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City Council Candidate Seeks A Working Relationship with School District

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Cyndi Otteson
Cyndi Otteson
(Image by Cyndi Otteson For LA CD14)
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only major candidate in this race who has pledged to never take donations from the corporations, developers, and charter school investors that have controlled the City Council for decades."

- Cyndi Otteson

The FBI dropped a bomb onto CD14's power base on November 7, 2018, when it raided the offices and home of long-time city councilman Jose' Huizar. A week later, the Council President removed Huizar from his committee assignments, depriving him of both influence and access to fundraising. He became an "invisible man" and was a no-show at community events. In the weeks following the raids he was "absent for all or part of 60% of [city council] meetings."

With Huizar's fall from grace, his wife's plans also disintegrated. Just two months before the raid, she had launched her campaign to take his place, and "was the instant overwhelming favorite" to win. However, that effort ended within weeks of the FBI's visit to her home. The impending Huizar dynasty was over before it began. There is no shortage of candidates looking to take advantage of the power vacuum.

Of the 23 people who filed their intention to run, five collected enough signatures to appear on the ballot. With his campaign coffers flush with cash from real estate developers, it appears that Kevin De Leà n is the candidate to beat in this race. Fresh off his loss to Dianne Feinstein he needs someplace to wait out the two years left until the mayor's office becomes vacant. Huizar's protege, Monica Garcia is two years away from being termed out as an LAUSD Board Member and could use the city council seat as a way to continue collecting a public salary. Cyndi Otteson has served as the vice-president of the Eagle Rock Neighborhood Council and is "running [a] grassroots campaign" for the seat. The field is rounded out by John Jimenez and Raquel Zomora.

In an effort to find out about their views on educational issues, all five candidates were sent an email asking them four open-ended questions. Only Cyndi Otteson responded. Her answers are printed below:

Question 1: While the city government does not have direct oversight over LAUSD schools, it is responsible for ensuring the safety of children as they travel to and from school. What measures would you take to improve pedestrian safety in school zones?

The leading cause of death for school-age children in CD14 is car crashes, including pedestrian fatalities. That is both tragic and unacceptable in a city that claims to have a "Vision Zero" plan in place. Every day, when I walk my own little kids to their neighborhood LAUSD school, I see our Principal standing in the crosswalk directing traffic and protecting children (and parents) from distracted drivers. It is heroic, above and beyond her already impossible job, and totally unnecessary in a city with the funds to pay for crossing guards but a bureaucracy that prevents it.

I am proud to have earned the endorsement of UTLA for the March 3 election, and I believe their faith in me is based in part on my pledge of a new working relationship with an emphasis on "working" with the Los Angeles Unified School District. The first intersectional issue I will tackle as Councilmember is the archaic and ineffective method by which LAUSD, the City Council and the LADOT interface to provide or in many cases, to not provide -- crossing guards to schools. The current application and funding system is a paperwork nightmare leftover from recessionary times that causes principals to give up, and parents to continue to drive their kids to school, sometimes for a trip that is only a few blocks, because they fear for their children's safety. I do not make campaign promises as a rule, but this case is close to my heart: My pledge to the parents and principals of LAUSD is that any school that wants a crossing guard will get one.

The LAUSD should be a factor in every City Council discussion of citywide street-safety plans, especially because of the Balkanization of our Council Districts, where a single Councilmember can stall and indeed ruin a citywide initiative by not committing and installing the improvements. Permanent street safety improvements (like curb bump-outs, bike lanes, Rapid Rectangular Flashing Beacon crosswalks, and other traffic calming solutions) should be prioritized where they coincide with LAUSD Safe Passage routes; this priority should extend to fast-tracked funding and implementation and be linked to an automatic override of any single Council Member's attempt to veto such improvements within his/her own district. This would be a radical change to the absolute autonomy Councilmembers enjoy, but it would finally inch our city forward toward a future where children do not die walking to and from school.

Question 2: In 2016, the city of Huntington Park instituted a 12-month long moratorium on new charter school buildings. Would you support a similar move for Los Angeles?

The Huntington Park moratorium, which was legally questionable, is not a model for the City of Los Angeles. We already have all the tools we need to take control of our educational future, but we need elected officials who aren't afraid to upset the charter school funders who provide millions of dollars to politicians. I am the only major candidate in this race who has pledged to never take donations from the corporations, developers, and charter school investors that have controlled the City Council for decades.

Part of my education platform for CD14 is a Conditional Use Permit (CUP) process for new charter schools in our neighborhoods, which would apply to both new construction and adaptive re-use of buildings. This is a more permanent and flexible solution than a moratorium (or ban) on charters. While SB 126 and AB 1505 gave local districts more control over charters, by broadening the discussion and monitoring of charters beyond the LAUSD board and bringing it under the umbrella of the City of Los Angeles, an added layer of scrutiny and protection is afforded to our neighborhoods. You need a CUP to serve beer and wine, to build a hotel, or to open a church in our neighborhoods; charter schools have at least an equivalent impact, and the CUP process is one way that the City Council can work with LAUSD to prevent over-saturation and to integrate approved charters into our communities so that everyone benefits.

Question 3: Passed in the wake of the 1933 Long Beach earthquake, the Field Act has ensured that California schools "are the safest buildings in the world." Unfortunately, charter school buildings like the one Granada Hills Charter School is currently constructing are exempt from the provisions of the Field Act. What would you do to ensure that students who attend charter schools are protected during an earthquake?

The State of California requires Division of the State Architect (DSA) approval and Field Act compliance for all district-run public schools for two reasons: (1) public school is compulsory, so districts owe the highest standard of care for the children entrusted to them; and (2) public schools are designed to be fixtures in their community that can be resorted to in the event of an earthquake, fire, or flood. Therefore, our district public schools must be built to withstand any crisis.

Yet Sacramento has waived many of these requirements, to make it easier for charter schools to operate independently. Many parents who choose charter schools have no idea that charter school facilities only comply with local building codes, and do not have to be built to the higher standards demanded by the State for school district construction.

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Carl Petersen is a parent, an advocate for students with special education needs, an elected member of the Northridge East Neighborhood Council, a member of the LAUSD's CAC, and was a Green Party candidate in LAUSD's District 2 School Board race. During the campaign, the Network for Public Education (NPE) Action endorsed him, and Dr. Diane Ravitch called him a " (more...)

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