Civil rights attorney Erin Darling is running as a progressive candidate for L.A. City Council District 11 and is calling on residents to not fall prey to animosity or apathy in the fight against homelessness, but instead double down on a commitment to build more affordable housing.
Darling may be an unfamiliar name to many, but he has deep roots on the Westside, having grown up in Venice and attended Santa Monica public schools K-12 as his mother taught at Santa Monica College. He currently lives in Venice with his wife and three year-old son, has a private practice as a civil rights and criminal defense attorney and has served on the Venice Neighborhood Council and Beaches and Harbor Commission.
Darling said he was tapped to run by a coalition of progressive Westside organizations, who are seeking a progressive candidate in the wake of current CD-11 Councilman Mike Bonin’s decision to not seek a third term. Council District 11 encompasses the communities of Brentwood, Del Rey, Ladera, Playa del Rey, Playa Vista, Sawtelle, Westchester, Venice and the Palisades.
Bonin is one of the most progressive members of L.A. City Council and one of two out of 15 councilmembers who voted against resuming enforcement of anti-camping laws in certain circumstances under Los Angeles Municipal Code 41.18. While Bonin walked away with 71 percent of the vote in the 2017 election, public dissatisfaction with him grew in the following years based on a perceived failure to address crime and homelessness, and he recently narrowly escaped a recall effort. At the end of January, Bonin announced that he would not be running for reelection, citing a desire to focus on his mental health.
“I am the progressive candidate in the race,” said Darling. “I’m the only candidate talking about housing and not for instance, for 41.18, because we can’t enforce our way into solving this crisis. But I only entered the race when progressive groups on the Westside coalesced around me as a candidate and I felt like there was a grassroots support for me as a candidate. I’m a civil rights lawyer. I like my job. I wasn’t looking for a new job.”
Without an incumbent to challenge, the battle for the CD-11 seat is wide open.
Venice-based attorney Traci Park was the first to toss her hat in the ring in July 2021 and has cast herself as an anti-Bonin candidate, who is running on a platform of increased public safety and what she calls common sense solutions to homelessness. Other candidates include Mike Newhouse, former president of the Venice Neighborhood Council; Jim Murez, current president of the Venice Neighborhood Council; Greg Good, appointee to the City of L.A. Public Works board; Allison Holdorff Polhill, former chief advisor to a LAUSD board member; Vincent Sulaitis, Matthew Smith and Gary Copeland.
If a candidate receives the majority of votes in the June 7 primary, they will become the elected councilmember, otherwise the vote continues to the November election.
Although Darling holds many similar values to Mike Bonin, he is keen to show that he is a separate candidate with unique policy ideas. If elected, Darling said he would expand constituent services so when people call or email the CD-11 office they receive a response within 48 hours. A frequent complaint lobbied against Bonin during the recall effort was his alleged refusal to respond to residents’ comments.
“I’m not just like Bonin,” said Darling. “I commend him and the housing first model, but you know, I think I am my own man.”
The housing first model is an intervention approach that prioritizes providing permanent housing to people experiencing homelessness. This is a cornerstone of Darling’s platform as he believes the homelessness crisis is a product of Los Angeles’s decades long failure to construct adequate affordable housing.
“When people talk about ‘oh people on the streets are drug addicts and have mental health issues’ of course that’s a real thing, but I would say that that’s an effect of living on the street; that’s not the cause,” said Darling. “We need to acknowledge that people are on the streets because they can’t afford rent and we need to create affordable housing.”
Darling also seeks to increase renter protections to slow the rate at which people fall into homelessness. He seeks to offer rental subsidies, strengthen the LA rent stabilization ordinance and make it easier for tenants facing eviction to access legal counsel.
“Just as someone who’s facing criminal charges is entitled to a lawyer, someone who’s facing eviction should also be entitled to a lawyer and that would greatly increase the chances of people staying in their home,” said Darling.
When people fall into homelessness Darling seeks more rapid response systems that can provide immediate relief before people’s conditions deteriorate due to the traumas of being unhoused. Examples of assistance include help with a security deposit and having the City act as a master lease holder to get people back into housing.
Lastly, Darling advocates for improving the pipeline that moves unhoused individuals into permanent housing by hiring formerly unhoused individuals to act as housing system navigator, incentivizing more people to become social workers with a loan repayment program, and increasing the number of permanent units available to decrease the time people spend in temporary housing.
Darling would also like the City of LA to roll out a specially trained mental health response team so that police officers are not the primary responders for individuals experiencing a mental health crisis on the streets. He does not believe homelessness should be addressed by increasing enforcement or LAPD staffing.
Darling views increasing access to affordable housing in CD-11 as a prerogative for not just addressing the homelessness crisis but also environmental issues, congestion and economic inequality. He supports creating new affordable housing developments near to public transit stations to allow more people who work on the Westside to reside on the Westside and in turn decrease the number of cars on the road during rush hour and pollution they generate.
“CD-11 is the wealthiest council district in the City of Los Angeles. We have the resources, we have the talent to address our problems,” said Darling. “But are we going to address it by housing folks and giving people the services they need? Or are we going to play whack-a-mole with the problem? Are we going to close off parks? Are you going to say ‘hey, you can’t camp here’ and just push the problem away to a different part of the city?”