City Council candidates tell vastly different stories about development, homelessness and each other

By Gary Walker

Interesting elections are driven by contrasts, and the three candidates in Tuesday’s primary contest to represent Westside neighborhoods on the Los Angeles City Council view the battlefield through distinctly different lenses.

Despite apocalyptic diatribes coming from some of his detractors, incumbent Councilman Mike Bonin says he’s hearing that constituents are generally happy with the work he’s doing.

“They appreciate that I spend time in their neighborhood and try to deliver things that they want. I tend to measure things not from what is on a candidate’s Facebook page, but from the reaction that I get talking to people when I go door to door,” Bonin said.

But according to challengers Mark Ryavec and Robin Rudisill — both hailing from the tumultuous political zeitgeist in Venice — residents of the city’s 11th Council District (including Westchester, Playa Vista, Playa del Rey, Del Rey, Mar Vista and Venice) are eager for a new voice at L.A. City Hall.

Ryavec and Rudisill each face a steep fundraising deficit, but are using it to paint Bonin as influenced by contributions outside the district.

“He has taken money from practically everyone, including developers,” said Ryavec, who is refusing to accept contributions from developers and self-imposed a $250 per person limit.

Rudisill describes her opponents as “two sides of the same coin” — both of them claiming to speak for residents but “representing mainly special interests.”

The candidates conflicting viewpoints are most apparent in their messages regarding development and homelessness, but temperament also plays a role. While Bonin’s opponents seek to paint him as an autocratic decision maker on both of those issues, Bonin touts a record of inclusivity and dismisses criticism as the province of “alternative facts.”

Discord over Development

One clear contrast in the race is that Bonin opposes Measure S but his challengers support it. The ballot initiative calls for a moratorium on new construction that would require a zoning waiver due to the size or density of the project.

Rudisill, an advocate for slow growth in coastal areas and formerly head of the Venice Neighborhood Council’s Land Use and Planning Committee, hangs much of her campaign on dissatisfaction about new construction in the district. She calls Measure S an important “timeout” to freeze what she calls out-of-control development and giveaways to developers in the form of general plan amendments and zoning exemptions.

“The only campaign promise that I’ve made is I will meet with all the communities of the district to get started on their community plans without delay,” Rudisill pledged.

Ryavec is also critical of the status quo, pointing to the Martin Expo Town Center — a massive development in West L.A. that Bonin describes as a more desirable alternative to a traffic-snarling big box retail entitlement — as indicative of why many communities don’t trust the city’s planning decisions.

“It completely undermines the public’s confidence that planning decisions are based on merit and law,” he said.

Asked whether Venice is overdeveloped, Rudisill said that it undoubtedly is. Ryavec says it’s not so much a case of overdevelopment when compared to the density of Santa Monica and Marina del Rey, but that the streets of Venice simply weren’t built to accommodate the current pace of growth, meaning “any increase in density feels like overdevelopment.”

Bonin replied that development in Venice has been “scattershot and incoherent.” He identifies the most painful problems for Westside residents as the construction of unprecedentedly large homes on small lots and broader issues of gentrification and housing affordability.

“We need genuine planning reform and to address gentrification by building more affordable housing,” said Bonin, who argues that Measure S would actually incentivize developers to mansionize single-family neighborhoods while keeping the city from addressing the housing affordability crisis.

Help for the Homeless

A major force behind the passage of November’s $10-billion affordable housing bond, Bonin has rapidly made a name for himself as perhaps the City Council’s leading voice for long-term solutions to rampant homelessness.

Last year Bonin launched a multifaceted approach to addressing homelessness in Venice that includes everything from increased outreach to building affordable housing on vacant city lots (plans that would face delay or even stoppage if voters approve Measure S).

Local detractors, however, accuse Bonin of failing to adequately address the immediate impacts of homeless at the neighborhood level.

Ryavec, whom homeless advocates accuse of trying to run the homeless out of Venice, has been out front about advocating for stricter enforcement of city ordinances to crack down on homeless encampments along the boardwalk and live-in vehicle parking on residential streets.

Rudisill supports some of Bonin’s homeless initiatives but says he has not listened to residents on some associated land-use matters. She opposes a plan to build affordable housing at the city-owned Venice-Dell-Pacific parking believing it is not the best use for that land. Ryavec also opposes the plan, saying there are faster and less expensive ways to house people than on prime beach property.

Bonin stands firm that the best way to address the impact of homelessness on neighborhoods is to provide more housing resources.

“There are some folks who offer what is a very false choice: that Los Angeles can either build more housing for the homeless or protect its neighborhoods. That is frankly a B.S. choice,” Bonin asserted. “We have to get folks housed and taken care of in order to protect our neighborhoods, and anything contrary to that is sticking your head in the sand or demagoguery — one of the two.”

Questions of Temperament

Ryavec says he wants to help people who are chronically homeless, but also believes there are many who will not accept help or choose to live in their vehicles and will only be responsive to enforcement.

He notes fundraising work for two local nonprofits working with the homeless, the Teen Project and Foursquare Church, but Foursquare leaders the Rev. Steven Weller and his wife Regina Weller have disavowed him. In January, Regina Weller took to social media to accuse Ryavec of trying to co-opt Foursquare’s efforts for his own political purposes.

“I was personally disheartened by your self-aggrandizing and your abusive nature,” she wrote.

Ryavec said the falling out was “an odd experience” and attributed the comment to a misunderstanding arising from a possible “disconnect” between the couple after he blogged about some of the Weller’s success stories using information provided to him by Steven Weller. Steven Weller said this week that he appreciated Ryavec’s fundraising 18 months ago but neither supports Ryavec’s candidacy nor considers Ryavec part of Foursquare’s efforts.

Last week Ryavec also expressed no regrets about an incident several years ago in which he encouraged homeless people to camp outside the homes of political opponents, going so far as to publish the home addresses of former Venice Neighborhood Council President Linda Lucks and others on his former Venice Stakeholders Association website.

“I think that it was important to point out this extreme hypocrisy, that it’s alright for someone to come onto [another resident’s property] and use it as a toilet, but Linda and others are not willing to accept it [on their own property],” Ryavec explained.

Rudisill had a public falling out three years ago with an Oakwood Community Recreation Center employee that resulted in a neighborhood council committee she headed losing permission to meet there. Rudisill stands by her actions, describing what happened as an “unjust” action by an employee who “dug in her  heels” about the board overstaying its allotted use times.

Rudisill and Ryavec have each accused Bonin of consistently acting in a unilateral fashion during his first term without regard for residents’ concerns.

“Mike goes off and does whatever he wants to do” and “listens after the fact,” Ryavec said. “Either I step up now in order to  follow up on what I believe in or I stop trying, because  Mike doesn’t care what anyone else thinks.”

Bonin described the characterization as “demonstrably false” and challenged the credibility of those who claim that his proposals to build affordable housing on city-owned land are “done deals” when the public process to pursue the feasibility of those concepts has yet to begin.

“I think it’s a little bit of ‘swift-boating’ to say that, with so many levels of community participation planned, there won’t be community participation,” he said. “It is an ‘alternative fact.’”