This is a rough transcript of LA Podcast Episode 144, “Pelosing My Religion.” We put this together with a crazy, basically unheard-of mix of computers and human beings trying to work in harmony to create a well-edited finished product. Notwithstanding that, I can’t promise you won’t occasionally find the mayor referred to as “A Red Car Setting,” which is almost poetic if you think about it. And, then, if you think about it some more, it’s really not.
Scott Frazier: It’s Monday, October 19th. This is Los Angeles podcast episode 144!
Hayes Davenport: Come on.
Scott Frazier: Pelosing my religion.
Hayes Davenport: How- What did you say?
Scott Frazier: Pe-losing my religion. Pelosing.
Hayes Davenport: This is why we don’t say the titles.
Alissa Walker: Never meant to be said.
Scott Frazier: Pelosing my religion. I’m sticking with that.
Hayes Davenport: And I actually like Pelosi-ng my religion better as a,
Scott Frazier: Well, now we’ve got them both in and listeners can pick which they want in a sort of choose their own adventure.
Alissa Walker: They should never be said aloud.
Hayes Davenport: Also, at the request of my spouse, we will be running the old theme song for this episode. Every week I get something of an earful about the new theme song. And so I think we’ll just mix it up. We’ll go back and forth and we’ll be, we’ll have the most theme songs of any show.
Scott Frazier: We should do what, one of the common requests that we’ve gotten is to do, is to do the original theme song in the beginning and the newer theme song as an outro. So we can also do that.
We are getting started. Thank you first of all to Brian Holmes for producing this episode and every episode – and to everybody who is listening to it and a special thanks of course, to our Sepulveda Passholders who allow us to keep doing this independent journalism project here.
And anybody who’s interested in joining that, of course, you can go to thelapod.com and click on our ‘Support Us’ link. That’s $5 a month. And you get two bonus shows. That’s- I don’t know. That’s a decent deal, I think.
Hayes Davenport: That’s a great- Decent deal? Two shows?
Scott Frazier: For five bucks a month, yeah.
Hayes Davenport: Five dollars a month.
Scott Frazier: Do it, if you, if you can do it, do it. And, speaking of, this week, we actually have our Thirty Mile Zone. We’re going to be watching a creepy LA movie for Halloween. If you are a Sepulveda Passholder, you get to vote on Patreon for one of the following: Tales From The Hood, They Live, Omega Man, or Whatever Happened To Baby Jane. So.
Hayes Davenport: These were specially, for anyone who’s like, “What about this scary movie?” Or whatever, these were specifically curated for Alissa’s and my tolerance level.
Alissa Walker: Yeah, we can’t. Yeah.
Hayes Davenport: Which is not high.
Alissa Walker: Not too scary.
Scott Frazier: What one are you guys hoping for?
Hayes Davenport: Just a little bit. I’m willing to be just a little bit scared, but I don’t want to be really scared. Those, with these fricking politics, it’s scary enough out there.
Scott Frazier: What else? We also have a, something I’m very excited about: our resource guides. Hayes. You’re probably the most excited about this. Because you’ve been trying to get this out the door for like two years.
Hayes Davenport: My entire life.
Scott Frazier: So we have one of the things when we launched our website that we really wanted to do was to have guides on public officials in the city so that people, and in the County, so that people can get more familiar with it.
Who runs LA and what their interests are and you know, what they do to make everybody’s lives better or worse, more likely. so we have been doing this in partnership now with LA Pays Attention, a newsletter operated by first show guest, Lex Roman way back in episode one.
Hayes Davenport: Three, I want to say.
Scott Frazier: Okay. It was the first one we recorded.
Yeah. The, she can be reached at @calexity on Twitter and also, thanks to Keith Scharwath, alissa’s husband, for doing all things website related, really, when it comes to this podcast, and also helping the design for this.
Last thing I want to cover at the top here is that we are co-sponsoring with Nithya Raman’s campaign, a public teach-in, I’m going to be co-hosting it with Rachel Reyes, friend of the show, and she works with LAANE now, that we’re doing a session called “It’s Our Time To Lead: Los Angeles’s New and Old Progressivism,” where we talk about the myth of LA as a politically progressive place from an electoral standpoint over the course of about the last hundred years or so. And we also talk a lot about the, the political minorities who have risen up in the face of, local oppression and racism to lead progressive movements anyway.
So kind of, with an eye towards November, trying to get people excited for this pivotal moment for electoral politics here. That is October 27th a week from Tuesday at 7:00 PM. It’s free. It’s open to everybody and you can RSVP if you’re interested by going to nithyaforthecity.com/teachin
Hayes Davenport: It’s the kind of stuff that we’ll probably talk about a little bit on this episode. In fact,
Alissa Walker: Yeah, that’s a great lead into to just kick
Hayes Davenport: going We’re going to talk about it right now.
Scott Frazier: Oh really?
Hayes Davenport: Yeah, I think so. What happened this week?
We were saying like, it was like maybe time to, like, we we’ve talked about the race between Nithya and David Ryu so much. I’m so heavily invested in this campaign and I’ve spent so much time as a volunteer for it.
We were like, “Okay, maybe we’ll take a break this week,” but circumstances have not allowed that to happen. And so now we’re just going to really, really get into it. What happened?
Scott Frazier: This race has in my mind lost all sense of proportion. We, we spoke last week about Bernie Sanders, endorsing Nithya Raman, the, the challenger to sitting city council member, David Ryu. That was one of a series of local race endorsements that Sanders had done. And I think in every cycle, he kind of picks a couple of races to throw his weight behind. That was-
Hayes Davenport: I want to underscore that. Cause it’s kind of important. Like he chose, I think, close to a hundred races across four States to endorse in. And this was probably the most consequential one or one of them like, like the position with some of the most discretionary power with some of the most constituents, he endorsed in a lot of city council races in smaller cities and stuff like that.
But this was not exactly like a targeted hit at this race. It was part of a much larger, endorsement project.
Alissa Walker: These other endorsements that came in this week from the middle- center were just really one-offs as far as I could see.
Scott Frazier: Who was it? Alissa who endorsed this week?
Alissa Walker: Well, it was first. Nancy Pelosi came in on Tuesday for an endorsement for Ryu.
Scott Frazier: For Nithya. That’s Great, oh, no. Sorry.
Alissa Walker: Yep. You guys did. And then, Hillary Clinton on Friday also through her support to Ryu and I was joking to Hayes when I said all we needed is Dianne Feinstein to support them for the, you know, trifecta and Hayes goes “Oh, she already did.”
Hayes Davenport: She’s been there, a Ryu hipster.
Alissa Walker: And, and so many people were posting that, where they, I don’t know what it is with the Death with the scythe. And there is a, there’s a blood trail and knocking on the doors of all the races that Pelosi has endorsed. Most recently Ed Markey won, even though she had endorsed the Kennedy running against him, and so it’s not the best track record.
Hayes Davenport: But you know, this is a race where we have no idea what the kind of impact of this stuff is. Like, this is a totally new frontier in LA city politics with the turnout that we’re having. Already huge. We have, I think something like considerably more than a half a million people in LA County have already voted. It’s it’s, we’re seeing the highest turnout in LA of basically anywhere in the state.
Alissa Walker: Now they’re going to have to change their vote because Hillary Clinton endorsed.
Hayes Davenport: “No Wait! Mr. Postman, please!”
Alissa Walker: Untrack my ballot.
Scott Frazier: You’re totally right. This is, this is very different than, you know, like a Senate race, right? Massachusetts’s Senate race is something incredibly different from a local city election. We don’t really know what the impact of this would be. And these are the two, like, far and away, the two most influential women in, Democratic party politics, I would say.
Hayes Davenport: Yeah. I mean, maybe Kamala Harris now, or soon as, elevating to that point and has not weighed in on this race yet. and I imagine does not really want to get involved in something like this at the lead up to her election,
Alissa Walker: She’s busy. Yeah.
Hayes Davenport: You know, I wish, part of me wishes this race hadn’t taken on this kind of like national character as like a proxy war between more famous people, because I think it’s much more interesting locally to think about what the, what is going on in this race locally. Because people keep asking, like, why is this happening? Why are Hillary and Nancy Pelosi and Bernie and all these people like getting involved in the city council race?
And they’re saying that, cause it is unprecedented. This has never happened before. And it’s a reaction to how unprecedented Nithya’s campaign is. It is a, it is a testament to how like, We have never seen this kind of like volunteer engagement, like, small, donations, like things like that does not happen in a city council race.
And like, of course I’m biased. I’m like deeply involved in this. I’ve spent so much time working on it, but like, the facts are biased in this, like in this race, it’s just true. Like this,…
Alissa Walker: I mean, if you think about it, and this has been said, you know, most recently, Jenna Chandler wrote this great essay for The Land about like how, just like you said, how consequential our votes are here because of the sheer number of people that these will affect many more than some, you know, congressional districts and, you know, mayor, mayor’s all these other places.
So if you think about it, As like a ratio of people impacted, especially the number of people impacted who are in desperate need of better leadership. It isn’t that strange to think about it. You know, we have these gigantic council districts.
Hayes Davenport: Yeah, and the basic story of this race is Nithya started total non-entity in LA politics. She got in the race, at a point when David Ryu had already raised about 750 grand. and I talked to so many people at the time who said she had no chance of getting Ryu into a runoff or even outperforming the third candidate in the race Sarah Kate Levy, who had also raised a significant amount of money and Ryu had every institutional endorsement you can possibly get here. Dianne Feinstein already at that point.
And Nithya did something that nobody has ever done before, she got 41% of the vote in the primary, within three and a half points of Ryu. Pulled him into the general and her momentum on a lot of fronts has only grown since then. Her fundraising is what used to be way behind him, her direct fundraising, and now it is massive. It’s more than his.
He still has much more PAC money coming in, but no one’s ever brought in small dollar donations like she does. Her volunteer support already the most, any candidate has ever had, has basically doubled since the primary. She is now a powerhouse in LA. This is like basically undeniable.
She is a legitimate political and policy force in the city. And Ryu has reacted to this in three ways. One is calling in the most powerful people in the world to stop her, two is going hard negative. Whining a lot. Various just like dirty tricks to try and tarnish reputation. And three is pivoting right. Like he is,-
Scott Frazier: Far to the right.
Hayes Davenport: Yeah, he is turning right. He’s I think we talked about this last week, but his closing message is “My opponent is a radical socialist who wants to end single family zoning and defund the police.” That’s Trump. There is no distinguishing that message from what Trump says about Joe Biden.
Scott Frazier: On those two points, at least there’s no distinguishing, but yeah, it is.
Hayes Davenport: I mean like the, now the zoning thing is part of, I mean like this, like that’s Trump.
Scott Frazier: The, I, I think what you said about it being a new frontier is totally right. Like, this is a battleground that did not use to exist. I had asked on Twitter earlier in the week when Pelosi announced, or when Ryu announced that he had received the endorsement of Nancy Pelosi, I just sort of was like, what? Does Nancy Pelosi ever endorse in LA local politics?
And the answer is no, but I think underneath my, underneath my kind of a tongue in cheek question is a more interesting answer, which is that she doesn’t do this because the question of who’s going to be in charge of the city of Los Angeles has never, that’s never been a question there’s,
Hayes Davenport: Why call her in.
Scott Frazier: Yeah, it’s never been in doubt. and, and, you know, they’re, they’re this sort of, internecine party conflict that we are seeing now in the Democratic Party has not previously gotten down to this level of LA city politics. Now it has, and I think that the City Council being as powerful as it is, people are really getting a sense that people, people with power are really getting sense that things that were not ever in doubt are now suddenly being called into question. I think early on in this campaign, Hayes, you talked about how Nithya was attracting attention that normally does not go to these types of local races. Because it was an issues-focused campaign because it was a campaign that was actually speaking to, speaking to the people who live here rather than just people who are already plugged in and donating to these campaigns. I think now we see what the obvious impact of that is: once you get noticed, especially on that national level, you can’t keep it from becoming, the proxy war that you’re talking about because suddenly now, now there’s a lot at stake.
If Nithya wins this, if Nithya wins this race, there is a lot at stake for, for other politicians who are trying to save their own political careers down the line.
Alissa Walker: And I want to point something out, that you asked or you were envisioning like, “Who is afraid of her winning?” Like what, who is so scared by this prospect. And we published this story this week at Curbed. We’re now fully merged with New York magazine, and it’s a story about developers in New York city.
This one whole section is about how Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez’s victory really terrified all the developers because it made- This moment where, “Oh my gosh, socialism is happening.” And that’s hacking away at our, this firmament that we have built for ourselves and like, what, what will go on? And I think that that is to a certain extent what people think is about to happen here. And, and, and some of those people are probably very terrified.
Hayes Davenport: What we’re seeing- I want to talk about, media coverage locally, because none of the like Nithya’s and this has not been driven by media coverage at all. Her like the media has mostly been reacting to her and that has been happening in one of two ways equally bizarre. One is no one is telling really just like the pure story of “here’s a candidate who came out of nowhere and built this massive grassroots campaign and knocked on 83,000 doors and has people tabling all over the city. Like, where is this passion coming from?” What’s happening instead is people supporters of the Ryu campaign letter saying that Nithya supporters were mean online. They were too vitriolic, the Ryu campaign circulated it. The Los Feliz Ledger reported this week that Ryu paid staffers sent it around to their supporters to get signatures.
Alissa Walker: Was it signed by people? By actual people?
Hayes Davenport: Yeah. Yeah. It was signed by people that have expressed Ryu support in the past, and then they sent it to Nithya calling on her to disavow her supporters. And simultaneously sent it to a bunch of local media outlets and all of them basically seized on it. I can think of four local papers that wrote this story.
That said, “too much vitriol in this race,” most notably the Los Feliz Ledger, which wrote it in an astoundingly inflammatory way that said, talks about how Nithya at a speech at an event was talking about how she wants people to get angry about homelessness and about like the effects of like our toxic air and our climate emergency.
Like, we need to get angry about these problems, to actually have anything happen related to them.
Alissa Walker: And this was in January. Did you say that like, it was a long time
Hayes Davenport: was ago
Alissa Walker: It wasn’t like, it was like last week.
Hayes Davenport: Yes.
Scott Frazier: Yeah. I mean, it’s, I, I love the like, Butterfly Effect, starring Ashton Kutcher sort of feel to this where it’s like Nithya tells people to get angry at the Hi Hat in December. And then in June, somebody named like hotdogman54 is yelling obscenities at their people across the country from them.
Hayes Davenport: Yeah. I mean, like, So, I mean like the premise is ridiculous. The idea that, I mean, like no one, for example, on the City Council gets more online vitriol than Mitch O’Farrell. Someone who is not running in and any kind of race really right now. And he’s been getting it for a while. People are mad at their elected officials. Nithya has not driven that in any way, shape or form.
Her campaign is actually very, very uniquely positive, and, and doesn’t really like get into that, that stuff. But this Los Feliz Ledger story led to a cascading number of apologies where people pointed out that they had never covered David Ryu’s rape charge from 2002.
And they said that they did. And then they said that it had somehow been pulled down from their site and then said, “Here’s the story that we posted. You can see in our WordPress page.” And then it was the exact same story, it was a copy and paste of Emily Alpert Reyes’s story in the LA times. And so then Emily Alpert Reyes got in touch with them and asked them to please it down. And so then they had to apologize for that. You know, just chaos, just like the, you know, just the chaos that this race, everything, it touches just like, descends into
Scott Frazier: This is, this is a case study in, well, first of all, they shouldn’t have written this story, but this is a case story in what happens when you go into your mentions, like, and they were like telling people to Google Google their past coverage. Yes, don’t, don’t do that.
Hayes Davenport: But the other phenomenon that I think is interesting is there was an LA magazine story this week, too. and in the print edition, the headline was “Left and Lefter.” And this has been actually indicative of a lot of the more, less neighborhood based, but like more mainstream local coverage, LA Times, LA Magazine basically saying these two candidates are pretty much the same. They both are Democrats. Why are they running against each other?
And why? Yeah. Like why is this? And these are from people that are really like, it’s their job to write about local politics. And they don’t really understand why two Democrats are in conflict like this.
They’re using a national frame again of like Democrats versus Republicans that does not apply here at all. Like everyone in LA politics is on a national scale liberal, supportive, they’re pro choice. They’re pro gun control, like pro gay rights, like things like that. The dynamics here of conflict are related to, well, I mean, I actually want to quote, this, poster LA Bike Dad who had a thread this week that I thought was excellent, that really breaks down this race and like how LA politics kind of works.
He described himself as a centrist Democrat, who said that he doesn’t agree with all of Nithya’s positions necessarily, she’s a little left of him, but he said that the, the dynamic in LA, like the fundamental conflict is between progressivism and reactionaries.
And no matter where you kind of define yourself ideologically on the national scale, you can be progressive about how we handle housing in the city, how we handle transportation, how we handle policing, how we handle, the, like the rights of undocumented people, like things like that. Or you can be reactionary.
There are pro Bernie people that are, that won’t accept any new housing, any bike lanes, like anything like that. Who want to maintain the police funding the way that it is. And he said that that’s why he supporting Nithya because all progressives must always team together to defeat the reactionaries in LA.
I just don’t really get why our local coverage doesn’t really seem to understand that like someone like David Ryu, who was initially brought into power by groups like the Sherman Oaks Homeowners Association as LA Bike Dad points out, which has been a force, a reactionary force in the city for a long time.
The guy that runs it, Richard close was aligned with the Valley succession movement has been like the loudest anti housing voice in the city.
Alissa Walker: Worst. One of the worst. Yeah-
Hayes Davenport: Connected to anti busing stuff. So like there was an article written in LA magazine about how they brought Ryu into power. This article came out in 2017 and three years later, we’ve got this, another LA magazine article saying that Ryu was like one of the embodiments of how progressive LA city council is.
Why don’t people get this? I
Alissa Walker: Because they only started following it recently. And I think if you, if you didn’t know that part of it, and a lot of people maybe suddenly started becoming more politically interested, maybe over the last four years. And if you really didn’t pay much attention before that time, you would just assume probably all the councilmembers are about the same.
You would look at that. You’re like, Oh, they’re all Democrats, except for that one guy. And they, you know, they’re all pretty- they’re all guys! And they’re all like doing the same. They all vote unanimously on everything. So you would just assume they’re all. Aligned, but I had somebody say to me and you’re you’re so right though, that like talking about like, who’s scared, it’s the people who brought him into power.
It’s like very strong NIMBY, like celebrities, like Fix The City. There was an ad by streets for all that they did where it kind of showed how in bed Ryu is with Fix The City, which has single handedly stopped like much of the forward movement when it comes to transit adjacent housing and also, like the mobility plan,
Scott Frazier: Hey, they’re just worried about the sewer capacity.
Alissa Walker: Yeah.
Scott Frazier: Honestly worried about the sewer capacity.
Alissa Walker: Aren’t we all though? But, but,
Hayes Davenport: What are these people eating?
Scott Frazier: That’s the thing, you know what your, you know what your homeowning neighbors are eating. You don’t know what the new people moving in are going to be eating.
Alissa Walker: It’s the new diets of other people. But I think what somebody said to me the other day, which really struck me was like, “I wish that Ryu wasn’t getting primaried,” – I think it was even before the primary – “Because he’s so progressive.” And I had to take a step back and be like, “The only reason you think he’s progressive is because he got primaried.” And that’s not said enough at all, at all in this discussion, like we’ve talked about it, but it’s, it’s hardly ever, even in that bonkers endorsement from the LA Times, it, it acknowledged it, but not in a way that said that anything should change in this race, you know, because of what
Scott Frazier: Yeah, there hasn’t really been a comprehensive look by anyone in LA media, I would say, at the, you know, the city council’s repeated claims that they are the most progressive legislative body in city politics anywhere in the country, which is laughable, really, but that sort of just it’s to like stand out there cause nobody, nobody really challenges it.
I do think. When it comes, when it comes to the question of yeah. Sherman Oaks Homeowners Association and other groups like that, being afraid of Nithya potentially winning this race, which is a very real possibility of course. Like you said, Hayes, I think things have sort of tilted more in her direction even than they were at in the primary.
You just have to think: look at CD4. We talk about this all the time. Look at the shape of the district. This is a district that was gerrymandered not for no reason. It wasn’t gerrymandered so that you could have a socialist woman of color come in here and be representing Sherman Oaks. That wasn’t why they went to all this trouble.
You kind of start to wonder, what’s the point of all this power that you have, if you can’t even secure a seat with the reactionary forces, which is, which is what they’re scrambling to do right now. But it makes perfect sense.
Hayes Davenport: But it also shows, I think that those, the homeowners associations and the, and the people that have been resisting, like any kind of progressivism in LA are pretty small. And certainly small compared to the people that just want more housing affordability want stronger action on climate who have not been allowed to participate in city government at all before.
And that was the whole premise of Nithya’s campaign was go out and talk to them and tell them about that this body exists and what it can do.
Scott Frazier: The last time that David Ryu was elected, which was the first time that he was elected, he was running in 2015. So in an off year, in the month of May or June. Yeah. and, and yeah, this, this is exactly why those things had to change. It’s also exactly why they were the way that they were, because when you have, yeah, when you have homeowners, when you have people who are very well off, who want to control the outcomes in city politics, the only way that they can do that is if literally nobody else shows up to vote. And generally speaking, that has been the case. This is our first cycle aligned with the state and federal elections here in the city.
And it’s making a difference and I’m, yeah, I bet that people are very frightened about that. And, and it’s, you know, sort of the, the goal is not to, not to let whatever happens here, be the end game, but to just continue pushing and expanding the vote to more people who haven’t typically had the opportunity to express their opinions.
Hayes Davenport: So let’s talk about a desperate effort by one person to, shift his personal focus from local to national politics. Alissa, there was some coverage this this
Alissa Walker: like, why is nobody writing these stories about me? What about me?
Hayes Davenport: Our mayor-
Alissa Walker: Finally some ink was spilled. Is that what you’re supposed to say? Is that what you say?
Yeah, I mean, we’ve talked about this before. I don’t know what prompted it last time. Oh, maybe the debate talking about him. Go to the debate. Like what, what cabinet position is awaiting Secretary Garcetti when Biden rolls to victory in a few weeks. And, this week there was a lot of speculation. there was two different stories. One was in Vox and one was in Politico and it seemed the consensus was, from these people who do not live here or participate in any way with what we talk about and deal with here on a daily basis, that he should be Transportation Secretary. That was, and here are the quotes. One of them from Matt Yglesias. “Almost everyone I spoke to thinks los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti, who is Latino, will be Secretary of Transportation if he wants it, Obama tried and failed to convince Garcetti’s predecessor in LA to take the gig but Garcetti’s interest level seems higher.
I don’t think Villaraigosa was offered the position though. Everyone just said he wanted it. Was he offered
Scott Frazier: I don’t know if he was, I don’t know if he was offered, but yeah.
Alissa Walker: I don’t think he was offered.
Scott Frazier: The thought that he was too busy with Herbalife is hard to believe.
Alissa Walker: Well, no, he was gonna run for governor.
Scott Frazier: But I do, I do remember him being in the mix for that position, whether or not the formal offer was ever made.
Alissa Walker: And also a fun fact that a lot of people don’t know is that Garcetti was also offered a position in the Obama White House as an urban affairs, whatever, I don’t know, attaché. And he said no. Because of the Olympics? I don’t know. and then he, the Politico story, they had kind of like this big, like, I don’t know, like a yearbook-type superlatives list where it was just like all the list of different cabinet positions. And it was like he was the consensus and that he would be able to do this because of his,- It would be like a big infrastructure job because of what Biden is pushing. And the, the idea was that Garcetti could do this because of success on Measure M and that is what spurred, I think a lot of discourse locally. Because first of all, who are these people writing about us and saying that they like, he did such a good job on transportation when as Scott put it, he did do a good job at measure M but, November 6, 2016 is the last day he showed up for work.
Scott Frazier: Has been phoning it in with a consistency since that day, I didn’t even really, I was like, wow. Yeah, four years. That’s, he’s been coasting.
Alissa Walker: And then also people like didn’t know that he like was on the Metro board and like actually the in charge of taking this money and making sure it gets spent the right way. Nobody knows this stuff about LA and like, why are you writing these stories?
Scott Frazier: I was super interested too in the statement from Politico about the big infrastructure spending, which, I mean, obviously when it comes to American infrastructure, that is still something that should be, should be funded and should carry forward. But it is really interesting that, I don’t know, like looking at Metro in particular where what we’ve been talking about is the fact that they have cut their operations spending.
They don’t have enough money to like run buses. That seems like, I don’t know, Garcetti is not going to focus on it. Right. Cause he’s the head of Metro currently and he’s not focusing on it. It just, it seems like they are already shaping up, if it’s a Garcetti Department of Transportation, it will be one that is infrastructure and like jobs program first and good transit second or third.
Alissa Walker: They’ll be like we’re making The Olympics national. It’s going to be a nationwide Olympics.” 20 by 28 by 28
Scott Frazier: Yeah.
Alissa Walker: High speed rail across the country
Scott Frazier: From everywhere to LA.
Alissa Walker: From everywhere. All roads lead to LA.
Hayes Davenport: All this speculation is idle and it’s misinformed because he says that it’s “more likely than not that he’ll be LA’s mayor in two years.” That’s what he said to the LA Times, which I think means that he is going to do both. He did say at one point, when he was running for president, that he would be able to be mayor at the same time, especially now in the zoom era.
Alissa Walker: He was never running for president Hayes. You just said when he was running for president.
Hayes Davenport: But were he to to do so he would easily be able to continue to be mayor of the second largest city in America.
Alissa Walker: Of course. Cause you just have to, you don’t have to really, you can’t really get across LA in a day. You can just be on zoom now, do you remember that?
Hayes Davenport: That’s right.
Scott Frazier: He says in this article, something that he has said previously to when, I mean, like when he was teasing a presidential run, he said the same thing that he’s always looking for the position where he can do the most good. I mean, previously, I guess what he was saying was where he could do the most good for Angelenos, but now he’s just saying where he can do the most good for everybody, which, I mean,
Hayes Davenport: Which does include Angelenos.
Scott Frazier: Which does include Angelenos but if you’re looking to do the most good for like people in Nebraska, mayor of LA, I suppose isn’t getting that job done as much as you could be.
If you were, the secretary of the department of transportation. I, to me, when I read this, “it’s more likely than not that I’ll be the mayor in two years,” I know, I know it’s not, but it reads, like he doesn’t think Biden’s going to win the election.
Alissa Walker: then the other quote, the other code too, that he said. I don’t have a secret plan to get to Washington. It’s not as secret. There’s no secrecy. Nobody is accusing him of this. you know,-
Hayes Davenport: “I have a nakedly obvious plan to get to Washington.” Or maybe he means “I’m already here. I’m signing the papers on a Georgetown row house. I don’t have a secret plan to get here because I now live here permanently.”
Alissa Walker: They have like a fake city hall, like daïs set up in his like apartment in D.C. And he just does all the COVID briefings from there.
Hayes Davenport: We do owe him a little bit of an apology. I remember how much we laughed. When, the “Garcetti Machine” was activated when he endorsed Biden, which was at the lowest point in the Biden campaign, basically, and we all thought that he was hitching himself to this like anchor.
Scott Frazier: Yeah.
Hayes Davenport: When he became campaign co-chair and that was wrong, obviously.
Was the turnaround because of Eric Garcetti’s influence on the campaign?
Alissa Walker: Probably I think you’re right on that one Hayes a hundred percent.
Scott Frazier: We’re gonna have to wait for the Power Broker style biography to come out of Garcetti in 20 years, letting us know that the, that weekend, where everybody dropped out and shifted their support to Biden was actually personally engineered by Eric Garcetti.
Hayes Davenport: Yeah. The Garcetti machine is just a gun that he holds to their heads.
Let’s talk about, this is a, a huge story that we’ve covered sort of in passing. On the show before, but had, like was in headlines this week. So we’ll, we’ll start from the beginning with it. it’s a story about Exide and one of there is a battery recycler, and one of their facilities in Vernon, and Scott what’s going on with the, the Exide story.
Scott Frazier: Yeah. So the reason really why we have only covered this in passing is because this story has been going on for so long, and, and like comparatively, we’ve been doing this show for such a short amount of time that we kind of just happen to only be able to cover it in sort of a lull in the development of events. As you’ve mentioned, Exide is a lead-acid battery recycler. They, they have operations all around the world.
They are taking, you know, basically like industrial batteries, car batteries, things like that, breaking them down. Melting them, and reusing the lead and other elements for a new production of, of components to be used in industrial purposes elsewhere. I really think it’s, this is probably our first opportunity to do this, that I just want to go through what we know about Exide so far.
I think a lot of people have probably heard the name. It’s been covered at length in the LA times, also in, the, the LA Streetsblog outlet. Particularly, because for about a decade or so, I mean, really for, for longer than, than that, if you talk to environmental justice nonprofits and people who I’ve been working in this space, but for about a decade, it’s been really public knowledge that Exide, their factory out there in Vernon, Southeast of downtown Los Angeles had been poisoning the ground surrounding, surrounding their facility.
And particularly it’s been affecting communities, residential communities in Maywood and Boyle Heights and some houses in Commerce as well. So it’s just like far east end of, of the city of Vernon, which again, exists, just to say, specifically, so that industrial companies like this can go in and do whatever they want with minimal oversight.
Hayes Davenport: It’s lead emissions, both in the, in the air and in the soil, that, LA County public health has said has put more than a hundred thousand people in that area at risk of cancer, learning issues for kids, like child development can really be defect, be affected by this. Alissa, you wrote a story about, about this. Breathing issues. Like really, really serious stuff.
Scott Frazier: Blood. Yeah. Lead is like one of the. most pernicious toxins to the human body. Yeah. I mean, there there’ve been a number of studies about, the way that lead can sort of eke its way into people’s bloodstreams, stay there and impact their development over the course of their entire lives. And there’ve been a lot of studies done, in more recent years about.
The effect of, de-leading things like gasoline and pipes and paint, which you probably get notices for if you ever move into a rental unit here in Los Angeles, because there’s the risk of lead paint having been in use before that was made illegal.
Hayes Davenport: But so you see the contrast between like so many parents worrying about like, “Oh, is like, is the paint on my wall lead? Are they like testing for this?” And like all these people live next to a lead blasting facility.
Scott Frazier: Yeah, they literally, what they are doing is taking batteries that are to a high, to a high proportion made of lead and melting it. Lead is a heavy metal, you know, they, they, they’re putting this into a furnace, melting it down. There are emissions that result from that. And as a result of that, of course they have, a number of different yeah regulatory entities that are supposed to keep them in check and make sure that what they’re doing is safe for a while, for the people who work there for the people who live in surrounding communities and for everybody in LA County.
Part of what has made this story particularly difficult to cover is that there are, you know, there’s the federal EPA environmental protection agency, there’s additionally, the CalEPA, the state version of the same agency, the subsidiaries of the CalEPA, including the Department of Toxic Substances Control, the DTSC and, and here also, we have air quality districts like the South Coast Air Quality Management District. So there are a ton of different agencies, all with the ability to potentially levy, fines or sanctions against Exide, and who also have the responsibility of making sure that they’re doing things in the appropriate way.
That however, that process really broke down in this case. And it’s the families that live in the area who have suffered the brunt of that Exide has owned this location, for decades going back to 2000. It’s been a, it’s been a battery recycling plant since 1922. So almost for a century at this point.
Alissa Walker: Wow. That’s mind blowing.
Scott Frazier: But the modern saga really begins in 2012 when the air quality management district fined Vernon because they determined that there were elevated levels of lead in the air surrounding, outside of a buffer zone surrounding their facility over the course of a 30 day period. Following that then DTSC – Toxic Substances Control – suspended the Vernon facility’s ability to operate. Then immediately afterward, they went back into bankruptcy where they had been about a decade before.
In 2014, Exide that facility in Vernon and Vernon Exide shut it down permanently. They were forced to close it. They were forced to close it by the state of California and it just never reopened. That was. a decision that was enforced by DTSC and various other regulatory agencies. At this point, the federal government started getting involved: the EPA came in, as did the Department of Justice, who we’re going to talk about a little bit more in terms of this week’s news. So the, the federal Department of Justice came in, they were investigating criminal wrongdoing, that I believe was referred to them by the federal EPA. because at the time that the EPA came in, that was really when it started to break in local newspapers and national newspapers, that there was significant lead contamination at these, approximately 8,000, yeah, 8,000 or 9,000 residential lots surrounding, surrounding the Vernon facility.
The DOJ, however, came in and instead of, charging Exide with criminal negligence or anything related to its handling of lead and other waste byproducts signed a Non Prosecution Agreement with them, which you might remember we talked about with Shenzhen Hazens in the City Hall Corruption scandal last week. In this case, they said the Non Prosecution Agreement was necessary because since the company was bankrupt, they would not be, if they were, charged with the criminal, with the felony charges that they had committed, that they would cease to exist as a business and not be able to clean up the area anyway.
That was in 2015. Basically flash forward to where we’re at now. And the terms of that Non Prosecution Agreement, where that Exide was going to proceed with a cleanup plan, they were actually going to pay for remediation of soil. but the entire last five years have been characterized by an ongoing argument between Exide and the state of California as to what, or even whether Exide is responsible for any of the lead contamination in the soil surrounding their property.
Now they’re back in bankruptcy because of COVID. They went back into being in bankruptcy earlier this year. As opposed to last time when they were actually reorganizing though, this time Exide, the company, is saying, “We’re, we’re multinational, we’re international, we’re dumping our U.S. Assets. And what we want to do is abandon this plant. We’re not going to pay for anything else. We’re, we’re leaving all of our U.S. property behind, and it becomes somebody else’s problem, in this case, namely, the taxpayers of the state of California, to finish this remediation.
Hayes Davenport: Then that’s where we are. It’s going to be taxpayer funded. The U..S Government has agreed to it. So Exide was not prosecuted because of this idea that they, that would make it easier for them to clean up Vernon. They did not ever clean it up. And they’re now completely dissolving the company of all their U.S. Assets and the taxpayers are paying for the cleanup and Exide is, still nobody is being prosecuted.
Scott Frazier: Yeah. And, and this is, yeah, this is, it’s a case where there is so much blame to go around. It’s hard to even know where to start. First of all, when you look back at this NPA that was signed by the Department of Justice five years ago, at that point in time, the Exide officials in order to get this protection from prosecution, they actually agreed, they admitted that they had committed felonies, intentional felonies, in the handling of, of these waste byproducts.
And, and so now you kind of look back at that and you say, this is a company that has said on the record that they have negligently put people’s lives on the line.
Then they spent the ensuing several years arguing about, basically saying, “Well, everything is fucked around Vernon. So why are you mad at us? Look, look at all of the other shit that’s out here. Who cares about our facility? Their, their soil was going to be poisonous anyway.” Which is actually not incorrect and like the state of California and the city of Vernon and the city of Los Angeles and the city of Maywood, all bear responsibility in this because they have allowed this to persist. New, uh, new city council member, Kevin De León who was just sworn in this past week was in the state assembly, or state Senate, when they received a bill, they pushed forward a bill to basically terminate the existence of the city of Vernon for doing things like this. And Kevin-
Hayes Davenport: That is their reason for existing.
Alissa Walker: Yeah. That’s the only reason it is a city. Yeah.
Scott Frazier: And, and Kevin De León said very similarly to what the Department of Justice said, you know, “We think that the allowing- Doing that would harm the ability to get restorative justice for the people who actually live nearby.”
It would not further the cause of getting them the reparative measures that we want to get for them 10 years later, nothing, they, these people don’t have the reparative measures being provided to them. They have exactly the opposite of that. DTSC, the California agency that’s responsible for managing these sorts of crises has fucked it up from the beginning.
They’ve done an incredibly poor job. As of last year, so what, what in 2019, as of like five years on from when they determined that this widespread lead contamination existed, they had cleaned up about a 10th of the contaminated parcels and that’s just in no way acceptable. They gave Exide, actually, a massive out by doing their job so poorly that they failed to respond in a timely manner and thus a lot of assumptions about excise culpability ended up being baked in that allowed them, I think, more or less, to just get off the hook. And then of course you have Trump’s government that is walking away from its responsibility to, to provide for in this case heavily-immigrant communities, from communities that are predominantly Latino. And, and that is obviously also, racially inflected at the minimum, outright racist, more likely. This is, this is a mess and it’s, it’s something that so many layers of government have failed to meaningfully address that it, it is, Well, it’s it’s criminal. It’s it’s, it’s insane. And it needs to be… The people who live in these communities were given 11 days to give their comments on, on the plan to abandon this facility.
They were, they were given a minimal notice about hearings that were taken, taking place, so that they could actually deliver comments in person and hear about the plan. all of this was just forced through with the utmost speed for no reason. Other than that, our governments just don’t care what happens to people who live in Boyle Heights and Maywood. They just don’t care.
Alissa Walker: And I’m glad you brought up that Kevin De León is, was sworn in this week because he already has talked about Boyle Heights as his district, and that he really wants this to be a priority. He also talks a lot about freeways that he has, he has a district with the most freeways, which I didn’t know. It makes perfect sense, but of course, you know, and how much that this is like a top priority for him.
He’s a huge, very positive, environmental record. So it does, you know, maybe something will be done, but you’re, you’re also so right about the fact that not only, you know, the Trump administration’s EPA has been like their whole thing has been rolling back these types of regulations that would have fixed this.
But the initial movement was during the Obama EPA when, you’re exactly right, they still didn’t care about this stuff. You know, it’s very hard to get any government body, even in California, where we still have this fight about fracking and, and trying to stop like oil extraction in our neighborhoods, you know, to get people to care about this or do something about it is very, very difficult. But that might happen now with De León being in office. I hope so. I think he will be a very powerful voice for that.
Hayes Davenport: You’re talking about freeways Alissa, there’s another story about them. I’ve been noticing, they’re looking a little skinny.
Every few years. the freeways, you just like driving, I’m like, “Couldn’t these be just a little fatter?”
Alissa Walker: “Why are they only eight lanes?” That is what I always think when I’m driving around.
Hayes Davenport: It’s another freeway widening project. Alissa, what is the story?
Alissa Walker: What is the story? Let let’s go back. Way back. Three decades ago, when, and I, again want to acknowledge the great reporting done on this, by Joe Lyndon at LA Street’s blog. Apparently three decades ago someone decided that the 605/5 interchange, which goes through Downey and parts of this city of LA, I’m trying to think of what other communities are right there next to it. It’s mostly Downey is that’s impacted, right? It’s like-
Hayes Davenport: Yes, it’s definitely mostly Downey.
Alissa Walker: I can’t think of what else is next to –
Scott Frazier: Yeah, I don’t think it touches city of LA.
Alissa Walker: It doesn’t touch city of LA at all? So the 605/5 interchange, which goes through the city of Downey needed to be widened, be “improved,” sorry – quote unquote improve – as part of Caltrans’s ongoing vendetta against living in the state of California, and part of this plan was to take out, I think it’s over 200 homes, in the area to add one of three or four different options. This is what they always do. They’re like, “We’re going to fix it by putting in this HOV lane or a bus lane or a something else lane, but we still need to widen it. we’re going to change the way these lanes work, but we still need to make it wider.” “Improving” quote unquote.
So fast forward to over the last few months, apparently this was, so if you go back talking about Measure M and how we got pushed, this pushed through. Part of what we voted for when we voted for Measure, M were some freeway projects, road projects, like car-centric projects, and a lot of people forget,
Scott Frazier: Thanks Garcetti.
Alissa Walker: If you want to give some credit to him for that, do do it for this. But this was part of what we voted for and it’s absolutely true. Like people will, and Metro will say this whenever you bring it up or say that you want to look at this reconsider, this project, the 605 widening project, they’ll be like, well, this was part of what we decided on. Measure him case closed.
Scott Frazier: A line item that says I-605/I-5 improvements. It’s like- That’s, “Oh yeah, that’s what I voted for. That’s totally,-“
Alissa Walker: To me. I was like “Oh you’re knocking that down. Great.”
Scott Frazier: “-that’s totally what I, like, I knew that meant.”
Alissa Walker: Like that’s what I wanted. Knock it down. So, and again, this isn’t another very unclear thing and thinking is for Joe. So at a three spot kind of asking for all these documents. Cause it’s one of those things too, where they always do this. They always put these plans out there, don’t make a big deal out of it, everybody says they didn’t know that this was happening or being talked about, and then they’re like, “Oh, well this was, you know, we hadn’t really decided anything yet. Don’t get upset with us.” Like “we’re, we’re, it’s still up in the air.” Like, “We don’t really know,”
But then you go through these documents, and there’s like maps with houses with Xs through them, you know, they, they obviously have thought very hard and spent I think $60 million so far on the study.
Which, you know, we don’t need for anything else.
Scott Frazier: They do not, they do not embark on these sorts of things to arrive at the “No Build” option. Like it’s not like, they’re just like, “Huh, I wonder what would happen if we did this? Oh, that’s cool. We’ll do something else instead.” No. They, the, Metro’s responses to these to people being mad basically about the way that they are running this organization: cutting bus service, expanding freeways – nominally, an agency that wants you to quote, “join the movement” onto public transportation. like they can be mad, sad about it, but the fact of the matter is they are acting in ways that are disingenuous.
They’re being dishonest. They’re saying that, they haven’t made decisions when anybody who’s paying attention, anybody who’s even moderately paying attention can tell exactly what their intention to do is, and it’s, it’s just really not as complex as they seem to think. They just seem to think that everybody is too fucking stupid to get the complexity of what they’re doing or why they’re doing the things that they’re doing.
And it’s really not that hard.
Hayes Davenport: We had some developments on the political side, with this project this week. Right? What the, some good news.
Alissa Walker: Yeah, well, just as far as like one person who’s been on this from day one: Alexandria Contreras, who is running for Downey City Council. @alexfordowney on Twitter has been a great follow, and she found out that it was her childhood home is one of the homes that’s being destroyed along with her school, I think, and the park she used to go to.
And so she really mounted this big campaign and just tried to get the city of Downey to acknowledge that, like it knew this was happening and to formally oppose it, which they finally did this week. And then I think because of all that momentum, too, we finally had some board members including, Eric “Measure M” Garcetti, Mike Bonin,
Scott Frazier: Robert Garcia I know was in there.
Alissa Walker: Robert Garcia, who’s always good on this stuff.
Hayes Davenport: Janice Hahn, Shiela Kuehl, John Fasana.
Scott Frazier: Oh, wow. That’s already a majority.
Alissa Walker: Yeah.
Hayes Davenport: Yeah, it’s dead.
Alissa Walker: So the board is going to be talking about that this week they’re they’re against it. So it seems like a good development, but again, you’re exactly right, Scott. They’re not, they’re not going to say “We’re not going to do this,” so they’re still gonna try to do something.
And, but what they haven’t even brought up, you know, are things like, that have really worked in places like a TDM, a transportation demand management program, like something like the silver line where, you know, there you’re actually like just leaving and capacity, but putting in a very like high quality bus, rapid bus type thing.
I mean, there’s a lot of different things that we could do, um, definitely not widen it. And definitely try to narrow freeways now. Like that, I don’t care what we thought about 30 years ago, or even when we voted for Measure M. Like, it’s different now, and that’s not what we want. And what some people to have been pointing to, which I think is super relevant is what’s happened with the 5 freeway.
And I don’t know if you’ve driven through Burbank lately, which is like, The Grand Canyon of Burbank with my kids were like, “What is that mountain over there?” And it’s where the, like the road used to go over the 5, but it’s gone right now because they are adding, God knows what, like it was already super wide, like cutting the city of Burbank in half, and now it’s getting wider.
And again, going back to Streetsblog, the latest numbers there on the status. Cause everyone is like, why is this supposed to be done already? It was supposed to be finished by now. September report for Metro said it was $50 million over budget and they’re still not anywhere close to being done. It was supposed to be done years ago, and the Caltrans report actually said $70 million over budget, and it had like a different timeframe for when they were going to be finished.
Like, they should get no more money. They should get no more money to do this. They should put it back in a way that will fix these problems.
Like, so people can- maybe not even put it back. You can still drive through it just fine. I don’t know if you need to like, make any changes whatsoever. Like. Just stop, stop doing this. This is not worth it. And try to like knit back these communities that have been destroyed by Caltrans.
Hayes Davenport: Especially for something that doesn’t have necessarily measurable impact on traffic. We saw with the 405 we talked about on this show that widening project did not make it any faster to get through the spillover, to pass it and increased the number of cars that could go through by a little bit, but they go through just as slowly the experience is just as nightmarish, for, I mean, just, I mean, what’s the total budget on this 5 project? Do we even know?
Alissa Walker: God. I mean,
The 405 cost one point, about $1.5 billion, I think.
Yeah. I mean, I don’t see that this is, this says $1.3 billion. I’m not sure if that’s the entire project, and it was supposed to be done in 2017.
Scott Frazier: It’s never ending. I mean, it is
Alissa Walker: They’ll just keep doing it.
Scott Frazier: it’s very similar to what we were talking about at the top of the show, with the CD4 race. Just like the way, the way that Metro responds in my, in my opinion is, is very similar because, the clear communicated opinion is, “Stop paying attention. Stop talking to us. Just, we’re going to do what we’re going to do, and you don’t have the right to express any views about it.”
I mean, if Metro comes out and says that Hillary Clinton endorses the 5/605widening project, I will not be surprised, I guess.
Alissa Walker: I mean, I joke, I always say, and you say too, Scott, we’re like “Defund Caltrans.” I am serious. I am dead serious. They have what? A $15 billion budget or something like that. I don’t know. I’m like making it up. Maybe the entire transportation budget is that or something for-
Scott Frazier: They have too much money. They are a terrible organization.
Alissa Walker: They are a terrible organization. They keep making things worse and they keep getting more money to do what nobody wants them to do. And as we talked the other week ago about, you know, the idea that we might have to, we would only sell electric cars in the state by 2035, which is just pointless, really.
I mean, great. But like it’s, it’s what we should be talking about is taking Caltrans’s budget away from itself, and fixing the problems that do not require us to have freeways anymore.
Scott Frazier: I want a bill that’s “By 2035, former Caltrans employees are unemployable. You cannot hire them.”
Hayes Davenport: Alissa, you nailed the budget.
Alissa Walker: Was it $15 [billion]?
Hayes Davenport: The 19 to 2020 budget was $14.7 billion. and then the 20 to 21 budget, it went up to $15.5 [billion].
Alissa Walker: I don’t know, take that money, and put that into infill housing or creating housing near transit, improving transit, no more money for freeways. None. None.
Hayes Davenport: Thank you for listening to LA Podcast. No more episode. And thank you for again, for, subscribing at, at our Patreon, which you can reach on the ‘Support Us’ link at thelapod.com. We will be back next week, getting closer and closer to election day, but we will never actually get there. Each day will get a little bit longer, and time will go a little bit slower, but we will at least next week be closer. Although, like I said, we will never actually reach the day itself. Bye.