By SARAH SHMERLING | Editor-in-Chief
Pacific Palisades Community Council hosted a Meet & Greet at the start of its most recent board meeting on Thursday evening, September 22, giving attendees a chance to hear from Council District 11 candidates Traci Park and Erin Darling—who are heading for a runoff election in November.
“This is a uniquely Palisadian forum for the candidates heading into the runoff election in November to hear from our community,” PPCC shared ahead of the meeting. “We offer this forum so they can learn our priorities, meet some Palisadians who volunteer their time to preserve what we value about the Palisades and take questions from the board.”
One hundred attendees tuned in via Zoom to hear Darling and Park, who are running to replace incumbent Councilmember Mike Bonin, who is not seeking re-election. The candidates introduced themselves and then responded to a series of questions from PPCC Chair Maryam Zar, who moderated the discussion, on topics ranging from homelessness to LAPD funding/staffing, wildfire safety and the local environment during the 45-minute forum.
“I stepped into this race 15 months ago because I was tired of having a leader who was busy advocating for his own personal agenda, not the things our local communities were asking for,” said Park, an attorney and resident of Venice, who has also lived in Del Ray and Brentwood.
Park shared some of the area concerns she has heard from Palisadian constituents over the past year and a half, including Bonin’s proposal to look into the feasibility of temporary housing for people experiencing homelessness at Will Rogers State Beach, a future dog park at Temescal Canyon, the “unsafe intersection” at PCH and Chautauqua/PCH, keeping the Beach Detail year-round and more.
“I’m running to improve constituent services, tackle homelessness—including making sure there’s no encampment at Will Rogers Beach—and address climate change,” said Darling, who was born and raised on the Westside, where he now resides with his wife and 3-year-old son.
Darling graduated UC Berkeley School of Law in 2008, at the height of the recession. Following graduation, he came back to Los Angeles to represent low-income tenants who were facing eviction to help keep them in their homes.
“As a housing lawyer, I think it’s crucial that we address the issue of keeping people in their homes, and then getting people off the streets so that they can get inside to get the services and the treatment that they need,” Darling continued.
Following introductions, the first question posed by Zar had to do with Section 41.18 of the LA Municipal Code—which makes it illegal to sit, lie or sleep in or upon any street, sidewalk or other public right of way—as it was recently amended to make it unlawful to sit, lie or sleep, or store, use, maintain or place personal property near schools and daycare centers.
“What are your plans for regulating public space and ensuring public safety?” Zar asked. “Will you allow robust enforcement of this new 41.18?”
Darling responded first, stating that he is not going to try to undo the now-standing restriction, as the law is the law.
“Enforcement is part of the books, especially near schools,” Darling continued. “But in terms of the focus, what local government has to do right now is create beds, create rooms. We need to get a place to get people off the streets … I don’t want that encampment to get pushed to another school or another neighborhood. I don’t want to shuffle people around.”
In order to create that pipeline, Darling suggested converting motels, converting commercial space that is not coming back, using public land for modular housing and putting in tiny homes.
“I believe that our communities are right to expect places that are covered by 41.18—schools, parks, daycares and libraries—to be safe and accessible to the public,” Park shared during her time. “Our community and neighborhood councils around the district have overwhelmingly sought enforcement of those, and our incumbent has refused to do it.”
Park added that she is also going to seek to expand 41.18 to include places like high fire risk zones and environmentally sensitive habitat areas.
“Yes, we are going to have to invest in solutions,” Park said. “And yes, we have to offer people a place to go. But we are entitled to have some reasonable guardrails and regulations that keep our overall community safe and healthy, and I am going to take up 41.18 enforcement on day one.”
When it came to questions pertaining to LAPD, Zar asked Park and Darling what they believe the correct staffing level is for the department, and whether they are in favor of defunding or providing additional funding to the police.
Park responded first, sharing that she wants to see staffing back up to a bare minimum of 10,000 officers as soon as possible.
“When the City Council voted to defund LAPD in 2020 by $150 million, we lost nearly 800 police officers … ” Park shared, touching on the specific teams and task forces that were cut, including the homeless outreach team and sexual assault/human trafficking task force. “And as a result, we have seen crime continue to rise, year after year, since then. They can’t do their jobs unless they have adequate resources to do it.”
Darling first addressed the fact that he is not a “defund” candidate.
“The way I see it, there’s a giant funnel that all of society’s problems get shuffled and burden the police department and fire, and it doesn’t work,” Darling said. “We’re overburdened, and we’re asking police officers to do too much.”
He explained that he believes things like mental health calls should not go to the police, but instead be given to mental health experts, like psychologists and social workers. Second, he shared he wants to get officers out from behind desks.
“There’s a lot of jobs that can be done by clerical staff, by civilians,” he continued. “I talked to officers who would rather be on patrol, they don’t want to be stuck behind desks.”
After both candidates responded to a handful of other questions—including their plans to keep high fire severity danger zones in the community safe and how they will use technology to better the lives of CD11 citizens—Zar thanked Darling and Park for their attendance.
“I appreciate both of you, both of your succinct answers,” Zar said. “I can tell you received my questions and were prepared for them, and we really appreciate that.”
The community council is slated to host a Meet & Greet during its October 27 meeting with supervisorial candidates Lindsey Horvath and Bob Hertzberg.
To see a full video of the discussion, visit pacpalicc.org.