Progressives Horvath and Stern hammered moderate candidate Hertzberg in his absence at a recent debate.

Two of the three Democratic LA County Supervisor candidates faced each other in a debate hosted by the Santa Monica Democratic Club on Wednesday, March 30; on question after question, CA Senator Henry Stern and West Hollywood Mayor Lindsey Horvath found themselves in agreement.

From paid family leave to sheriff’s department oversight to new California state housing law SB 9, the progressive-leaning Stern and Horvath offered the same or similar takes on key issues of concern for the 2022 race to fill the District 3 seat, which will soon be left vacant following the retirement of current Supervisor Sheila Kuehl, herself a Santa Monica progressive.

SB 9 is a new state law that requires cities to allow one additional residential unit to be constructed on parcels zoned for single-dwelling units; it has caused a stir all over California among homeowners and residents.

Horvath said her community did not support the bill as written, but believed in “the spirit of it.”

“My community voted to oppose SB 9 and 10, because the one-size-fits-all approach had disparate impact on some of the issues that we wanted to see, but we agreed with the spirit of it and have supported previous versions of these bills, because we do support making sure that density connected to transit makes sense,” Horvath said. “We also know that SB 9 will not be, in many cases, the boogeyman that it’s purported to be in some of our neighborhoods — the lot sizes just simply won’t allow for the density that’s proposed.”

Horvath said there was an important element of education to help ease the minds of some residents who are concerned about the new law. She said protecting neighborhoods was important, as was creating more affordable housing opportunities.

Stern, who missed the Senate’s SB 9 vote while away on family leave following the birth of his first child, said he would not have supported the legislation as written. Like Horvath, he pointed to transit connectivity and affordability as areas of concern. 

“I was not in support of that because I didn’t see affordability provisions, and there was no restriction on fire zone and open space development,” Stern, whose current senate district includes the Santa Monica Mountains, said, adding, “I think that there’s more serious policy we can pass that deals with affordability issues, deals with transit-oriented development or adaptive reuse or, opportunities to build affordable housing trusts.”

Stern said he was “still trying to work with it” and not “burn the house down.”

When it came to the current homelessness crisis across LA County, Stern said he was authoring a new senate bill, SB 1446, which he described as a “rights-based approach” to care; however, the bill is “not a right to shelter.”

“It’s a right to the mental health care and a variety of housing along that continuum of care for people who aren’t living safely on the streets — who are a danger to themselves,” Stern described, saying the bill was “not a feeder into the conservatorship program, but a way to basically reform the entitlement program the same way we have for developmental disabilities — to go back to basics.”

Horvath, when asked her thoughts about the issue, pointed to success she’s seen in West Hollywood. She also said LAHSA, the Los Angeles Homeless Services Authority, needed to be held accountable for its shortcomings.

“Right now, there are a lot of different services that are being provided, but there’s no coordination among them — no follow through, no clear tracking, no transparency,” Horvath said. 

Conspicuously absent from the 90-minute virtual forum was the moderate Democratic candidate, CA Senate Majority Leader Bob Hertzberg, representing the San Fernando Valley, who was initially billed as a participant in emails from the Santa Monica Democrats.

“Senator Hertzberg has participated in a myriad of forums and debates, including the LA Business Council and the League of Conservation Voters,” according to a statement provided by his campaign manager, Mac Zilber, in response to questions about Hertzberg’s absence. “That said, Senator Hertzberg had a scheduling conflict the night of that debate, however he plans to continue participating in a number of upcoming debates, including KCAL and KPCC, among others. Earning the support and confidence of the people of Santa Monica is very important to Senator Hertzberg and he plans to continue working to earn their support.”

Stern and Horvath took the opportunity to disparage the centrist Hertzberg, with Stern in closing remarks saying the Senator “got a little frustrated and took his toys and went home” before mentioning Hertzberg’s absence from the debate.

Earlier in the evening, Santa Monica Democratic Club President Jon Katz, who moderated the forum, asked Stern about Hertzberg: “Senator, a member of our club heard you say at a neighboring Democratic Club meeting, ‘I want to save the Santa Monica Mountains from Bob Hertzberg.’ So what did you mean by this?”

Stern replied that he and Hertzberg had “parted ways” on SB 9; Stern said he was more concerned with affordability than total units built, and was concerned about housing being built in the Santa Monica Mountains, which he called “new tract housing McMansions.” According to Stern, he and Hertzberg disagree on the issue of affordability.

Horvath, whom Katz asked to weigh in despite not having made the initial statement, said she agreed with Stern’s feelings on SB 9. She added her concern that Hertzberg had also disparaged Measure W, a county-wide water bond.

“An opponent who wasn’t here also said he didn’t support Measure W because it was only important to Heal the Bay and Santa Monica,” Horvath said, “And I think that that’s also short-sighted thinking.”

Katz also took the opportunity to ask Stern and Horvath their feelings about Santa Monica’s representation on the county level, since Kuehl, a longtime Santa Monican, was stepping away from the powerful seat.

Horvath noted her endorsements from Kuehl and other local leaders.

“It’s certainly concerning, I’m sure, for the community to lose that representation,” Horvath said. “But making sure that you have somebody who is willing to listen and is consistently part of your community — my office, my creative office, is actually in Santa Monica. So I spend a good bit of my non-COVID life in Santa Monica, and making sure that I’m seeing issues on the ground as you’re seeing them is something that’s very important to me.”

Stern said he saw Santa Monica as a leader in the County, citing the City’s anti-racism agenda, prioritization of affordable housing and longstanding emphasis on environmental protection.

“Those are the kinds of things I want to work on,” Stern said.

emily@smdp.com