Editor's note: This is the last in a series of three candidate profiles Patch will be running leading up to the March 8 election. Newcomers Tomas O'Grady and Stephen Box challenge the City Council District 4 incumbent, Councilman Tom LaBonge.
Name: Stephen Box
Current neighborhood: Hollywood
Number of years in District 4: 14
Hometown: Mackay, Queensland, Australia
Education: University of California, San Diego and Point Loma Nazarene University - Biology.
Family: Wife and two cats (sometimes we also take care of stray skunks, opossums, turtles, and our friend’s dogs)
Favorite movie: Apocalypse Now, but only when screening at the Cinerama Dome.
Favorite Hollywood moment: I was sitting in my apartment one day when out of the blue someone started knocking on the door. I opened the door and standing on the other side was a new neighbor asking for help with her computer. She said her name was Enci. I was eager to help and eager to know more about this lovely woman. And I have never stopped wanting to know more. I eventually asked her if she would be my wife. So I guess I could say the day I opened the door and the first time I looked into Enci’s eyes changed my life forever.
Patch: How do you think your background has prepared you for the tough job as a Los Angeles City Councilman?
Box: The entertainment business has a lot in common with politics. I’ve learned to juggle strong personalities, balance budgets and herd cats. In fact I quickly gained a reputation for coming in under budget, ahead of schedule, and exceeding expectations. More importantly I learned how to navigate the labyrinth of red tape that City Hall forces upon the film industry in Los Angeles. Little by little I began to make relationships and find my ways through the hallways of city business. The process of learning of how our city works has never stopped. I have become a transportation activist, a planning advocate, and a budget expert. I have found errors in the budget that amount to millions of dollars.
Hollywood Patch: With city revenue sluggish (if not declining), how would go about the challenging task of balancing the city budget?
Box: The immediate opportunity is to commit to a long-term solution, forgoing the current trend of simply kicking the problem down the road. Some solutions:
- Efficient Revenue collection. The Commission on Revenue Efficiency has laid out a very significant plan for improving the City of LA’s revenue. From collecting our parking revenues, to billboard revenues, to money from the CRA. It’s a significant start.
- Efficient Funding collection. The City of Los Angeles actually qualifies for funding and then fails to execute the projects, causing the city to be disqualified for future funding. My wife Enci and I sit on the review board of Safe Routes to School funding projects for CalTrans. Year after year the city qualifies for millions of dollars, and when LA finally gets a project approved, they don’t cash the check. Instead these funds goes to other cities. On something as simple as Safe Routes to School funding, money that makes our streets safer for children on their way to school, the City of LA qualifies but fails to do the work.
- Efficient Operations. The City of LA has departments that duplicate services, compete for funding and then fail to deliver. Again, I see this from sitting on numerous oversight groups and fighting for LA to get some of the Federal dollars. From transportation to emergency preparedness, the results are missing but the bureaucracy grows while the money disappears.
- Unfunded pensions and benefits. The city has failed the city family and it is imperative that leadership representing both sides have an adult conversation that addresses the city’s liabilities and the impending budget crisis. That won’t happen until city hall treats those who deliver city services to the people of L.A. with respect and actually honor the deal. That being said, both sides have an obligation to resolve the budget crisis with a sustainable solution.
- Community Development Agency. I’m the only candidate who is opposed to the city’s KELO authority to seize private property for the use of another private party, a process that has resulted in the loss of $1.5 billion in tax revenue to the City of LA during the incumbent’s term in office. I support Governor Brown’s proposal to abolish the CRA, resulting in $329 per child ($220 million) being returned to the LAUSD, $200 million to LA County, and $200 million to the City of Los Angeles.
Patch: Social media plays a huge role people’s lives, especially young people. How do you see yourself incorporating social media into your office if elected? How will you keep your constituents engaged?
Box: Enci and I teach a popular seminar for neighborhood councils called “Get Connected” which covers the many social media tools. We’ve even taught it at City Hall! The LA Weekly gave our campaign a nod for our social media strategies, from Facebook, Twitter and YouTube to Foursquare and QR Codes. My campaign reflects a commitment to connecting with people on all levels, from rotary phones to smart phones and even with sign language and captioning our videos for the deaf and hard of hearing community.
Patch: Gov. Jerry Brown wants to close all statewide CRA offices and redistribute the agency’s funding. What do you think should be done with the CRA?
Box: I am opposed to the CRA's current dominant and independent relationship with the city. I am opposed to the significant eminent domain authority it exerts over local property owners. I am opposed to the significant amount of incremental property taxes that end up in the CRA's coffers, to the detriment of the community which is left to foot the bill in order to deliver on public safety, public works, public health and public education commitments.
Patch: Some of the biggest complaints in District 4 are traffic and transportation issues. What is your view on how to remedy these issues so that people are moving around the city with fewer problems? What is your take on alternative modes of transportation?
Box: California’s Complete Streets Act just went into effect on January 1, 2011 and sets in place a commitment that requires municipalities to support all modes of transportation, from pedestrians, cyclists, and mass transit passengers to motorists as they update their General Plans. Yet the City of LA argues that it doesn’t apply to LA because the current revisions to the Transportation element don’t qualify as an update. The people of Los Angeles need good choices, lots of them, so that we can live our lives based on our own schedules, not simply navigating rush hour congestion, limited parking, gaps in transit, bad road conditions and unsafe streets.
Los Angeles needs to lead the nation in public transportation solutions. I’m an urban cyclist, I ride a bike across town, from Hollywood to Pasadena and to Santa Monica. I ride to Sunland Tujunga, Woodland Hills and to San Pedro. I connect my trips with the bus and with the Red Line and via foot. And I even drive a car sometimes. I use all modes and I’m acutely sensitive to road conditions, conflicted engineering, and the impact of speed limit increases. I’m on the Caltrans Safe Routes to School Committee, on the CalTrans 7 Bicycle Advisory Committee and I’ve been working for many years to bring money into LA and then the City defaults on them.
Public transportation is a priority, the 30-10 plan is ambitious and shows great promise but it must be integrated into the larger land use plan and complemented with a connectivity to all modes. For too long, the city has failed to deliver on the basic human right: Mobility - the freedom to move!
I will fight for our basic right to move in this city, no matter what mode. Our most vulnerable community members, including children, senior citizens, mothers, and the disabled need to be taken care of and not ignored.
Patch: Broken, cracked and severely uneven sidewalks and potentially car-damaging potholes seem to be an increasing problem. How can these “seemingly” small problems be tackled more efficiently?
Box: They are not small problems, they are huge. Fully 60 percent of all traffic collisions have road conditions as one of the causes. Repairing potholes is a short-term solution that is no substitute for a long-term commitment to repairing and rebuilding out streets. As for our sidewalks, our City Council has abdicated on its responsibility, leaving our communities unwalkable. The professional who actually build streets and sidewalks need to be allowed to do their work without the “pothole politics” that our incumbent claims as his strength. Leverage federal and state funding, put city staff to work, get out of the way, let professionals do what they do.
Patch: Parking in Hollywood is expensive and very inconvenient. This not only affects local residents, but tourism as well. Many people will seek out more convenient areas of the city to do their shopping, dining, see movies or run errands. How can Hollywood improve parking or promote alternative transportation options to avoid lost revenue?
Box: Our current city council attempted to sell off our long-term revenue producing parking assets as a short term fix for our budget crisis. I believe that the city should return parking revenues to the local community so that it can be invested in infrastructure that supports our local economy. The money is there, the political will is missing.
Patch: In recent years, police, fire and other emergency services have seen their budgets slashed. Safety is very important to any community. Do you believe there is a way to make the departments smaller, yet more efficient so that services are not reduced so much that safety is in jeopardy?
Box: The city has opportunities to consolidate public safety departments, reducing oversight and administrative redundancies and turf battles, resulting in more enhanced services delivered efficiently and at a reduced cost. There are multiple departments that are responsible for emergency preparedness: Independent police departments, including the Los Angeles Police Department, the airport police, general services, and the Los Angeles Unified School District police. It’s inefficient, it lacks oversight and accountability, and it costs more but delivers less. I believe that we can do better with consolidated department, eliminating unnecessary and redundant overhead.
Patch: As we all know, the economy has been stagnant for a number of years, causing many District 4 constituents to lose their jobs or become severely under-employed. What are your plans to bring more jobs, and more quality jobs, to District 4?
Box: If the city is serious about taking care of LA’s business community, stimulating the local economy, creating more jobs, and attracting new business, then City Hall will get busy leveraging federal Small Business Jobs Act funding to create a one-stop “LACityWorks” shop that supports LA business. The model for this concept can be found at FilmLA, a non-profit with a simple mission, to facilitate filming in the Los Angeles area. With a simple phone call or an even simpler online interaction, large studios and student films alike can navigate the many jurisdictions of LA County, they can pull permits, they can quickly navigate the rules and regulations, and they can rely on FilmLA to create common ground solutions when problems arise. FilmLA was created by Mayor Riordan in an effort to halt runaway film production and to support the city's position as the entertainment production capital of the world. According to the latest jobs report, only 36,000 new jobs were added to the national economy in the month of January. At the same time, figures from Intuit Payroll’s monthly Small Business Employment Index show that payroll clients with fewer than 20 employees added 70,000 new jobs during the same month. Los Angeles must support small businesses, especially those within the entertainment industry, the arts and culture, and tourism. These are the huge economic drivers capable of revitalizing LA’s local economy.
Patch: Homelessness continues to rise in Hollywood. What are your plans to help resolve the problems and issues of people living on the streets?
Box: About 40 percent of Hollywood’s Fire Department budget is spent delivering primary health care to our homeless population. Meanwhile 25 percent of those on the streets are our veterans. The city is notoriously derelict in its duty to connect people in need with the services that exist, the funding that is in place, and the resources that people can’t find when they are in crisis. The city must partner with the federal, state, and county authorities in leveraging existing funding sources and on the effective delivery of the essential services that are part of a long-term commitment to addressing our homeless population. This means transitional housing combined with social services, not simply emergency housing in bad weather.
Patch: Walk or drive down any major boulevard in Hollywood and you will see dozens of vacant building with for lease or for sale signs. What do you propose to bring businesses back to those areas before the blight increases?
Box: Get the Community Redevelopment Agency out of the way. People are hesitant to invest in a community that has the KELO cloud of eminent domain hovering over it. Richard Abrams interviewed all three candidates for council district 4 on this topic for City Watch LA and I was the only one opposed to KELO which allows the CRA to take private property from one person and give it to another private party. It’s wrong.
For complete election coverage, click here.