The LA Podcast

Little Treats from the CD4 Race

by Hayes Davenport
November 19, 2020

After every good election there is the Treat Harvest — going online and gathering fun articles and posts that amplify the nice feelings. Today we reap the harvest’s bounty for the Council District 4 race.

First, some facts to freak your bean:

Treat 1: A pre-election poll of political thought leaders

Apparently in October a team at Loyola Marymount conducted a survey of predictions for who would win various local races, including the CD4 race. The people who participated in this survey are, for some reason, many of the most powerful people in the LA metro area.

The mayor took the survey. So did the last mayor. The sheriff, a bunch of other local and state electeds, and many other big names in business and politics took it. You can see the list of names on page 17. The high-level participation here is really impressive! The results, mostly, are not.

The Wesson call is kind of embarrassing considering Holly Mitchell rinsed and drained him (I admit that I also did not think she would win). But at least they were split on that. Meanwhile, 84% of the thought leaders — people who ostensibly control LA politics and understand it better than anyone else — said that David Ryu would beat Nithya. Roughly the same percentage as predicted that Biden would win the Presidency.

There’s a lot more interesting stuff to sift through in the survey: for example, the thought leaders think Alex Padilla will be chosen to replace Kamala Harris in the Senate (something they probably know more about than any given election).

Treat 2: A map of election results

The LA Times put together a fun map showing who won each precinct in CD4. Here’s a screenshot but really just go click around it.

I found this map very surprising even having worked on the race. What stands out is the stark geographic divides, sometimes within neighborhoods — the precinct-level results mostly don’t look like the final result in the race, where Nithya won by six points. Instead, they go hard for one candidate or the other, with adjacent districts sometimes going to completely opposite extremes. There’s a Hancock Park precinct that Ryu won by 18 points right next to a Mid-Wilshire precinct that he lost by 28.

The nature of the divide is pretty obvious — it’s homeowners for Ryu and tenants for Nithya. Ryu won the Sherman Oaks Hills, but he lost the renter-heavy corridors in the flats. Same thing in Toluca Lake. It also shows that Los Feliz and Silver Lake basically carried Nithya’s victory — we knew she would do well there, but I didn’t expect her to be *so dominant.* She won some big precincts by fifty points.

The LAT did a similar map in 2015 when Ryu was first elected, and the comparison of the number of people who voted is absurd. Ryu won a Los Feliz precinct with 81 votes in 2015 — Nithya won that same precinct with 838 votes.

Treat 3: A letter of resignation

This one happened two weeks ago and feels ancient now, but it’s a very on-the-nose indicator of what Nithya’s win could potentially mean for LA.

CD4 is the home of a number of nonprofit organizations and homeowner groups that primarily exist to prevent the construction of new housing and street improvements. Some would refer to the people who operate these groups as “NIMBYs.” And Ryu was their guy.

Here’s an excerpt from an LA Magazine article about notorious CD4 anti-housing warrior Richard Close — a major proponent of Prop 13 in the late 70’s — featuring a meeting of his group, the Sherman Oaks Homeowners Association.

Another similar CD4 organization is Fix the City, based in Miracle Mile. Their standard operating procedure is suing the city over projects and planning initiatives they don’t like, then using whatever money they win from settlements to fund more lawsuits. The group’s public face is often a guy named Jim O’Sullivan, who is also the president of the Miracle Mile Residential Association. Streets for All, a street safety advocacy group, breaks down Fix the City and its relationship to Ryu here.

(That video contains an excerpt from a 2019 KCRW interview where Jim O’Sullivan refuses to reveal who funds Fix the City or even how many members there are. It is really worth going to listen to the entire 16-minute episode, also featuring LA Podcast’s Alissa Walker.)

Anyway, Jim did not take Ryu’s loss well.

That’s from the day after the election, before Ryu had even conceded. I’ve heard from people who don’t think Jim will actually go through with this: he loves the game too much. But the message is obvious. Jim feels like this election took something away from him, and he’s right.

A network of wealthy homeowners has exerted massive influence over LA politics for decades, especially in the neighborhoods that make up CD4. They’ve used that influence to freeze the city in amber, and are in no small part responsible for the housing and environmental crises we’re looking at now. Nithya’s win disempowered them. She went and found seventy thousand other voters and told them they had influence, too. She upended the LA electoral hierarchy.

At the beginning of the race, I had dinner with someone who works very closely with the city. I had lost a bet on the result of a different race, so I had to pay. It was really expensive. At the dinner this person told me that nothing would ever meaningfully change in LA because nobody would ever get tenants, young people, and lower-income people to care about a local election.

That person was wrong about the second part. Nithya did get people to care. But whether that means anything will meaningfully change hasn’t been decided yet. If the people who brought Nithya into office don’t stay engaged, the dynamic will play out the same way it always has — because even if a couple of Jims give up here and there, the city’s reactionary forces are absolutely not going away.