candid politician is leading his peers and community stakeholders into multiple conversations addressing a wide agenda, ranging from economic development to the state’s drought.
Earlier this month, the City Council president and Council member Mitchell Englander of the 12th District met with members of the Valley Industry and Commerce Association to gather input from business leaders as the City Council began to consider a comprehensive jobs plan.
During the council’s summer recess, Wesson announced that plans for a new development, West Angeles Plaza in the Crenshaw District, would move forward toward construction.
The site will feature a Fresh and Easy grocery store and Union Bank, which are already in a lease agreement.
Wesson explained his reasoning behind his agenda, which some observers have called ambitious and even mayoral, during a sit-down interview with The Wave at his District 10 office days after his public swearing-in ceremony.
“It’s a big agenda,” he said. “We have 15 members on the council. If you spread it around, you can do more and accomplish more.”
“He’s proven himself to be extremely effective,” said Raphael Sonenshein, executive director of the Edmund G. “Pat” Brown Institute at Cal State L.A.
Usually in Los Angeles, council members like to go their own way and most often council presidents have to herd them like cats, Sonenshein said.
The City Council has changed since Wesson took office in 2005, Sonenshein explained, partly due to several of the members having served in the state Legislature — including Wesson, who was the Assembly speaker from 2002 to 2004.
New City Council member Marqueece Harris-Dawson, who represents the 8th District, said one conventional wisdom surrounding his peer is true.
“He’s incredibly talented. You don’t think of a council leader as being [a] talent, but something that takes power,” Harris-Dawson said.
He is very good about getting people to produce a product instead of a discussion, said the former president and CEO of Community Coalition, a nonprofit based in South L.A.
While Wesson’s plans are widely known, what is not known is how he plans to execute them.
Armen Ross, president of the Crenshaw Chamber of Commerce, said he believes the council president is a man of his word.
“South L.A. hasn’t been able to get the same development that other parts of the city have gotten,” Ross said. “We need a lot of disposable dollars. People need to have places to go.”
Though some South L.A. stakeholders have expressed fears of economic development being disguised as gentrification, Ross — a longtime resident of the Crenshaw District— welcomes the changes taking place in the areas including the Crenshaw/LAX Light Rail Project.
“I just don’t see how people should feel like they’re going to be left out,” Ross said. “The development is going to stabilize the local economy, increase property values and, hopefully, provide quality retail stores and restaurants.”
Wesson’s agenda also includes evergreen social issues such as homelessness, human trafficking and human relations.
However, the council’s Homelessness and Poverty Committee, which has met twice since the new session began, is getting ready to deal with an unpopular proposal to house transients inside of a 4-by-6 foot wooden structure on wheels.
On Aug. 24, city officials deemed the tiny houses as illegal on public property and unfit for human habitation, even on private property.
Still, there are other pressing issues Wesson wants to address.
“This is the appropriate time to engage in the discussion of race and hatred,” Wesson said. “We can get rid of them by engaging in conversations to let people know we’re so much the same and it’s not worth bugging out about the dumb stuff.”
He publicly announced his desire to have the city sponsor a town hall meeting meant to include residents from all 15 City Council districts.
The suggestion comes at a time when the nation is polarized on immigration policy, policing in minority communities and issues in the lesbian, gay, bi-sexual, transgender and queer communities.
“I plan on having a conversation with the Human Relations Commission for suggestions on how we can have civic engagement,” Wesson said. “There’s no way the city can’t be part of that dialogue.”
But longtime civil rights activist Earl Ofari Hutchison, the president of the Los Angeles Urban Policy Roundtable, said the idea has been done before in the 1990s through the nonprofit organization, Days of Dialogue.
“If you’re going to have a dialogue session, if you want to hear all points of view, have some clear identifiable objectives,” Hutchinson said. “Otherwise it’s just polite conversation.”
For Wesson, he said discussions on civility are organically taking place in homes, churches, work and elsewhere.
“There’s a role for the city,” he said.
When asked about pursuing another role, specifically that of Mayor Eric Garcetti’s seat in 2017, Wesson carefully answers.
“The mayor and I are partners,” he said. “We work very closely and probably have the best relationship between any mayor and council president. The better the mayor does, the better the council does and so does the city.”