For all intents and purposes, Los Angeles City Council District 10 can be seen as a center within the City. The District includes Koreatown, Mid-City, West Adams, and the western cultural centers of Black Los Angeles in the Crenshaw District and Leimert Park. Councilmember Herb Wesson has represented this district with a strong political hand since 2011, having served until recently as Council President. Unfortunately, Wesson has been no ally to safe streets advocates. During his time on the Council, Wesson’s office has held up important projects such as bike lanes on Martin Luther King Jr. Blvd. and bus lanes on Venice Blvd., despite widespread community support.
The need to address the vacuum of complete streets in this central area of Los Angeles is great, especially in light of Metro’s construction of a new rail line along Crenshaw Blvd. and concern over whether that investment will benefit the existing community or be an instrument of displacement. As such, the 2020 CD10 election is of utmost importance in determining whether Los Angeles can develop into a city with quality transit and safe bike access.
Bike The Vote L.A. partnered with local leaders representing Black Girls Do Bike-LA, Black Kids On Bikes, The Freedom Ride Project, Ride On! Bike Shop, and Ride In Living Color to distribute a questionnaire and conduct interviews with qualified CD10 candidates. Because of the wide field, the group decided to provide grades to candidates, summarized below to note each candidate’s strengths and opportunities for improvement.
CD10 Candidate: Channing Martinez
Channing Martinez is a community organizer for the Bus Riders’ Union with The Labor Community Strategy Center. When our interview committee met with him, it was obvious that he had a deep understanding of Los Angeles transportation equity and the mobilization and political determination required to bring about that change. As someone who has spent much of his life in Los Angeles reliant on his bike and bus service, Martinez understands how lack of people-centric mobility infrastructure, policing, and unreliable transit affect the daily lives of already strained communities of color.
Martinez’ response to Bike The Vote’s questionnaire was chock-full of knowledgeable positions. He pointed out the fact that to reach Vision Zero goals, Los Angeles needs not only to reduce vehicle speeds but also to reduce the overall number of vehicles on the road by providing viable alternatives to reduce auto-dependance such as free public transit and restrictions on where and when driving is allowed. However, his proposed justice-based approaches in many cases do call for more immediate and tactical solutions to save pedestrian lives while in the process of reaching the long term visionary goals. Martinez is an intentional and strong ally on safe streets, and a visionary for people-centric mobility. We hope he will continue to explore strategies to eliminate pedestrian fatalities, improve CD10’s bicycling infrastructure, and expand mobility safety education throughout the District, especially for disenfranchised residents.
Bike The Vote L.A. 2020 Primary Grade: A-
CD10 Candidate: Aura Vásquez
In addition to her role as a former L.A. Department of Water and Power Commissioner, Aura Vásquez has extensive experience in community organizing and environmental advocacy including work at the Sierra Club, and has been endorsed by Sunrise Movement Los Angeles. Vásquez has engaged proactively with the safe streets community and mobility justice activists, including attending a Vision Zero action organized at City Hall and joining bike advocates at the Kingdom Day Parade on her (impressively decorated) bike. Her response to Bike The Vote makes it clear that she recognizes the mobility and environmental benefits that bicycling brings to CD10. Vásquez also recognizes that mobility infrastructure and accessibility are issues of equity and safety for those who don’t have access to cars. Vásquez shared her story of being hospitalized after being hit by a car on her bike commute — an experience that shaped her strong interest in improving L.A.’s mobility infrastructure and safety education.
When our interview team met with Vásquez, she described how her experience as an immigrant from Colombia developed her understanding of how car-free mobility and city parks contribute to a people-centric community. She shared with us that she, her family, and community in Cali, Colombia biked every Sunday at one of Colombia’s now-famous Ciclovias. Vásquez pointed to the reality that bike lanes, active transportation and law enforcement practices are hot button topics in communities of color. She pledged to use her organizing skills and work with community advocates and organizations in the district to bring about change, because all CD10 constituents should be able to safely access bicycling, walking and public transit.
Vásquez isn’t wrong about the controversial nature of complete streets projects in some parts of Los Angeles. Moving forward, we are interested in seeing how Vásquez chooses to navigate the opposition of resistant community members, and we encourage her to stand up for safer streets and better infrastructure, especially in the disenfranchised areas of the district. We see great potential in Vásquez to be a catalyst for equity-based policies that can help CD10 develop into a more just, sustainable, and people-centric community.
Bike The Vote L.A. 2020 Primary Grade: B+
CD10 Candidate: Grace Yoo
Grace Yoo is a lawyer who is running to represent CD10 for the second time after mounting an unsuccessful challenge to Wesson in 2015. Yoo has positioned herself as a changemaker ready to battle politics as usual and corruption on the City Council. She emphasized this need for change in her response to Bike The Vote’s questionnaire, with some laudable statements about improving quality of life through providing better transportation options. From our group meeting with Yoo, it was clear that her predominant experience traveling in Los Angeles is by car, and we would encourage her to diversify her experience to help better inform her policy positions. Our committee was concerned by a few exchanges during our meeting, particularly related to responsibility in deadly car crashes, and the lack of a clear response to the reality of racial profiling that black and brown residents face.
Yoo’s written response to Bike The Vote, however, shows her to be a very thoughtful and determined advocate who stresses the need for urgency in implementation to achieve Vision Zero and is ready to champion roadway safety around schools. We appreciated the opportunity to connect with Yoo and hope to continue a dialog that helps build out her transportation platform.
Bike The Vote L.A. 2020 Primary Grade: B-
CD10 Candidate: Mark Ridley-Thomas
As a Los Angeles County Supervisor, Mark Ridley-Thomas currently represents much of CD10, and is seeking to serve a fourth term on the City Council after representing CD8 from 1991-2003. As Supervisor and as a Metro Board Member, Ridley-Thomas has helped projects like CicLAvia and championed the much-delayed Rail to River bike & pedestrian path on the Slauson corridor, while also playing a central role in transit decisions over the last 11 years. It is worth noting that Ridley-Thomas was the only respondent to Bike The Vote’s questionnaire that did not pledge to refuse fossil fuel lobby funds in his campaign.
Ridley-Thomas certainly sees value in bikes as a transportation option, but did not make a strong case in either his questionnaire response or his in-person interview for how he would champion implementation of bike lanes and overcome community pushback. In his willingness to engage with safe streets advocates, Ridley-Thomas would likely offer an improvement on the wall of silence those advocates have faced from Wesson. Building on the expertise he has developed as a Metro Board Member, it is our hope that Ridley-Thomas will continue to work with our local and county-wide advocates to build out a bike network and make meaningful progress towards Vision Zero.
Bike The Vote L.A. 2020 Primary Grade: C+
CD10 Candidate: Melvin Snell
Melvin Snell declined to respond to Bike The Vote L.A.’s questionnaire.
Bike The Vote L.A. 2020 Primary Grade: C-