Incumbent 13th District City Councilman Mitch O’Farrell took a slim lead over challenger Hugo Soto-Martinez Tuesday evening in his re-election bid, according to early results released by the Los Angeles County Registrar-Recorder/County Clerk.
O’Farrell had 12,671 votes, or 51%, to union organizer Soto-Martinez’s 12,439 votes, or 49%.
Soto-Martinez bested O’Farrell, who is seeking a third term, during the June primary, winning 41% of the vote compared to 32% for O’Farrell, forcing a runoff. The 13th District stretches from Hollywood to Glassell Park.
Soto-Martinez, in an interview with City News Service, said he believes he is running as the more progressive candidate in a diverse district that has the highest number of rental and multi-family units in Los Angeles.
He pointed to the cost of housing, the homelessness crisis and public safety as the most important issues facing the district.
On housing, Soto-Martinez proposed pushing the city to take over underutilized or vacant buildings such as St. Vincent’s Hospital to be refurbished as interim housing.
“Rather than waiting for the housing to be built, we can use the space that we have now and have a more immediate effect,” Soto-Martinez said.
O’Farrell’s campaign acknowledged but did not coordinate an interview request.
During a candidate forum with Spectrum News in October, O’Farrell said that his office has placed 1,000 people experiencing homelessness in his district into housing and reduced homelessness in Hollywood by 57% over the last two years.
“We have a program that is working that could be an example for the rest of the city, and exactly no one has been criminalized or swept,” O’Farrell said. “We house people and we put them on a path to wellness.”
The councilman has also launched a $3 million rental aid program to provide grants of up to $5,000 per household for renters in his district who make 80% or less of the area median income, or AMI.
Soto-Martinez joined those critical of O’Farrell over the March 2021 closure of Echo Park for repairs, which resulted in the removal of hundreds of people experiencing homelessness who had taken up residence in the park during the COVID-19 pandemic.
The removal effort was met with large protests, in which hundreds of officers descended on Echo Park and arrested about 180 people, including journalists. Protesters blasted the city for forcing the park’s residents out of an area that had grown into what they called a supportive community during the pandemic — including a vegetable garden, working showers and a shared kitchen.
A report published in March by the UCLA Luskin Institute on Inequality and Democracy found that only 17 out of 183 unhoused people who left the park were placed in long-term housing.
O’Farrell said in a response to the report that the situation at Echo Park was “not safe for anyone,” refuting claims of a “police invasion.”
“What actually happened was a three-month outreach process that led to a warm handoff to LAHSA and transitional housing placements for nearly 200 people who had been living in a dangerous, deadly environment,” O’Farrell said.
Soto-Martinez claimed that encampments at Echo Park increased under O’Farrell’s watch, and said that he would not allow “encampments to grow like they did at Echo Park Lake.”
Soto-Martinez, who has never held elected office, said he was running for council after being a union organizer for the last 16 years because he felt a “calling” to bring the same values he brought to winning union contracts and apply them to City Hall.
“I believe that this district happens to be the most progressive district in the City of Los Angeles, and the values that we are speaking about I think are most closely aligned with the district,” Soto-Martinez said.
O’Farrell, who has served on the council since 2013, is the chair of the council’s Energy, Climate Change, Environmental Justice, and River Committee. He briefly served as Acting City Council President following the resignation of Nury Martinez over the City Hall racism scandal before Paul Krekorian was elected council president.
During the candidate forum, O’Farrell touted his experience and connections when addressing issues concerning Hollywood.
“It takes experience, it takes someone who knows how to build a coalition and work across all political spectrum to bring good things and resources to a community that believes so strongly that we deserve a world class experience,” O’Farrell said