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Current Interview: Hydee Feldstein Soto, Candidate for City Attorney

Westside Current Interview with Hydee Feldstein Sotoby Angela McGregor

May 9, 2022

When asked why she picked this moment to run for political office for the first time, Hydee Feldstein Soto stated,  “There’s a push and there’s a pull.  The push is simple. I am sick and tired of being sick and tired.”

Feldstein Soto has spent the past 40 years practicing law in Los Angeles, following her graduation from Columbia Law School in 1982.  She has, during her long career, also written many articles on a variety of legal topics, most recently focusing on housing affordability.  She has been particularly critical of State Senator Scott Weiner, the author of SB9, which would effectively do away with single-family zoning in the state, calling his bills “industry sponsored” and said Weiner himself  “does not take serious questions or legitimate debate about the substance of his industry drafted bills.”.  Feinstein Soto is clearly a stickler for legality and transparency.

Her input on the state’s housing crisis wasn’t limited to simply opposing the state legislature’s current embrace of upzoning.  Between 2015 and 2020 she submitted bills to legislators in Sacramento, including one to overturn Article 34 of the state’s constitution, which requires voter approval on publicly-funded low-income rental housing projects in California.  She also drafted a bill mandating a vacancy tax which, as she described it,  “balances the interests of landlords and the interests of government and tenants while making sure that there aren’t foreign investors holding vacant units off the market. It exempted small landlords, anyone with 10 units or less.  And it gave landlords a choice: you could either lower the rent by 10%,  or you can pay the tax.”

Feldstein Soto said she believes the affordable housing crisis and the homelessness crisis are “two different things.  Affordable housing is really a lot about workforce and jobs. And if we hope to bring back the LA economy, to what it was when I got here in 1982, we need affordable housing, which is workforce housing…That is a separate issue than creating shelter and permanent supporting supportive housing for our currently unhoused population. ”

As for the recently settled L.A. Alliance lawsuit, she said, “It’s 16,000 units. We have over 40,000 people on our streets. It’s an unfunded liability.

“To me, the tragedy of this lawsuit is that the city and the county are not working together. What we most need is mental health treatment and addiction treatment, treatment for people with physical disabilities. There’s people on our streets, in wheelchairs and with diabetes. Their medical bills have bankrupted them. I would approach the county and really come up with a plan for the services.”  Feldstein Soto pointed out that the County is spending roughly 20% of its mental health budget in the city of Los Angeles, which “has almost 40% of the population and is about 70% of the need. That’s not fair.”  She said that if she were to be elected City Attorney, she’d take the City’s County Public Health Agreement, which dates back to 1964, and heavily revise it to take into account such “recent” developments as block grants (federal funds earmarked for specific state or local programs, which date back to 1978) and the Lanterman-Petris-Short Act (which governs the state’s mental health commitment laws and was passed in 1967).  She pointed out that the City Attorney would have a “big role to play” if the Governor’s proposed “Care Courts” were to go into effect, although she said she’d heard they were “in trouble” politically.

I’m tired of ineffectiveness at every level of government, but especially at a local level,” she said.  “I am tired of corruption.  And let’s be clear, the city attorney is not going to and cannot by [law] investigate and prosecute corruption in city officials. A couple of my opponents are running around saying ‘I’m gonna prosecute corruption.’ That’s not the city attorney’s role.  But the city attorney does have huge power to shut down avenues of corruption, and to ensure compliance.

“For example, our city charter requires competitive bidding…And what has happened in city government at every level, down to stupid little $50,000 contracts to family and friends and lobbyists, is that the city does sole-source, no-bid contracts and the city attorney’s office rubber stamps them.  They don’t put people through their paces. They don’t require people to prove that it’s an emergency.  I recently asked one of my opponents how many no-bid contracts had been approved by the Department which he headed.  And he didn’t answer me.”  Feldstein Soto didn’t specify, but her description appears to fit Kevin James, who is the current President of the Board of Public Works.  She did some research, and discovered that more than half of those contracts had been no-bids.

She pointed out that it was one such no-bid contract that was responsible for the LADWP scandal now roiling the current City Attorney’s office, with LADWP Head David Wright granting a $30 million, no-bid contract to a company run by Paul Paradis, special counsel to the City Attorney’s Office.  In exchange, Wright was to be granted a $1 million per year job as Paradis’s company’s CEO.  Both Wright and Paradis have been convicted on Federal charges.

As for the current City Attorney’s contention that he knew nothing about what was going on in this case, Feldstein Soto is reluctant to comment, but when pressed, said, “It’s one of those cases, where if you’re not paying attention to the single biggest litigation matter facing the city sufficiently to be able to tell what’s going on in it, that’s a problem.  It may not be criminal, but it’s a failure of management.  And if you do know, and you’re compounding the error with a cover up, that’s even worse.”  Feldstein Soto prides herself on being the only candidate in the race who has experience managing teams of attorneys, and pointed out that the city attorney  is, first and foremost, “the managing general partner of one of the largest municipal law firms in the country.”

In addition, according to the City Attorney’s website, “The City Attorney’s office writes every municipal law, advises the Mayor, City Council and all city departments and commissions, defends the city in litigation, brings forth lawsuits on behalf of the people and prosecutes misdemeanor crimes such as domestic violence, drunk driving and vandalism.”

Feldstein Soto is harshly critical of motions which “give a slush fund to each council member to spend money just in their own district.  Anything that says enforcement is going to vary by district in the city.” In her words, “this concept of legislating by council district goes against the city charter.”  This approach has been most recently used in the City’s recently passed amendment to Municipal Code 41.18, which calls for each individual councilmember to determine where in their districts anti-camping ordinance should be enforced.  The result is that, depending on the political bent of their councilmember,  some districts are nearly devoid of encampments, while others still allow tents in front of schools and transitional housing facilities.  “That is a violation of the charter,” she insisted.   “There is nothing in the charter that permits us to be run like 15 separate cities.”

Feldstein Soto’s father, Stanley Feldstein, who passed away in 2020 at the age of 97, was a giant in the legal community of Puerto Rico, where she grew up.  Most notably, he sued the Puerto Rican government on behalf of hundreds of inmates held in deplorable conditions at a notorious prison called La Princesa.  The jail was permanently shut down in 1976.  Feldstein Soto mentioned this when asked why the city doesn’t have an inspection system for homeless shelters, and what it should do with shelters that are unsafe.  “We need an inspection system for shelters, and we need to shut them down and yank their licenses when they’re not safe,” she said.

“I hear politicians talk a lot about values and words.  If I hear the word “reimagine” one more time, I’m going to scream. If I hear the word “Continuum of Care” one more time I’m going to scream.

“Stop using buzzwords and let’s talk about what we mean. We have to do right.”

 

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