Distrust is high in Nury Martinez’s former council district

Voters in the Nury Martinez city council district were among those who were outraged last year when leaked audio files recorded their ugly remarks.

Months later, the anger over the audio has cooled somewhat. In the central and eastern San Fernando Valley, the focus is on the upcoming election to replace the former City Council President, who resigned in October.

At forums, candidates running for the council seat vow to rebuild public trust and work with marginalized communities. They also offer solutions for Van Nuys Airport, where the noise and exhaust fumes from private jets plague neighbors, and pitch improvements to make Panorama City’s boulevards bike-friendly.

But the question is whether simmering frustration over the racist comments and political machinations revealed in the audio, which has sparked a national scrutiny and protests inside and outside City Hall, will boost turnout in the April 4 election.

Some local leaders say the scandal has deepened mistrust at City Hall. The episode, in which Martinez and others participated in a secretly taped conversation about city council redistribution, also followed a series of FBI investigations into local politicians.

Saul Mejia, President of the Panorama City Chamber of Commerce, said he speaks regularly with local business owners and residents.

“Unfortunately, people have lost confidence in their government,” Mejia said. “People just feel like they have better things to do” than vote.

Even before the scandal broke, low voter turnout was a problem in this Latino-majority neighborhood. Many Latinos skip LA elections because they believe their vote won’t count or because they believe a candidate doesn’t represent their point of view.

At the same time, progressive activists in the East Valley have not built the extensive organizational networks that have helped select candidates in other recent elections.

Damage and neglect is visible outside of the LA Department of Building and Safety in Van Nuys.

The damage is visible outside an LA Department of Works and Safety office in Van Nuys in Council District 6.

(Wally Skalij / Los Angeles Times)

At an election forum Saturday in Arleta hosted by the town’s Valley neighborhood councils, locals urged candidates to explain how they would increase transparency and introduce “checks and balances” to fight corruption.

One candidate referred to City Hall as LA’s “Tammany Hall,” a nod to the New York Democratic Group, which was synonymous with corruption.

Sun Valley’s Norma Chavez hoped Saturday’s forum, moderated by a Times reporter, would boost interest in the race. So far she had seen little engagement.

“We don’t have that many voters who come to us unless they have a problem they need to solve,” said Chavez, who serves on Sun Valley’s neighborhood council. “And when the problem is solved, they go away.”

The nominees include former and current assistants to elected officials: Marisa Alcaraz, Deputy Chief of Staff and Director of Environmental Policy for Councilor Curren Price; Marco Santana, director of engagement at LA Family Housing and former advisor to Rep. Tony Cárdenas; and Imelda Padilla, who worked for Martinez for a year and has experience in community and health work.

Also on the list is Rose Grigoryan, who claims to have worked for an Armenian TV station website; Isaac Kimwho runs a men’s skin and hair care business; Antoinette Scully, national organizer at the Unitarian Universalist Women’s Federation; And DouglasSierrawho works at the management consultancy Monitor Deloitte.

In 2013, when that seat was last open, Martinez won by 5,485 votes. Just over 11% of the district’s registered voters cast their ballots. However, the state’s move to postal voting — ballots for this race will be mailed out starting March 6 — could increase voter turnout.

If no candidate gets more than 50%, the top two finishers advance to a June runoff.

Stuart Waldman, president of Valley Industry and Commerce Assn., said the race for Council District 6, which stretches from Lake Balboa east to Van Nuys and north to Panorama City and Sun Valley, is wide open.

“Two of those candidates could get through to the runoff,” Waldman said. “And any of the candidates could be the next councillor.”

An underdog candidate might have an advantage based on voter data showing Rick Caruso overtook Karen Bass in that borough in the last mayoral election.

About 34% of voters in City Council District 6 cast their ballots in the mayoral campaign, which is a low turnout rate compared to other districts.

Shianne Smith, vice president of the Black Los Angeles Young Democrats, was among those who created T-shirts that read “I’m with the Blacks,” which they wore to a city council meeting right after the scandal broke.

The shirts were a reference to a comment Martinez made about LA County Dist. atty George Gascón in the retreat. “F— this guy. … He’s with the blacks,” Martinez said.

Smith agrees that voters in the borough distrust City Hall, but said the leaked audio prompted voters to get involved.

A recent District 6 candidate forum co-sponsored by Black Los Angeles Young Democrats attracted a diverse crowd, she said. The group, which has yet to make a recommendation, is looking for a candidate who can bring together the district’s diverse economic communities, as well as the Black, Hispanic and Asian communities, Smith said.

“Solidarity is a big thing, you know,” Smith said. “And to do things differently than before.”

Margaret Shoemaker, a member of the Arleta Neighborhood Council, also wants a new approach and says she has seen a “real decline in communities’ trust in City Hall”.

Shoemaker initially supported Martinez but lost confidence after the council president reallocated police funding in 2020. Shoemaker wants to see more funding and public respect for the Los Angeles Police Department and said crime is her top concern in the District 6 race.

The history of the Valley district dates back to the 2002 redistricting cycle. Population shifts prompted the city council to move the district away from the West Side and create a fifth Valley seat, giving Latinos and the Valley more political clout.

Today, according to census data, the district is 68% Latino, 16% White, 10.5% Asian, and 3.8% Black.

A lack of economic development and high-paying jobs has hurt areas like Panorama City, which never fully recovered from the loss of department stores and assembly plants in the 1990s.

During a conversation in secretly recorded audio about the community boundary shift, Martinez can be heard fighting to keep job-creating locations, including Van Nuys Airport and the Anheuser-Busch Brewery, in her borough.

Elsewhere, she expressed frustration at the potential loss of the Sepulveda Pool, which the city is planning to refurbish and is a planned site for the 2028 Olympics.

A woman is standing outside

Linda Gravani, a member of the Lake Balboa Neighborhood Council, says ethics are the most important quality in a city council candidate.

(Wally Skalij / Los Angeles Times)

Linda Gravani, a member of the Lake Balboa Neighborhood Council, is among those wary of the city’s handling of the basin’s transformation. She worries a popular dog park will shrink under the plan, though city officials have not said that is being considered.

Gravani has been following the various federal investigations into “payola,” as she puts it, at City Hall.

She closely watches the race in Council District 6. When asked what is most important to her in a candidate, she replied, “Ethics.”

“The word transparency comes up all the time, but there are so many things that are hidden,” Gravani said.

https://www.latimes.com/california/story/2023-02-22/city-council-district-6-race Distrust is high in Nury Martinez’s former council district

Alley Einstein

Alley Einstein is a USTimesPost U.S. News Reporter based in London. His focus is on U.S. politics and the environment. He has covered climate change extensively, as well as healthcare and crime. Alley Einstein joined USTimesPost in 2023 from the Daily Express and previously worked for Chemist and Druggist and the Jewish Chronicle. He is a graduate of Cambridge University. Languages: English. You can get in touch with me by emailing Alley@ustimespost.com.

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