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Election 2013

In Race to Replace Garcetti, Can a Newcomer to CD 13 Understand Its Transportation Needs

John Choi.

(Update: Several commenters who are also people we well know, complained that we didn't give Choi a fare shake in this piece. Make sure to read below to get their comments, below and yes...we do now have a picture of Choi riding a bicycle.)

If Livable Streets advocates were deciding the race to replace Eric Garcetti in CD 13, Mitch O'Farrell, a Garcetti deputy, would win in a land slide. While researching this story, I could not actually find anyone who regularly contributes to Streetsblog through donating, writing, or attending events, who is publicly supporting O'Farrell's opponent, John Choi. Choi is a former employee of the Los Angeles County Federation of Labor and Mayor Villaraigosa.

One of the main reasons given: O'Farrell is from the community. Choi "moved here last year". Excluding those residents of Hollywood and some of the surrounding community who are still incensed by the Hollywood Specific Plan that encourages development and density, that is a huge plus for O'Farrell.

Choi's candidacy raises an interesting question, can any candidate really be a Livable Streets Candidate if they haven't lived in the area they would represent for very long. Choi says all the right things, at the 10:12 mark of the the April 1 debate sponsored by Climate Resolve, he talks about implementing the Bike Plan for all commuters and his role pushing projects such as the Sunset Junction Triangle Park as a Public Works Commissioner.

While O'Farell is hardly an outsider, some see his rise in city politics as proof that there is more than one type of insider.

"He came to be an insider through the Neighborhood Council system. I'm convinced (and hopeful) that Mitch will put the interests of the community above the interests of Big Money," writes David Bell, the President of the East Hollywood Neighborhood Council (title for identification only.) "In the years I've spent volunteering on behalf of my neighborhood, I've become convinced -- whether the issue is health, safety, open space, education, housing, or transportation -- the biggest threat we face are those who see this community as nothing more than a chance to make a profit."

O'Farrell is a founding member of the Glassell Park Neighborhood Council, which was the third N.C. certified in January of 2002.

O'Farrell, out for a walk with the the least enthusiastic group of volunteers I've ever seen.

Bell's quote is representative of many heard while researching this story and demonstrates the hill the well-funded Choi campaign has to climb. How do you convince people who don't know you as well as they do your opponent that you can be trusted? Even Choi's record on local issues is called into question by community activists.

Take Sunset Triangle. Choi boasts of his vote to create the park and argues it shows leadership and vision. And other argue that voting for a project as a commissioner is hardly the same as backing it. "He wasn't even at the ground breaking," one Silver Lake community advocate who asked for anonymity complained.

"I was born and raised in CD13, and have been a community activist for nearly 20 years in the district, so I have high standards as to who should represent me," writes Elson Trinidad, a former candidate for CD 13 who backs O'Farrell now. "Choi has not only done zero for my district, he hasn't even, to my eyes, shown any effort in terms of genuinely developing relationships the people of our community. He's missed several candidate forums and debates, and has been absent in all of the community events I attended."

Conversely, O'Farrell is very much a known commodity. Having worked in Garcetti's office for a decade, he finds himself in a similar position as Mike Bonin did in the Westside race to replace Bill Rosendahl. How do you pay homage to a popular and successful boss while also selling yourself as something more than a third (or fourth) term for the man leaving office?

One of the biggest advantages O'Farrell has is he's been somewhat ubiquitous in the district for over a decade. I even met him in 2009 at a Critical Mass Die-In protesting police handling of a fatal crash on Glendale Boulevard. He was there to represent Garcetti to show support for increased traffic justice.

"While I did not support Mitch O' Farrell in the primary I do support him in the runoff," writes Alfredo Hernandez, a Board Member of the East Hollywood Neighborhood Council referred to as the "park czar" by those that love him. "He has established roots and relationships in the district that will not onky serve to the communities favor but the cities favor as well. Mitch has a strong grassroots campaign that is financed by the people, businesses and stakeholders of cd 13.   Having worked with Mitch in the past on several park projects I am confident that he will contunue to serve the districts best interests for years to come."

Neither candidate's Livable Streets vision is really breaking new ground. Choi's proposals, as outlined on his website, are so generic they sound more like a statement from Move L.A. (another group he sits on the board of) for a regional clean transportation system than a specific plan for CD 13. O'Farrell offers more details than Choi in his campaign plan (click on the image at the bottom of this page) that includes a call for increasing DASH (LADOT local bus service) Lines and implementation of the bike plan. Of course, he does seem really excited about Sharrows, which were the city's big bike improvement in 2010 but seem quaint compared to green buffered bike lanes or even separated facilities.

Neither candidate is proposing anything as bold as Deputy Mayor Matt Szabo's campaign for CD 13 which produced a campaign plan that Curbed half-joked had "everything you could dream of." Neither of them are posing on their bicycles, as Josh Post did in his campaign. (Although to be fair, O'Farrell created a video on the importance of the Elysian Valley L.A. River Bicycle and Walking Path.)

Of course, neither of those candidates are going to be the next City Councilman for the district. Either Choi or O'Farrell will. It will be difficult to match Eric Garcetti's Livable Streets record, no matter who wins. But for the advocates living in CD13, it's hard to imagine a relative newcomer of even having a puncher's chance.

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