What’s on the ballot in Los Angeles?

Election guide
An official ballot drop box is set up in Los Angeles on Sept. 12, 2020, ahead of the Nov. 3 presidential elections. (CHRIS DELMAS/AFP via Getty Images)

An official ballot drop box is set up in Los Angeles on Sept. 12, 2020, ahead of the Nov. 3 presidential elections. (CHRIS DELMAS/AFP via Getty Images)

Here’s a look at select races that are on the ballot in Los Angeles city and county in the election on Nov. 3, 2020:

District Attorney: Jackie Lacey (incumbent) vs. George Gascón

About the district:

Los Angeles County Dist. Atty. Jackie Lacey and former San Francisco Dist. Atty. George Gascón are shown in undated file photos. (Allen J. Schaben and Carolyn Cole/Los Angeles Times)
L.A. County Dist. Atty. Jackie Lacey and former San Francisco Dist. Atty. George Gascón are seen in undated photos. (Allen J. Schaben and Carolyn Cole/Los Angeles Times)

The district attorney serves all of Los Angeles County, the most populous county in the country with more than 10 million residents. The DA oversees more than 1,000 attorneys.

About the race:

In the March primary, incumbent Jackie Lacey at first looked like she’d squeak to victory, but she ended up with 48.65% of the vote, while former San Francisco DA George Gascón bested Rachel Rossi to force a runoff in November.

Then, in late May, protests swept the nation, calling for criminal justice reform following the police killings of George Floyd and Breonna Taylor. Long a target of Black Lives Matter activists, Lacey’s name was soon often heard at massive L.A.-area protests. She had already spent much of her second term under scrutiny for declining to prosecute officers in a number of controversial shootings of unarmed men, the Los Angeles Times reported. Some of her supporters began to pull their endorsements. A month before the election, L.A. Mayor Eric Garcetti switched his endorsement to support Gascón. 

Gascón, who served in the L.A. Police Department for decades, did not prosecute any officers in various high-profile shootings in the Bay Area either, the Times reported. But progressives like his emphasis on restorative justice programs rather than jail for nonviolent offenders.

About Jackie Lacey:

Lacey grew up in L.A.’s Crenshaw neighborhood, going on to graduate from UC Irvine and USC law school. She soon became a prosecutor in L.A. County and has spent most of her professional life in the DA’s office.

She was elected as the county’s first woman and first African American DA in 2012, and won re-election without opposition in 2016. Now 63, Lacey is asking voters for a third term. She says her top priority is keeping the streets of L.A. County safe from violent and dangerous criminals. She is committed to safeguarding children from human sex traffickers, seniors from financial elder abuse and communities from environmental crimes, according to her website.

Here is where Lacey says she stands on the issues, and here is a list of her endorsements.

About George Gascón:

George Gascón immigrated to the U.S. from Cuba as a teen. His family settled in Cudahy, and Gascón went on to join the U.S. Army. After graduating from Cal State Long Beach, he became an LAPD officer, working his way up to the rank of assistant chief under Bill Bratton. He left become chief of the Police Department in Mesa, Arizona, then was chosen to head San Francisco’s department by then-Mayor Gavin Newsom. He was appointed San Francisco’s DA — the county’s first Latino to hold the job — when Kamala Harris became attorney general in 2011. He left the San Francisco job in 2019 to return to L.A. County to challenge Lacey from the left.

Now 66, Gascón says he is running as a progressive to modernize L.A.’s criminal justice system. He has been endorsed by the Los Angeles Democratic Party, as well as Sens. Kamala Harris, Bernie Sanders, Elizabeth Warren. 

Here is where Gascón says he stands on the issues, and here is a list of his endorsements.

County Supervisor, District 2: Holly J. Mitchell vs. Herb J. Wesson Jr.

Herb Wesson and Holly Mitchell are seen in undated photo. (Los Angeles Times)
Herb Wesson and Holly Mitchell are seen in undated photo. (Los Angeles Times)

About the district:

It includes most of South L.A.; plus Inglewood, Compton and Lynwood; the South Bay cities of Carson, Gardena, Hawthorne and Lawndale; Culver City; and parts of downtown L.A. A full list of communities and a map is here.

About the race:

State Sen. Holly Mitchell and long-term L.A. City Council President Herb Wesson are vying to represent the 2nd District for a seat on the powerful Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors. The current supervisor, Mark Ridley-Thomas, has termed out and is himself hoping for a return to the L.A. City Council.

The two veteran L.A. politicians are fighting for a seat has been held by a Black supervisor since 1992.

Wesson Jr. earned 29.9% of the vote in the seven-candidate primary, while Mitchell was close behind with 29%.

The five-member Board of Supervisors collectively represents 10 million people and oversees an annual budget of over $30 billion that pays for the county’s Sheriff’s Department, jails and hospitals, and social services. In the 2nd District race, the dominant issues include homelessness, rising housing prices and gentrification, as the district has the largest homeless population in the county. Police reform and support from law enforcement have also been contentious themes in the campaign.

This is the only Board of Supervisors seat on the ballot in L.A. County, with Janice Hahn easily winning her 4th District primary in March.

About Herb Wesson:

Wesson, 68, originally from Ohio, came to Los Angeles in his early 20s with very little, the Los Angeles Times reported.

He found politics and became chief of staff to L.A. City Councilman Nate Holden and county Supervisor Yvonne Burke before, in 1998, being elected to state Assembly, representing the 47th District. His colleagues elected him Assembly speaker for two years — making him the second Black legislator to hold that role.

He ran for L.A. City Council in 2005, and won overwhelmingly in the council’s 10th District, which covers parts of Central and South L.A. He was elected council president repeatedly, serving in the role from 2012 until January, when he stepped down to focus on his supervisor campaign.

He holds a degree in history from Lincoln University in Pennsylvania. 

Here is more about what Wesson says his priorities are, and here is a list of his endorsements.

About Holly Mitchell:

Mitchell, 56, a third-generation Angeleno and graduate of UC Riverside, represents the 30th State Senate District, which overlaps with part of the supervisorial district she’s seeking to represent. First elected to the state Legislature in 2010, she previously represented the 26th Senate District, as well as the 54th Assembly District. In 2016, Mitchell became the first African American to chair the Senate Budget and Fiscal Review Committee.

She gained national attention for her 2019 bill outlawing discrimination based on hairstyle, meant to protect Black employees with natural hair.

Her earlier career included a seven-year stint as CEO of Crystal Stairs, a child-focused nonprofit. Before that, was an aide to then-state Sen. Diane Watson. She also worked for the Western Center for Law and Poverty.

Here is more about where Mitchell says she stands on the issues, and here is a list of her endorsements.

L.A. County Measure J: Budget allocation for alternatives to incarceration

Measure J is a charter amendment to allocate money from L.A. County’s general fund to alternatives for incarceration. If passed, the Board of Supervisors would be required to put at least 10% of the county’s locally generated revenues — this year it would have been between $360 million and $496 million — toward programs that “address the disproportionate impact of racial injustice through community investment and alternatives to incarceration and prohibiting using those funds for carceral systems and law enforcement agencies,” according the measure’s language.

The money would go to social programs like counseling and mental health, affordable housing, jail diversion, job training and other services. The funds could not be used for jails, courts or law enforcement.

It would be implemented in phases — fully by 2024.

Proponents say:

Voting yes on Measure J, or “Reimagine L.A. County,” is intended to help bring “structural change,” proponents say. It will address inequities suffered by Black, Latino and low-income communities by taking funding from the criminal justice system and putting it toward programs meant to address the “root causes” of crime, according to the campaign for the measure.

Multiple labor unions and some 100 progressive groups are backing the measure, which was put on the ballot by a 4-1 vote of the Board of Supervisors.

Opponents say:

Critics, including current Supervisor Kathryn Barger, say the measure ties supervisors’ hands in budgeting. And in a county already struggling to provide existing services, the measure would take away $5 million in funding from emergency response workers, nurses, 911 operators and others, opponents argue.

L.A. County Sheriff Alex Villanueva, who’s been in an ongoing power struggle with the supervisors, has railed against the measure, saying it’s intended to cut his department’s budget and amount to “defunding the police.”

L.A. City Council, District 4: David Ryu (incumbent) vs. Nithya Raman

About the district:

Los Angeles City Council candidates David Ryu and Nithya Raman are running to represent a district that stretches from Sherman Oaks to the Miracle Mile. (Los Angeles Times)
Los Angeles City Council candidates David Ryu and Nithya Raman are running to represent a district that stretches from Sherman Oaks to the Miracle Mile. (Los Angeles Times)

It sprawls from Sherman Oaks east to Griffith Park and south to Koreatown, covering Hollywood, Van Nuys and Miracle Mile. The district encompasses more than 250,000 Angelenos from many disparate communities, including wealthy, majority-white neighborhoods like Hancock Park and the Hollywood Hills as well as more diverse, higher-density parts of the city like Silver Lake and the Greater Wilshire area. Here is a map.

About the race:

Incumbent David Ryu hopes to win a second term over a challenge from the left by progressive candidate Nithya Raman, an MIT-educated urban planner and homelessness nonprofit leader. Raman forced Ryu to a runoff in the March primary, trailing him by 41.1% to 44.7%, a difference of 2,796 votes in a three-way race.

When Ryu won his seat in 2015, he positioned himself as a reformer and outsider who would change the status quo at City Hall. He emerged from a field of 14 candidates in the primary, defeating Carolyn Ramsay, who was chief of staff to the district’s longtime Councilman Tom LaBonge, in the general election. Now, Raman has pushed Ryu further to the left, and some of her supporters accuse him of mimicking her platforms on topics like rent freezes, affordable housing and campaign finance.

Both candidates brand themselves as progressive and say their experiences as Asian American immigrants spurred them to fight injustice and inequality.

Ryu pushed the council to create an inspector general and anti-corruption office in City Hall, and he points to his success getting approval for restrictions on political donations from developers. Raman says Ryu’s efforts haven’t gone far enough and calls them a “record of failure,” the Los Angeles Times reported. Both candidates pledged not to accept donations from developers, and Raman says she has further refused to accept funds from corporations and other outside groups.

The race has drawn national attention, with Ryu securing endorsements from the Democratic establishment and Raman garnering the support of more progressive groups as well as Hollywood heavy-hitters like Tina Fey, Natalie Portman and Jane Fonda.

About Ryu:

Ryu, 45, immigrated from South Korea as a child as says he grew up in a “cramped east Hollywood apartment,” with the family sometimes on food stamps. He now lives in Studio City.

He was the first Korean American elected to L.A.’s City Council, and only the second Asian American.

Ryu attended Bravo Medical Magnet High School in Boyle Heights before earning a bachelor’s degree from UCLA and master’s in public policy administration from Rutgers University.

Earlier in his career, he worked as an aide to then-county Supervisor Yvonne Burke, where he says he focused on foster youth, homelessness and mental health. He also worked in public affairs and development at a psychiatric hospital and community health center in South L.A.

He’s endorsed by House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, Sen. Dianne Feinstein, L.A. Mayor Eric Garcetti, 10 of his fellow council members, the L.A. County Democratic Party, L.A. County Federation of Labor and more than two dozen labor unions.

Here is where you can learn more about Ryu’s policies, and here is a list of his endorsements.

About Raman:

Raman immigrated from India as a child and grew up in Louisiana and Boston. She holds a bachelor’s degree from Harvard University and a master’s in urban planning from MIT. After graduate school, she returned to India and worked to provide services like clean water in slums, founding a research firm called Transparent Chennai. She moved to L.A. with her husband in 2013, taking a job with the L.A. city administrative office and compiling a report that found significant misuse of homelessness funding.  

When the #MeToo movement began, Raman became the first executive director of Time’s Up Entertainment, a campaign against sexual misconduct in Hollywood. If elected, she would be just the third woman currently sitting on the 15-member council.

Raman co-chaired homeless outreach efforts at the Silver Lake Neighborhood Council and founded the SELAH Neighborhood Homeless Coalition with a group of neighbors in 2017.

She’s endorsed by Sen. Bernie Sanders, the Democratic Socialists of America, the Working Families Party, the National Women’s Political Caucus and Sarah Kate Levy, who finished third in the District 4 primary.

Here is where Raman says she stands on the issues.

L.A. City Council, District 10: Mark Ridley-Thomas vs. Grace Yoo

Mark Ridley-Thomas and Grace Yoo are seen in undated photos. (Brian van der Brug, Wally Skalij / Los Angeles Times)
Mark Ridley-Thomas and Grace Yoo are seen in undated photos. (Brian van der Brug, Wally Skalij / Los Angeles Times)

About the district:

Includes the South L.A. neighborhoods of Harvard Heights, Leimert Park, Arlington Heights and West Adams, as well as parts of Koreatown, Mid-City and Wilshire Center.

About the race:

Current L.A. County Supervisor Mark Ridley-Thomas, who is termed out of his powerful position, and attorney Grace Yoo are vying to succeed longtime District 10 Councilman Herb Wesson, who held the seat for 15 years and is now a contender for a seat on the L.A. County Board of Supervisors.

With most of this year’s other council races settled in the primary, this is the only council race in the general election with no incumbent. 

This insider-versus-outsider contest turned contentious in recent weeks, with Ridley-Thomas accusing Yoo of defamation when she registered a website with his name in the URL, the Los Angeles Times reported.

Because of term limits, Ridley-Thomas is only eligible to serve one term on the council, and he intends to run for mayor in 2022, according to the Times.

Residents of Council District 10 have concerns similar to those in most other parts of the city, including housing and homelessness. Traffic is also a persistent issue in the area’s dense residential base, and the district has limited parks and green space. 

About Mark Ridley-Thomas:

Ridley-Thomas, a 66-year-old resident of the Baldwin Hills/Crenshaw neighborhood, has been a long-time player in Los Angeles politics. He started his career as an elected official in 1991 on the body he’s now seeking to return to, representing Council District 8. Facing term limits in the council, in 2002 he ran for and won a state Assembly seat and then, later, a state Senate seat. He was elected to his county Board of Supervisors seat in 2008.

Ridley-Thomas holds bachelor’s and master’s degrees from Immaculate Heart College, and earned a Ph.D. in social ethics and policy analysis from USC.

An author of Measure H, the massive anti-homelessness county bond measure passed by a supermajority of voters in 2017, Ridley-Thomas has long been focused on housing and services for people experiencing homelessness, along with related issues such as mental health.

He has also been an advocate for policing and criminal justice reform, and has called on embattled Sheriff Alex Villanueva to step down.

Here is where Ridley-Thomas says he stands on the issues, and here is a list of his endorsements.

About Grace Yoo:

Yoo, 49, was born in South Korea, came to Los Angeles when she was 3 and attended L.A. public schools. She holds a bachelor’s degree in political science from UC Riverside and a law degree from Seton Hall University Law School. She lives in Arlington Heights.

Yoo began her legal career representing abused and neglected children, then became executive director of the National Asian Pacific American Bar Association. For nearly a decade, until 2014, she was executive director of the Korean American Coalition — Los Angeles.

She now runs her own law firm specializing in estate planning, wills, trusts and probate. Yoo also volunteers and serves on numerous boards, committees and task-forces for organizations.

She was involved with a successful effort to prevent a homeless shelter being built in Koreatown, but says homelessness and affordable housing are her top priority.

Calling herself a “formidable critic of City Hall,” she argues local elected leaders have become too involved in their own political success and stopped listening to their constituents. She failed in a 2015 bid to unseat Wesson.

Here is where you can you read more about Yoo’s policy positions, and here is a list of her endorsements.

L.A. Unified school board, District 3: Scott Schmerelson (incumbent) vs. Marilyn Koziatek

Scott Schmerelson, left, is seen in a photo from his campaign website, and Marilyn Koziatek is seen in a photo posted to her Facebook page.
Scott Schmerelson, left, is seen in a photo from his campaign website, and Marilyn Koziatek is seen in a photo posted to her Facebook page.

About the district:

It covers the northwest and parts of the southern San Fernando Valley, including Northridge, North Hollywood, Granada Hills, North Hills, Reseda, Canoga Park and Porter Ranch.

About the race:

Scott Schmerelson, the incumbent and a retired L.A. unified educator, hopes to keep his seat in a runoff with Marilyn Koziatek, who has children in the district and currently works at a charter school. Schmerelson led Koziatek by more than 14,400 votes in the primary, capturing 42% of the vote to her 32%.

This time, the outcome could be swayed by those who supported the primary’s third candidate, Elizabeth Bartels-Badger, who garnered 26% of the votes. Bartels-Badger now supports Koziatek, who’s largely backed by charter school advocates. Schmerelson is endorsed by the L.A. teachers’ union and other district employee groups.

About Schmerelson:

The 69-year-old has worked as a classroom teacher, counselor and principal during his nearly four decades at LAUSD, according to his campaign website. He was first elected to the board in 2015. He’s currently the director of Region 21 of the California School Boards Association, and he previously served as president and executive director of Region 16 of the Association of California School Administrators.

Schmerelson spoke out against district leadership in support of United Teachers L.A. during the union’s 2019 strike. He’s endorsed by the union and other district employee groups.

He also has the support of three fellow board members: Richard Vladovic, George McKenna and Jackie Goldberg.

Here is more information on Schmerelson, and here is a list of his endorsements.

About Koziatek:

Koziatek, 39, works as head of tutoring and enrichment at Granada Hills Charter High School. She is also the mother of two boys who attend a district school in Chatsworth, and could be the only board member with children enrolled in the district if elected.

Koziatek also chairs the education committee of the Valley Industry Commerce Association and sits on the education advisory committee for state Assembly District 38, according to her campaign website.

She’s endorsed by the California Charter Schools Association and other school-choice advocates. She also has the support of current board member Monica Garcia and several former board members.

Here is where Koziatek says she stands on other issues, and here is a list of her endorsements.

L.A. Unified school board, District 7: Patricia Castellanos vs. Tanya Ortiz Franklin

Patricia Castellanos, left, and Tanya Ortiz Franklin are seen in photos uploaded to their Facebook pages.
Patricia Castellanos, left, and Tanya Ortiz Franklin are seen in photos uploaded to their Facebook pages.

About the district:

It covers a swath of south Los Angeles County from Historic South-Central to San Pedro, including Gardena, Harbor Gateway, Watts and parts of South Los Angeles.

About the race:

Patricia Castellanos and Tanya Ortiz Franklin were the top two vote-getters in a five-candidate primary race to replace incumbent Richard Vladovic, the current broad president who is termed out. In the primary, Castellanos led Franklin by about 2,850 votes, or about 3.4%.

Castellanos is endorsed by four board members including Vladovic, while the remaining three have thrown their support behind Franklin.

About Castellanos:

Castellanos is a lifelong District 7 resident, growing up in Carson as the daughter of immigrant workers and now raising her daughter in San Pedro, according to her campaign website. With her daughter in second grade at an LAUSD school, like District 3 candidate Koziatek she could become the only board member with a child enrolled in the district if elected.

The 50-year-old currently works as the workforce and economic development deputy for L.A. County Supervisor Sheila Kuehl. She was formerly deputy director of the L.A. Alliance for a New Economy, a progressive group that advocates for working families, and co-founded Reclaim Our Schools Los Angeles, an organization aligned with the L.A. teachers’ union.

Castellanos is endorsed by the four current LAUSD board members, as well as the teachers’ union, the local chapter of the Service Employees International Union and labor leader Dolores Huerta.

She also has the support of several elected officials including Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders, seven state lawmakers, three county supervisors and L.A. Mayor Eric Garcetti.

Here is where you can learn more about Castellanos, and here is a list of her endorsements.

About Franklin:

Franklin, 36, is also a longtime District 7 resident, attending LAUSD schools in Harbor City from sixth grade through high school. Her mother immigrated from Mexico as a child, according to her campaign website.

She currently serves as senior director of school culture and restorative communities for the Partnership for Los Angeles Schools, a nonprofit created by former L.A. Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa that manages 19 high-need LAUSD campuses, primarily in Watts, Boyle Heights and South L.A.

Franklin spent five years as a sixth-grade teacher at Stephen White Middle School, an L.A. Unified campus in Carson, before she says she was laid off with thousands of others in 2010. She also worked as attorney at Mental Health Advocacy Services after graduating law school at UCLA.

Along with three current school board members, Franklin has the support of former L.A. mayors Villaraigosa and Richard Riordan.

Here is more information on Franklin’s priorities, and here is a list of her endorsements.

Measure RR: Los Angeles Unified school upgrade and safety

Voting yes means the L.A. Unified School District could issue another $7 billion in bonds to upgrade aging facilities, complete earthquake retrofitting and ensure compliance under the Americans with Disabilities Act. Some of the money would also go toward renewable energy, greener school buses, and student access under COVID-19 distance learning.

It won’t increase property owners’ tax rates. It will extend the rate for pre-existing LAUSD bonds to 2055, through which it’s expected to generate more than $329.5 million annually.

Voting no means rejecting a new bond for public school facilities improvements. Tax rates would decrease once existing bonds expire.

The measure requires 55% voter approval to pass.

Supporters say:

The district’s Board of Education voted unanimously to put Measure RR on the ballot, saying public schools’ unfunded needs are estimated to exceed $50 billion. They say more than 70% of the district’s buildings were built more than 50 years ago and fall shy of current safety and education standards. Local chambers of commerce and business groups also support the measure.

Critics:

The main opponent is the conservative Howard Jarvis Taxpayers Association, the anti-tax statewide lobbying group named for the man behind 1978’s Proposition 13, which capped property tax increases and thus cut school funding. The group says the bond needlessly extends higher tax rates and argues there should be an exemption for seniors and low-income households.

Also on the ballot in L.A. County

  • The Los Angeles Community College District, which runs nine public community colleges in the region and is the largest such district in the country, has four seats on its seven-member board before voters. Because the district does not hold primaries, 33 candidates are running for those four seats, with incumbents in each at-large district trying to retain their positions. You can learn more about the races in this Los Angeles Times story and see a list of LACCD candidates here.
  • All 53 congressional seats are before voters as well. Learn about contentious House races in Southern California here.
  • All 80 state Assembly seats are before voters, and 20 state Senate seats are as well.
  • 12 ballot measures are before all California voters. Our guide to the 2020 propositions is here.
  • Three runoffs for Superior Court judgeships are before voters as well.
  • Numerous local districts and cities have offices and measures before voters. Look up your sample ballot to see what races are in your community.

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