“The city controller is the city’s accountant, auditor, and paymaster, and the city’s accountant is in charge of ensuring that anything that is spent or that comes in financially is recorded and accounted for. We’re also in charge of ensuring that the budget set by the city council and the mayor is adhered to, and we are making specific appropriations based on that budget are being made.
As the city’s auditor, we’re in charge of ensuring that we do financial audits and performance audits of city departments to ensure that they’re doing their job right and we’re not wasting money. Then as the city’s paymaster, we are in charge of paying vendors and employees. One thing that’s really important is that we don’t have policy-making powers, but we can effect policy with our audits, through our analyses, through our resources.” – Kenneth Mejia.
Recap Interview with Kenneth Mejia – Los Angeles City Controller Candidate
How’s the campaign going?
Kenneth Mejia: Since we won [the primary] on June 7th by 20% against council member Koretz, we have been plugging hard. We took a one-week break, and then we hit the streets again. We started knocking on doors literally the following weekend. We are knocking on doors everyday and weekend, writing letters to voters, and delivering yard signs.
We have over 1,500 yard signs out right now, which is impressive for a controller campaign. We are constantly posting content on social media, educating the public, and making the position more fun. I think getting people to know about it is hard, especially since it’s about accounting, but we’ve found ways to engage people.
Has there been anything unexpected or particularly interesting that’s happened?
Kenneth Mejia: Our opponent is throwing attack after attack, left and right, and it’s interesting because he’s been in office, in politics, for 34 years, and if you can’t talk about your record, about the good things you’ve done and why that makes you a great controller, then voters should wonder “What does he have to offer?” because all he’s doing is attacking us. That’s the biggest thing that’s changed: getting politically thrashed constantly.
I saw your opponent didn’t want to answer a question about his record of placing unhoused people in his district. I think he did four in his district or something, right? I saw a video of him running away, refusing to answer a question about that.
Kenneth Mejia: It was a tiny number during a certain period of time, during 41.18 sweeps. LAHSA (Los Angeles Homeless Services Authority) had to do outreach during that time, and we found out that it was a very small, abysmal number. I think it was around three or four placements.
Other council people have done better, I would hope.
Kenneth Mejia: Some are definitely putting in more effort, but for the most part, most of the council members are pro-sweeps.
How do you think your background as an activist is playing into the campaign? Is it helping, hindering, or both?
Kenneth Mejia: Definitely more helpful. I think our entire team, not just myself, are all organizers and activists around specific movement issues. It comes naturally to us when we engage with voters and want to know what voters care about the most.
We already have those community connections. We’re also very creative about how we do outreach and talk to people, unlike the typical campaigning you’ve seen from other people. I think it’s been great because we’re close to the issues and know how to communicate.
Are there any recent polls?
Kenneth Mejia: No polls, but we feel confident.
Tell me about coming up with that awesome sign. I love how it tells a whole story, weaves in the recurring corgi theme, and uses your trademark mint green (is that how you’d define it?)
Kenneth Mejia: Our color is called “Mejito green.”
I like it. I think it’s very distinctive, and I believe confidence-inspiring.
Kenneth Mejia: It’s a nice color. Which Corgi billboard?
I like the one where he’s a superhero.
Kenneth Mejia: Overlooking the city? So those are our large yard signs. In that one, we have my “son,” “Killa the Corgi,” and he’s wearing a cape and a mask. He’s on top of a building in Downtown Los Angeles, and there’s a call sign in the middle of the sky that says: “Audit LA.”
Another name for the controller is the city’s watchdog, so when people say, “Why is it that you have a dog in your ads?” it actually plays into the role of the controller. He’s a watchdog.
And Killa has been watching for the entire campaign.
Kenneth Mejia: Exactly. Killa has been watching the whole time and holding City Hall accountable.
It was cool seeing you with Jane Fonda, all in white. What was that like?
Kenneth Mejia: Jane Fonda is an idol; her civil rights days, the Panthers, and her fight for racial justice. She’s pretty much hitting every issue that people care about. So when I met her, I was definitely star-struck.
She’s super cool, gave me good advice, spoke to me one-on-one for a bit, and is very down-to-earth and humble, using her privilege and resources for good.
Did you plan to both wear white?
Kenneth Mejia: Nope. I just wore a white shirt, and… she wore white.
I saw you were volunteering for LAAS (Los Angeles Animal Services). Can you tell me why you did that and how it’s going?
Kenneth Mejia: Before this interview, that’s where I was. My main reason was that I wanted to help because they’re short-staffed, and there are not a lot of people there, in general, to help with the animals.
When the exposé dropped in the LA Times in July, there were dogs not being walked for months, so as someone who has a dog, you can relate; you’re empathetic. So I actually wanted to go in and help, and I also wanted to see what the process is like.
It’s a long process. I signed up in July, and it’s already October, and I’m still unable to handle or walk the animals.
You have to sign up to volunteer. You have to do a virtual orientation. You have to do an in-person orientation. After you do those two orientations, they look at your criminal background record. They have to approve you still, and you might get denied even after doing the two orientations.
After you get approved, you have to do two pet food pantries where you’re serving low-income people with food for pets every Sunday, and those get filled up fast, so if you don’t sign up fast enough, you have to wait for another Sunday.
I have to do that, and after that, I have to do 10 hours of shelter support. That’s like sitting at the front desk greeting people, checking vaccination cards, or assisting people. So I’m an hour five off The 10 [freeway], and after that, I can start training with the animals. If you think about it, it’s been since July. (We are in October now)
It’s a little bit prohibitive.
Kenneth Mejia: It’s a very long process, and I’m almost halfway to getting there in my shelter support, but I could see why people give up. Some inefficiencies need to be fixed.
Since you’re a CPA, can we talk about some numbers? The average LA rent for about 800 square feet (like a one-bedroom apartment) is just under $3,000 a month.
We had a rule of thumb that the first week’s pay should pay the monthly rent back in the day. If we were still trying to live by that adage, I did the math, and to be able to make 3k working a 40-hour week; you’d have to be making $75 an hour.
Kenneth Mejia: It’s very expensive to live here, and you’ve got to work two jobs, three jobs if you make the minimum wage, or you’ve got to make a lot of money to afford it.
Affordability’s considered 30% of your income for rent. And not a lot of people make that. Not even close, so I think the city has to start thinking systemically about these issues because people will be priced out. People are going to be homeless. They already are, and it’s just going to get worse when the [Covid] protections expire.
There was just an article in the New Yorker about how poorly CA was doing at helping people into housing. They specifically talked about these tiny homes in San Rafael, up in the Bay. The article concluded that the lack of affordable housing was the root cause of the problem. Do you agree?
Kenneth Mejia: Yeah. A large majority of it is because people can’t afford to live somewhere.
A complicated question: What direction do we need to go in as we try to deal with this crisis? I wondered what you think is the most effective way to resolve this issue.
Kenneth Mejia: The housing crisis in LA? From a controller’s perspective, I am the accountant and the auditor. I’m the watchdog. I can’t pass policies or build new housing, but what I can do as a controller is I can analyze our housing crisis, and I think there are two parts: I think one is protecting current tenants, and the second one is housing, building housing.
So I think for the first one, as controller, what you’ll see is there are a lot of people who are struggling to get by, especially if they live in an RSO (Rent Stabilization Ordinance) or rent-controlled unit. They are getting harassed to move out so the landlord can increase the price. So definitely, I want to see how we can protect tenants and enable tenants to also affordable rent as well. Maybe that’s some form of assistance.
In addition, some of the affordable housing buildings are set to expire. Every year these apartment buildings have a covenant of affordability and expiring, and when they expire, the landlord can raise the rent to market rate right after that.
What you’re seeing is a lot of these buildings, the tenants who were paying $800 a month, will now get a bill that’s $3,000, for example. So [the controller] would be helping the city analyze that information and develop a long-term solution because it’s not sustainable.
That’s just on the tenant’s issues side. On the building side, the city’s only averaging about, I think, between 500 to 600 affordable housing units a year, and we need half a million, to be honest. It’s not anywhere near enough.
There definitely needs to be more focus on housing and ensuring that people can live somewhere they can afford, especially in more affluent areas. Some districts don’t have many apartments or units built, and they need to have their share as well.
Is there anything else you’d like to add or mention?
Kenneth Mejia: I think we’re very excited. We have transformed and revolutionized this position that no one has ever heard about before in their lives, and now everyone loves it and knows about it.
We’re getting high school students involved and college students involved. One thousand two hundred volunteers have signed up to help. We’ve knocked on over 100,000 doors for a campaign about accounting, numbers, and auditing.
I think it’s just grassroots, and people are flocking to it. People who didn’t want to get involved in politics, people who hated or were apathetic about politics, see us, and we inspire hope in change.
Stay Connected With Kenneth Mejia – Los Angeles City Controller Candidate