Interview with LA City Council candidate Monica Rodriguez: Final words before March primary

On March 7, Los Angeles voters will head to the polls to decide who will be their next city council members. One particular district, District 7, has been without a representative since former City Councilmember Felipe Fuentes left months before the end of his term to become a lobbyist last year. Now, voters will decide among 20 candidates competing for the open seat that is responsible for parts of northern Los Angeles including, North Hills, Sylmar, Lake View Terrace, and Pacoima. 

As candidates wrapped up a busy weekend leading up to elections, over 100 volunteers from all over the San Fernando Valley and Los Angeles gathered in the heart of Pacoima wearing ‘Monica Rodriguez for City Council’ caps. To find out why they were in support of Rodriguez, I joined the crowd and had the chance to speak with volunteers and the city council candidate herself. 

Q: Tell me a little bit about your story. 
A:
In 1975, my father became one of the first Latino firefighters in the L.A. City Fire Department. He was on duty during the L.A. Riots and his fire truck sustained three rounds of semi-automatics. He was nearly hit. 

Since then, I became very civically engaged at a very young age and thought there’s really two options: being angry with the way the system is or become part of the change. A lot of people will go out and march for one day, but marches don’t sustain the changes that we need to create change. It’s only the start of the conversation. 

So, I build a career in public service starting in city hall when I was 20 years old. I then moved my way up to the mayor’s office as one of the youngest staffers, then onto education reform in L.A. Unified, to affordable housing, and then I was on the Board of Public Works. Like so many of us, I just worked from the bottom up and understood how powerful it can be to become a catalyst for change. 

 Volunteers gathered in Pacoima for their final days before the March primary. 

Volunteers gathered in Pacoima for their final days before the March primary. 

Many people say, ‘You were lucky,’ but luck had nothing to do with it. It wasn't luck when people saw me working three part-time jobs to help pay for college and go to school full time. It wasn't luck when my kids couldn't see me for weeks at a time because of traveling to help expand affordable housing. It has come from a lot of hard work and sacrifice.

Q: Why are you running? What has inspired you to do so?
A:
 I know how important this role is to changing a community. Local government is where the rubber meets the road. Whether you talk about the issues at the federal level or the state level, the level that has the most immediate impact to a community and to a people is at city hall. I’ve grown up here and I've seen the deterioration. So, it’s important that we have a leader that not only understands the challenges but the opportunities in leveraging the resources that are available at city hall to make the biggest impact. 

When I got into Occidental college, my parents didn’t understand why I went to college because no one in my family had ever gone before. I had teachers, who advocated for me, who saw more in me than I saw in myself, that called my parents in to meet with them and said, ‘You got to let her go.’ There are people in my community that are part of the village that made me who I am today. And I owe it to them, the experience that I've had in public service and making the most of it in return for everything that they've ever invested in me. 

Q: How do you plan on helping District 7 after former council member Fuentes’ absence? 
A:
Well, he abandoned the district 10 months early and we’re missing an entire budget process that would allow us to have certain programs and investments made in the district. There’s a lot of anger and resentment in the community. There’s a lot of healing that needs to happen immediately, but more importantly, what I think we need to do is deliver the very basics and that’s what’s missing right now. We have a lot of need. We have a skeleton staff right now working CD7 so we have a lot that’s not getting attended to. So, building a staff that knows how city hall works well as I know is what this community deserves. 

Q: Most members in District 7 are Latinos and have expressed fear living under a Trump administration. What do you have to say to them? 
A:
When it comes to community policing efforts, we don’t benefit from our immigrant community feeling like they need to go hide in the shadows because it exacerbates an already challenged level of crime activity because people are already being exploited. I want to make sure that this community understands that they have, in me, someone who’s going to protect and understand that the city government is there for all of us regardless of what your immigration status is. My job is to make sure that we all get the services that we deserve. 

Q: Moving forward, where do you see yourself in the next five or 10 years? 
A:
Without the continuity of service, we’ve seen the deterioration of this community as a result of no one filling their full tenure on the job. So, I intend to work to the full tenure.