Ten candidates vie for LA City Council District 2 seat

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angela-fentiman90BY ANGELA FENTIMAN

A diverse group including elected officials, business leaders and community activists are competing for the opportunity to represent L.A.’s second council district, which oversees the communities of Lake View Terrace, La Tuna Canyon, North Hollywood, Shadow Hills, Sherman Oaks, Studio City, Sunland, Sun Valley, Tujunga, Valley Village, Valley Glen and Van Nuys.

The ten candidates all share a strong desire to fix what they consider to be the city’s broken political machine, but their key issues and strategies are as different as the candidates themselves.

The second council district voters will head to the polls on Tuesday, September 22 to fill the seat that has been open since July 1, when former L.A. City Councilmember Wendy Greuel took office as City Controller.

Though the field of candidates is large, local political consultant Steve Afriat, owner of The Afriat Consulting Group, Inc., expects a three-person race.

“Chris [Essel] and Paul [Krekorian] are the frontrunners.” Afriat said.

Essel is a former film industry executive who spent more than 30 years at Paramount and Krekorian is currently the State Assemblymember for the 43rd district.

Afriat rounded out his list of the top-three candidates with Neighborhood Prosecutor and LAUSD School Board Member Tamar Galatzan, noting that a late start in the race could hurt her fundraising ability.

Low voter turnout is expected for the special election and, according to Afriat, “lower turnout tends to favor the better financed candidates.”

If one candidate does not receive the majority of the vote on September 22, there will be a runoff election on Tuesday,  December 8. This is likely to be the case, according to Afriat.

“Clearly there will be a run off,” Afriat said. With this many candidates it will be virtually impossible for that not to happen.”

The city’s chief legislative analyst Gerry Miller was given task of overseeing the second council district until a replacement is selected and Avak Keopahian has been named the district caretaker. Neither could be reached for comment.

THE CANDIDATES (in alphabetical order):

**Candidate Forum dates and times are listed at the end of this article.

Mary Benson

Mary Benson

Mary Benson (Sun Valley)

Mary Benson is the only candidate from the northern portion of Council District 2. A community activist for nearly 10 years, Benson became frustrated with the lack of engagement between the City Council and the community.

“I thought Neighborhood Councils would fix [the lack of cooperation], but it hasn’t,” Benson said. “We need a councilmember who will encourage that.”

The 62-year-old was involved in the creation of an environment justice zone in Sun Valley and helped establish the Valley’s second historic district, Stone Hurst.

Benson is particularly concerned about the city’s infrastructure. She says this includes road condition, water and electricity supply systems, and the city’s sewage system.

“The City of Los Angeles is like a homeowner who hasn’t put in any maintenance in the past several years,” Benson said.

Benson hopes to see a campaign that includes an honest dialogue about the issues, not just a “popularity contest,” and that the candidate who wins is committed to addressing the concerns important to the district.

August Bisani

Augusto Bisani

Augusto Bisani (Valley Village)

Augusto Bisani wants to give back to a community he feels has given so much to him. The 67-year-old Italian immigrant wants to create change in the second council district by improving public safety and making the city better for business.

“This community needs a new voice, [it] needs somebody who is going to say something and get some action done and I think I can be that person,” Bisani said.

Bisani has done business in the City of L.A. for more than 29 years and has seen firsthand the city’s anti-business reputation at work. In his dealings with the city on business permit issues, he found city employees to be unfriendly and unaccommodating. He also faced huge delays that cost his business and others a lot of money.

“I would often have to involve attorneys sometimes to get projects done,” Bisani said.

Bisani feels that the city should be responsive to its constituents, just like he plans to be if elected to represent Council District 2.

Jozef "Joe"

Jozef "Joe" Thomas Essavi

Jozef “Joe” Thomas Essavi (Valley Glen)

Joe Essavi has served as a commissioner for the L.A. County Narcotics and Dangerous Drugs Coalition, on his Neighborhood Council, the Congress of Neighborhood Councils and has run for a seat on the L.A. Community College District Board of Trustees.

“I want to improve the quality of life,” Essavi said. “I want to make a difference for this district.”

As a neighborhood council member, Essavi has been active with public safety issues impacting the district.

“We have graffiti problems that the city does not have the money to address,” Essavi said. “As a neighborhood council member, I have worked to have the neighborhood council pick up where the city has left off as far as graffiti and gang injunctions.”

If elected to City Council, the 35-year-old would prioritize taxpayer protection and accountability. He would work in particular to eliminate waste and abuse, and make city services run more efficiently.

Christine "Chris" Essel

Christine "Chris" Essel

Christine “Chris” Essel (Studio City)

Chris Essel is a 30-veteran of the film industry and a long-time community activist. During her tenure with the Paramount Corporation, Essel served 15 years on Film Commission (spending of nine those years as its chair) and was on the Film L.A. board since its inception.

“There is not a councilmember as qualified to speak on filming issues and bring production back home,” said Essel.

In addition to keeping the entertainment industry in L.A., Essel ‘s main concerns include major budget reform, making the city more business-friendly and improving the quality of constituent services.

The 58-year-old would like to see the city enact zero-based budgeting so that all programs must prove their value and a two-year budget cycle. She would also like to see progress on the city’s 12-2 permit streamlining program to make the permitting process easier for businesses.

“Everything I’ve done in my career has led me to this point,” Essel said. “I will use all the tools in my tool box to give the district what it needs.”

Tamar Galatzan

Tamar Galatzan

Tamar Galatzan (Studio City)

Tamar Galatzan lives, works and raises her children in Council District 2. She is a Neighborhood Prosecutor in Van Nuys and represents Valley schools on the L.A. Unified School Board.

“I want to take my experience as a neighborhood prosecutor and board member and upset the status quo,” Galatzan said.

Galatzan, 39, says that her professional experience allows her to know the issues of the district “backwards and forwards.” With the majority of her school board district overlapping Council District 2, she says that she spent more than two years talking to parents and students about the issues impacting the district.

To her, the most pressing challenges facing the candidate elected to fill the Council District 2 seat are the budget deficit, the need to collect on unpaid debt to the city, land use and planning development, and public safety.

“I’m running because City Hall doesn’t work for those of us who live and work in the valley,” Galatzan said. “If you’re not a high-powered special interest there is a feeling that you don’t matter.”

Paul Krekorian

Paul Krekorian

Paul Krekorian (Valley Glen)

Assemblymember Paul Krekorian, 49, currently represents California’s 43rd Assembly District, which includes about one-third of Council District 2. He possesses experience in education, with the business community and as a public servant.

“I think I have a unique experiences and skills that will benefit the city as it tries to get through a difficult time,” Krekorian said.

He has helped constituents get city problems solved, including pot holes fixed and graffiti removed through his Government at Your Doorstep program.

Krekorian’s family has lived in the Valley since the 1930s, which he says helps him understand the history and specific needs of the Valley communities.

“We need leadership that is more concerned about what people in the Valley think,” Krekorian said.

His top priorities if elected to City Council are, ensuring public safety, creating and preserving good jobs, and preserving the character of our neighborhoods. To Krekorian, that means understanding the needs of the different communities and ensuring that development is meeting those needs.

Michael McCue

Michael McCue

Michael McCue (Studio City)

Michael McCue considers his first major political accomplishment to be successfully advocating for an increase to the renters relocation fund payments. McCue and other housing advocates were able to raise the payment from $3,300 to $9,200 for most renters forced to move due to condo conversions and over $17,000 for seniors and the handicapped.

“Council District 2 desperately needs a true citizen representative who knows what the community has faced with overdevelopment and an unresponsive City Council,” McCue said.

McCue feels that the city has a culture of corruption and wants to see a level playing field for all candidates created through clean-money elections.

“Clean-money elections enable grass roots candidates like myself to receive public funding that allow us to match the buying power of the big candidates,” McCue said.

In addition to clean-money elections, McCue wants to empower Neighborhood Councils so that they will one day be able to introduce legislation, and increase what he calls ecological wisdom. This means improving water and air quality in the city and taking other measures to improve the overall health of the environment.

David "Zuma  Dogg"

David "Zuma Dogg" Saltsburg

David “Zuma Dogg” Saltsburg (no address given)

David Saltsburg (better known as Zuma Dogg) is a self-proclaimed gadfly. After a new city ordinance (that was later proven to be unconstitutional) shut down his street vendor business in Venice  three years ago, Zuma Dogg became a fixture at City Hall. Since then, he immersed himself in the Los Angeles City Council, attending every meeting for an entire year.

“If I’m out there pushing the envelope it may become fashionable,” Saltsburg said.

Zuma Dogg is concerned about the city’s finances, how lost pension funds will be recovered, water and water rates, traffic, land use, education and maintaining adequate public safety services.

A well-known face in city politics due to his frequent appearances at L.A. City Council meetings, Zuma Dogg has supporters all across the city who bring community problems to his attention.

“The great thing about my candidacy is that you have a guy that is very entertaining and the media loves to cover me,” Saltsburg said. “At the same time I’ve become very serious about the issues.”

Pete Sanchez

Pete Sanchez

Pete Sanchez (Valley Village)

Pete Sanchez, 46, helped form Neighborhood Council Valley Village and has served as the group’s president. He thinks this race for the open Council District 2 seat provides a perfect opportunity for a grass roots, community activist to try for the post.

“It’s time for someone a little different,” Sanchez said. “Time for someone more community-minded to run.”

The top three priorities that Sanchez would focus on if elected to City Council are, fixing the city’s financial issues (which includes managing the budget and unfunded pensions), ensuring responsible land use and development, and keeping the entertainment industry in Los Angeles.

“My goal as a city councilmember would be to find sound financial measures that would protect the character of our neighborhood and district,” Sanchez said.

He thinks that it is important to serve as the community’s voice rather than that of a politician.

“I think I’m bright enough, reasonable enough and logical enough to tackle a job like this,” Sanchez said.

Frank Sheftel

Frank Sheftel

Frank Sheftel (North Hollywood)

Frank Sheftel got involved in Los Angeles politics during the Valley’s secession movement by running in the secession election.

“The campaign brought a lot of awareness about the taxes we pay and the services we get,” Sheftel said.

The 48-year-old owner of The Candy Factory in Valley Village has experience with the city as a business owner, landlord of rental properties and neighborhood council member. He is also a product of the San Fernando Valley and the second council district in particular.

“What better PR could you have than a councilman who went to the schools he represents,” Sheftel said.

If elected to represent Council District 2, Sheftel would focus on improving public school education (especially managing what he calls a crisis with L.A. Unified School District), balancing the city’s budget and making sure that the communities can support proposed development.

Sheftel would also like to see the city do more to entice businesses to come to L.A. and keep them in the city.

“As a small businessman I have witnessed that we are not business-friendly at all in the city,” Sheftel said. ” We need to go beyond enterprise zones to attract businesses to the city.”


Council District 2 Candidate Forums

Tuesday, August 18: Valley Glen Neighborhood Association, Laurel Grove Neighborhood Association (North Hollywood), Valley Village Homeowners Association “Meet and Greet” will be at 6:30 p.m. Forum will start at 7:00 p.m. Laurel Hall School – Parish Hall, 11909 Oxnard St. North Hollywood. www.valleyglen.org

Wednesday, August 19: Sherman Oaks Homeowners Association at Notre Dame High School 13645 Riverside Dr. Sherman Oaks “Meet & Greet”  6:15pm, Forum 7 p.m.  www.soha.info

Friday, August 21: The Valley Industry & Commerce Association (VICA) 7:45-10am, at the Sportsmen’s Lodge, 10700 Ventura Blvd., Studio City. Free for VICA Circle of Influence Members, others pay $20. For more info or to RSVP call (818) 817-0545. www.vica.com

Wednesday, August 26:  Neighborhood Council Valley Village 7 p.m. at Colfax Charter Elementary 11724 Addison St North Hollywood www.myvalleyvillage.com

Monday, September 14: Sherman Oaks Neighborhood Council at Sherman Oaks Elementary School, Auditorium at 6:30 p.m. Info:  jbbarad@roadrunner.com  www.shermanoaksnc.org

Wednesday, September 16: Sherman Oaks Homeowners Association Debate between the candidates starting at 7:15pm.  Notre Dame High School 13645 Riverside Dr. Sherman Oaks www.soha.info

Angela Fentiman is a freelance writer and public relations professional who has represented clients across all sectors—nonprofit, government and business. She has a master’s degree in public administration (MPA) and a B.A. in communication. Angela can be contacted at angela.fentiman@gmail.com.

About Karen Young

Karen Young is the founder of My Daily Find.