SGV CONNECT #100 INTERVIEW – Damien Newton Interviews Katrina Kaiser

Damien: I’m here with Katrina Kaiser. Katrina is with Streets for All and last week Katrina hosted a forum in Monterey Park for candidates running for city council.

Streets for All  is a 501c(4) so their forums are usually part of an endorsement process to help people that are interested in bicycling and pedestrian and transit advocacy get a clear idea of what candidates they should or shouldn’t be supporting.

So, welcome to the podcast Katrina, and let’s get right into it.

Katrina: Thanks Damien and I’m really happy to be here today.

Damien: Before we get into what happened in the debate, let’s quickly talk about what Streets for All is what your goals are.

Katrina: Streets for all is a little bit unique among nonprofits and organizations in transportation and mobility advocacy. We are an independent expenditure committee that allows us to do things that a lot of other mobility organizations are constrained against doing including endorsing directly, and lobbying for specific legislation. That’s allowed us to really have a lot of impact on some of these races. 

What’s exciting and unique about this particular debate is that Streets for All was able to partner with a handful of local Grassroots activists, in Monterey Park and in Alhambra organizing under the banner of Safe Streets for SGV. They are not set up to do things like make political endorsements but they still wanted to have an impact in their local races.

That’s why Streets for All was approached.

Damien: I’ve moderated debates before, and while it’s been awhile, one of the challenges we faced was that so many of the candidates would just say the same thing as their opponents if they weren’t well-versed on the issue. Sometimes we would even see candidates taking notes on what their opponents were saying before parroting them.

Did you see any real differences in what the candidates were saying?

Katrina: Before I answer that question directly, I’d like to talk a little bit about the difference between this debate in the ones we hosted before the June 7th primary elections. We were really focused on City of LA City Council before June 7. So in some cases we have an incumbent or we had candidates who were not necessarily incumbents but who are coming from these sort of progressive activists that people in the city and people with Streets for All were already familiar with.

When Streets for All was approached by the activists from Safe Streets for SGV, one thing that those guys made clear to us was that the candidates that  they were looking at voting for not or not voting for didn’t have the same level of policy literacy in this area that may be candidates for the city of LA are required to. We worked with them on tailoring our endorsement process to include both endorsement questionnaire and this debate for the city council. 

In L.A. we held a debate and then sent the questionnaire to get more detailed answers. In Monterey Park we reversed the order: questionnaire first and then hosting the debate. The reason for that was so that the candidates could take the time to get a little bit of familiarity with transportation policy on their own time as they were filling out the questionnaire. That way they could come back and participate with the debate hopefully with little bit more preparation.

So your question was about whether or not any other particular candidates stood, out is that right? 

Damien: As the moderator, was there any first impressions that really stuck in your eye?

Katrina: As the moderator, I think what I noticed was that there is kind of an age or generational divide between the candidates who showed up that night. There was one candidate Delario Robinson, who was pretty upfront about saying things like “I would much prefer to drive my Porsche,” “I think that cars represent freedom and I think that many other people in this community probably agree.” When folks see that sort of attitude, I’m hoping that’s going to be really valuable for voters to see.

I want to tell you about Jose Sanchez who is a little bit younger and comes from an education background a job. He really emphasized the safety of students who are walking,  and biking are taking the bus to school and empathize things like what a difference free transportation would make from an equity standpoint.

Damien: I’m reminded of the worst answer to a question we I ever got when Streetsblog did one of these things. We were asking candidates about an experience they had riding the bus from their house to somewhere, to try and get a story about a person riding transit locally after we had heard both candidates answer a similar question talking about transit in other cities. 

And the one answers our question with a question, “Which one of my houses do you mean?”

Katrina: Wow, that’s helpful for voters to hear that. 

Damien: When I moderating these types of events, I would have many answers being very broadly about things. There’s some questions that get more revealing answers than others. Were there any questions, or answers, that elicited responses that you think will help people make decisions for whom to vote?

Katrina: When Streets for All structures debates, we kind of structure them on purpose from more softball question building up to more intense questions that should generate more clash between candidates. 

So, the first question in these debates is generally, ”do you believe the time has come to think differently about transportation in your area?” They’ll always we say yes, although they might say so for different reasons. 

We build up from that kind of more easy question towards questions that generate more clashes between candidates.

We got some really rather in depth answers about proposed land expansions that came from receiving money from Metro after winding down to 710 project and asking for firm commitments from candidates on rolling back for proposed lane expansions. 

In the end, I think the candidates did learn from each other. Like you said, they are listening to each other’s answers and not necessarily sounding too different from each other. Although I will say that you know that one candidate, Robinson, does say later on the debate, “Sometimes I feel like it’s three against one.” So we were able to generate some clash between the candidates on revealing the differences with their approaches in that way 

Damien: The last question was about the lane expansions, so is it a thing that you do when you’re building these debates were you try to start with the ones that are sort of easy to get candidates feel at ease and open and then hit them with the harder controversial ones down the road? Is that the idea?

Katrina: That’s more or less right. It’s an approach that we came to after a few of these LA City Council debates.

If you have incumbents, and this is not necessarily the case in the Monterey Park senate, but if they have incumbents that are participating in these debates. Streets for All is an advocacy has organization, and we  generally want to maintain at least pretty good relationships in order to achieve some of our other policy goals outside of whatever is happening in the current election cycle.

Damien: Because you guys aren’t just an election organization the goal is to move the needle towards safer streets, and this is one of the processes.

Awe start to wrap up this interview, why don’t we talk about what’s next for this? You mention that this is part of an endorsement process, is there a timeline on when when Streets for All might be making an endorsement is is are we still sort of an information gathering stage.

Katrina: So, in Monterey Park I think we’ve gathered all of the information that we want together. We fielded a questionnaire and hosted this debate. I am going to get back together with the Advocates from Safe Streets for SGV and talk about the timeline for that.

We’ll probably endorse, not necessarily in August, although maybe in August maybe in September. It remains to be seen. Now that the city council endorsement process in the City of LA is completed for the most part, what Streets for All  is going to focus on next are these smaller cities including, Monterey Park. But we’ve also got endorsements forthcoming in Culver City and we already did a little bit in Beverly Hills. You’ll have to just stay tuned. 

Damien: I always like to wrap up with an open-ended question. Is there’s something I missed that I should have asked about? I admitted at the start of this talk that I’m not completely done watching the debate myself, so if something happened at the end that I really should have asked about I didn’t here’s your chance to let me know.

Katrina: what really surprised me at the end of this is an audience question about whether or not the candidates would commit to taking a non-car transportation trip to work for City Council. All four of the candidates, despite their differences, did all make that commitment. Now that it’s on camera, I’ll be really curious to see which voters will hold them to that promise.

Damien: When I first started Streetsblog in LA in 2007, we did a survey of all of the existing LA City Council whether or not they would do that. 

Only one office said, “Yes.” That the council member was already doing that. It was Eric Garcetti.

While I know some people are disappointed in what he’s done as Mayor, myself included; if you look at his record as council member it was he was one of the most progressive on transportation. 

I really think that those bike rides to work really helped inform that.

Katrina: I was really surprised by that. I’m hoping it’s indicative of a sea change when we talk  about the more Suburban areas in LA County.

Damien:  Thank you for your time today. we are running up against what I always do cuz our artificially create a time limit about 15 minutes and we we look forward to hearing what you guys do next in Monterey Park. Thank you again for your time, and we will check in again soon