“Fed up” residents in Los Angeles’s District 11 opted for a former Republican attorney, Traci Park, to represent the Westside, despite the incoming squad of progressive candidates winning in other districts—5th, 13th, and 15th—in the Nov. 8 election .
Park, who is now a registered Democrat, defeated opposing civil rights attorney Erin Darling on Nov. 17 following Darling’s concession in the race to replace outgoing Councilman Mike Bonin—who decided not to seek reelection citing mental health issues. By Nov 19, Park had 52.06 percent of the vote versus Darling’s 47.94 percent.
“I feel the weight of the responsibility of the monumental task I am about to undertake,” Park told The Epoch Times on Friday. “It’s a lot of competing emotions.”
(Courtesy of Traci Park)
Park plans to increase mental health and substance abuse services for homeless Angelenos suffering from addiction. She also advocates for “a policy of compassionate enforcement” of the city’s encampment ban—which is currently suspended in the district—by bringing together law enforcement sectors, government sectors, housing suppliers, and homeless service providers, according to her campaign website.
Like most Los Angeles voters, homelessness and crime were on the minds of voters in CD 11, which encompasses the westside communities of Brentwood, Del Rey, Mar Vista, Marina del Rey, Pacific Palisades, Palms, Playa del Rey, Playa Vista, Sawtelle , Venice, West Los Angeles, and Westchester.
Sean O’Brien, a Venice resident for more than 30 years, told The Epoch Times she’s never seen the levels of crime and homeless encampments that the city has experienced in the last four to five years.
“So, collectively, we were all just pissed off and fed up with it all, and I’m so glad that Traci won,” O’Brien said. “She is the first candidate that I actually ever gave money to.”
A Venice Beach resident drives past a homeless encampment in front of the Abbot Kinney Memorial Branch Library in Venice, Calif., on Feb. 18, 2022. (John Fredricks/The Epoch Times)
Venice Beach—once a seaside resort town known for its grungy underground vibe, attracting millions of tourists each year—is now the epicenter of much of CD 11’s frustrations.
At the height of the COVID-19 pandemic in 2020, a number of mentally ill and substance-addicted individuals made their way to the beach, and some blamed Bonin’s rolling back the city’s so-called anti-camping law. Section 41.18 of the municipal code bans encampments in most public areas including libraries, parks, school, and daycare centers.
Many residents in Venice—which only spans about three miles—are liberals and independents who say they became victims in their neighborhood. Videos of homeless people breaking into homes, assaulting store employees, and committing violence on the Boardwalk went viral on social media.
In the summer of 2021, the city spent $5 million to rehouse 200 people living on the Venice Boardwalk. But more tents have emerged since then, despite extensive efforts by the Los Angeles Sheriff’s Department to clear them and offer services to those in need.
Los Angeles Sheriffs Department (LASD) deputies take part in efforts to connect homeless people with housing in order to clear the boardwalk of encampments at Venice Beach in Los Angeles, on June 16, 2021. (Patrick T. Fallon/AFP via Getty Images)
In the same year, Venice Beach was named the most dangerous beach in the United States, with 630 crimes reported from May to September, according to a study by Outforia, a publication specializing in resources for outdoor activities. The report also showed the beach had the highest number of thefts and robberies in the nation, over 220, and more than 100 violent crimes recorded for the period.
Community members also partly blame the violence on other policies, such as zero-cash bail, which the state implemented to reform the bail system and reduce the spread of COVID-19 in jails by reducing the number of inmates incarcerated. The Los Angeles Police Department reported about 650 zero-bail rearrests citywide between late March 2021 and early August 2022. The county respinded that policy in July 2022.
Darling Endorsed by Bonin
The perceived policy failures under Bonin’s leadership contributed to Park’s victory, some residents say, as her opponent Darling, also a Democrat, which was endorsed by Bonin and has been advocating against the encampment ban. Darling also supports more affordable housing and less reliance on law enforcement when handling homelessness.
Venice Neighborhood Council member Soledad Ursua told The Epoch Times over text message that “Darling was cast as Bonin 2.0,” which made some voters uneasy.
“Even the most woke had enough,” she said.
Living across the Abbot Kinney Memorial Branch Library in Venice, Yolanda Gonzalez and her neighbors are all too familiar with walking past encampments on their way home, which The Epoch Times previously reported in February.
“First of all, [residents] were fed up with the homelessness issue,” said Gonzalez, who helped campaign for Park. “In my opinion, it was the Republican and the independent votes that really helped her.”
A woman walks past a homeless encampment in Venice, Calif., on Feb. 18, 2022. (John Fredricks/The Epoch Times)
According to Gonzalez, many of the residents who have lived in Venice for decades were vehemently opposed to the Venice Median proposed by Bonin and city developers, a permanent supportive housing “monstrosity” of 140 units that would reportedly occupy 2.7 city-owned acres.
Opponents of the project said previous supportive housing units led to more encampments, citing a housing project called A Bridge Home in Venice—which was championed by termed-out Mayor Eric Garcetti. The project only housed 30 people in February 2022, two years after it was established. About 189 residents went through the program and 75 left, according to Westside Current, a local news outlet.
Park, who was endorsed by the state Lt. gov. Eleni Kounalakis, as well as organizations such as the Los Angeles Police Protective League, the Los Angeles Association of Deputy District Attorneys, the Los Angeles Area Chamber of Commerce, and the Association for Los Angeles Deputy Sheriffs, will be sworn into office sometime in December .
(Courtesy of Traci Park)
Park said she understands the complexity of the issues faced by the district and is prepared to act on them.
“I harbor no illusions about how hard this job is going to be and what it is going to take to do the things that need to be done,” she said. “My to-do list is the longest it has ever been in my life, but I am ready to roll my sleeves up and get started.”
Bonin, who was elected in 2017 and beat a recall effort in January, said he will offer support for Park in the transition.
“[W]hile Councilmember-elect Park and I have different views of how to move Los Angeles forward, the voters have spoken, and she has their full support,” he wrote in a Twitter post Nov. 17.
He also expressed his “deep appreciation” to Darling, who ran a “beautiful and inspiring campaign, standing up for the progressive values we share.”
Los Angeles City Councilman Mike Bonin speaks during an event in Los Angeles on Jan. 6, 2022. (Amy Sussman/Getty Images)
“Erin has a bright future, and I am certain he and his supporters will be a big part of the growing and energetic progressive movement to create a better, more just, and more equitable Los Angeles,” Bonin wrote.
Jamie is a California-based reporter covering issues in Los Angeles and state policies for The Epoch Times. In her free time, she enjoys reading nonfiction and thrillers, going to the beach, studying Christian theology, and writing poetry. You can always find Jamie writing breaking news with a cup of tea in hand.