Interview with Grace Yoo CD 10 Candidate Breaks It Down

TNN: You're  an ordinary resident deeply engaged in community service and you decide to run for office.  What was the most surprising thing you learned?

GRACE YOO     Dealing with campaign consultants. It was interesting to hear them tell me, "All you have to do is raise money. Your job is to raise money and meet greeters. That's it. Just raise money. Don't think about strategy. Don't think about anything else. All you have to do is raise money. We're supposed to do the thinking for you." I got to say, that didn't sit well with me. We went through two different consultants, and we had to part ways because I'm a hands on person. I'm running. It's my life on the line.

graceweb
It's so about a system instead of being the right candidate. That was really just one of those awakening moments, and that's how I ended up having my cousin, Mike Yoo run my campaign. He had volunteered on the Obama campaign. I used to be a campaign staffer 20+ years ago before I ever went off to law school. I know what it's like day in/day out, and it is certainly exciting.

Mike and I made a lot of decisions together, and I got to run it the way I wanted and that's how we had such great volunteers come in. People couldn't understand, "Wait a second, you're not paying them and all these people are coming in to volunteer for you?" Yeah, because we believe in change and we believe in a great cause, and this is about community. I really believed in trying to go for that grass-roots movement, and I do feel that if I had had an additional six months, we might have done it. 

And if you had some more funds. 

GRACE YOO     Absolutely. I decided in July 2014 that I'm running for November, but I really had an internal struggle throughout that entire time because it's like, "Why am I running against someone who everyone says is not beatable?"  But that's just not how I've grown up. You fight the good fight, even if it seems impossible. 

It is not about manipulating the system. It is really about good people coming together to make that kind of change. I've just done the right things because that's what you're supposed to do, and that's how I live my life. 

TNN: That's what we were talking about earlier. There's a difference between approaching things from the heart and sincerely, against all odds, playing fair, or approaching things from the ego and the desire to gain power and game the system to position yourself, get what you want regardless of the way you get it. I think that the line between those two ways of approaching life is sharper than ever. I've been told playing fair is naive and doesn't work in politics, gaining power. 

GRACE YOO     Let's just look at how things are run right now, where we have all these ethical rules and campaign finance laws, and yet you can have an independent expenditure come in and they can spend half a million dollars any way they want, as long as they are not coordinating with the candidate's campaign, everything's jolly good. It makes no sense. 

Can you explain what you just said? 

GRACE YOO     What happens is the elected officials usually have a non-profit that they're very fond of, and so they may ask for funding. Let's use Mayor Villaraigosa as an example. He had his million tree planting, and so a lot of corporations would fund money into it to get in the mayor's good graces. That's the kind of thing where it's blurring the lines. Sure, it's not a campaign donation to you, but it's currying favor with the elected official, and that unfairness is where I just feel like, "Wow, can't we just let everybody know how this is done?" 

Typically in a non-profit, you do not have to share where your funds come from. It is very secretive ... It can be secretive, and therefore, I'm just saying if we're trying to say you can't curry favor and you can only give a maximum of $1,300 for the mayor's race and $700 for the city council, yet you can give $7,000, $70,000, $700,000 ...

To some non-profit that that person likes. 

GRACE YOO     Exactly. Doesn't that seem like there is an undue influence right there? We need to prevent that from happening. 

TNNIs there anybody paying attention to that?

GRACE YOO     Not really, but I will tell you, I'm looking to open up a law firm and have my staple be wills and trust, but I will take on whatever the city is not paying attention to. In Hollywood recently it recently came out that the developers violated the law and therefore they couldn't actually keep the property as it was built and that's because there was an attorney fighting this all the way through. It took years. I'm going to be that watchdog for district 10 so that this is a way to say, "Be on alert. We want you to follow the rules and the laws like every other district," and if it isn't, there's going to be some accounting to be done. 

Many people are saying "I hope she runs in four years."

GRACE YOO  I'll be running. This is an opportunity to learn and come back stronger, better prepared. It's rocky. I have always liked the rocky thing. What can I say?

What were some of the critical issues you feel are going unaddressed in CD 10, and what brought you to these conclusions?

GRACE YOO     I think maybe three things. One is just basic lack of city services - street maintenance, sidewalk maintenance, tree trimming; that kind of basic maintenance is missing. 

TNN:  Let me interrupt you there because one of the arguments is that there just hasn't been the funding to take care of it. 

GRACE YOO     That may be true, but isn't it interesting how during the last few months before this election, all sorts of areas were getting tree trimming and street paving and sidewalk maintenance? It's when they want to focus on getting something done, it can be done, and it was being done. 

True. For instance in CD 10, we have these dividers in the middle of the street. Those costs thousands and thousands of dollars.   We have tree cages surrounding trees that are overgrown and in desperate need of trimming.  Why wasn’t tree trimming given more of a priority?  

GRACE YOO     I can't explain or answer those questions, but I will say the timing in which some things were done by the city is questionable, and most of our voters were saying those kind of comments to me. 

"Wow, suddenly my street's paved."

GRACE YOO     They're like, "Yeah, but we know. I'm no dummy. There's an election coming along." That's what the voters were telling us. 

What other issues? You said three.

GRACE YOO     No plan for the district. Things are being done hodgepodge. Instead of having a planned vision for the future, it's just whoever seems to bring in whatever plan for this development or that development. If everybody knew that there was a plan and this is where we are going, then you'd have to keep the developers in mind and in check, but there is no master plan for that. Therefore, these crazy things will occur. 

Like what?

GRACE YOO     Like the complex where they're getting rid of something like 45 units of affordable housing. Those rare units are going to be torn down, and initially it was going to be a high-rise condo but luxury condos require more parking spaces for guests so developers are going to create a luxury apartment complex instead of condo complex, because then you need less parking which is expensive to build. What's really the astounding portion of this is - you can convert an apartment into a condo a few years after, and then you’re grandfathered in with the less parking spaces. Those are the kind of things that make my stomach turn. 

Where is this happening?

GRACE YOO     Eighth and Harvard. I went to city hall protesting and the low income housing residents, who are normally very afraid to speak out in public, came out. They didn’t understand why they were going to be moved.  They will be compensated but….. I really want to use this example of how things are misrepresented. I'll also use the example of what the lay person would call fracking. In the city, there is no fracking. There is only enhanced drilling. 

What is the difference?

GRACE YOO     To the lay person, there's no difference, but to a legal definition of fracking, the difference is high pressured water (fracking) versus chemical dissolving of rock sediment (enhanced drilling) to get to the oil.  So the councilman says, "We've done everything we can. I am with you people. Here you are. We have passed a resolution." what people don’t understand is that a resolution is not the same thing as an ordinance. If you want to stop something, you have to have a law, which is an ordinance. A resolution is just a, "Here are my thoughts. This is what I think." You get a resolution for someone's 50th wedding anniversary or someone's 90th birthday, or you get a resolution for the school winning the school championship.  It's like, "Good job." or “I agree with you” It makes the people feel like the councilman's on your side, but did it stop? No. You are the council president, and yet you did not stop this, but you made people think you stopped it. That's what I mean by the misinformation. Oil prices are such that it may just resolve on its own because it's not cost effective, but we should shut it down while we have the opportunity. So I share with people that enhanced drilling, which is similar to fracking, is still going on at 2126 West Adams." They're like, "Oh my gosh."

It is going on?

GRACE YOO     That drilling site is operating. They have this incredibly high fence. We have limits on how high a fence can go. They are currently in violation. That site has been there for decades. When they're out of oil, they have to get in on the rocks. If the residents really wanted  to stop it... they  should pursue taking down the surrounding fence which is an illegal height. Can you imagine if people actually saw this site? But again, the prices in oil have changed once again, so this may be a dead issue. 

In the first election Councilman Wesson had no real opposition. The job was basically given to him. "There's an election? What?" In the second election, he had five people running against him, which to me says there's dissatisfaction but none of them were really viable candidates. When you appeared, you were the first viable candidate to run against him. I think a lot of people were very excited about it, and I think it shows in the results. 

GRACE YOO     I was told, I can't verify this for fact, but that I got at least a vote in every single precinct. [results for the number of votes each candidate got in each precinct were not available for this issue but will be included in the next issue] That's rare for a first timer. I'm pleased with our campaign results. 

People are dissatisfied with the way things have been going….I know somebody who works with the homeless population, and one year Wesson's office wanted to give toys to the homeless families and such, and someone who works with the homeless population said,"Honestly, that's not what they need. The kids in the shelters aren't going to be able to keep the toys for more than three days. They can't keep this." She basically said it may make you feel good, but it's not any solution to the problem. She got dis-invited. 

What mistakes did you make in the campaign?

GRACE YOO     You need to prepare all your friends and let them know how much you need them and I didn’t do this soon enough, I should've let them know in July, not in November. I got great support from friends, but I know I could've had more because I know all these wonderful people, but they just didn't have time to come out at the last minute. Some people found out randomly from various parts of the state and checks would come in and so forth. It's nice, but I could've done a better job getting donations and volunteers. I was so drained from my community work that I didn't have the bandwidth to do anything other than what I did, which took 70-80 hours a week from me.

A lot of the small businesses are really struggling. Many small business owners feel as if the city does things to make it more difficult for them.  For instance there are a lot of these small businesses along Pico and because Pico is a drive by street, drivers don't really notice the shops so a lot of the shops will put their stuff out front on the sidewalk. Not on the whole sidewalk, but in front of their stores. The city came along and said, "You can't do that." Then the Pico businesses found out that just a couple miles west of them it was being done and nobody was hassling them, so why was it going on on their strip? They're really trying to get that strip going. Councilman Wesson has never met with them. It's terrible. Some of the business owners are starting to come together and create events. Pooch Parade is always quite succesful. 

GRACE YOO     It's one of those situations where you go,"We need to deal with this fairly." That's what we want. We just want everybody to know what the rules are so we can abide by them. Is it allowed or not?

What's the most disturbing thing you encountered running for office, and then what was the most helpful?

GRACE YOO     Most disturbing? The fear in some of the people about voicing their true thoughts and opinions. They were afraid to say that they support me. 

Why?

GRACE YOO     They know Wesson is powerful, and this isn't just Koreans saying this kind of comment. It's anyone who has a business. We had people who are born and raised here who are not ethnic, who are Caucasian having the same kind of thoughts and comments spill out. There really is that intimidation and fear factor. That was extremely disturbing. I can understand that from an immigrant population having those thoughts, but for someone who's completely mainstream to share those thoughts of, "I can't really publicly support you too much because I own a business, and if he got wind of it, this could hurt me." It's that fear factor. That was disturbing. 

I can tell you what was the most heartwarming. It was the people who came around who believed in doing right and doing good, especially the young kids. Some of them are just such a light and hope. That was the best, to meet these young people who want to do the right thing, and letting them participate in a campaign. As much as I'm thankful for them, they were thanking me as well. I'm just grateful for that. 

I'm curious about the Koreatown support. It seems like the Korean culture seems obligated to donate upon request to the council office and they have been seen as a “cash cow” to the representatives of CD10.  There were Koreatown donation scandals with the last three Council representatives Nate Holden,  Martin Ludlow and recently with Herb Wesson and a restaurant that donated lots of money to him and ended up getting busted.  Is giving money to your politicians expected in Korean culture? 

GRACE YOO     No, that's a part of the American "how to get business done" culture. In Korea, I want you to know politicians give money to the voters. "Please vote for me." They'd buy them lunches, buy them things. The people do not give money to the politicians. The politicians spend money on the voters.  Here there are these unspoken rules and everyone says, "If you want something done, you want your CUP, Conditional Use Permit, you need to grease the wheel. This is how it's done." We know that there isn't a gun pointed at the business owner. Depending on the person who asks, sometimes it's an ask and sometimes it's a demand, but when you ask too often, then it seems to become a demand and a veiled threat that comes along with it.  But I think this shaking down of a community is not happening only in Korea -town. I think you will find that this is happening in other districts as well but we're voicing something that's been happening for 30+ years in the district.  Honestly, the businesses are not doing well and are starting to feel the pains and the pressures.

Lots of people are wondering if you'll be running in another 5 1/2 years. 

GRACE YOO     It may be sooner. You never know. There is the redistricting lawsuit that is going to appeal right now. If the court rules in favor of the plaintiffs, it means that they would have to redraw the lines, and so I could be running sooner than 5 1/2 years. It's a possibility.  

Why do you think the judge ruled against the lawsuit challenging the redistricting process? The impression I got was there wasn't enough evidence. There was only the video of Wesson caught on tape admitting that he was the one making the decisions about redistricting and he wanted to keep black people on the City Council [even though the two districts he stole from were represented by two African Americans].  He admitted people at City Hall went to him and told him what they wanted. Now, the video is just him talking and he could've just been saying that to make himself look good, look important. 

GRACE YOO     The problem is that the admission false or true taints the whole process, and in Virginia, the court of appeals held that just because stuff was said, and I’ll add that it was lesser comments by an elected official, the judges ruling made them redraw the lines.

According to the LA City Charter, section 201 "You shall keep communities of interest whenever feasible."  So does “shall” mean shall, or does it mean “not”?" If shall means shall, it means you will. It is a must. It's mandatory. It is very hard for the city to deny my request to keep communities of interest together. 

I submitted a map to the commission that kept Thai Town, Filipino Town, Korea Town together as a community of interest, and showed how feasible it was and yet would still keep the same required numbers of Latino and African-American seats. We kept everything in tact. It's like, "I gave you this map that told you how to do it and still keep the communities of interest together." My numbers were also just as good, if not better, with keeping the majority of the neighborhood councils in tact, and undivided. 

So it was doable but it got ignored. The commission would not discuss it. 

I am amazed that the judge ruled against us.  In Hollywood a developer broke the rules and this brand new building had to get rid of its residents.  The judge said "Sorry, you broke the law. You can't have any residents. They need to come out." I'm hoping for that kind of judge who says, "You can't get away with that. You need to do the right thing." The appeal will be filed in a couple weeks and the whole process will take years, but ... It may happen. 

You know what my perfect job would be? To be a special prosecutor for the state, to look into matters. I would do an incredibly thorough job....but that job doesn’t exist. 
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Established in August of 2008 by writerartist Dianne V. Lawrence, The Neighborhood News covers the events, people, history, politics and historic architecture of communities throughout the Mid-City and West Adams area in Los Angeles Council District 10.

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