It’s hard to know where the heart of a municipal district is when its shape is reminiscent of a brass knuckles.
That’s what crossed my mind as I criss-crossed District 6, the entirety of San Fernando Valley neighborhoods once dominated by Nury Martinez before his career imploded due to the racist things that she said about blacks and Oaxacans on a leaked recording. On April 4, voters will choose her replacement from a field of seven candidates for the first time.
The list offers voters a Choose Your Own Adventure that reflects much of District 6’s dizzying diversity. Do they want another Mexican American to represent them in the form of Marisa Alcaraz, Imelda Padilla or Marco Santana? ? A Central American in Douglas Sierra? Do they want to leave with an immigrant, Rose Grigoryan, of Armenian origin? A black woman as Antoinette Scully? Choosing Isaac Kim to sit alongside two other Asian Americans, John Lee and Nithya Raman, and represent the valley?
For memory :
10:55 a.m. March 12, 2023An earlier version of this column stated that if Isaac Kim won the District 6 seat, he would join John Lee as Asian Americans representing the San Fernando Valley. Board member Nithya Raman is Asian American and also represents parts of the Valley.
They have all participated in in-person and online forums in an attempt to woo voters. But Sierra, Grigoryan, Scully and Kim lag far behind in fundraising compared to Alcaraz, Padilla and Santana, who can each tap into different factions of LA’s political class.
Alcaraz is deputy chief of staff to South LA board member Curren Price; Padilla is chair of the board of the LA Valley College Foundation and a former organizer of Pacoima Beautiful, the community group where Martinez once served as executive director and which Padilla’s sister now leads. Santana was a former staffer of two Valley bigwigs, former state senator Bob Hertzberg and current Rep. Tony Cárdenas — though the latter recently endorsed Padilla.
If no one wins a majority of the votes cast, the top two will advance to a runoff in June. With so many competing yet interwoven narratives, there was no way I could find a place that encompassed all of the aspiring council members… or could I?
I was greeted by an Arco dispensary and station at the eastern entrance to District 6 at Exit 5 Freeway North Roscoe Boulevard in Sun Valley. I passed modest single-family homes and industrial sections of the blue-collar Latino enclave as I made my way to the residential friendliness of Arleta. Panorama City was a whirlwind of apartments, malls, and malls. Van Nuys was more working-class, while Lake Balboa was the only neighborhood where I felt remnants of the Valley’s history as the domain of white Los Angeles suburbanites.
Everywhere I’ve been, I’ve seen the best of Los Angeles – and the challenges for whoever will eventually represent District 6.
There was a cornucopia of grocery stores and ethnic restaurants, but not enough parks. I spotted Van Nuys airport, which many locals want to close because of its noise and air pollution. I took a moment to offer a prayer at Kaiser Permanente in Panorama City where my father went to claim the body of his cousin, who died of COVID-19 in 2020. I didn’t notice any campaign signs among the dozens of posters on lampposts with phone numbers in case you want to sell your car or house.
My big tour ended in North Hills where Roscoe Boulevard meets the 405 Freeway. It’s a straight shot from here east and south through most of District 6. Walking distance is find job creators such as Van Nuys Airport, the Anheuser-Busch brewery and the Galpin car dealership empire.
A small homeless encampment stood on the sidewalk on the south side of Roscoe. There was also something I didn’t expect: bears.
The “Bear Facts/Los Osos” mural was painted in 1999 on both sides of the 405 underpass by students from nearby James Monroe High School. It wasn’t the most inspiring thing I’ve seen, and it was partly obscured by the camp tents, but I smiled. The bears slept. They hunted salmon. They frolicked in the snow, roamed the meadows, stood in the woods.
I’m no expert on bears outside of Yogi and Care, but they looked like grizzlies to me. That’s when I thought of former Council member Martinez.
Before her downfall, she molded herself as the mama bear of the eastern San Fernando Valley — a pragmatic native committed to raising a community she felt the rest of Los Angeles ignored and belittled. The daughter of Mexican immigrants attended area schools from kindergarten to Cal State Northridge and then rose from activist to bare-knuckle politician.
Her trajectory has been quick and impressive: mayor of the city of San Fernando, administrator of the Los Angeles Unified School District, then victory in the 2013 special election to become a member of the District 6 council. In 2020, she became the first Latina to serve as President of the City Council.
Although a Democrat, Martinez was not afraid to push back against progressives who she believed were trying to impose their values on her valley. When homeless advocates decried her 2021 vote to ban camping near schools as cruel, she came back saying District 6 residents couldn’t show up at council meetings to show their support because that they were working.
“Latinos are frustrated; they are tired,” Martinez told my colleague Benjamin Oreskes last fall. “They don’t want to deal with these encampments anymore.”
It was the Martinez on display during the infamous strip leak — always for his constituents and Latino political power, always against anyone or anything that stood in his way, always his own worst enemy.
His anti-black barbs against rivals ranging from former LA board member Mike Bonin to LA County Dist. Atti. George Gascón came in during a conversation with former council member Gil Cedillo, former Los Angeles County Federation of Labor president Ron Herrera and current council member Kevin de León. In the secretly taped conversation, each of them alleged a plot that outsiders were trying to reduce Latino political power through redistricting.
At one point, Martinez complained about how the proposed cards would drive Van Nuys Airport and the Anheuser-Busch Brewery away from her district.
“What kind of neighborhoods are you trying to create? she complained. “Because you are taking away our assets. You’re just going to create poor Latino neighborhoods with nothing? »
In the end, these neighborhood institutions remained.
If Martinez had shown humility, she could have made her way to higher political office. Instead, like the California grizzlies before me on Roscoe Boulevard, his career died out.
All District 6 hopefuls should make a pilgrimage to the mural. They should ask people in the camp what help they need. They should figure out how to cool off the bears, which – no pun intended – are showing signs of extinction.
Then they should remember Martinez, like me. All of his tough talk about homelessness has done little to solve the problem. His Latino-first politics also died out in a city council where alliances are formed by class, not race, like never before.
And every night until election day, council candidates are to say the following prayer, keeping Martinez and the mural in mind:
There but for the grace of God we go.