West Los Angeles Democratic Club hosts first political forum featuring candidates in an eight-way race

By Gary Walker

Forum moderator Loren Scott, center, pressed candidates about Proposition 13 reform

Forum moderator Loren Scott, center, pressed candidates about Proposition 13 reform

Questions about how to protect the environment, whether to legalize marijuana use and whether to tweak Proposition 13 came to the forefront during the first public forum for candidates seeking an open Westside state Assembly seat.

Sponsored by the West Los Angeles Democratic Club, the March 13 forum at St. Bede’s Episcopal Church in Mar Vista was one of the first public events introducing a field of hopefuls seeking state office for the first time in the June primary election.

Assemblyman Steven Bradford (D- Gardena) terms out of his 62nd Assembly District seat later this year. The district includes Marina del Rey, Venice, Playa Vista, Playa del Rey, Westchester and part of Mar Vista.

Democratic candidates Autumn Burke, Gloria Gray, Paul Kouri and Simona Farrise answered questions for more than 90 minutes before an audience of approximately 60 people. Inglewood City Councilman Mike Stevens and community activist Adam Plimpton, also Democrats, did not attend but were invited, organizers said.

The field includes one Republican, real estate agent Ted Grose, and student Emidio “Mimi” Soltysik, who has declined to state a party affiliation.

The contenders who spoke during the forum worked to set themselves apart by focusing on what they consider their strengths.

Kouri, a former Venice High School social studies and government teacher, mentioned his experience in education and as a veteran. He said one of his first acts if elected would be to push for a reduction in class size in all public schools.

Farrise, a civil rights attorney, cited her professional experience as one of her strengths.

“As a lawyer, I have the ability to decipher and understand complex problems,” Farrise said.

Gray noted that she was the only candidate with legislative experience, currently serving on the West Basin Municipal Water District and previously as an Inglewood school board member.

“I have experience creating policy for thousands of people in Southern California,” Gray said. “You need practical experience in Sacramento. This is not a job where you’ll have a lot of time to learn on the job.”

Burke, a business development consultant, talked about her passion for the district and her experience in economic development.

“No one on this dais has ever been an assemblyperson,” said Burke, a Marina del Rey resident and daughter of former Los Angeles County Supervisor Yvonne Brathwaite Burke. “I think it’s important to not just understand the problems of the urban portion of the district but also the coastal areas of our district.”

Moderator Loren Scott, the club’s political vice president, asked the candidates whether Proposition 13, the 1978 landmark initiative to restrict property tax increases — often called the third rail of California politics — should be restructured or repealed.

Kouri, a Mar Vista resident, said perhaps after a year or two the law might merit another look.

“Now is not the time to repeal Prop. 13,” he said. “I don’t want to raise taxes on homeowners right now.”

Farrise said large corporations that own large commercial properties have benefited the most from Proposition 13.

“Prop. 13 is about fundamental fairness, and it is not fair to everyone,” she said.

Gray said the law should get a second look for a possible revision.

Burke said while single-family homes need to be protected, she was in favor of closing some of the corporate loopholes that Farrise mentioned.

On the environment, the candidates took similar positions. A question from Scott regarding the state’s “official” position of using bulldozers in its planned revitalization of the Ballona Wetlands brought out nearly identical answers — all four saying they were against using bulldozers to in the restoration of the 600-acre state ecological reserve. None pointed out that there is no “official” state alternative for restoring the ecological reserve yet, though using bulldozers is one option pending an environmental review.

Kouri and Gray, whose backgrounds are in education, decried what they believe is an attempt by some education reform groups to privatize education as well as the recent cuts to funding schools.

“We don’t put enough funding into education in Los Angeles or statewide,” Gray said.

“I’m against any effort to privatize our schools,” Kouri said. “Public schools are not created to make a profit.”

The topic of legalizing marijuana drew applause from the audience.

Farrise said that, as a parent of three, she found the argument for legalization difficult. But she also feels that current laws have led to mass incarceration of many young people.

“It’s become the new ‘Jim Crow,’” the attorney said.

Burke said it was hard to deny “the kind of revenue” that legalizing marijuana might bring the state, but she expressed concern about those who might drive after using the drug. “How do we test for the effects that marijuana can have on someone who is driving?” she asked.

Each of the candidates voiced their opposition to hydraulic fracturing, commonly known as fracking, an energy production technique used to obtain oil and natural gas supplies that are trapped in rock and sand formations.