Mejia versus Koretz: disrupter or stalwart for city controller?

| September 29, 2022 | 0 Comments

The race to become Los Angeles’ 20th city controller can be seen as a David vs. Goliath showdown: rookie vs. seasoned politician.

Preceding the June primary election, the Los Angeles Times and L’Opinion endorsed Mejia for the office, but there has been a dramatic shift in the conversation as disturbing information about him has surfaced.

The negatives
Recent articles in Los Angeles Magazine, the Los Angeles Times and an open letter from former Los Angeles City Controller Laura Chick, who calls Mejia an “extremist” (printed on page 2 in this issue of the Larchmont Chronicle) all raise concerns regarding Kenneth Mejia’s suitability for the position. Disclosed was that Mejia tweeted that President Biden was a rapist and racist, that Mejia had appeared in public holding a doctored photograph of Hillary Clinton behind bars, and that he paid campaign staffers to disrupt various mayoral debates. It was also revealed that his certified public accountant license was expired or inactive on-and-off between November 2016 and January 2022.

In response, Mejia has indicated that there are some things he probably shouldn’t have said, but he counters that Koretz is working to protect the status quo while he, Mejia, seeks to shake it up.
Dirt often surfaces during campaigns. When weighing the negatives, voters also need to understand where these candidates stand on issues pertinent to the city controller’s office.

Political rookie’s skills


To 31-year-old political neophyte Mejia, his lack of political experience is a positive, allowing him to disrupt the machinery of government more than a current insider could. The candidate believes that his grasp of numbers should be a key attribute for the job. Mejia wants to be the first CPA in the seat.

Mejia was an auditor for several firms, including his own and an electric vehicle charging station company, EVgo. He also worked for hedge funds. In 2016, Mejia joined the LA Tenants Union to fight for tenants’ rights, and, in 2017, he joined the board of the neighborhood council in Koreatown.


Seasoned politician’s abilities

Mejia’s opponent, Paul Koretz, endorsed by the Los Angeles Daily News, current City Controller Ron Galperin and U.S. Sen. Alex Padilla, among others, was first elected to public office in 1988 as a West Hollywood city councilmember. Koretz spent 2000-2006 in the California State Assembly, and then he began a 12-year stint on the Los Angeles City Council representing the Fifth District and has served as chair of the council’s personnel, audit and animal welfare committees. He is now termed out.

Outside of government, Koretz has served as Southern California Director of the California League of Conservation Voters and Administrative Director of the Ecology Center of Southern California.
Koretz told us he sees the controller position through a different lens than Mejia, stating, “You have to have an eye for where you can do things more efficiently.” He asserts that his proven ability to save the city money is a valuable skill for a controller, and his campaign website states, “Paul Koretz is already doing the job.”

City controller responsibilities
So, what is the job? The City of Los Angeles’ website defines the city controller as having “…the responsibility for serving as the auditor and chief accounting officer of the city” with responsibility for approving city payments and auditing departments and programs. The department has a staff of 160.

As a political outsider, with accountant and auditor experience, Mejia suggests that, “You want to have someone who can go in there and break down the city’s finances, who can also explain it to people in a way that is easy to understand and present it in a way that is also accessible.”

Koretz counters that credibility and the ability to get buy-in are key assets for the controller. As an example, he notes that he led the effort to avoid 5,000 recession lay-offs, explaining, “I did it by coming up with my own ideas, working with stakeholders, working with other folks in City Hall to come up with dozens of efficiencies to save money. … We were able to avoid [the layoffs].”

Mejia maps the numbers
During his campaign, Mejia and his energized base of young supporters have analyzed and mapped city data, much of it collected by current City Controller Ron Galperin. Mejia’s campaign website contains such usable city maps as locations of dog parks, where the Los Angeles Police Dept. conducted traffic and pedestrian stops and a breakdown of where to find places to live that are covered by affordable housing covenants.

Mejia references the housing map. “We created this database and this map that many people have used to apply for housing. [We are] actually providing, number one, transparency, but number two, resources on what the city offers.”

Koretz corrects inefficiencies
Koretz emphasizes saving the city money by correcting inefficiencies. For instance, the city too often amassed penalties for paying bills late. In response, Los Angeles started paying its bills early, thus losing out on interest. When he was a new councilmember, Koretz worked with Wendy Greuel, city controller 2009-2013, and suggested, “This is the computer age, why can’t we digitize this effort and pay the bills on the exact day they should be paid?” It is estimated that paying on time saves $1 million a year.

Transparency in homeless spending: Mejia
Both candidates agree that homelessness is one of the most pressing problems facing our city.
Mejia says, “People want to know, ‘where is my money being spent?’” He proposes developing a publicly accessible breakdown of the $1.2 billion in homelessness expenditures this fiscal year.
Next, he wants to “audit the city’s homelessness policies. … For example, [the city] is spending close to $70 million this year on encampment sweeps. Are encampment sweeps the most effective solution? … Can we quantify how much that costs?”

Efficiencies regarding homeless policies: Koretz
Koretz advocates for a complete audit of all the programs that make up the patchwork quilt of approaches to ending homelessness but values focusing on one piece of the puzzle at a time and solving it.

As a councilmember, he “started the process of building modular housing” rather than constructing from scratch on site. Koretz notes, “It saves a couple hundred thousand a unit.”
He asserts we could solve homelessness but, “The state needs to reassume its leadership … and the time to do it is right now when they are brimming in money.”

Mejia’s views on policing

Public safety and policing are huge concerns to Los Angelenos. Mejia states that nearly 30 percent of the city budget goes to policing, $3.2 billion. He wants to provide clear information on where that money goes and if it’s being effectively spent.

Paul Koretz’s environmentalism
Koretz emphasizes that the city controller should conduct audits to assess policy execution, including in the environmental arena. Over his years in politics Koretz has fought to strengthen the Clean Air Act, pressured the Dept. of Water and Power to cut emissions, supported lowering greenhouse gas emissions and worked to close the San Onofre nuclear generation station, among other environmental measures.

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