Overwhelming Support for #VisionHyperion, Other Livability Issues at CD 4 Livable Streets Candidates Forum

Over 150 people attended last night's forum. Eric Bruins with LACBC snapped a picture from behind the forum tables.
Over 150 people attended last night’s forum. Eric Bruins with LACBC snapped a picture from behind the forum tables.

Last night’s Livable Streets Candidates was more of a political rally for bicycle safety and bicycle lanes than anything else. The only true moments of conflict came when a heckler booed Tara Bannister for expressing concern for putting bicycle lanes on streets with high traffic, high speed streets and when Steve Veres sat alone with his arm in the air, signaling he was the only candidate who had ridden a bicycle in the past week.

Tomas O'Grady speaks while candidates and Shannon Muir looked on.
Tomas O’Grady speaks while candidates and Shannon Muir looked on. Photo via LA Walks/Twitter

In total, eight of the fourteen candidates vying to replace Tom LaBonge as the Councilmember for CD 4 sat down at Hollywood United Methodist Church to discuss their views on pedestrian safety, bicycle lanes, transportation funding and, of course, the Glendale-Hyperion Bridge.

O’Grady consistently earned the loudest applause from an audience of over 150 people, most of whom arrived at Hollywood United Methodist Church by bicycle.

O’Grady, who garnered a third of the vote in his challenge to Tom LaBonge four years ago, is popular in the room in part because of his vocal and active support for bicycle lanes and sidewalks on a newly rebuilt Glendale-Hyperion Bridge. O’Grady worked with designers to illustrate different options for the bridge when winning a multi-modal bridge seemed a longshot in 2013. Last night, all eight of the candidates pledged support for “Option 3” which includes three mixed use travel lanes, sidewalks on both sides of the bridge, and bike lanes on both sides of the bridge. The strongest support joining O’Grady came from Irani, Ramsay, Schaeffer and Veres.

Both Irani and Ramsay brought a depth of knowledge to issues from their time working in LaBonge’s office. Irani half-joked about being a victim of NIMBYism based on the reaction to safe street designs that were fought by the community. Irani also brought up the “50-50 strategy” to repair sidewalks where the city would refund half the cost to a property owner that is willing to pay to have the sidewalk in front of their property. A mini-debate over whether such a proposal is feasible and big enough ended up dominating the discussion of sidewalk repair.

Ramsay brought details and history to issues, especially funding issues, noting how development issues from decades ago have created today’s sidewalk funding crisis. A twenty-five year resident of Los Angeles, also talked about her experiences bicycling around the district and how it impacts her own policy choices.

As former Chief of Staff to LaBonge, many in the audience were interested in seeing how Ramsay was different than the sitting Councilman. By the end of the night, Ramsay had shown a greater depth of knowledge on issues than is generally credited to her former boss. She also ended her closing statement with a promise to “…work together to make the safest big city in America the most livable and bikable too.”

Oddly, Tara Bannister also arrived to Los Angeles a quarter-decade ago. Bannister, who lives in pedestrian-friendly Park LaBrea, remembers a Los Angeles that was a less hostile place to get around when she arrived than it is now. She yearned for a return to the safer streets she remembers when she arrived in L.A. While not a former staffer in City Hall, she does bring a lot of government experience having worked in Governor Gray Davis’ office last decade.

Veres, who snagged the endorsement of the League of Conservation Voters earlier that day, argued that just investing in sidewalk repairs in areas where property owners could pay for some of the repair was backwards. “I would put the money in making connections to places where people go…Safe Routes to School’s, Safe Routes to parks.” Veres, who again was the only candidate who could claim to have ridden a bicycle in the past week, was most likely to vote “No” when asked about specific lanes. However, he wouldn’t rule a project out, often saying he hadn’t enough detail on the proposal or was unfamiliar with that area of the street.

Ross Sarkissian brought most questions back to the city’s structural budget deficit pointing out that the funding issues that impact every decision that the audience cares about including reconstruction of the city’s sidewalks, expansion of the transit system and redesign of the city’s streets. Sarkissian also wanted decisions to be data driven which could either be construed as a call for better planning or could be used as an excuse to delay projects.

Fred Mariscal broke the mold by admitting that he didn’t own a bicycle while every other candidate made time to tell stories about their bicycling prowess and personal travails. When it came to specific projects Mariscal supported every proposed bike lane in the “lightning round.” However, he also wanted to stagger improvements to city streets to see how things are impacted. He was the only candidate that didn’t automatically express support for a 10% set-aside for bicycle and pedestrian projects in a future transportation sales tax thinking that it would make more sense to double or triple pedestrian funding from current levels first.

Former San Diego City Councilmember Mike Schaefer seemed to genuinely care about bicycle safety issues, but didn’t put together a coherent program to advance that care into policy. He did vote “go” on all of the bicycle lanes in the lightning rounds and promised to hire a staff member who was an expert on bicycle issues. A couple of years ago, this might have earned him more support, it is similar to the “Bill Rosendahl Model” of promoting bicycle safety; but in last night’s crowded room it didn’t seem to be quite enough.

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