CD4 candidate Nithya Raman seeks to unseat incumbent

| September 30, 2020 | 0 Comments


Political newcomer Nithya Raman took some by surprise on March 3 when she won 41 percent of the vote for the 4th Council District seat. Her 31,502 votes were just 2,796 fewer than received by incumbent David Ryu, who she will face in the runoff election on Tues., Nov. 3.

“The message at the core of our campaign — the need for basic rights and protections for every resident of Los Angeles — is more vital and urgent now than ever before,” read a statement from Raman following the certification of primary election votes.

Backed by the Democratic Socialists of America, Raman credited her campaign’s momentum to 700 volunteers that knocked on 80,000 doors in order to reach voters during the primary. Several celebrity endorsements — including Jane Fonda, Tina Fey, Mindy Kaling and Natalie Portman — didn’t hurt either.

Last month, Raman joined the Chronicle staff via Zoom to talk about the issues most important to her campaign.

“I’ve been very clear from the beginning of my campaign that we have an affordable housing crisis,” said Raman, who moved to Los Angeles in 2014 and now resides in Silver Lake. “The kind of housing we should be producing is housing that meets the needs of the moment. Unfortunately, in Los Angeles, I think we have been doing exactly the opposite.”

Raman, who holds a graduate degree in urban planning from MIT, most recently served as the executive director of Time’s Up Entertainment. In 2017 she co-founded the SELAH Neighborhood Homeless Coalition, which connects people experiencing homelessness to housing while also providing an accessible entry point for residents who want to get involved.

Frustrated by the status quo, Raman explained that one of the reasons that she decided to run for political office was the “very bleak” numbers of affordable housing units that have been approved by City Council over the past five years. “We looked at this issue last year and found that 87 percent of new housing permitted was market rate or luxury housing and only 13 percent was affordable. In our district [CD4] the numbers were even worse: 93 percent was market rate or luxury housing, only seven percent was affordable.”

Raman blames City Council: “Land use is one of the biggest powers of the Council, and so I do think that decision, at least in part, is a decision made by our existing representatives. I think it’s important that we don’t look away from the pretty extensive powers that we do have at the City level to promote affordable housing.”

When asked what she would do as Councilmember to influence the California State Legislature to fund affordable housing initiatives, Raman suggests that funding is not the only problem: “Even when we have funding, we haven’t built affordable housing in our district,” she responds.

“To me, it’s not just a question of funding affordable housing, it’s also that you have to have the will to make affordable housing come into reality. That’s important to emphasize because I think focusing on funding takes away from the real powers that our City already has to push for affordable housing.”

Raman says that political leaders need to think bigger.

“If you look at people who are experiencing homelessness, the biggest group among them is single adult males. We need to have housing that serves the needs of single adult males. I think making it legal to build dormitory housing again, or SRO [Single Room Occupancy]-style housing again, is an important intervention that the city can make.” According to Raman, one of the reasons that HHH has “tanked so spectacularly” is because it was designed in a way to build only expensive projects that include social services attached. “Guess what? A lot of people experiencing homelessness don’t need that. They just need a place to go,” says Raman.

“We could’ve funded shared units or built dormitory-style units that would’ve been significantly cheaper. We could’ve bought old motels or container-style units and remodeled them — none of that was done,” she says.

What will she do different, if elected? “One of the things is that we need to bring focus and urgency to these issues, which I haven’t seen reflected from a lot of our council members,” says Raman. “Putting a level of focus and attention to broader goals, and feeling that sense of urgency in the work, that is something that marks me as a different kind of elected representative than many of the ones I see in power.”

Asked her opinion of the nearly $150 million of funding recently redirected from the Los Angeles Police Department’s budget, Raman says it was an appropriate response to the calls for that moment: “I think we can take some of the money that is invested now in armed officers and put that into un-armed trained response, which might better address the root cause of the calls going to 911.” In a three-part plan to address the issue found on her campaign website, Raman suggests establishing a “Public Safety Department” that puts care and restorative justice rather than punishment and violence at its core.

Raman says that change has to start somewhere: “We have to get new people in power that share a vision for change in Los Angeles, who share an ambitious vision for what the city can do and how the city can support residents.

“I’m excited to start that process,” says Raman.


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