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Thursday, September 21, 2023

[KD Exclusive Interview] First 100 Days of LA Mayor Karen Bass

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The first black female mayor of Los Angeles. We met with Los Angeles Mayor Karen Bass in her office for an interview, whose first 100 days in office were marked by a successful resolution with the LA Unified School District (LAUSD) union. We asked her about a range of topics, including LA’s minimum wage issues, housing issues, special elections, and  hiring of Korean Americans, as well as her focus on moving homeless people off the streets and into shelters after declaring a state of emergency on her first day in office. Here’s our one-on-one with Mayor Bass.

– It’s been a crazy three months, from dealing with homelessness to mediating a strike.

“I moved from the House of Commons to City Hall in three weeks and didn’t even get to say good-bye to my colleagues in the House of Commons, let alone celebrate my 100th day in office. I’ve been on the job for almost four months now.”

– The biggest concern of the people is that the 4,000 homeless people rescued will be back on the streets after a period of time.

“Of the 4,000, 1,100 are in temporary shelters from Inside Safe. The next step is to move on to permanent housing. So far, no one has left the shelter. What has become clear through this process is that no one wants to stay on the streets. When given the choice, they don’t go out on the streets. Even after they go to permanent housing, there are other services provided such as job search, that continue for two years to prevent them from becoming homeless again.”

-Homelessness is not the only policy issue you’re paying attention to.

“Public safety is important. First of all, we need to recruit more police officers, which is not easy. If any of our readers have dreams of becoming a police officer, I hope they apply. There still are not enough Asian officers.”

-Do you have any plans to address hate crimes against Asians after the pandemic? Korean American seniors are still afraid to go out on the streets.

“There’s a lot of bad news coming out of China (on the diplomatic, security, and trade fronts) at a federal level, so there’s a lot of antipathy toward Asians as a whole. To be clear, we will be proactive through the police department. I urge Korean American seniors to come forward if they are victimized, for whatever reason, so that we can reduce crime.”

-The special election in District 10 is of great interest to Korean Americans. What are your thoughts on City Council President Paul Krekorian’s policy on keeping his representation in the 10th District?

“We have an appointed councilmember, but I don’t think there’s anything wrong with District 10 right now. I don’t see an immediate need for a special election. We just had a special election in the 6th District that cost $14 million. If we had to have a special election in District 10, it would have to be in October and it would cost the city a lot of money. Then we might have to have a runoff. If that happens, we’ll have to start all over again next year as soon as the election is over. The way I see it, the council president should come back next week and, with the consent of the council, reappoint Hutt to eliminate the confusion.”

-What is the proper procedure. What is the proper process.

“Currently, Councilwoman Hutt is sufficiently representing her constituents on the City Council.”

-But isn’t she appointed, not elected?

“If that is a problem, then we’ll have to have a special election and spend another $14 million. The election starts next year, and the candidates actually have to start running now for next year’s election.”

-Two weeks ago, the City Council approved $10 million for the Small Building Owners Assistance Program, which includes many Korean-American owners. Is it enough, and will the city administration do more?

“There was a meeting just before today’s interview. Personally, I think $10 million is a ridiculous amount of money. I’ve ordered the departments and heads to find ways to increase the budget. I’m giving them a few more days. Once we have a concrete plan and method, we will inform the public.”

-Any plans to invite Korean Americans, especially business owners, to meet regularly?

“The mayor’s door is always open if Korean-American business people want to get together and talk. I’m always interested in talking to people who represent the community, but I’m also open to hire commissioners and city staff. I’d love to have a lot of Korean-Americans apply and work with me, so I’d love to hear from the Korean-American community.”

-L.A.’s minimum wage is currently $16. Are there any plans to raise it?

“Let me just say, you cannot live on $16 an hour in Los Angeles. We realized that during the school district strike. We don’t have a specific plan yet, but it’s clear. At the same time, we’ll have to make sure it doesn’t affect small businesses. We’ll work on it.”

-Low-income people are still facing high housing costs. So there is a desire to move out.

“Exactly. At $16 an hour, it’s hard to keep up with the cost of living and housing in LA. By state standards, LA currently needs an additional 500,000 housing units. Affordability is a problem for all walks of life, and I will focus on fixing it.”

-Her message to the Korean community.

“I am grateful for this opportunity to communicate. On behalf of the City of Los Angeles, the Mayor’s office is always open to everyone. At the same time, if there are people who want to talk to me, please feel free to invite me and I will come. I encourage Korean Americans to apply for city government positions and I hope we can work together. Thank you.”

BY INSEONG CHOI [ichoi@koreadaily.com]