One of Rick Caruso’s first developments was a shopping mall in Encino. It opened in 1994 after the Northridge earthquake and transformed what was seen as an eyesore into something “compatible with the neighborhood,” as one resident put it.
Rep. Karen Bass was married to a Cal State Northridge graduate of the San Fernando Valley for several years, and they lived in the city of San Fernando for a time. Her work on protests against abuses by the Los Angeles Police Department brought her into regular contact with activists in the area.
The two mayoral candidates have the closest ties to other parts of Los Angeles, but both have deep personal or professional ties to the Valley. With a population of 1.46 million — 38% of the city’s population — it could sway the election either way.
Those votes are especially important for Caruso, who beat Bass in the Valley in the June primary but trailed far behind in most other LA areas, down 7 percentage points citywide. His voter campaign, costing about $13 million at last count, has focused intensely on the Valley.
But when advertisers and the candidates themselves press down in the Valley, they encounter an electorate whose inclinations don’t always align with popular perception.
Caruso, a wealthy developer who only registered as a Republican in 2019, has garnered widespread support in some of the valley’s poorest communities, particularly in heavily Latino areas of the Northeast. For her part, Bass overtook Caruso in the primaries in whiter communities like Sherman Oaks and Studio City.
“I think people see the Valley as sort of a monolith — a unique place where people are whiter and more conservative, and that’s just not the case. That probably hasn’t been the case since the ’60s or ’70s,” said Jeremy Oberstein, a Northridge resident and consultant who previously worked for Councilor Paul Krekorian and Controller Ron Galperin and supports Bass.
In recent years, Oberstein and his wife Serena have moved from northeast Los Angeles to find a community more liberal than the Valley they grew up in. As in most parts of the city, homelessness and public safety are livening up political conversations — and because of its diversity, the Valley is an area where both candidates can credibly argue their base of support exists.
“The Valley is a microcosm of Los Angeles itself,” Oberstein said. “I think others are right, as the valley goes, so will the election go.”
The region is about 46% Hispanic, down slightly from the citywide total of 48%, and nearly half of its residents are renters, reflecting decades of changing demographics.
It also accounted for 38% of ballots cast in the June primary, with Caruso defeating Bass by 7.5 percentage points among those voters. He received strong support in areas with large Latino populations like Sylmar and Pacoima — although turnout was lower in those neighborhoods.
But Bass seemed to close the gap over the summer. Times polls last month found that Bass and Caruso were essentially level on likely voters at 41% versus 40%, though Caruso led 40% versus 28% on registered voters.
Bass finished Caruso by about 20 percentage points on South LA, the Eastside and Downtown and by 7 points on the Westside. As such, scoring points in the Valley is imperative for Caruso, who must capitalize on a discontent over homelessness and public safety that reigns in certain parts of the Valley and is similar to the city-wide anger.
Capturing that frustration is one thing. Then it must be ensured that these supporters actually vote. To that end, Caruso has spent heavily on an election campaign and voter canvassing operation, hiring 300 to 400 door knockers across the city for $25 to $30 an hour.
There is also an extensive telephone bank, with 30 to 40 people making calls in Spanish, English, Armenian and other languages at several locations around the city.
“Our main opponent has been voter apathy — more than anything else,” said Dveen Babian, an adviser who helps coordinate the field program. “If we’re able to get the people out that we’re trying to get out, the support is there. We are very confident about that. We just have to make sure we get those groups out.”
That’s why, one weekend last month, Lorena Plaschinski walked through a peaceful Sylmar bloc, knocking on doors and coordinating dozens of other recruiters who were distributing Caruso campaign materials and reminding people when and where to vote.
Plaschinski is originally from Guadalajara, where she previously worked in sales at a tequila company. Primary turnout in the 7th Council District, to which this block of Sylmar belongs, was about 20%, about 10 percentage points below the citywide total. Turnout was similarly lower than the rest of the city in the 6th Ward, which also includes areas of the Northeast Valley.
Many evenings she visits different parts of the valley with her team and a mobile app that tells her which doors to knock on. The day before she had been to Panorama City.
On a Sunday on Berg Street, Plaschinski wore camouflage pants and a Caruso shirt as she spoke to more than a dozen residents who said they supported the developer, only one of whom lost his ballot for the Nov. 8 election had given up.
Adrian Lozano, 46, who does maintenance for the Los Angeles Unified School District, said he saw Caruso ads on YouTube and on TV and was drawn to his wealth because it meant “no one is going to own him.” He said he’s primarily voting Democrats and plans to vote for Caruso because “we need more police.”
Plaschinski noted this and went on. Back home, she heard a version of that refrain — a frustration at being homeless and an attraction to the candidate who presented himself in million-dollar ads.
A few days earlier, about two dozen volunteers gathered in the backyard of a Valley Glen home to prepare to knock on the doors for bass. Trish Dexter, 66, sat in a lawn chair nursing a sore foot from the ad. The Valley native of Granada Hills High School had been out most weekends recently campaigning for Democratic candidates.
She became much more involved in politics during the Trump presidency through a program that connected volunteers in deep blue Los Angeles County with nearby swing neighborhoods to support the Democratic campaign.
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“Why don’t we support our close friends in the Republican districts nearby?” she said of this work.
In an interview, Bass said that this effort, which she supported through a super PAC she founded, may have increased her notoriety in that part of town as well.
“So it started with people in my district, but it got a lot bigger,” Bass said of those efforts to help candidates like former Rep. Katie Hill. “It was about helping the Democrats in the districts. They knew me and knew about my work from there.”
Her operation relies much more on volunteers than Caruso’s, but also includes about 75 paid field workers spread across the city who are “knocking on doors and calling voters six days a week,” Bass spokeswoman Sarah Leonard Sheahan said. Unions supporting Bass have also campaigned in this part of town.
This Saturday afternoon, Dexter has teamed up with a stranger who represents a shift that has also been helping out Bass.
Yale Chasin works in the film industry and has moved to Studio City in recent years with his wife and young daughter. They were out of town, and he jokingly said that to avoid trouble, he was promoting Bass because “I felt a strong sense of a dystopian possibility of Rick Caruso being mayor.”
At Sherman Oaks, Chasin and Dexter saw signs of the presence of Caruso touts with literature under doors, or the stray remark from a neighbor who said they had been there the day before. Unlike in the Northeast Valley, on their morning walk of several hours they found a much more diverse group of supporters, with Caruso supporters living alongside Bass supporters.
A man who only gave his name when Peter walked his dog Buddy and struck up a conversation with the recruiters. He said homelessness in particular is the issue he will be voting on. Still undecided, he said “we’ve had enough mismanagement.”
At a nearby house, a shirtless man was standing on his second-story balcony, and when he heard that Chasin and Dexter were there for Bass, he gave a thumbs-down and told them to scoot. In each house, Dexter told anyone who would listen that Bass had a plan to address homelessness and that having an accountable developer was like “putting a fox in the chicken coop.”
In a final house, Dexter met a man whose child had gone to school with her son. They caught up and she made her same pitch. It included how Bass would use their connections to bring resources home to help fight homelessness.
The man listened and sighed. He planned to vote and would likely support Bass, in part because of Caruso’s past Republican affiliation. But he wasn’t particularly enthusiastic.
“I feel pretty cynical about the whole thing,” he said.
Sandhya Kambhampati, a Times contributor, contributed to this report.
https://www.latimes.com/california/story/2022-11-02/san-fernando-valley-los-angeles-mayor-race-bass-caruso The Valley is where L.A.’s mayoral race could be won or lost