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Business Not So Friendly in Race

Editor’s Note: This story was updated on Feb. 24 to reflect the correct March 3 date of the primary election. Having 14 candidates on a ballot challenging each other for a Los Angeles City Council seat is good for voters looking for a choice. For the business community, however, it’s a different story. The race to fill the open seat in Council District 4, which stretches from the Miracle Mile to Sherman Oaks, so far has drawn relatively few contributions from businesses, apparently wary of getting into the fray just yet. Tracy Rafter, chief executive of the Los Angeles County Business Federation, a Los Angeles business advocacy group also known as BizFed, said that will all change after the March 3 primary. “You will see bigger engagement once it is clearer,” she said. BizFed PAC is going lightly, picking four “preferred” candidates to replace current Councilman Tom LaBonge who has been termed out. The Valley Industry & Commerce Association, or VICA, a business advocacy group in Sherman Oaks, is not getting involved at all. The dynamic is in contrast to District 6, where BizFed has endorsed incumbent Nury Martinez for re-election to the district in the northeast and north central parts of the Valley. Martinez also has received substantial financial backing from business and business owners in her race against challenger Cindy Montanez, a former state lawmaker. Martinez already beat Montanez in a special election in July 2013 to fill a vacancy on the council after Tony Cardenas was elected to the U.S. Congress. Martinez has raised the most business contributions out of all Valley Council races, accounting for nearly $24,000 out of her $188,791 total. BizFed also has endorsed Councilman Mitch Englander, who is running unopposed in District 12 in the West Valley, and Councilman Paul Krekorian in his re-election bid in District 2, which includes Studio City, North Hollywood, Valley Glen and part of Sun Valley. He is up against a political novice, Eric Preven, a writer and producer from Studio City. Harvey Englander, managing partner at Los Angeles lobbying Englander, Knabe & Allen and the uncle of Mitch Englander, said that in a field with so many candidates for the District 4 seat, personal relationships will dictate who a business person will support. “It is so hard to tell with 14 candidates who will make the run off,” Englander said. Understanding the Valley BizFed’s four preferred candidates in District 6 are Tara Bannister, Carolyn Ramsay, David Ryu and Steve Veres. Rafter said she has little doubt that two of the four will be the top vote-getters in the primary and head to the May 19 runoff. Ryu is an executive with L.A. non-profit health provider Kedren Acute Psychiatric Hospital and Community Health Center. He has raised the most money with $313,691 by the Jan. 17 filing date. Valley business interests contributed about $6,200. Ryu said that businesses approve of his ideas, such as removing the gross receipts tax and improving communication with City Hall. “That’s why BizFed supports me – because they know that my priority is creating good jobs in the district,” Ryu said. Bannister, who has raised $58,717 in contributions, said support from BizFed, Realtor groups, and the Howard Jarvis Taxpayers Association provides her with a base that other candidates may not have. Her contributions from business total to $2,500. From her position as western states liaison for the National Apartment Association, she considers herself an expert on housing issues that would affect residents in the district. “There are so many business people, Realtors and people concerned about taxes that my strategic advantage is different,” Bannister said. Ramsay may have the most name recognition within the district, having served as LaBonge’s chief of staff. She has collected a total of $259,269 with about $5,600 coming from Valley business interests. Among Ramsay’s business related stances are rolling back the gross receipt tax, creating an “innovation zone” in Hollywood pairing tech startups with production studios and spiffing up business areas in the district. She is working with Jeff Kalban, an architect serving on the Sherman Oaks Neighborhood Council, on a beautification plan to add entryways and landscaped median on the major streets. “Sherman Oaks has spectacular neighborhoods but the commercial district needs some support from the city right now,” Ramsay said. Veres is a formidable candidate as a member of the Los Angeles Community College District Board, and the Los Angeles director for State Senate Leader Kevin de León. Through Jan. 17, Veres had collected $241,650 in campaign contributions, with about $12,100, coming from businesses or business owners who either live or work in the Valley. Veres believes that he has the strongest Valley approach out of all the candidates, having lived and worked in the region for almost 20 years. “You need to have a mindset of understanding the Valley and being an advocate of the full district,” he said, Candidate Tomas O’Grady is a Los Feliz resident who developed real estate in New Jersey and co-founded non-profit EnrichLA to work with the Los Angeles public school system. He is not a BizFed preferred candidate, but he has received support from small business owners, entrepreneurs and entertainment industry folks. “The city can do a lot to create an atmosphere to cause people who create business activity to come here,” O’Grady said. He has raised $58,385 in the reporting period with only about $1,650 coming from business people. The race also features a former state Assemblyman, Wally Knox, who has received more than $4,000 from Valley business interests out of a total of $197,000. Other candidates include Ross Sarkissian, a small business owner, who has raised $11,480; Joan Pelico, chief of staff for Councilman Paul Koretz, who has brought in $126,603 and lives in the Valley; and Michael Schaefer, a former San Diego councilman, who has loaned himself $8,500. Step Jones, owner of a small business in Sherman Oaks, is not required to file campaign disclosure forms because he has not raised nor spent more than $1,000. Economic issues A plan to raise the city’s minimum wage, job creation and real estate development are among the top issues in the District 4 race. VICA hosted a forum attended by six candidates on Jan. 30. The organizaton’s President Stuart Waldman, however, said that with only two hours for the six to answer questions, there was not much time to delve deeply into the issues. “Ideally you would have a discussion with the candidates where you can ask a lot of questions,” Waldman said. In an interview, Veres said he has been frustrated by the city’s approach to raising the minimum wage. While he wants to “be a decent human being” and help those earning low wages, he said there needs to be a discussion on the consequences of raising the minimum wage and how it would affect the wages of employees in supervisory positions. “The Council shot from the hip,” he added. The Council is now considering two minimum wage hike proposals: one from Garcetti to hike the wage to $13.25 an hour by 2017 and one put forward by several councilmembers to tack on an additional $2 hike to $15.25 an hour by 2019. The statewide minimum hourly wage is currently $9. O’Grady said that from his discussions with restaurant owners, they would be willing to absorb a wage increase as long as it was tied to reforming the permitting process and the gross receipt tax. Businesses have long complained about the gross receipts tax, both because its rates are higher than in other cities and because it taxes top-line revenue, before operating expenses and other business costs are factored in. Early this month, Garcetti signed into law an ordinance to reduce over a three-year period the gross receipt tax paid by law firms and other professional service businesses. But reform has been slow as city officials are concerned about how to replace the $430 million in annual revenues the tax brings in.

Mark Madler
Mark Madler
Mark R. Madler covers aviation & aerospace, manufacturing, technology, automotive & transportation, media & entertainment and the Antelope Valley. He joined the company in February 2006. Madler previously worked as a reporter for the Burbank Leader. Before that, he was a reporter for the City News Bureau of Chicago and several daily newspapers in the suburban Chicago area. He has a bachelor’s of science degree in journalism from the University of Illinois, Urbana-Champaign.
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