Westwood Neighborhood Council member Mark Herd and L.A. City Councilman Paul Koretz discussed finances and transportation Tuesday night, in the first and only debate for L.A.’s Fifth District city council election.
About 80 community members gathered in St. Paul the Apostle Catholic Church in Westwood to watch the debate, which focused primarily on the city budget, sales tax reform, transportation and the candidates’ relationship with unions.
Two members of the Westwood Community Council, Sharon Commins and fourth-year political science student Adam Swart, served as panelists in the debate along with Jon Vogel, a community member and a local optometrist.
The debate exemplified the fact that local politics are especially relevant to community members because they are closely connected to peoples’ everyday lives, Swart said.
To be elected a member of the L.A. city council, a candidate must win at least 50 percent of the vote in the March 5 election.
Throughout Tuesday’s debate, Herd emphasized what he said were shortfalls in Koretz’s policies from his time as a councilman.
Herd said that unlike Koretz, who works with labor unions, he is unaffiliated to unions and special interest groups. He said his lack of affiliation would lead him to support business and city development policies with only residents in mind.
In response, Koretz said he has been a strong proponent of sitting developers and residents down together to discuss developmental policies.
The two candidates also discussed their differing opinions on the Measure A, which would increase the sales tax by 9.5 percent, bringing in $215 million more for the city annually.
Koretz presented the tax as the “only way” to alleviate the current city budget shortfalls.
“We are at a point now where we’ve made all the cuts. We’ve laid off all the employees, and now we don’t have any good choices,” he said during the debate.
Herd argued that money could be saved in other ways, with policies such as pension reform and making city employees pay for some of their health insurance.
He said he thought Koretz supported Measure A because of the money it would generate for unions, not for his general constituents.
When asked about some community members’ desire to make Westwood nightlife more interesting, both candidates said they support increased development of the Westwood area with the consent of community and neighborhood councils.
Koretz, however, said he wants to see more innocuous additions, such as a bowling alley, that would slowly ease Westwood into a more prominent nightlife without disrupting the community.
Herd said that he would support night clubs if the local neighborhood and community councils approved the idea.
“You know that old movie (Footloose)? I would be the guy dancing,” Herd said.
The candidates also discussed proposed bike and bus lanes on Sepulveda Boulevard, Westwood Boulevard and Avenue of the Stars.
Herd and Koretz both said they would not support a bike lane on Westwood Boulevard, but he would not yet rule out a bike lane along Sepulveda Boulevard.
Bette Billet, a Westwood resident of 32 years, said she attended the debate so she could familiarize herself with Herd’s policies, as she was already familiar with Koretz’s.
After the debate, she said she was planning to vote for Paul Koretz because of his experience, and the fact that he insists development projects are approved by community councils.
The debate swayed some audience members to vote for Herd as well.
Ben Gunter, a psychology graduate student, said he was leaning towards voting for Herd because he agreed with his opinion on Measure A. Gunter said he attended the debate because he wants to be involved in local politics, since the issues directly affect him.
Contributing reports from Erin Donnelly, Bruin senior staff.