The phrase “hit the ground running” comes up more than once as neighborhood leaders from Eagle Rock to Boyle Heights talk about their newest city councilman, Kevin de León.
A veteran state legislator, De León, who lives in Highland Park, is only a few weeks into his term representing Council District 14, which stretches from Eagle Rock to Downtown LA.
“He's already officially opened the much improved and enlarged playground at Hermon Park,” said neighborhood activist Wendi Riser, who publishes the All Things Hermon e-mail newsletter. "He's also begun Council action on one of our biggest land use issues - restoring the zoning of the 5800 block of Monterey Road to a business-friendly corridor."
Over at the Arroyo Seco Neighborhood Council, after de Leon attended the Monterey Hills Local Issues Committee meeting, board member Lynda Valencia said “He seems eager to learn and he's a good listener.”
He is also, of course, not new to this game:
- Four years as California’s Assemblyman from the 45th district - replacing Jackie Goldberg
- Eight years in the state Senate from the 24th District (replacing Gil Cedillo), including four years as Senate President pro Tempore.
So with all that experience, what’s he going to do for District 14?
De León’s office could not be reached for this story. But as a hint of de Leon’s priorities, his first motions at his first City Council meeting were to increase the number of transitional housing units for homeless people throughout his district.
"Starting on day one, we are pushing for the construction of more than 200 new beds and prioritizing nine sites throughout CD 14 for potential new interim housing projects," de Leon said at that time.
But along with the broad, Gordian knot of homelessness, de Leon must face the specific concerns of individual neighborhoods.
For Drew Paonessa, president of the Arroyo Seco Neighborhood Council, it would be a welcome change just to get some attention for Monterey Hills, the hilltop condo community east of the 110 Freeway.
“During the tenure of the previous council member, our community was virtually ignored,” Paonessa said, referring to Jose Huizar, who is currently awaiting trial on 34 criminal counts, including bribery, honest services fraud and money laundering. Huizar, who was termed out of office, has pleaded not guilty to the charges.
“We watched as neighboring CD14 neighborhood councils received funds, upgrades to parks, and face time with the council member, among other things,” Paonessa said. “What we're looking for in council member de León is recognition that our stakeholders need city services as well.”
Like other representatives, Paonessa said one of his primary concerns was the housing crisis - including people who cannot afford to pay rent or basic necessities because they lost their jobs amid the COVID crisis.
He also noted issues that are not necessarily specific to Monterey Hills - pollution.
“We need to address environmental justice that has the east and northeast parts of the city experiencing higher levels of pollution and the legacy of businesses that have treated these areas as dumping grounds,” Paonessa said.
The Historic Highland Park Neighborhood Council hasn’t yet met with de Leon, but is planning for a town hall meeting with him in the next couple of months, according to Council President Estrella Sainburg. When they do meet, Sainburg said she, too, sets housing as one of her top priorities - particularly, “to create affordable housing in the neighborhood and ensure transparent processes with permit processes," she said.
The other top priorities she mentioned are to enhance and protect green space - and, number one her list, to address the concerns of COVID-19, including health care access, food safety, housing, and equitable education.
Over at LA-32 Neighborhood Council - which covers El Sereno - Council President Sylvia Cruz said de Leon has already attended a Halloween drive-through event in the neighborhood, and has organized a drive-through COVID-19 testing community event.
Also, for the neighborhood council's next General Board Meeting on Wednesday December 2, De León said he will discuss the growing population of homeless encampments along the Huntington Drive.
Katherine Harrington, vice chair of the Hermon Neighborhood Council, also cited homelessness as an issue. But she also called for less dramatic improvements and rejuvenation for the Hermon median on Monterey Road between Avenue 60 and Via Marisol – which needs care and landscaping.
De León has already started to work on Hermon, though.
“He put into motion the reinstallation of our Hermon Neighborhood Council street light banners, and he introduced a motion to City Council to rezone a commercial block of Monterey Road that had been erroneously zoned as RD1.5 in a sweeping community plan update some twenty years ago,” Harrington said. “The latter project has been in the works with the Hermon Neighborhood Council for a couple years at least, so we're very excited to see it move forward.”
Correction: A previous version of this story said De León lives in Mount Washington. That's wrong. He lives in Highland Park.