Grace Yoo seeks fairness, transparency, respect for the bottom line

| September 30, 2020 | 0 Comments


Attorney and community leader Grace Yoo, a first generation American, has spent the better part of 20 years advocating for the needs of under-represented groups and individuals in our community. Although her private law practice focuses on estate planning, her legal career also includes representing abused and neglected children while at the Los Angeles County Children’s Law Center. She was executive director of the Korean American Coalition and the National Asian Pacific American Bar Association (NAPABA), where she expanded language access in the courtroom. A long-time advocate for senior citizens, environmentalism and collaboration, Yoo served as advisor to both the Los Angeles Aging Advocacy Coalition and the Sierra Club Zero Waste Committee, and she co-founded the Environmental Justice Collaborative and the Asian Jewish Initiative. Yoo also spent four years as vice president of City of Los Angeles Department of Transportation Commission and she previously worked in the California State Treasurer’s office.

In a Zoom interview last month, we asked Yoo why she’s the best person for Council District 10. “Because I care to roll up my sleeves and actually get the work done,” she offers. “Because I’m not going to say ‘let’s do another study.’ How many studies must be done before we start getting things done?” Yoo continues, “I’m well-primed to go into City Hall and be a fighter for the people, and ‘the people’ means everybody minus the special interests, because right now the city is inundated with developers who want their 30-story, luxury-end units going up, and it isn’t helping the district.”

Bottom line on housing

Many recent housing bills before the State Senate and Assembly sought to expedite the building of market-rate housing. Yoo disapproves. “I was really shocked to see [legislative support] of this … and why the affordable piece is missing. I’m thinking they were just being political versus really trying to get to the bottom line, and I’m someone who looks at that bottom line.”

According to Yoo, District 10 has a homeless population estimated to be roughly 6,000. “How do we deal with this emergency? It is definitely doable. We did it after the ’94 Northridge earthquake, and there were 125,000 displaced people, and they were all in units within two years.” Yoo is inspired by successful projects elsewhere. “In Sonoma County, they were able to build 60 temporary shelters in 10 days. … In Texas, they were building homes that were … made out of a huge 3-D machine. … These units are costing less than $25,000. We do need temporary shelters now, not three years from now.”

If elected, Yoo says she will look for ways to respond quickly to the housing need. As an example, she states, “We’ve got an empty parking lot. Why can’t we build temporary individual shelters for people who are on the streets right now?”

Yoo believes homes and shelters should cost less. She points to the city’s first bridge housing project, completed in 2018 downtown. Named El Puente, which means “the bridge” in Spanish, the facility is meant as a bridge between homelessness and placement in permanent housing. “They were supposed to build 60 beds for $1.3 million. Ultimately they spent $2.7 million and only created 45 units.” She explains that a big contributor to the cost overrun was last-minute approval for a $700,000 wood deck. This decision made the units Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) compliant, but Yoo implies it was a costly aesthetic decision rather than an ADA mandate. “You don’t need to make every unit ADA. … I’d like a deck in my backyard, too, but we don’t have the money and so we can’t spend it.”

Fairness and equity

Yoo is also concerned with the needs of landlords who can’t pay their mortgage and property taxes if they’re not getting rent. “We need to care for these folks just as much as we care for a renter. We’re not being fair, and I’m about fairness.”

Yoo points to small changes that can have a big impact on fairness. Take COVID-19 testing. Yoo states that the city’s position is that there are plenty of testing sites, “But a survey shows that 24 percent of seniors over the age of 62 don’t drive. And so how are they supposed to get there?” Her solution? “That’s easy. We send workers to them. That’s how other cities, other countries, are doing this. It is not far-fetched to believe that we can go where the need is.”

Improving our police force

Recent protests have focused the nation’s attention on police use of force, and there have been calls to “defund the police.” “I’m someone who knows that we need our police department to service the needs of the people. ‘Protect and serve’ is their motto and I want to ensure that they protect and serve.” Yoo states. “The police need to improve on how they respond to large rallies. People who are peacefully protesting should not be shot with rubber bullets.” She continues, “I believe we would have less of a violence interaction if we had more officers that were women on the force. Studies have shown that to be true.” She is happy to have learned that the new police academy class is 50 percent women.

Los Angeles earmarks 70 percent of its budget for funding the Los Angeles Police and Fire Departments, Yoo says, but she believes we can save money without weakening the force. “I would like to cut the fat wherever possible. Civilians doing desk jobs makes sense to me. Having officers doing desk duty and getting paid what they get paid doesn’t make sense to me. I look at overtime and the fact that it’s like $480 million in a year for police. We’ve got to reign it in. Police officers only work 36 hours in a week [they work three 12-hour days per week] and then they get overtime. That does not work for me financially. … We’re already missing four hours in a week. And when you multiply this by thousands, this is not a good move.”

After spending so many years fighting City Hall, as it were, attorney Yoo has developed a certain reputation. “Some people just say, ‘Grace is just anti.’ Well, yeah, I’m anti-corruption. I’m anti you breaking the law. But I’m really someone who’s just like, ‘How do we make things work?’

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