Rick Caruso on Why He Should Lead Los Angeles

The Candidates Speak to the Courier | Part One of Two

The race for Mayor of Los Angeles is in its final stages, with ballots for the Nov. 8 election expected in the mail in early October.

Developer Rick Caruso and Rep. Karen Bass are maintaining a packed schedule of campaign events as each vies to become the first new Mayor of the City of Angels in nearly a decade. 

In two exclusive interviews, the Courier spoke with both Caruso and Bass about key issues resonating for all Southland residents. Part One of this series will spotlight Caruso. Part Two will appear in the Oct. 7 issue of the Courier and
feature Karen Bass. 

BHC:   Crime is on everyone’s mind. Many areas are dealing with a frequency and type of crime they have not previously experienced. What measures and solutions are you proposing to combat these trends? 

Caruso:   I can speak from the point of view of Los Angeles, but it is translatable across any city. In Los Angeles, we’ve got some of the highest crime rates we’ve had in many, many years. Homicides are at a 15-year high. Hate crimes are up 180%. It’s all going in the wrong direction. 

Also in Los Angeles, we’re 880 officers short. So, we’ve got a huge problem in just policing the streets and having enough manpower. 

My plan is really pretty simple. It’s a plan that has worked in the past, 20 years ago when I was Police Commissioner under Jimmy Hahn. That is, to bring in 1,500 more officers and institute a more community-based policing model. You put the senior lead officers actually on the sidewalk. You’re walking beats. Officers get to know businesses; they get to know residents. That builds an enormous amount of trust. 

What we saw 20 years ago is we dropped crime by 30%. We brought it back to levels of 1950. It works. That’s what I plan to do as Mayor. More officers prevent crime. So, we need to focus on two things, preventing crime and holding criminals responsible. 

That sounds good in theory. But we hear that it is difficult to recruit qualified people and train them. We’re not in the same environment as we were before the pandemic.

There’s no doubt it’s a challenge. The challenge we’re also facing in Los Angeles is that officers are frustrated because they haven’t been able to actually be cops. There are so many restrictions on them now. So, if you’re someone who wants to serve and protect, you’re going to other agencies. Our last Academy class only had 23 people in it. You can’t rebuild a department 23 at a time.

But that’s a culture change that’s going to shift when I’m Mayor. We have to change the culture and allow good people to be officers and actually go out there to protect and serve.

Beverly Hills has employed private security services to enhance safety in the city. Is that something you see as an option for the greater Los Angeles area?

There are places where it probably does make sense, maybe not like Beverly Hills is doing it. But there are areas where you can have ambassadors on the street. You can have them connected by radio to officers. We have neighborhoods in Los Angeles that are putting in their own camera systems so that crime can be identified much quicker. I think there are a lot of measures that we can put into place, and I would certainly do so as Mayor. I was just in the Melrose area, and they’ve got a whole camera system that they are putting up privately up and down Melrose. 

That leads to another big issue affecting security, and that is homelessness. Even before the pandemic, it was reaching crisis levels in Los Angeles. We see the unhoused everywhere we turn now. What solutions do you propose to tackle this complex problem?

If you look at Carusocan.com, you will see we have a very detailed plan. It’s to build 30,000 beds, to immediately declare a state of emergency and hire 500 case workers. You’ve got to get people off the streets and into shelters. You can’t provide services on the streets and have it be successful. 

We’ve got to unbundle the overregulation, streamline and fast track the process for building affordable housing very quickly. 

Where would you build the affordable housing? 

There are more than enough areas. I’m a big believer that it is around transit corridors, so you are tying into mass transit. You are having people living and working and getting on rail lines very efficiently.

Speaking of mass transit, the Sepulveda Transit Corridor Project is a plan to connect the San Fernando Valley and the Westside, but it has generated controversy along the route. What is your stance on this ambitious plan?

I completely agree with it in concept, which is getting people efficiently out of cars and getting them moved around this city. But I rode Metro a few weeks ago; it’s horrifying. It’s filthy, there are encampments in the subway systems. There’s drug abuse down there. There are lots of great ideas to build it, but we have to do a better job operating what we have. As Mayor, I get four seats on the Metro Board, so it becomes a real priority.

You stepped away as CEO of Caruso, but how do you plan to steer clear of conflicts of interest if you are elected? The Caruso name is very entrenched in the fabric of Los Angeles real estate development. And, we’ve not had the greatest track record recently with businessmen holding political office.

Well, let me first say that we’ve had businessmen that have been great leaders. Franklin Roosevelt was a businessman, and he was a pretty good leader. Bloomberg was a good leader. Mitt Romney was a good leader. We’ve had one that has been pretty bad, but I would say he’s more the exception to the rule.

I have stepped away from the company. As I said in the debate the other night, I have had very powerful positions under three very strong mayors, Tom Bradley, Jim Hahn and Dick Riordan. I was President of the Police Commission, President of DWP and served on the Coliseum Commission. I have never had one claim, one scandal, not an indicium of scandal in 40 years. My reputation is incredibly important to me. I protect it. I believe very strongly that you should operate with character and integrity. I’ve done it my whole life.

I have no interest of doing this job other than serving the public. That’s why I’m doing it for $1 a year. 

I also have an ethics czar, and we have a corruption plan that we have issued.  I’m not worried about things that I’m going to do. I want to stop corruption in City Hall. We have a very corrupt City Hall. I have a very corrupt opponent. She doesn’t have a corruption plan, which I can understand because it would probably eliminate her from her job. But I’m going to be incredibly careful and operate the way I’ve done for 40 years. 

You are in the luxury hospitality business, in addition to your real estate ventures. We have some high-profile projects coming to Beverly Hills. There is also a proposed Bulgari Hotel in the Benedict Canyon area that you are on record opposing. Can you explain your position? 

It’s in a predominantly residential neighborhood. I think it’s inconsistent with the nature of the neighborhood. It appears from renderings that I’ve seen they’re trying to make it feel much more residential in scale. But the reality is that you’re in a residential neighborhood and the street system wasn’t designed for it. 

That’s my position. It’s up to others to decide, but it’s not something that I would support. I do think what LVMH is doing on Rodeo Drive is great, though.

Why is Karen Bass the wrong person for the job of Mayor of Los Angeles? 

She has no experience. She’s been a legislator. She’s never operated a business. Even in Congress in the past 11 years, she’s only sponsored and passed one bill and that’s to change the name of a post office. 

I don’t think that’s the leadership that we need with a city that’s very complex. An $11 billion budget, 80,000 employees, 50 departments and you’ve never operated anything. 

She’s going to be overwhelmed and lost. If you haven’t made change in 20 years, why would anybody expect you to make change now. I think she’s like most politicians; she’s looking for a job. 

She’s not qualified for this job and she’s under a cloud of corruption because of her taking a scholarship at USC. You can’t lead when you’re under a cloud of corruption.We’ve had that with Eric Garcetti for the last couple of years and we just continue to dig a bigger hole.