Los Angeles City Council President Nury Martinez has resigned after a leaked audio revealed she was making racist and derogatory comments, including about the city’s tenants.
Photo: Damian Dovarganes/AP/Shutterstock
The hour-long closed meeting between Los Angeles Federation of Labor President Ron Herrera and City Council members Nury Martinez, Kevin de León and Gil Cedillo covers a lot of bad ground – they trade homophobic, racist and xenophobic slurs against colleagues and constituents while strategizing on how to consolidate power by redrawing district lines. They laugh as they call a fellow council member’s black son an insult and joke that the toddler ‘needs a beating’.
In the sprawling conversation, which was secretly recorded in October 2021 as the city was embroiled in a contentious redistricting process an/a posted earlier this week, council members also set the proportion of tenants represented in each of the council’s 15 districts. “So you’re saying this is the one to put in a blender and chop left and right,” de León, who was also a mayoral candidate at the time, said of the district boundaries. proposed by progressive board member Nithya Raman. Martinez, agrees, says leaving Raman’s neighborhood untouched “strengthens the neighborhood of its tenants and that’s not a good thing for any of us.” Herrera, who before resigning this week represented 800,000 local workers in the local AFL-CIO chapter, puts a finer point on the issue: “She wants to piss off the tenants to create a base.” (Martinez resigned on Wednesday; de León and Cedillo have both refused to step down despite numerous calls to do so.) The recording offers vile but not entirely surprising documentation of how elected officials carve up neighborhoods to serve their own interests. It’s also a window into how these council members view tenants as a potential constituency with real power. Although many renters don’t see themselves that way — yet.
LA tenants are the the second most cost-burdened country, with half of households spending 50% or more of their monthly income on rent. A study 2020 showed that the city’s black, Latino, and Spanish-speaking households were the most likely to incur heavy rent charges, permanently reducing food and transportation expenses in order to keep a roof over their heads. Skyrocketing house prices have put homeownership out of reach for all but the very wealthy, and an acute shortage of affordable apartments leaves tenants exceptionally vulnerable to displacement. And while renters make up 63% of occupied homes in Los Angeles and represent a majority in 12 of the 15 LA council districts, none of the LA council members are tenants. (According to an estimate, a the majority of them are owners.) At the state level, where policies such as rent control are enacted, nearly one in four of members of the legislature own, and the California Apartment Association, a powerful anti-tenant lobby group, is the second-largest donor to the Democratic Party in the state. All of this equates to a super-majority of Los Angeles tenants who have very little political power.
“There has never been a cohesive tenant bloc in the city in the past,” says Debt Collective and Los Angeles Tenants Union organizer Rene Christian Moya. Building this block – helping tenants to act collectively and see their interests aligned – has been LATU’s project for seven years. During this time, its membership grew to 11 citywide chapters. In the past few years alone, LATU members and other tenant groups have large orchestrated rent strikes and even persuaded the city to seize a building using eminent domain to preserve its means-tested affordability status. The tenant coalition is not limited to low-income households; it reflects a broad constituency that includes families likely to be upwardly mobile and whose price of homeownership has been excluded. The organization is still in its infancy, but Moya says it’s getting stronger: “There’s going to be a settling of scores in the city over tenant issues.
At Tuesday’s council meeting, the first since the leak, where groups of tenants in rooms booed up to de León and Cedillo left the grounda handful of motions have been introduced that could begin to bring systemic change for city tenants, such as a call for an independent redistricting committee (members are currently appointed by council members) and a proposal to increase the number of council members (at this time, LA exceptionally populated precincts represent 200,000 to 300,000 voters). But these actions still leave tenants, whose plight is at the center of this crisis, unprotected, says Faizah Malik, senior public counsel and member of the Keep LA Housed coalition: “I think we have this opportunity right now. , with everything being updated with the city council, to get the additional policies we need. That’s why Keep LA Housed calls for a emergency tenants bill of rights be put in place until there is a full investigation into the redistricting process, which the California Attorney General confirmed would happen.
A list of progressive and pro-tenant candidates will be on the November ballot – one of whom, Eunisses Hernandez, already won his seat outright by beating Cedillo in primary — as good as ULA measurement which, in addition to raising more money for affordable housing, will allocate a dedicated money stream for apply tenant protection measures, something the city never had. The arrival of new leadership, supported by funding, opens the door to negotiating better protection for tenants at a time when the board has voted to repeal pandemic provisions which keep many of the city’s most vulnerable tenants housed (at least until February). “It doesn’t stop at these three council members,” says Sasha Harnden, public policy advocate at the Inner City Law Center. “But I feel like there’s a silver lining here. With the system played against us in these backroom deals and all the money that’s been poured into our elections to skew them and serve the interests of a few, this year we’ve seen some truly amazing wins coming out of the grassroots organization.
All of this, we learned this week, terrifies some of the current Los Angeles board members. among her a lot of statecomments released this week, Martinez tried to defend his record by saying the council’s work speaks for itself. Tenants would probably agree.