Column: Hey, Santa, how about a fresh start at L.A. City Hall, home of more naughty than nice?

Los Angeles, CA - December 13, 2022: Protesters mock and taunt embattled city councilman Kevin De Leon makes an appearance at council meeting on Tuesday, Dec. 13, 2022 in Los Angeles, CA. (Brian van der Brug / Los Angeles Times)
Protesters taunt embattled Los Angeles City Councilmember Kevin De León during Tuesday's meeting. (Brian van der Brug / Los Angeles Times)

It would be difficult to imagine a new year in Los Angeles politics more dramatic than the show we’ve been treated to in 2022, but this is a town in which sequels sometimes exceed expectations.

Rick Caruso spent $100 million of his own money on a mayoral campaign and lost decisively.

A City Council member and a labor leader resigned in disgrace after the leaking of a recorded conversation peppered with racist comments.

Another council member, heard on that same recording, wore a Santa hat to a neighborhood toy giveaway and got into a scuffle with a protester. The Santa hat fell off his head. Children cried. Merry Christmas to all.

Two former council members await trial on corruption charges.

A newly elected council member has called for the abolition of the LAPD.

A young accountant who once called President Biden a rapist and advocated for the imprisonment of Hillary Clinton soundly defeated his establishment foe in the race for city controller.

And City Council meetings are routinely disrupted by protests that quickly degenerate into an F-bomb competition.

Ordinarily, I appreciate artful use of profanity and referring to political foes as fascists, especially when it’s aimed at people who aren’t setting the world on fire in their chosen fields of employment. But at the most recent chaotic council meeting, the last of 2022, the first speaker used variations of the F-word to the point of tediousness, dulling the daggers.

In that particular curser’s defense, I will note that a couple of his references were to outgoing Councilmember Paul Koretz’s sign-off, when he dropped his own F-bomb — sending an open invitation to wannabe copycats for years to come.

“Disruption for the purpose of disruption doesn’t do anything,” said political consultant Rick Taylor, noting that the business of serving the needs of 4 million people doesn’t get done when meetings are derailed. “We’ve got problems here in L.A.”

But it’s increasingly clear that tackling those problems won't be easy as long as Councilmember Kevin De León, the scuffling Santa, defies calls for him to quietly step away, with even Biden joining the chorus. De León seems to me to have been as much the victim as the perp in that wrestling match, by the way, though it's hard to take the side of anyone other than the kids who had to witness the affair.

Ideally, it would be nice to let the recall process proceed and allow 14th Council District voters decide whether De León should get the boot for his participation in — and failure to shut down — a conversation filled with offensive stereotypes.

But that would take months to play out, and his own constituents would pay the price.

Bernadine Bednarz, a 30-year resident of Monterey Hills, told me she has tried repeatedly to call De León’s council offices to demand his resignation, but she can’t get through to anyone.

“I think he has sullied what the office is,” Bednarz said.

An Eagle Rock resident told me that although she has been a De León supporter, she thinks he failed to explain himself to constituents and answer questions about whether he could do his job going forward. “I think the council member has been damaged politically and may not be able to carry out his duties,” she said.

“KDL must resign for the good of the city, the council and the residents of the 14th district,” said Jaime Regalado, Cal State L.A. political science professor emeritus. Had De León resigned when the scandal broke, Regaldo said, he “might have been able to salvage a political career of sorts over time. But that time has come and gone.”

As the reigning “poster boy” for protesters, Regalado said, disruption will continue “raw and unabated until he’s out.”

Raw and unabated protests began before the leaked-audio scandal, and they may continue even if De León finds a measure of humility and walks away from the smoldering wreckage of his once-soaring political career.

De León took some heat because he believed, as did many other council members, that tiny-home villages and other temporary arrangements are preferable to having people suffer or die on the streets while awaiting the construction of permanent housing. And because he supported, along with most council members, an ordinance banning homeless encampments from within 500 feet of schools and day-care centers.

Even with a couple of committed lefties joining the new City Council, moderates are likely to hold a majority, and newly elected Mayor Karen Bass figures to align with them as she tries to deliver on a promise to house 17,000 people in her first year in office.

So what should we expect to see in the new year?

More head-butting on homelessness, housing, crime and police funding, along with more protests, more chaos. And maybe, just maybe, some progress.

It’s the holidays, and I’m trying to be cheerful, OK?

Bass is going to discover two things:

First, it’s not easy to change a bureaucratic and political monstrosity like City Hall and deliver — in the midst of a humanitarian crisis — safer, cleaner streets and more affordable housing.

Second, voters can turn quickly on politicians who don’t deliver on promises. So she better figure out quickly how to tamp down the chaos, ride herd and get things done.

The cage-rattling protesters at City Hall aren’t the only ones demanding change. Scads of middle-class residents feel overtaxed and underserved, and many of the front-line people who make the city work often can’t afford to live in it, as labor leader Arnulfo De La Cruz told me in September, when healthcare workers who make $16 an hour hit the streets to promote the mansion tax.

Measure ULA passed in a breeze, and before long, Bass and the City Council will have hundreds of millions of dollars annually to build affordable housing and keep people from falling into homelessness. Maybe that'll be an opportunity to carve out some common ground on how to address the city’s most pressing challenges.

Political consultant Sarah Angel said Bass might employ the concept of calling people in rather than calling them out — listen to what’s on the protesters’ agenda, find some points of collaboration and “encourage respectful dialogue.”

That’s a lot to fit under the tree, but the real Santa hasn’t lost his hat, so now is the time to dream big.

The year 2023 can’t possibly be crazier than 2022.


This story originally appeared in Los Angeles Times.