City Election Preview: LaBonge vs. Box in CD4

Tom LaBonge addresses a group of predominantly Midnight Ridazz at the Storm the Bastille Ride on May Day, 2009. Standing just off to the Councilman's left is Box. Photo: Alex Thompson/Flickr

For those in the livable streets advocacy community, no city council race has taken on more significance than this one. Here, LA Streetsblog presents a rundown of the two candidates and the livable streets issues at the heart of the race, so that you can make an informed decision.

The Incumbent: Tom LaBonge is an avid cyclist who organizes rides throughout the city and is a regular presence during Bike Week.  He’s also served as a stand-in for Councilman Huizar on the Metro Board of directors and has advocated for better bus only lanes on Wilshire Boulevard as well Olympic, San Vicente and Venice Boulevards.

Stephen and Enci in 2008. Yeah, I picked a shot where he still has the goatee. Photo via KPCC

The Challengers: Stephen Box was awarded LA Streetsblog’s 2009 Livable Streets Person of the Year Award for his leadership in the movement to make Los Angeles a better place for pedestrians, bicyclists, and transit riders.  Tomas O’Grady is a second challenger and also has a strong record of community advocacy.   As Councilman, O’Grady will focus on improving L.A.’s crumbling infrastructure.

The District: Council District 4 is geographically diverse swath of Los Angeles in the heart of the city. Its physical center is the Hollywood Hills and Griffith Park, but its boundaries spill out erratically, capturing Toluca Lake, Universal City, and North Hollywood to the north, and bits of Hollywood, Hancock Park, Koreatown, Los Feliz, and Silver Lake to the south.

The Race: Over the last decade, a great deal has changed in the district. In 2000, the Metro Rail Red Line finally reached its terminus in North Hollywood, while advocates have spearheaded the transformation of 4th Street into a bike boulevard, and CicLAvia grazed the southeastern tip of the district.

Since elected to the City Council in 2001, Councilman Tom LaBonge has been a supporter — albeit an inconsistent one — of a sustainable transportation network that includes bikes.

Last April, LaBonge supported setting aside 10% of L.A.’s share of Measure R funds for bicycle and pedestrian projects. He also supported suspending the LAPD’s bike licensing program that had been illegitimately used to ticket those participating on group rides.

At the same time, however, he’s been more inclined to support education programs over tangible changes to the streets that would benefit bicyclists and pedestrians. In a committee hearing, however, LaBonge once pressed LADOT Bike Coordinator Michelle Mowery to “name three bike projects that have worked,” a sign that LADOT had been slow to implement transformative bike projects.

LaBonge has been prone to his fair share of transpo head-scratchers too. A September 2010 op-ed in the Daily News detailed the councilman’s hopes for rapid transit in Los Angeles. It read like a half-baked wish-list of projects, many of which were redundant with Metro’s Long Range Plan or infeasible. It would have made more sense for LaBonge to use his standing to advocate for Mayor Villaraigosa’s much-touted 30/10 plan, which would accelerate construction on a dozen transit projects already on the drawing board.

When the mayor wanted to raise curb-side parking rates to fill the city’s budget shortfall, LaBonge advocated for cheaper parking. Perhaps because he’d rather raise parking prices to pay for expanded DASH service — that’s something most livable streets advocates can get behind.

And speaking of livable streets advocates, there’s the matter of LaBonge’s challenger in CD4, Stephen Box. Since LA Streetsblog’s launch in October 2007, Box has been a leader in this grassroots movement. In the last year alone, Box has helped to shape a robust LADOT Bike Plan — one that now features a backbone bikeway network — and to usher it to the finish line.

When Metro’s Transit Oriented Development project in Hollywood missed the mark on bike infrastructure, Box was there to ensure that the community bike room was done right.

From bike parking to sharrow placement, even the seemingly “small” details have gotten his attention. And this is important: By agitating for bicyclists’ and pedestrians’ interests, Box has kept elected officials, public servants, and developers honest.

And now he has the ear of the city’s elected officials. When the mayor touted that L.A. was the second safest big city in the country, Box called him out for ignoring traffic related deaths and injuries. Even Police Chief Charlie Beck has taken notice.

The Big Picture: LaBonge has been a relatively solid councilman on livable streets issues — he looks good compared to, say, Greig Smith — but he’s hardly staked serious political capital on realizing a more bike and transit friendly Los Angeles. On the other hand, you’d be hard pressed to find a single person in Los Angeles who has been as vocal, and successful, an advocate for livable streets as Stephen Box.

  • patrick

    In the past 66 years the only way CD4 council members have given their seats is to die in them. Register and vote!

  • grrlyrida

    This is what I know about LaBonge’s transpo cred. It took his office years to put a light on Hyperion in front of Traders and Gelson’s in Silverlake. I even wrote a letter myself. There was always, “We’re working on it excuse.” First a cyclist was hit. Nothing happened. It was until a pedestrian got killed did a traffic signal go up the next month.

    I’m proud to say that in my 11 years living in Silverlake, I’ve never voted for him and I’ll continue my track record next month.

  • @grrlyrida I hope you will go out in March and vote for Box. His mandate is People not Politics. He fights for safe streets for all users and he will be your best advocate in City Hall.

  • Will Campbell

    If it’s hairsplitting so be it, but I wouldn’t call LaBonge an avid cyclist so much an avid cycling enthusiast. I’m not trying to take away from his appreciation of bikes and what he does officially do to promote their use, it’s just that most of it seems opportunistic.

  • eyes wide open

    Carter,

    While I am an avid supporter of LASTREETSBLOG, your headline message (and potentially your journalism) are unfortunately weakened when you title your article “City Election Preview: LaBonge vs. Box in CD4” failing to identify out front that CD4 and LASTREETSBLOG followers have TWO serious candidates who are BOTH working to make serious and immediate changes in Los Angeles by reducing dependence on automobiles, on advancing citywide and dedicated networks for cyclists, pedestrians and transit riders…

    For everyone’s benefit, LASTREETSBLOG followers should take a serious look at O’Grady at http://tomasogradyforcd4.com/wordpress/ before they cast their vote.

  • We linked to Mr. O’Grady’s campaign in the website, but there’s a reality here that Stephen Box and Tom LaBonge have been regular figures on this website. Box has been a contributor, has won awards, and has led campaigns that we’ve covered. LaBonge isn’t just the incumbent, but is also a member of the Transportation Committee, and that’s sort of our bread and butter.

    So, they’re easy to write about.

    In the meantime, I can go to the O’Grady website, and not see a lot more about transportation than what we wrote. There’s nothing wrong with that per say, it’s not like everyone has to be a Streetsblogger but in our opinion people that read Streetsblog are going to choose between the candidates that have been addressing our core issues for years.

    I wish Mr. O’Grady the best of luck in this election and beyond.

  • Fishpaw

    Met Box and his wife Enci this weekend at a neighbor’s “meet-n-greet” which they attended and have to say left impressed. Rather than hearing a lot of fluffy unrealistic stuff he was pretty down to earth and had a pragmatic realism that suggested “actual real changes” could be made.

    Agree with some of the sentiment here for LaBonge. Sometimes he sounds good and his assistance is certainly appreciated by those wo use the SL walking path and/or river bike path, but he does sometimes seem to be more a politician who blows with the wind rather than leading.

    Have not heard much about O’Grady other than his website and some lawn signs I’ve seen, so personally he’s my third choice.

    All three seem better than a lot of districts have to choose from, but for me, Box is worth taking the chance on as he has an actual track record of acievement in areas I think are important (which I knew about before he was running) and those achiements seemed to have been driven by a desire to create a better place rather than personal gain.

  • Tomas O’Grady

    I don’t pander to anyone. I submit that I have not pandered to cyclists, but I offer the following: While others have been Tweeting, photo-oping, and debating, I and our green team at the Greater Griffith Park Neighborhood Council have managed to get over 300 shade trees planted on streets in the Los Feliz, Silver Lake, and East Hollywood areas. Good streets, whether they be for cyclists or pedestrians, need shade. I’ve been providing that. I’ve been an outspoken advocate of slowing down traffic and sharing the roads with pedestrians and cyclists. I have focused on creating what I like to call shoestring or pocket parks, rest areas, around the city. I spearheaded and am working on the new environmental studies magnet at King Middle School. We will create a culture at this “new school” where students will not only study eco matters but in fact live their lives in respect to the things they learn right now. We want them to bike to school, we want them to walk to school, we want them to not use bottled water and plastic bags.

    Folks who care about the environment and the way we all behave in that environment have focused on different things over the last few years. Mr. Box clearly has focused on cycling and related activities. He has made a lot of progress, and good for him and all of us. It seems to me our causes complement each other. As for Mr. LaBonge and his supposed role as a cyclist advocate or an environmental advocate, I can only speak to my experiences with him as a politician who steps in for photo ops.

    I’ve written more at http://tomasogradyforcd4.com/wordpress/?page_id=826

  • Harvey Pearson

    Which ever candidate could, no would, get the 4000 block of Ambrose Ave. (viz., between North Hillhurst and Commonwealth Avenues in Los Feliz) fixed—even if that does mean, in fact, its reconstruction—by the end of next year at the latest, would tend to get my vote. Also, the candidate must support Measure L, for libraries. And, sorry bi-cyclists, who will vote to keep our Griffith Park trails just for horses, their riders and, of course, hikers.
    Oh, and would any candidate dare say we whould have a planned, more moderate rate of population growth — ergo, its accompanying development likewise — in L.A.? LIke they say, all politics are local — even de facto federal population growth policy.

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