Interview with L.A. Councilman Tom LaBonge

by journojames on January 15, 2012

Originally published Oct. 3, 2010

L.A. Councilman Tom LaBonge shared some of his thoughts Thursday during a brief interview at his City Hall office before rushing off to Windsor Square to help celebrate the reopening of Robert Burns Park. He’s been in charge of Council District Four, the geographic heart of Los Angeles, since September 2001 and has his eye on re-election in March next year. While making phone calls and directing his staff, Councilman LaBonge talked about his love of parks, the food truck debate, and offered some possible goals if elected for a third term.

Councilman Tom LaBonge, Photo by Kiki Maraschino

Q: What are you most excited about these days with re-election coming up in March?

A: To serve the people and to make the city better. To move the motivation of the city which is transforming.


Q: Any specific issues or projects you’re excited about?

A: More expansion of Cahuenga Peak. That’s a big one.



Q: What about the Red Line project you recently wrote about for the Daily News?

A: Right. That’s real important but that’s more long range.


Q: What are some of the major concerns you have on your mind these days?

A: You see people who are still homeless and living on the streets who are mentally ill. You see our public schools that haven’t achieved the greatness that I had when I went to Los Angeles public schools. We ought to re-organize them. You also see the challenges in the private sector with cuts and down-sizing. It’s tough to down-size the government sector because people feel that everything they do is absolutely important, but I think we have to re-think some of the things we do.


Griffith Park Observatory, Photo by JournoJames

Q: Parks are important to you, politically and personally, especially Griffith Park. Last year, it was granted historic landmark status by the Council, but it wasn’t easy. What was that process like for you?

A: The Park to me is for all the people. I’m an active park person. I’ve hiked every day in that park for 32 years. But there were some people who saw the park as more of a preserve and didn’t necessarily like people being in it. I get excited when I see the people. I don’t want to see them tearing up the place, but I get excited when they use it. So, there was a process and I think everybody achieved their goals.


Q: So, you’re pleased with the outcome?

A: Yeah. Oh, yeah, by in large.


Q: Los Angeles has the smallest percentage of space devoted to parks in any major U.S. city. Why do you think that’s the case?

A: This city grew really fast. In the 1930s, 90 percent of the people were living in single-family homes, so they had a front and a back yard. That was their park. Over the course of time, they didn’t value parks. Even Griffith Park when it was first donated wasn’t appreciated. They thought it was too far out of town.


Q: Can anything be done to improve the number of parks in the city?

A: Sure. Acquire more open space. We’re playing catch up.


Q: This past summer, the group called Friends of Atwater Village said that they were concerned that you might be thinking about developing in the northern part of that community. How would you respond?

A: I support jobs in the industrial part of the district. I’m for redeveloping in the industrial area. I’m not for it in the parks, certainly not.


Q: Your name is prominent when it comes to the current food truck debate. Why has it become such an important issue for you?

A: Have you seen them? Have you seen them in the Miracle Mile? Have you seen them bumper-to-bumper? There should be some regulation. That parking is made for you and others who drive, not for commercial business. Yet, there’s a value for those food trucks because they add to the street mix. So, to try to create spaces adjacent to the boulevard may be a solution, but I don’t think it’s a solution to just leave seven trucks all in a row.

Lunch Time Food Trucks, Photo courtesy of Creative Commons

Q: What is your response to those who say food trucks are good for small business and the spirit of entrepreneurship in these tough economic times, and you’re making it tougher for them?

A: I also believe in the village concept, which are places like Larchmont, North Hollywood, Los Feliz, Silverlake, and other like sections. If you have a mobile commercial society, it will defeat the permanent society of commercialization in buildings and in zoning. So, the intent of the parking meter wasn’t put there for a catering truck. It was put there for people to park. I understand people like it. I understand it’s hip. I know the food is good. I love it. But you have to look at the long range. If Los Angeles doesn’t have a regulation, then it’ll become a problem and we’ll defeat ourselves.


Q: How would you describe the process is going in settling this debate?

A: We’re still trying to work all the agreements out.


Q: What is the greatest challenge for you in your job right now?

A: Being able to get things done with the limited resources in this economy.


Q: Unfortunately, you can’t get everything done while in office. What are some projects or plans that you wish would have worked out different?

A: I was an athlete. So, you win some and you lose some. That’s all right. Time is the biggest value. And to be able to maximize your time, to pull the energies of many together to achieve these goals is the most important thing. I think I’ve maximized. Most of the things I’ve tried, I tried to represent the constituency right.


Q: If you’re re-elected in March, what would be some of your goals in your third term?

A: Well, I’m working really hard and I’m honored to serve the city of Los Angeles. With that being said, the big goal would be improving the neighborhoods with limited taxpayer dollars that we have. Our infrastructure needs to be updated. Our streets are coming to term. Many of them were laid in the 1920s. So, to rebuild those and to rebuild the waterlines and the sewer lines. All that has to be budgeted. And it has been, but it’s on such a grand scale now, that the need is there. Another goal would be more partnerships with schools, communities, libraries, and youth, which is real important. More development of business economic empowerment in neighborhoods like Los Feliz or Toluca Lake is another goal and also simple environmental improvements, like dumping the city’s trash cans at bus stops. We stopped doing that.


Q: Why was that stopped?

A: Because of budget cuts.


Q: Do you have any other political aspirations?

A: Just to serve the people of Los Angeles.


Q: That’s all? You don’t think about any other political aspirations?

A: That’s it. Just to serve the people of Los Angeles.


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