• What Does it Take to Be an Effective Public Executive?

Southern California Latino Policy Center

Latinos have arrived as a political force in California. But it is imperative we translate growing power at the ballot box towards strengthening the Latino “agenda.”

  • Improving educational outcomes for students
  • Addressing critical health issues
  • Jobs and local economic development


We are school board members, city council members, elected city clerks and attorneys, community college trustees and other local Latino elected officials.

We represent a new effort by local policymakers towards greater accountability and a commitment to a higher standard of ethics and transparency.

California’s economic future is relying in large measure on the economic stability and success of our state’s 14 million Latinos. The development of a strong Latino middle-class is vital to California’s economic stability.  This provides an excellent opportunity for us to collaborate in the development of more effective regional solutions.


The Southern California Latino Policy Center is a non-partisan, policy education and research organization created to provide local Latino elected officials from LA County, Orange County and the Inland Empire with resources, research and professional development opportunities designed to help those officials create the most effective and impactful policies for Latino families and all communities.

From the Editor

What Does it Mean to be an Ethical Leader?

By: Victor Abalos

imgresCalifornia headlines the past few weeks have featured a number of Latino political figures getting the kind of attention elected officials try very hard to avoid.

They probably learned the hard way there is such as a thing as “bad” publicity and after reading about their specific situations, it seemed there were several opportunities along the way they could have avoided ending up fodder for the news cycle.

Those missed opportunities are generating conversations among local elected officials about ethics.

imagesSome of these elected officials told me they’ve started asking themselves what they would have done in place of some of their less fortunate colleagues.  We’re not talking about those elected officials who were caught actually committing crimes – we’re talking about the ones who were “tripped up” by making poor decisions when faced with ethical considerations.

It reminded me of a workshop we organized for a group of policymakers from this region a couple of years ago.

Our friends at the Institute for Local Government sent a retired city attorney who gave the group a great little presentation on ethics. But when we went around the room getting feedback one thing became clear: The group had a hard time distinguishing between “what is legal” and “what is ethical.”

The consensus in the room seemed to be that as elected officials, as long as they weren’t breaking any laws or regulations, they could do whatever they needed to get things done.

All of this begs the question: What does it mean to be an Ethical Leader?

It presupposes, of course, that our leaders want to be ethical and based on the many local Latino elected officials we know and have worked with, I believe that to be true.

At the Southern California Latino Policy Center we believe ethical leadership is necessary. It’s why we have a blog dedicated to Ethics in our newsletter every month. Our policymakers must lead by example. At a time when so many resources are being focused on getting Latinos to the polls, reading another story about less-than-exceptional behavior by an elected official doesn’t help that cause.

So what is ethical leadership?

The ILG’s website under “Ethics and Transparency” sums it up with a couple of questions:

“…how does the conscientious public servant sort through competing considerations and determine ‘the right thing to do?’ When it comes to serving the public, how does one put one’s values into practice?”

Starting this week we will utilize social media to pose a series of questions – aimed specifically at Latino policymakers but encouraging others to join in the conversation. We hope our questions stimulate discussion. And perhaps more importantly, greater clarity that there is indeed a considerable difference between “what is legal” and “what is ethical.”


Ethical leaders make ethics a clear and consistent part of their agendas, set standards, model appropriate behavior, and hold everyone accountable
(From a non-profit housed at NYU Stern’s Business and Society Program)

Want Different Results? Change Your Definition of Leadership
(Excellent HuffPost article by Kathleen Shafer)

The Personal Lives of Public Officials
(Markkula Center for Applied Ethics at Santa Clara University)

Victor Abalos: Editor's Blog

Victor Abalos is Executive Director of the Southern California Latino Policy Center and Editor of the Latino Policy Connection.



What Does it Take to be an Effective Public Executive?

By Amber Nelson

South Gate City Mgr. Mike Flad addresses 2015 Latino Policy Forum panel.

Whether as school district superintendents, city managers or administrators, or college presidents; executives in public service have a unique set of responsibilities and challenges that merge many of the demands of executives in the private sector with those of public servants.

Like an executive in a corporate setting, those in public service are often responsible for managing the major business functions of an organization such as human resources, finances and long-range planning. They lead staff in implementing strategic processes and keep their key stakeholders informed. But, unlike those in private life, every decision, appointment, and discussion a public executive has is exposed to public oversight.

Coachella Valley Unified SD Superintendent Dr. Darryl Adams, (center), speaks at 2015 Latino Policy Forum.

Not all those with excellent executive skills will thrive amid the special circumstances of a public position. Several Southern California leaders contacted by the Latino Policy Connection weighed in with their insights on what makes a great public executive.

As both a retired city manager and former president of the International City/County Management Association, Dave Mora has first-hand experience in the role of a public executive. Transparency is paramount for success as a public executive, he says.

Dave Mora Headshot

All managers have to have ethical standards consistent with their responsibilities.

Dave Mora


“Ninety-nine percent of the business conducted by a city manager is done in public,” he explains. This impacts the pace of business and sometimes frustrates those with a more corporate mindset. Motivation can also be a major factor in success as a public executive. According to Mora, it has to come from a place of wanting to serve. “You’ve got to have a feel for the quality of life and the needs of the community,” he says.

El Monte City Councilmember Victoria Martinez emphasizes character when it comes to excellent public executives.

Victoria Martinez Headshot Two“I know a great executive is someone who wants to be a great servant for the community,” she says. That dedication to service is elemental in identifying exemplary public executives. She points to the numerous audiences an executive must serve.

In El Monte, there is a five-member council, each with his or her own personalities and special areas of interest. Add to that the staff an executive must lead and their accountability to their community and you end up with a lot of hats to wear and a lot of agendas to navigate.

Councilmember Martinez believes “a chameleon ability to adjust to each individual personality,” will contribute to a public executive’s success. The commitment and dedication required of a great public executive necessitates a great deal of stamina. Public service is “like running a marathon” she says. “You’ve got to keep going until you hit that finish line.”

Maria Ott SpeakingFor Maria Ott, an executive in residence at USC Rossier School of Education who leads The Urban Superintendent Academy, the key components of a great public executive include outstanding communication, a clear vision and an ability to deal with and recover from adversity. Communication skills contribute to an “ability to collaborate and build consensus” and support navigating “a complex environment,” she explains. Optimism and commitment go a long way toward implementing a strong vision and dealing with delays, disappointments and difficulties so often a part of work in pubic life.

As the Mayor Pro Tem in Downey, Fernando Vasquez has had ample experience working with public executives such as city managers. He believes a big part of the job is developing a strong staff that understands their mission is to implement the policies of the elected officials. “You’re only as good as your team,” he says. Building a winning team means staff diversity. 2015 Fernando Vasquez headshot color“It’s just the right thing to do,” he explains, pointing to the impact varying life experiences and perspectives can bring to a staff.

Mayor Vasquez also underscores the importance of realistically managing expectations. Whether a public executive is delivering updates on staffing to the elected officials or engaging with residents, taking a strategic approach to communication can set up appropriate expectations and pave a smooth path forward. No elected official wants to “be reading about something for the first time on the front page of the paper,” he says.

Maintaining an open mind to the opinions and expertise of others and continually learning are two of the most important attributes of a public executive according to Yolanda Rodriguez-Peña, President of the Azusa Unified School District Board. IMG_7831

“Really look to and trust those who are experts in their fields,” she suggests. Public executives need to “stay in touch with those they serve” while reaching out to get the insights and opinions of others. Rodriguez-Pena also stresses the importance of humility when serving in a public capacity.

“You need to be humble, you need to remember where you came from,” she says.



California School Board Association (CSBA)
Key Points to Superintendent Evaluation
Sample Superintendent Evaluation Form

League of CA Cities
Next Generation Manager: What Every City Council Member Should Know
City Manager Evaluation (Template)

Institute for Local Government (ILG)
Maximizing the Success of Board/Chief Executive Relations


Amber lowres 1

Amber Nelson is a writer and strategic communications expert. As the president of Lingo Consulting, Inc., she works with individuals and organizations to clarify the complex and create meaning that makes a difference.
(818) 653-0401


Maywood’s Gamble

It was either a brilliant move or a decision made in desperation, but a council majority of the City of Maywood recently hired a new city administrator with no previous local government experience.  The decision was quickly criticized and resulted in less-than positive news coverage.

But when we sat down to talk with Reuben Martinez, a former aerospace executive, we discovered something we do not often encounter in ranks of municipal executives: boundless enthusiasm. Despite the challenges of a state audit and other fiscal problems in Maywood, Martinez remains optimistic he can help guide the city through dark times.

We believe Maywood’s decision offers a unique opportunity to explore this month’s focus in the Latino Policy Connection:

What makes an effective public executive?

Front Line Leaders Academy Prepares Young People to Become Political Leaders

By Adriana Maestas

FONT LINE LEADERS ACADEMY-2015-16Every year the Young Elected Officials Network (YEO) and Young People For (YP4) offer the Front Line Leaders Academy (FLLA), a leadership development program that provides 20 talented young people who are interested in greater civic participation an opportunity to learn what it takes to run political campaigns or even run for office. This six-month fellowship has existed for the past ten years, but only offered in LA County for the past two years.

During the course of those six months, FLLA participants meet during four weekends and are trained on political skills useful in campaigns. The program starts with what it means to be a candidate and then works through the roles of campaign manager, finance director, communications director, and a field organizer.

“We look for applicants who are 18-35 and who have an interest in civic engagement,” said Karen Schillinger, Coordinator of Advanced Leadership for the Young Elected Officials Network. “We are particularly looking for young people who want to create a new political system that is more truly representative of the population and that gives a voice to marginalized communities.”

Two of the FLLA alumni shared their experiences with the program with the Latino Policy Connection.

AlcanTarElizabeth Alcantar is a 23-year-old recent graduate of California State University, Long Beach. She had been working for Los Angeles County Supervisor Hilda Solis before as a field deputy when she entered the FLLA program in the fall. She just completed the program this spring.

“I am a field rep in an area where I have lived my whole life. My family and friends are here, and working in this area is important for me. My mom and my neighbors can go to the events that I help organize, and so working in this area and for the Supervisor is very personal for me,” said Alcantar, a resident of Cudahy.

Alcantar said that the FLLA program was instrumental to her understanding how to approach her field assignment for Supervisor Solis.

ALCANTAR and Solis-2Alcantar says an incident involving her father before she started working for Solis, helped her understand the impact a policymaker can have on people’s lives. She says her father was involved in a wage theft claim with his employer – a claim the family struggled to resolve. When Supervisor Solis was serving as the Secretary of Labor in President Obama’s first term, wage theft was a critical issue Solis confronted. Alcantar says because of that, her father eventually received payment for his labor.

“I like to share this story about my boss and my father’s work because it shows how impactful union members can be when they have advocates like Supervisor Solis,” Alcantar said.

MARALMaral Karaccusian, a 34-year old Los Angeles area native, is currently the district director for Congresswoman Karen Bass. She was in her current position when she entered the FLLA program.

“The FLLA program was a good six month process where you are meeting people who you know will be future elected officials. So part of being in this program was networking and learning the language of politics. This was key for me because by training, I’m a social worker, so I wasn’t completely fluent in the language of politics,” Karaccusian explained.

Karaccusian says she transitioned into politics from being a social worker so she could advocate on behalf of children in the foster care system. She witnessed up close how public policy impacts children and decided that she would like to have a greater impact on a macro level.

Karaccusian said that Congresswoman Bass has always been a champion for foster youth, so she found a mentor. She started working for the Congresswoman as a case manager and was promoted to deputy district director and then district director over the course of three and a half years.

“I have not ruled out running for office, but I want to do the work in the community and have the community get to know me for my work before throwing myself out there,” Karaccusian said.

To learn more about the program, visit http://youngpeoplefor.org/.

Adriana 0814Adriana Maestas is a Southern California based writer and educator.


Policymaker Profile: Norma Edith García – Rio Hondo College Trustee

garcia-2Norma Edith García was re-elected to the Rio Hondo College Board of Trustees in November, 2013. She represents Trustee Area 1 which includes the City of El Monte.
García attended Citrus Community College, transferred and graduated from UCLA, earning a B.A. in Political Science and M.A. in Urban Planning. She served as the Community and Environmental Deputy to former Los Angeles County Board of Supervisor Gloria Molina.
García is an ardent believer of building better communities, and works to achieve this through her active participation in numerous civic and professional organizations. García currently serves as the Chair of the California Community Foundation’s ‘Community Building Initiative’, which is a 10-year effort to revitalize the community by engaging residents and developing their leadership, and improving the physical environment and social services. Ms. Garcia is also the Board Chair of the El Monte Promise Foundation.
She presently serves as the Deputy Director of the Planning and Development Agency for Los Angeles County Parks and Recreation.
García is a life-long resident of the beautiful community of El Monte.

Policymaker Profile: Dr. Yxstian Gutierrez – Mayor of Moreno Valley

gutierrez-3Mayor Dr. Yxstian Gutierrez began his tenure on the Moreno Valley City council in September 2013. He’s lived in Moreno Valley for more than 20 years, and received his Associate Degree at Moreno Valley College, his Bachelor’s Degree from California Baptist University, a Master’s from American InterContinental University and his Doctoral Degree from Northcentral University. Currently, Mayor Gutierrez is a 3rd and 4th grade special education teacher for the Moreno Valley Unified School District. Prior to joining city council he owned Berrybean Café. He also served as a member of the Moreno Valley Chamber of Commerce and the Moreno Valley Hispanic Chamber of Commerce. Mayor Dr. Gutierrez is Moreno Valley’s youngest mayor.

As an elected official you must balance your job, your duties as an elected official and family obligations, not to mention trying to find personal time for yourself. How do you balance all these duties and obligations? Is there a secret to doing this well you can share?

I calendar a lot of events. So everything is based on my calendar, which keeps me organized. I always try to rest on Sundays and go to church. I rely on my spiritual side to help build me up as well and I try to exercise regularly. I exercise three or four times a week. I think it helps me from becoming tired or stressed out. I also utilize the skill of ‘delegation.’ I delegate tasks to staff members and that helps to maintain balance in my life. I get better at it the longer I’m in the position.

Who was your political mentor—someone who guided and supported you and prepared you for public service? Name the person—your campaign manager, your spouse, parent, another political candidate. What kind of advice did they give you that was the most important/useful to you? What did they teach you?

Victoria Bacca, who served as city council member (of Moreno Valley). Actually I worked on her campaign prior to being on the city council myself. She served as a mentor for 3 years and she helped me to get on the city council. She warned me about politics and taught me perseverance and to just keep going, even when people knock you down. She also taught me I’m not always going to make everybody happy. There are people who don’t like me, but they’ve never met me before. She taught me to persevere and keep working in a positive direction.

What was the one thing no one told you about being an elected official that you wish you’d known before you were elected?

Gutierrez-1No one told me about the amount of public scrutiny, how people want access to my everyday calendar. As well as people making public records requests for my e-mails. I never knew anything about that until I got in office. I have nothing to hide. (Someone) wants to see my e-mails and my calendars about ever other week. I didn’t know this was going to happen.

Describe a project you spearheaded or supported that you’re proud of. Why was it successful and what did you learn from it that helped you be a better policymaker?

I’ve really extremely proud of “Hire MoVal,” which is a local jobs program. It’s one of a kind. It’s a game changer. I authored and presented it to city council. It encourages local businesses to hire Moreno Valley residences. Pasadena has a similar program as well as San Francisco, but our program provides a utility discount to businesses that hire Moreno Valley residents. When a business hires 20 percent of their workforce from Moreno Valley they receive a 22 percent discount on their utility bill. If they hire 40 percent (workforce) they receive an additional 2 percent on top of the 22 percent. The program has attracted Amazon who has hired 80 percent of their workers from Moreno Valley. We also won an award for Hire Moval from the Inland Empire Economic Council.

The program is such a success because 80 percent of our residents commute outside of the city for work. Now they are closer to home and it allows them to spend more time with their families and it’s reduced the congestion on the freeway.

gutierrez-2While creating programs like Hire Moval, I learned the art of compromise. To get things done you have to learn to compromise. Which is a great skill to have. When you compromise and treat your staff and employees right they work hard to get the job done in a positive way.

What was the most memorable day of your life?

Getting elected to city council in 2014 was amazing. My parents helped out so much with the campaign. They were really hands on and put in so many hours. A lot of people said I was too young. They didn’t think I could win.

Who will be the next President of the U.S? Who should be the next President?

I think Hillary Clinton will more than likely win. She is getting a lot of support from her party, but then she is also getting support from the other party. There are a lot of people flocking to her support. Hillary has the temperament and the leadership capacity to lead our country.

Interviewed by freelance writer/producer Octavia McClain.

The Ethics Advisor

Thirteen Things You Need to Know About Campaign Restrictions

Ya no aguanto.
Can we POSSIBLY get away from campaigning and politics for a little while?
Sorry folks, pero, no. Puntada.

With the 2016 Presidential election campaign in full swing, and the constant barrage of tweets, posts, headline stories, evening news specials, and Goodness-knows-how-else we all receive our daily [over]dose of la política, there really is no way to escape this year.

But don’t let all the noise fool you. Local elections and campaigns are likewise about to heat up now that filing deadlines for many local races have come and gone. Here are the top 13 things to remember when embarking on local elections and campaigning.

  1. First, remember the rules apply to almost anyone running and anyone supporting someone running for office in California. This means the candidate her- or himself, a campaign committee, a general purpose committee, a political party committee, a slate mailer organization, a major donor, or any other person or entity making independent expenditures on behalf of a candidate or ballot measure.
  1. By “the rules,” we mean the Political Reform Act, which generally requires candidates and committees to file campaign statements by specific deadlines AND any local rules or ordinances that your local jurisdiction might have adopted. Click here to see if your local agency has a special campaign ordinance.
  1. Those statements generally will include contributions and expenditures made on behalf of the candidate or ballot measure.
  1. What makes a “committee”? There are 3 ways a person or entity becomes a committee:

– Receive contributions of $2,000 or more per year for political purposes (Recipient Committee); includes candidate controlled committees; committees primarily formed to support or oppose candidates or ballot measures; political party committees; and other general purpose committees.

– Make at least $1,000 worth of independent expenditures per year (NOT in consultation, cooperation or coordination with a candidate) on behalf of a candidate or ballot measure (Independent Expenditure Committee).

– Make at least $10,000 worth of contributions per year to or at the request of a candidate or ballot measure proponent (Major Donor Committee); can be a business, individual, or a multi-purpose organization (including a nonprofit organization).

  1. Paperwork and deadlines matter. A cursory Google search over the past couple of months will reveal examples of candidates who have faced intense public scrutiny and harsh penalties from the FPPC for missing deadlines and/or failing to properly disclose contributions and expenditures. The FPPC warns that “missing a filing deadline can have serious consequences ranging from monetary penalties, failure to be listed on the ballot, or FPPC enforcement action.”
  1. Filing deadlines vary, and are set forth regularly by the FPPC on its website. For example, candidates running for local office on the November 8, 2016 presidential election ballot must file their First Pre-Election Form 460 (if you have a controlled committee and plan to receive and/or spend more than $2,000 during the calendar year) or 470 (if you don’t have a controlled committee and don’t plan to receive or spend more than $2,000 during the calendar year) no later than September 29, 2016. The Second Pre-Election statement must be filed no later than October 27, 2016.
  1. Candidates for local office typically file with their local elections official, usually the City Clerk for municipal-run elections or the County Registrar of Voters for county-run elections.
  1. While the State has specific contribution limits for various State offices, there is no generally-applicable state law that imposes campaign contribution limits on local offices. Instead, many local jurisdictions have adopted their own contribution and/or expenditure limits.
  1. You must reveal the true source of any contribution of $100 or more (in the aggregate over a calendar year) on your Form 460. If a contribution is received through an intermediary, both the intermediary and the true source of the contribution must be identified. Failure to disclose the true source of a contribution is considered campaign money laundering, and a serious violation of law. For example, it is illegal for an employer to “reimburse” an employee for a political contribution made in the employee’s name, as the employer would be considered the “true source” of the contribution.
  1. Anonymous contributions of $100 or more are prohibited. Additionally, neither a committee nor a candidate may accept cash contributions of $100 or more.
  1. Do not ask individual employees of your agency for political contributions. Government Code section 3205 prohibits a local candidate from knowingly, directly or indirectly, soliciting a political contribution from any employee of his or her agency.
  1. Do not use public funds or public resources for your campaign. This means not only agency moneys, but also agency offices, telephones, computers, copiers and other equipment and staff time.
  1. You’re not in this alone.  There are many resources available to assist you in complying with campaign finance laws and regulations. The FPPC has an online Toolkit and Campaign Disclosure Manual that answer many questions and the Institute for Local Government offers valuable resources “to help you run a clean and ethical campaign.”

Good luck on the campaign trail!

Ruben Duran: The Ethics AdvisorRuben Duran
Follow me on Twitter @BBKRubenDuran
(213) 787-2569

Ruben Duran is a partner in Best Best & Krieger LLP’s Los Angeles office. He has counseled elected officials for nearly 17 years and offers training throughout California on good governance and ethics. A former city attorney, he is a regular speaker for the California Institute for Local Government and serves as the general counsel to the Oxnard Harbor District, which owns and operates the commercial Port of Hueneme.





California’s Proposition 56 Will Raise Tobacco Tax to Save Lives, Protect Children in Latino Communities and Across the State

By:  Hector Flores, MD

17000 Kids InfographicIn November, Californians will have a vital opportunity to save lives and to stand up to tobacco companies that have relentlessly targeted young people and ethnic minorities by approving Proposition 56. The initiative will raise the tax on tobacco products, which take a deadly, costly toll on Latinos in California.

Smoking is the number one cause of preventable death among Latinos. At 15.5 percent, Latino men have one of the highest smoking rates among all ethnic groups. Low-income Latinos smoke at especially high rates.

Prop 56 works like a user fee – adding a $2 per pack tax on cigarettes with an equivalent increase on other tobacco products, including e-cigarettes containing nicotine. These tax dollars will be used to pay for treatment of tobacco-related diseases and for research designed to improve tobacco use prevention and tobacco cessation.

Taxing tobacco is proven to prevent would-be smokers – especially youth – from ever starting, and studies have found that Latinos of all age groups are more likely than other ethnic groups to quit smoking or cut back because of tobacco taxes. In every single state that has significantly raised its cigarette tax rate, smoking rates have gone down sharply.

The American Cancer Society Cancer Action Network, American Lung Association in California and American Heart Association are sponsoring Prop 56, because tobacco hurts all Californians – even those who don’t smoke.

Lung cancer is the leading cause of cancer death among Hispanic men and the second leading cause among Hispanic women. All told, tobacco kills 40,000 Californians annually, more than guns, car accidents, HIV, alcohol, and illegal drugs combined. And Californians spend $3.5 billion dollars each year treating cancer and other tobacco-related diseases through Medi-Cal.

Only those who use tobacco products will pay this simple user fee. The majority of funds (estimated up to $1 billion annually with an additional $1 billion in Federal matching funds) generated by this initiative will go to pay for health care through Medi-Cal. About half of the 13 million Californians enrolled in Medi-Cal are Latino. Additional funds will go to reduce tobacco-related health disparities by training physicians in medically underserved areas, improving access to dental care, and funding tobacco prevention programs among kids.

Ninety percent of smokers start as teens, and tobacco companies are targeting Latino youth with high densities of tobacco advertising and discount tobacco retailers in Latino neighborhoods. The California Medical Association reports that flavored tobacco products are creating a dangerous new public health threat, particularly to youth and people of color.

In fact, youth-themed, candy-flavored electronic cigarettes containing nicotine are allowing a new generation of young consumers to get hooked on smoking. Teen use of e-cigarettes tripled in just one year. Kids who smoke e-cigarettes are twice as likely to start smoking traditional cigarettes. This year alone, an estimated 16,800 California youth will start smoking with Hispanic youth having the second-highest smoking rate of any ethnic group. One-third of those kids will eventually die from tobacco-related diseases.

No matter how you package it, smoking kills and taxing tobacco saves lives. Prop 56 is an important opportunity to safeguard Latino children and improve California’s communities, economy and healthcare system. Learn more at YesOn56.org.

Twitter: @YesOn56
Facebook: @YesOn56
Instagram: @YesOn56

Flores Hector March 2011Hector Flores, MD, is Co-Director of the White Memorial Medical Center (WMMC) Family Medicine Residency Program which is widely recognized for training culturally competent physicians and placing them in medically underserved areas. He is also a member of the Los Angeles County Medical Association (LACMA) Board of Directors.


From the Editor

Affordable Housing: Our Ticket to the American Dream

By: Victor Abalos

C3X_7257There is no more effective path to the middle class than buying a house. It has always been and continues to be our ticket to the “American Dream.”

Owning a home provides our families with financial stability. It ensures our children will probably go to college if they want. Families that own their homes are healthier. They’re more engaged with their communities especially their children’s schools. The benefits go on and on.

That’s why the housing market bust of 2005 was such a seminal event for the lives of tens of thousands of Latinos in this region. We lost our homes or lost our chance to buy one. We became renters again and too many of us have stayed there – our numbers increasing disproportionately every year.

At the same time the availability of affordable housing has also decreased every year while the number of renters keeps increasing. Housing prices are back on the rise. Many are saying a crisis is ahead. The thousands of families that are homeless or hovering near it in this area will tell you we’re already there.

So what can you do as a local policymaker?

C3X_7270This month in the Latino Policy Connection we examine the ways local elected officials, especially those in city government, can work to create or provide affordable housing – not next year or soon – but now. And we take a look at a specific project in El Monte that provides a case study for other cities.

But this isn’t just a housing issue or a problem for cities.

One medium-sized school district I know of in this region has more than 500 families officially categorized as homeless. You know that impacts those children in the classroom. School board members can and should work with their city counterparts towards solutions. Almost every housing expert says regional solutions have the best chance of working.

I was tempted to Google a bunch of quotes about how important it is for us to work together and how leadership is about taking responsibility and then taking action. I know many others have made this argument far more eloquently than I can. Instead I’ll leave you with a version of a line Marco Firebaugh used to share with his staff, thanks to those who knew him well who shared it with me.

Let’s get “it” done.

Victor Abalos: Editor's Blog

Victor Abalos is Executive Director of the Southern California Latino Policy Center and Editor of the Latino Policy Connection.


Affordable Housing: Coming to Grips with a Crisis

By: Abelardo de la Peña, Jr.

C3X_7295Housing – single-family homes, apartments, condos, and townhouses – is where individuals and families spend the most of their time. Yet, for many, the challenge of acquiring, maintaining and keeping a home of their own is becoming more and more precarious. While home ownership is not a constitutional right, it is an economic, social and cultural imperative that is fast becoming unaffordable, and hence, inaccessible, to too many Southern California residents.

The causes of this fast-growing predicament are many, but can be summed up in a slogan made famous by NYC mayoral candidate Jimmy McMillan: “The rent is too damn high!” Additional factors include:

  • The lack of housing inventory – both rentals and for sale, due in no small part to the 2008 recession and high rate of foreclosures
  • Tighter financing for home purchasing
  • Wages insufficient to pay for adequate housing
  • Gentrification driving up rents and home prices

What happens when housing is not longer affordable?

C3X_7257In Southern California, we are seeing families being displaced from their traditional neighborhoods; multigenerational families living in the same household; a dramatic increase in families moving out of state, or at least away from this region; and worst, increased homelessness. Businesses, too, are leaving because the lack of affordable housing has affected their employees. That leads to a loss of revenue for city coffers which then impacts their ability to provide services for the residents that remain. The housing crisis hurts almost everyone.

Alan Greenlee, executive director for Southern California Association of Non-Profit Housing (SCANPH)  is on the front lines of the housing affordability crisis. SCANPH regularly conducts surveys, calculating the average rent of specific counties, along with the income needed to afford the monthly payment, based on the presumption that a household should pay no more that 30% of their household income on housing.

“The average rent in the city of Los Angeles is $2,100 a month. A household needs to make $86,000 a year to afford that. Everybody that makes less than that is living unaffordably.” – Alan Greenlee

AlanGreenleeSCANPH-2“Half million households in Los Angeles County,” says Greenlee, “are making less than that, greater than every man, woman and child in San Francisco.”

Other areas in the state are being impacted, as well. In San Bernardino County for example, where the cost of living is only slightly lower than LA County, one minimum wage worker supporting a family would have to work 96 hours per week to afford the average 2-bedroom, 1-bathroom rent, according to SCANPH. Less income is left for food, transportation, health expenses, and other needs.

“Your rent eats first,” proclaims Shamus Roller, executive director of Housing California, a nonprofit organization representing a coalition of advocates for affordable housing and homeless issues.  “With more people paying more than half their income on rent, it’s not a good outlook.”Shamus_Roller

Adding to the affordable housing woes is the simple fact that there is not enough housing to meet the needs of growing communities.

Long-time realtor, housing advocate and former Cudahy Council Member Josué Barrios states that to maintain an adequate housing market, 100,000 new dwellings must be built annually. “Here in California, we are only building half of that,” he says. “That alone drives up the price of property.”

“To me, affordable housing and the state of housing in California is one of our top social problems.” – Vanessa Delgado

Vanessa_Delgado_adjustedDelgado, a councilmember for the City of Montebello and a commercial developer, says “how can we create affordable housing if we don’t have the resources? The solution is not clear-cut.”

Indeed, the 2012 dismantling of redevelopment agencies, a powerful resource which local governments used to leverage property tax money to partner with developers to encourage development, was a major blow to municipalities big and small.

Of late, lawmakers have been making major moves to impact affordable housing and the issues surrounding it:

  • At the state level, Governor Jerry Brown set-aside $400 million for affordable homes (the By-Right housing proposal), which is contingent on state legislators reaching a deal on fixing the building approval process.
  • The state budget also authorized No Place Like Home, a $2 billion bond to construct permanent supportive housing for people who are chronically homeless and have a mental illness.
  • LA’s city council recently voted to add an ordinance — the Build Better LA initiative — to the November 2016 ballot that would increase the number of affordable units in future housing development projects.

But what can local municipalities that don’t have the resources the City of LA has do to help their residents deal with this crisis?

SCANPH’s Greenlee says one way city policymakers can generate more affordable housing is to create more space for housing.

“There are ways for local jurisdictions to create sensible land use policies, such as creating affordable housing near transit.” He also advocates for developers and lawmakers to work together. “Ask for zoning change, for example, to build more apartments, make land more valuable,” he says.

Roller, of Housing California, insists that policy makers at the local level have lots of tools to make it easier to build housing that is affordable in their community, such as waiving or lowering local construction fees and creating housing trust funds.

Higher wages for employees also makes housing more affordable, says Roller. “Lots of business groups are realizing that the housing situation is starting to be bad for business. They are paying higher wages, so that they could afford housing.”

Josue BarriorsRealtor Barrios, who does a robust business in Southeast Los Angeles, explains that municipal bureaucracies often keep people from getting into housing. “Lawmakers need to consider relaxing presale and height restrictions. Most cities have a two-story limit (on new or remodeling construction). I’m an advocate for building up. But it has to be a win-win, for residents, homeowners and developers.”

For lawmakers like Delgado, dealing with reduced budgets and immediate needs, local situations demand multi-pronged solutions. In Montebello, two properties purchased long ago by the city’s transit system, but no longer needed, are being turned into housing. Habitat for Humanity is also building affordable housing in Montebello through a partnership with the city.

Council Member and developer Vanessa Delgado says the key to combating the housing crisis is “creativity and collaboration.”

“In my experiences as a developer, there are lots of funding options, including public-private partnerships. As important, I encourage electeds to utilize the resources of organizations like Southern California Association of Governments, (SCAG), Gateway Cities Council of Governments, and of course, the Southern California Latino Policy Center.

Talk to other electeds and come up with solutions. If one city can do it, another city could do it for their constituents, too.”


Abelardo de la Peña is a freelance writer based in Los Angeles. He recently wrote “The Children of Prop 187” for the Latino Policy Connection.