32-year-old community activist Eunisses Hernandez will be the next representative for District 1 on the Los Angeles City Council. With results as of July 1st, Hernandez was declared the winning candidate by Los Angeles County, defeating and therefore unseated incumbent Gil Cedillo. In the CD-1 tight race, Hernandez currently has a 2,408-vote lead with 54 percent of the vote, compared to 46 percent for Cedillo.
On July 1st, after the County certified election results, Hernandez sent a press release thanking her campaign team, her supporters and even Cedillo for his eight years in office. “As a lifelong resident of CD-1, I have taken note of the issues and crises unfolding in each of our neighborhoods. Angelenos helped us get into office, and it is going to require all of us to ensure that we are successful in our vision,” she wrote.
Hernandez will be one of the women representatives in what is now a male-dominated City Council. “I look forward to working with my colleagues in City Hall to make Los Angeles a city where all community members can thrive,” she said.
At 13.5 square miles CD-1 is city’s third-smallest council district in area, encompassing neighborhoods and landmarks such as Glassell Park, Highland Park, Chinatown, Mount Washington, Echo Park, Elysian Park, Westlake, Pico Union, Koreatown, Angelino Heights, Lincoln Heights, MacArthur Park and the Dodgers Stadium. The district has always been home to Hernandez, who was born and raised in CD-1 and is currently a resident of North East L.A.
Hernandez is a first-generation Mexican American, her mother was born in Guadalajara, Jalisco and her father in Morelia, Michoacan. Although they have been massive supporters of her campaign, “My parents knew I was running for city council, but it never hit them until a couple of months ago, when we sat at our dinner table and realized how big all this was,“ Hernandez said.
She received her bachelor’s degree from California State University, Long Beach, majoring in criminal justice. “I thought I was going to be a cop,” she said. Hernandez has seen her community of CD-1 change over the years, something that inspired her to run for City Council. “Parts of CD-1 are now considered high-income neighborhoods, and there’s been a huge decline in Latinx residents; that’s what gentrification does to communities like this,” she said. She recalls struggling to keep her parents home during the 2008 recession. Her family had to rent rooms and sell her mom’s jewelry to pay for her parents’ mortgage.
Although Hernandez will be a new arrival to the City Council, she is not new to local politics or community organizing. The Democratic Party and the Democratic Socialists of America member believes that in addition to being a lifelong CD-1 resident, her policy advocacy experience has equipped her with the best qualities to lead her community.
On her campaign’s website, Hernandez states that the experience she has gained in the last five years while working with local and state legislators, system actors, and community members devastated by things like criminalization, the war on drugs, and mass incarceration, is what led her to launch her campaign. ”I’m a policy advocate, campaign strategist, and community organizing leader, and our campaign is here to fight for equity, justice, and compassion in city hall,” she states.
A previous Hernandez win was Measure J, a proposal she helped draft and one that was passed by voters and adopted in the 2020 November election. Measure J would direct 10% of the county’s locally unrestricted funding toward direct community investments, such as youth development, small business support, housing and rental assistance, job training, small business development, youth activities, alternatives to jails, and housing services. Measure J would also appropriate money for alternatives to incarceration like community-based restorative justice programs, reentry programs and community-based health services. Hernandez has also been an organizer with JusticeLA, a coalition that fights to reduce jail expansion and who, in 2019, was successful in stopping Los Angeles County’s $3.5 billion jail plan
In 2020, Hernandez co-founded La Defensa, an abolitionist organization whose mission is to fight “for a fair & transparent pretrial process, for state and local budgets that reflect community values, and for life-affirming alternatives to incarceration,” as stated on their website. Today La Defensa is a female-led organization with 10 team members, including Hernandez, who is the Director of Campaigns and Policy.
Hernandez, a self-described police and prison abolitionist, had been endorsed by Los Angeles Supervisor Holly J. Mitchell and civil rights leader Dolores Huerta, who said Hernandez “has shown bravery in fighting for her values and our communities.“
Although Hernandez is very happy about her victory, she said it was not always easy. She held 58 fundraising events and her team knocked on 67,000 doors while canvassing, but aside from that, it was a tough fight. “We worked very hard, and we got harassed a lot,” she said. Hernandez said many of her canvassers were harassed on the street by her opponent’s supporters and donors. She herself faced online harassment. “The venues where we were hosting events were told not to host events for us,” she said. “To go through all of that and now to be here makes me very proud of our team.”
CALÓ NEWS caught up with Hernandez to talk about her run for office.
EDITOR’S NOTE: ANY CANDIDATE IN LA OR LA COUNTY WHO WISHES TO RESPOND TO QUESTIONS RELATED TO ISSUES IMPORTANT TO LATINOS SHOULD CONTACT BRENDA@LATINOMEDIA.ORG.
YOU WILL BE A NEW REPRESENTATIVE/LEADER FOR CD-1; WHAT INSPIRED YOU TO RUN TO SERVE IN YOUR COMMUNITY?
In the beginning, I didn’t think I would run for office. We had just started La Defensa in 2020, and we were having good outcomes. But after seeing people in my neighborhood struggle, knowing friends that owed thousands of dollars in rent, seeing people that look like my parents digging in recycling bins every single day, and thinking how we had had the same representation for eight years and how we have nothing to show for it now, I knew something had to change. This district was created to represent Latinos in the City Council, and I could not let someone else beat Cedillo, especially when all the people wanting to run against him were white. I had seen the erasure of the Latinx community over the years through the displacement of small businesses and people, so that’s when I knew I had to try at least. It was a decision that took me some time to make. I was scared because most of my work has been against the carceral system, against law enforcement, and the anxiety of what could happen to my loved ones and me and running for office; that’s what made me afraid of running. Finally, I presented the idea to colleagues I was working and organizing with, and they told me we had to do it, and they had my back. They enforced the idea that this was a collective effort; that’s when I decided I had to do it.
HOW DO YOU PLAN TO INVOLVE RESIDENTS, SPECIALLY NON-ENGLISH SPEAKERS, LATINOS AND PEOPLE OF COLOR, IN THE DECISION–MAKING PROCESS WHEN YOU GET SWORN TO OFFICE IN DECEMBER?
Gil Cedillo has a strong hold over the south part of the district; that side is predominantly Latino, migrant and monolingual, Spanish-speaking families. We hired people from the neighborhood who spoke Spanish and made sure that all of our campaign materials were translated into Spanish, Mandarin and Korean so that there’s language justice. When we get sworn in December, that’s what we plan to do; we will apply those same tools. We will hire people who are part of CD-1 and live within the community to be part of the council district office. We will ensure those community members joining our staff are Spanish speakers, Quantanish speakers, or other Asian languages. We want to meet people where they are, with the language they understand and that there are people in our office who they can connect with and represent communities that are dear to them. We have a practice that we are calling co-governing. The policy is never really developed at the top; representatives do not necessarily know what’s happening within the communities. Frequently, the policy comes from the bottom up because those are the folks close to the problem; that’s why we will make sure we regularly have meetings with communities so they can share what they are going through. Our office will also be a conduit to services, so people know they can call our offices for any assistance.
DO YOU BELIEVE POLICE REFORM IS NECESSARY?
I’m a survivor of harm and violence. That’s another reason that drives me to do this work because I know the responses that we have right now do not keep us safe. One thing that I dedicated my career to was building alternatives to incarceration and alternate types of crisis response so that we prevent harm and violence. It is essential that instead of investing in the current police, we invest in stable jobs, housing, and mental health assistance to prevent violence and harm from happening and rising in the first place. I’m an abolitionist, which means it’s not just law enforcement; we need to see and evaluate all affiliated agencies that are harmful to us. The questions that are important to ask are: is this policy or campaign going to leave anybody behind? Is it going to build something that we will have to destroy in the future? Will it give more money and power to the system that has been harming our communities? If the answer is ‘yes’ to any of these questions, our campaign believes in going back to the drawing board and finding a different solution because we can’t afford to leave anybody behind. We can’t afford to build jails that will be closed for decades, like the Lincoln Heights Jail in my district that has been closed for decades. We can’t give these harmful systems more money and power. We need to remove some power that law enforcement has now; why are we criminalizing sex work? Why are we criminalizing people in the street that are overdosing?
WHICH CANDIDATE DID YOU SUPPORT FOR MAYOR? WHO DO YOU HOPE IS THE NEXT L/A MAYOR?
For mayor, someone I supported was Gina Viola. She did not make it, but I have worked with her for many years. She’s an abolitionist and set with the same values my campaign has. I’m now supporting Karen Bass. I’m a survivor of sexual assault, and Rick Caruso did nothing for over 30 years to protect survivors. How could we let him run our city? I pray he doesn’t make it.
WHAT IS YOUR FAVORITE PLACE IN TOWN/IN YOUR DISTRICT YOU RECOMMEND ANGELENOS TO VISIT?
I have driven up and down the districts, passing every street around four or five times. My favorite place has to be Flat Tops in Lincoln Heights. It’s a view as you can see all of East L.A. I’m getting chills just thinking about it. We did a small event there and heard about the different organizers trying to protect that land; it’s a beautiful place.
LOS ANGELES IS HOME TO SOME OF THE HIGHEST RENTAL COSTS IN THE NATION; HOW CAN YOU SECURE AFFORDABLE HOUSING FOR YOUR RESIDENTS?
I’m going to be the most significant barrier to luxury and market-rate development that I can, and I said that because, in CD-1, the average median income is $32,000 a year. Even at the market rate, our people cannot afford it. So I’m dedicating myself to building deeply, deeply affordable housing in the 0-30% tile range and prioritizing that. As council members, we have a lot of discretion on what gets built in our districts and a lot of power in that, so pushing for as many affordable housing units as possible is my plan, along with preserving the affordable housing units we have right now. They are thousands of units that are under these covenants that are set to expire. Supporting renters is also crucial. Our entire team will be trained on renter advocacy rights, and they will go out to the communities and train renters on their rights and work with tenants’ unions so that renters are treated fairly. In the lower part of the district, there’s a lot of open land, empty land of dry grass, and the people that own the land are just holding it. When Dodger Stadium was built, they classified that land as eminent domain; why can’t we do the same to these empty lots to build affordable housing so that our people are not leaving a place they have lived their whole lives because they cannot pay rent. Gentrification is something that I grew up trying to survive; my loved ones have been displaced because of gentrification, so anything that I can do to preserve the people that are still here is what I’m going to do.
WHAT ARE SOME SOLUTIONS YOU PROPOSE TO HELP WITH HOUSING AND HOMELESSNESS?
70% of the people currently experiencing homelessness in the city of L.A. have lived here for over ten years. You will often hear people saying that homeless folks come from different states, but that’s not true; these are our neighbors, our loved ones, who have been here for a long time. We want to protect renters, so they are not evicted and lose their housing and provide services to those already homeless. Right now, the solution the city is applying is called 4118, which is making zones in the city where people cannot sit, sleep or lie down. City leaders are sweeping people from one end of the town to another and not providing any housing. There are millions of dollars sitting at the state level that the city can use to buy hotels and motels right now so that we do not have to wait to build housing, we can purchase these places and immediately begin to house people. In my district, over 100 young people are experiencing homelessness. In addition, I think it’s essential to provide city services to encampments and make connections and relationships with homeless people, so we know what their needs are and support them the way they need to be,
HOW DO YOU FEEL ABOUT THE TRANSPORTATION OPTIONS CURRENTLY AVAILABLE IN OUR CITY? WHAT WILL YOU DO TO IMPROVE TRANSPORTATION IN THE CITY?
I do not think L.A. public transportation is good enough. It can be better, it needs to meet the needs of our communities. We had an event at Elysian Park in CD-1, and I noticed there are no buses people can take to get up to Elysian Park and how not having that transportation will leave out many people. We do not have enough accessibility to get to all the places we need to get to, we need to expand that and make public transportation free. It’s not OK to criminalize folks because they cannot pay bus fares. We need to invest more services into the public transportation routes, including mental health teams or social worker teams to provide assistance and safety. We also need more bike lanes. People often think bike lanes bring in more gentrification, but when you go into schools like Miguel Contreras in CD-1, you will see that the bike racks are full. These young kids of color need to make it to school and back home safely but do not have accessible bike lanes. It’s not just good for them but also better for the environment.