I am the only major candidate in this race who has pledged to never take donations from the corporations, developers, and charter school investors that have controlled the City Council for decades.”– Cyndi Otteson
The FBI dropped a bomb onto CD14’s power base on November 7, 2018, when it raided the offices and home of long-time city councilman José Huizar. A week later, the Council President removed Huizar from his committee assignments, depriving him of both influence and access to fundraising. He became an “invisible man” and was a no-show at community events. In the weeks following the raids he was “absent for all or part of 60% of [city council] meetings.”
With Huizar’s fall from grace, his wife’s plans also disintegrated. Just two months before the raid, she had launched her campaign to take his place, and “was the instant overwhelming favorite” to win. However, that effort ended within weeks of the FBI’s visit to her home. The impending Huizar dynasty was over before it began. There is no shortage of candidates looking to take advantage of the power vacuum.
Of the 23 people who filed their intention to run, five collected enough signatures to appear on the ballot. With his campaign coffers flush with cash from real estate developers, it appears that Kevin De León is the candidate to beat in this race. Fresh off his loss to Dianne Feinstein he needs someplace to wait out the two years left until the mayor’s office becomes vacant. Huizar’s protege, Monica Garcia is two years away from being termed out as an LAUSD Board Member and could use the city council seat as a way to continue collecting a public salary. Cyndi Otteson has served as the vice-president of the Eagle Rock Neighborhood Council and is “running [a] grassroots campaign” for the seat. The field is rounded out by John Jimenez and Raquel Zomora.
In an effort to find out about their views on educational issues, all five candidates were sent an email asking them four open-ended questions. Only Cyndi Otteson responded. Her answers are printed below:
Question 1: While the city government does not have direct oversight over LAUSD schools, it is responsible for ensuring the safety of children as they travel to and from school. What measures would you take to improve pedestrian safety in school zones?
The leading cause of death for school-age children in CD14 is car crashes, including pedestrian fatalities. That is both tragic and unacceptable in a city that claims to have a “Vision Zero” plan in place. Every day, when I walk my own little kids to their neighborhood LAUSD school, I see our Principal standing in the crosswalk directing traffic and protecting children (and parents) from distracted drivers. It is heroic, above and beyond her already impossible job, and totally unnecessary in a city with the funds to pay for crossing guards but a bureaucracy that prevents it.
I am proud to have earned the endorsement of UTLA for the March 3 election, and I believe their faith in me is based in part on my pledge of a new working relationship – with an emphasis on “working” – with the Los Angeles Unified School District. The first intersectional issue I will tackle as Councilmember is the archaic and ineffective method by which LAUSD, the City Council and the LADOT interface to provide – or in many cases, to not provide — crossing guards to schools. The current application and funding system is a paperwork nightmare leftover from recessionary times that causes principals to give up, and parents to continue to drive their kids to school, sometimes for a trip that is only a few blocks, because they fear for their children’s safety. I do not make campaign promises as a rule, but this case is close to my heart: My pledge to the parents and principals of LAUSD is that any school that wants a crossing guard will get one.
The LAUSD should be a factor in every City Council discussion of citywide street-safety plans, especially because of the Balkanization of our Council Districts, where a single Councilmember can stall and indeed ruin a citywide initiative by not committing and installing the improvements. Permanent street safety improvements (like curb bump-outs, bike lanes, Rapid Rectangular Flashing Beacon crosswalks, and other traffic calming solutions) should be prioritized where they coincide with LAUSD Safe Passage routes; this priority should extend to fast-tracked funding and implementation and be linked to an automatic override of any single Council Member’s attempt to veto such improvements within his/her own district. This would be a radical change to the absolute autonomy Councilmembers enjoy, but it would finally inch our city forward toward a future where children do not die walking to and from school.
Question 2: In 2016, the city of Huntington Park instituted a 12-month long moratorium on new charter school buildings. Would you support a similar move for Los Angeles?
The Huntington Park moratorium, which was legally questionable, is not a model for the City of Los Angeles. We already have all the tools we need to take control of our educational future, but we need elected officials who aren’t afraid to upset the charter school funders who provide millions of dollars to politicians. I am the only major candidate in this race who has pledged to never take donations from the corporations, developers, and charter school investors that have controlled the City Council for decades.
Part of my education platform for CD14 is a Conditional Use Permit (CUP) process for new charter schools in our neighborhoods, which would apply to both new construction and adaptive re-use of buildings. This is a more permanent and flexible solution than a moratorium (or ban) on charters. While SB 126 and AB 1505 gave local districts more control over charters, by broadening the discussion and monitoring of charters beyond the LAUSD board and bringing it under the umbrella of the City of Los Angeles, an added layer of scrutiny and protection is afforded to our neighborhoods. You need a CUP to serve beer and wine, to build a hotel, or to open a church in our neighborhoods; charter schools have at least an equivalent impact, and the CUP process is one way that the City Council can work with LAUSD to prevent over-saturation and to integrate approved charters into our communities so that everyone benefits.
Question 3: Passed in the wake of the 1933 Long Beach earthquake, the Field Act has ensured that California schools “are the safest buildings in the world.” Unfortunately, charter school buildings like the one Granada Hills Charter School is currently constructing are exempt from the provisions of the Field Act. What would you do to ensure that students who attend charter schools are protected during an earthquake?
The State of California requires Division of the State Architect (DSA) approval and Field Act compliance for all district-run public schools for two reasons: (1) public school is compulsory, so districts owe the highest standard of care for the children entrusted to them; and (2) public schools are designed to be fixtures in their community that can be resorted to in the event of an earthquake, fire, or flood. Therefore, our district public schools must be built to withstand any crisis.
Yet Sacramento has waived many of these requirements, to make it easier for charter schools to operate independently. Many parents who choose charter schools have no idea that charter school facilities only comply with local building codes, and do not have to be built to the higher standards demanded by the State for school district construction.
The City of L.A. does not have the power to override the State Education Code, but it does have control over its own conditions of land use. Dovetailing with my plan for CUP approval of all new charter schools in the City of L.A. (above), the city could require that new charter school buildings adhere to the very same Field Act and DSA process as district-run schools. For adaptive re-use of buildings, the City could institute its own standards that ensure a different, but still robust level of safety, as well as standards for notices to parents (and attendant legal waivers) that make sure that all parents are aware that such charters are not held to the same level of safety and scrutiny as district-run public schools.
Question 4: Far too many of the LAUSD’s schools lack green space. Would you be willing to partner with the district to turn school playgrounds into parks so that they could be used by the public when school is not in session? What other city/school district partnerships do you envision?
Yes! Neighborhood public schools should be hubs of their communities, both when school is in session and when it is out, especially here in CD14, where some of our neighborhoods are the most park-poor in the entire City of Los Angeles.
For years, some schools were already informal public recreation areas: Before 9/11, many campuses gates were left unlocked after hours, allowing the community to use sports fields, basketball courts, and running tracks. But after 9/11, the district did more to keep the public out. Today, the only impediments to community use of school facilities are bureaucratic and fiscal, which means none of them are insurmountable. Few schools are immediately ready for shared access, and those that are likely high schools and middle schools. Even these will require new gates and funds for security and maintenance personnel. At elementary schools, the district and the city must collaborate to test – and pay for – a green space model that benefits the local school and is purpose-built for shared accessibility. In my neighborhood of Eagle Rock alone, both Eagle Rock Elementary and Dahlia Heights Elementary, which is about to undergo a major renovation, have areas that could be transformed into community green spaces, with the right vision and funding.
Grants to schools: The traditional patronage system of Council Districts, where nonprofits like PTAs come to a Councilmember and beg for up to $5,000 annually for their priorities, is archaic, ripe for corruption, and grossly inequitable. I will completely revamp this system, transforming it into a program to grant all public schools in CD14 funds for the needs they come to the Council District for most, including counseling, gardening programs, enrichment, and field trips. This will be an efficient program based on inter-neighborhood equity, where economies of scale will bring down the cost of programs at the individual schools while ensuring that kids in the same neighborhood have the same shared experiences. It will require working in concert with Principals, teachers, and community members, and I look forward to this new kind of partnership.
Community Schools: I support the Community Schools program at LAUSD, and the City of LA can be a partner to aid in the transformation of CD14 schools who wish to become Community Schools, with funding for wraparound services; help with parent and community engagement strategies, including providing staff and venues for meetings; and coordination for recreational and sports activities that take place on school campuses. The greening of school campuses, and the opening of them to the neighborhood during non-school hours, is a program that can be folded into the Community Schools model.
After school programs: As technology in the classroom becomes ubiquitous, an assumption of access to the same technology at home is creating an uneven playing field for students. We need many more after school programs for teens who need internet access to complete their homework assignments, a significant expansion of city-funded “study halls” based at parks and recreation centers, where kids can get their homework done free of distractions.
Family and adult literacy programming at City Libraries: Reading is a necessary skill for leading an independent life. We must reinvigorate our libraries with updated facilities and relevant, neighborhood-led, family-friendly literacy programming.
Trees: The LAUSD Maintenance and Operations department is underfunded and overworked, and reluctant to increase the number of trees in and around campuses. The City of L.A. can partner with LAUSD and neighborhood school principals by increasing the tree canopy on City property around schools and providing the workforce to assist in the establishment and maintenance of new trees.
Solar and DWP: The City can access funds for renewable energy and create partnerships with LAUSD by installing solar panels over LAUSD parking lots and roofs of buildings, and adding charging stations for EVs near schools that can eventually be used to top off electric school buses when they join the LAUSD fleet. This work will be especially important if LAUSD is going to meet its goal of achieving 100 percent clean, renewable energy by 2030. As the next Councilmember for CD14, I’ll answer LAUSD’s call for “city […] officials and agencies to work alongside the District in taking swift, effective action on climate change to protect current and future students, their families, and the communities in which they live.”
Public transit: Another example of the disconnect between LAUSD and City departments is discussions of DASH bus routes at LADOT, where ridership statistics are not weighted to account for spikes at school start and end times; if the overall ridership averaged across a day or week is not within limits, then the route is considered for elimination. I will advocate for an increase in DASH service specifically to decrease car ridership to and from school and for short work commutes, starting with school-centric routes through the DTLA Historic Core to 9th Street Elementary and Contreras, Belmont, and Downtown Business Magnet High Schools. With better, cleaner, and faster public transit options, the City of LA can do more for families living in CD14 to recognize that they have excellent public school options just a few minutes away.
The campaign also provided this bio:
Cyndi was born in Council District 14 and is the child of Korean immigrants. She’s a businesswoman, nonprofit founder, former Neighborhood Council VP, and proud public school parent of two adorable kids.
Through her service on the Neighborhood Council, she fostered a passion for public service and saw the power of local government to help people in need and facilitate a thriving neighborhood. Through her leadership at the nonprofit Miry’s List, she combatted the hate and distrust of the refugee community perpetrated by America’s national leadership and has activated over 75,000 Americans to help welcome over 320 new arrival families since 2016.
She never thought she would ever run for public office, but when Cyndi saw two career politicians running for CD 14, she felt an urgency to throw her hat in the ring. Thanks to a swell of grassroots support, the city’s 6-to-1 matching funds program, and Cyndi’s own work ethic she is now a serious contender in this historic race.
She was the fastest grassroots candidate to qualify to be on the ballot. She is within striking distance of drawing down the maximum $151,000 in city matching funds. She received the endorsements of former LAUSD Board member Bennett Kayser, Teacher-Activist Erika Alvarez, and the United Teachers of Los Angeles. She’s knocking doors and talking to voters about issues that matter to all of us. Her agenda focuses on humanely building relationships with, serving, and housing our neighbors experiencing homelessness; mandating inclusionary zoning and increasing renter protections to address the affordable housing crisis; fundamentally shifting the culture of City Hall toward transparency and service; and investing in carbon-free, fare-free public transit.