Politics

Future uncertain for District 7 as city councilman says he'll exit in September

Felipe Fuentes at a Los Angeles City Council meeting on August 6th, 2013.
Felipe Fuentes at a Los Angeles City Council meeting on August 6th, 2013.
Mae Ryan/KPCC

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News that Los Angeles City Council member Felipe Fuentes will leave his seat next month to become a lobbyist left some constituents wondering what will come next.

Fuentes's district, in northeast San Fernando Valley, is home to about 250,000 people in communities like Sylmar, North Hills and Pacoima, where poverty, homelessness, and infrastructure top the list of concerns. 

Fuentes has said his last day will be Sept. 11. At that point, the city council will have three options on how to move forward, according to the city's Chief Legislative Analyst Sharon Tso.

One option is for Council President Herb Wesson to appoint a non-voting caretaker for the district. Examples of who this might be include someone from Fuentes' office or someone from the CLA's office, Tso said. 

The city council could also vote to select an appointed council member with voting powers for Fuentes' seat. 

The third option is to hold a special election. That could cost the city about $1.5 million, according to Sandra Mendoza, a public affairs administrator with the LA city clerk's office. A special election is seen as the least likely option, since an election for Fuentes' seat is already scheduled for March.

In phone interviews on Monday, several people involved in the district's neighborhood councils said they aren't sad to see Fuentes leave early.

"He has not been a good council member," said Krystee Clark, president of the Sunland-Tujunga neighborhood council. 

Fuentes sparred with neighborhood councils during his three years in office. Differing opinions on development projects and routes for a high speed rail plan riled many in the community.

Sylmar resident Tammy Flores, who is president of the neighborhood council there, said she'd tried at least five times to schedule a meeting with Fuentes in the last couple months. 

“My experience has been that he has not been present,” she said.

Flores said she's now deeply concerned about what will happen to the district without a council member in place.

"We have pressing issues that need to be addressed. Crime has spiked in our our community. We have issues with homelessness that are just horrible," she said. “To leave an abandoned community that has already felt abandoned, it’s just a horrible thing to do.”

Flores said she hoped the seat would be filled as soon as possible, and said she'd support a special election if that's what it takes. 

Other constituents said they wanted to avoid the high cost of a special election, and that the community has grown accustomed to being self reliant. 

"Our community has always been very self-directed," said Mark Seigel, who lives in Tujunga. "I believe that this is great news for the district, and I believe that we will actually be much better off without Felipe being here."

Fuentes defended his record in a conference call with reporters Monday, pointing to accomplishments like upcoming street upgrades to Van Nuys Boulevard coming this Fall. He said while challenges like homelessness and public safety took a toll, he’s proud of his work serving the district.

"It's a place that I know very, very well and have high hopes for. But I'm very proud of what it is that my constituents and my staff and I have been able to accomplish in this term. The district will be better for it," he said.