Developer Rick Caruso’s ads have blanketed the Los Angeles airwaves the message that he is just the non-career politician that the city needs to solve the homelessness crisis and crime, but on Tuesday, he for the first time faced his rivals in the race.
He quickly became the focus of attacks at the USC Dornsife Center for the Political Future/Los Angeles Times/Fox 11 debate.
Councilman Joe Buscaino welcomed him to the debate, “finally.”
City Attorney Mike Feuer chided him for not doing much to build affordable housing and opposing rent control, and then for owning a $100 million yacht registered in the Cayman Islands.
City Councilman Kevin de Leon challenged his plan to build up the Los Angeles Police Department with additional officers as “malarkey.”
Congresswoman Karen Bass, who is the frontrunner based on a recent poll, largely strayed from the potshots yet did take issue with Caruso’s attacks on career politicians.
“I think it is important not to denigrate people who are in public service,” she said.
Caruso, who has seemingly unlimited personal funds to run in the race, was making his debate debut and, in contrast to other wealthy neophytes to elective politics, came prepared with a host of attacks of his own on some of his rivals. Responding to one of Buscaino’s criticisms, Caruso accused him of shady practices. That was based on a Los Angeles Times story on Buscaino’s spending of donor funds on trips for family members, albeit the practice is legal.
When Feuer pressed Caruso to release his tax returns, the developer responded: “That’s a great question. Good for you, Mike. Good for you. I do have a nice boat. I do have a lot of nice things,” before saying that he would release his “everything I pay in taxes, including the taxes on that boat,” when all of the other candidates decide to do so too.
Current Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti did garner some praise from the candidates, for securing the 2028 Olympics and for climate initiatives, but that was obscured by the direct and implied criticism that, under his watch, the homelessness problem has spiraled out of control.
Bass said that Garcetti’s weakness “was not seeing the problem as the emergency it was. I believe we treated homelessness like a chronic disease and it metastasized.”
None of the candidates challenged the idea that the homelessness crisis is the top issue in the race, and it led the debate. And while each of the contenders’ strategies had their differences, they were all in general agreement that it was a state of emergency.
Bass said that she would appoint a chief in charge of addressing the problem who would report to her, with a plan to house 15,000 in her first year, while using state and federal dollars to help speed up the process of building new units.
De Leon touted his record already in addressing the problem in his district, pointing to what he said was the largest “tiny home” village in the country.
Caruso said that his plan included making 30,000 beds available in his first year, while acknowledging the need to “triage” by addressing other details like mental health and addiction.
Buscaino said he would add an immediate 9,000 shelter beds, while moving for a no camping law across the city.
Feuer noted that almost five years ago, in an op ed, he called for “a FEMA -like field general” to tackle the problem.
There were some differences between the candidates when it came to the issue of when to move homeless encampments. Caruso said that he would give those living in such areas options for beds and services twice before clearing the areas.
Bass said, “I don’t think you should ever criminalize poverty. I would never do that.” She said that “if someone is profoundly mentally ill, they need support. You can give them one time, two times, three times. But if they are hearing voices because they are mentally ill, they are not going to respond to that. I certainly don’t think you arrest them.”
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