Mark Ridley-Thomas: experience and community involvement are key

| September 30, 2020 | 0 Comments


Supervisor Mark Ridley-Thomas is no stranger to local politics. Since 1991 he has held successive public offices as the City Councilman for Council District 8, state Assemblyman for the 48th District, state senator for the 26th district and he is currently is terming out as a member of the Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors in Supervisorial District 2.

Now that he’s a candidate for Council District 10, the Chronicle spoke with him in a Zoom interview and we wondered why he wanted to be a Councilmember again.

“My highest calling is serving communities on a local level,” Ridley-Thomas explains. “It’s where you can make the greatest difference in people’s lives. Building housing, caring for parks, supporting health clinics and improving services. Those really matter. I want to bring my experience to the residents of Council District 10 to get things done.”

After 29 years in the public sector, some wonder why everything hasn’t been fixed by now. “You’d rather me be here than not,” Ridley-Thomas states emphatically. “Had I not been on the City Council and on the Board of Supervisors, the number of things that were accomplished … wouldn’t have gotten accomplished. … I plan to partner with members of the City Council in a way that has not been seen, because of the experiences — that I have — can be leveraged in a way that I think they’ll be very receptive to.”

Some of his past accomplishments include establishing the Empowerment Congress in District 8, which expanded civic engagement in local projects and supported community hiring. Ridley-Thomas states that he produced over 3,000 affordable housing units in his supervisorial district, with an additional 1,300 currently under construction. He authored Measure H, which brings in $350 million annually, allowing the county to take, and provide services to, more than 200 people off the streets daily, up from 80 per day prior to the measure’s passage.

A novel project he conceived and shepherded through approval and funding is a mixed-use site with 180 units of affordable housing, a grocery store and a public boarding school for 400 middle and high school students. Slated to open in 2022 at the corner of Vermont Avenue and Manchester Boulevard, the college prep facility will be one of four SEED Foundation schools in the country. Established specifically for disadvantaged children, the Los Angeles SEED school will train students for jobs in transportation and infrastructure, a response to a looming need because 40 percent of the Metro work force is eligible for retirement. The hope is that this school becomes a model for the county and city.

Homelessness top priority

The supervisor has earmarked six important issues, including the environment and economic development, but his top priority is the housing crisis in Los Angeles.

“I think housing, and specifically homelessness, is the defining moral issue of our time,” he asserts. “And I think there is no crisis among us that is more fundamentally solvable.”

Need for redevelopment

Ridley-Thomas places much of the blame for our housing crisis on the suspension of the local redevelopment agencies in 2012, and he calls for new redevelopment initiatives. He elucidates, “What redevelopment law did was to lower the risk of the private sector. … The other thing it did was effectively cause communities to have more of a say-so in terms of the kind of projects that were being built. … that’s what community involvement means. That’s what civic engagement means. … They become more activated stakeholders.”

Homeless vs homeowners

Some of the hot-button issues around the topic of homelessness involve sleeping on public land, locating shelters and supportive housing, and how to construct needed homes faster and for less money. Ridley-Thomas is clear. “I will never ever argue that people have a right to sleep on the street or on a park bench. I believe people have a right to shelter. A right to a roof. A right to a door. A right to housing. That is essentially what Western democracy affords us.”

The supervisor does not support building shelters in every neighborhood. “The discussion is about equity today in a real important way, but need ought to inform equity, not simply geography.” He focuses on the fact that it isn’t enough to house people, we have to care for them, as well. “They need behavioral health centers, recuperative care centers, sobering centers, psychiatric urgent care centers, concrete alternatives to jails.”

Building housing is an expensive and slow process, making it difficult to get ahead of the growing problem. “There’s only one solution to that,” Ridley-Thomas offers. “We need to innovate in a way like never before. And some [innovations] are being brought online now, through Measure H dollars, through competitions with FlyawayHomes and a whole range of other options.” (FlyawayHomes won a $4.5 million grant from a Board of Supervisors’ housing innovation challenge by presenting a way to build quicker, lower-cost permanent supportive housing using modular techniques.)

Less revenue, more need

The coronavirus shutdown has affected city coffers. “There’s no question about the fact that COVID-19 has significantly impacted our revenues,” Ridley-Thomas acknowledged. “Our tourism is way down and that speaks to sales tax. … So the city will have serious issues with which to contend.” When allocating limited resources, he states that “The debate is going to be driven by our priorities and how we will see ourselves.” He added pointedly, “Do we expect to honor the fact that we have a crisis in our town, namely homelessness?”

In concluding his interview, Ridley-Thomas emphasizes another real toll of homelessness. “There are two to three people every day who die … on the streets of Los Angeles. That’s 1,000 people annually who die on the streets. That’s more than the homicide rate! … We can do better than this! And we have to!”

There are those who predict that Mark Ridley-Thomas is looking beyond Council District 10 toward the Mayor’s office. “Anyone who tells you for certain that I’m running for Mayor has not spoken with my wife! In other words, the decision simply has not been made yet. But it’s something we’ll decide in the near future, as a family.”

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Category: People

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