Last week, as I was having a good laugh at the defaced Jim Murez banner on the corner of Abbott Kinney and Brooks, I had a chance encounter with Douglas Nichols, Los Angeles city mayoral candidate who was in Venice campaigning for signatures to get on the ballot. His grasp of one of the central issues defining this race — homelessness — and the lived experience that refine his perspective, intrigue me to want to feature Mr Nichols, and spread the word about his candidacy.
Every hero has an origin story. Nichols’ begin forming his perspective from the world of Finance, when he moved west from Denver after his undergrad studies, to go to Stanford in pursuit of a Master’s in International Business Management. The few homeless in Palo Alto back then hardly even blipped on his radar. After graduation he lands a big-money job as a “Finance Bro”, which should have locked in his life course, where he would only know making hundreds of thousands of dollars every year hocking mortgages. Well, sometimes life gets messy. A bad break-up sets off years of an alcohol-induced downward spiral, degrading until it all hits rock bottom. And as he tells it, he didn’t hit rock bottom and then immediately bounce right back up. The years that he spent languishing in that state, before starting his journey of sobriety, taught him to have some compassion for those still dealing with addiction and mental health.
The bulk of Nichols’ time spent homeless was in his hometown of Denver, Colorado. That is when he began to see how NOT to handle the problem of a rapidly growing homeless population. At the time, Mayor Michael Hancock pushed for, and was able to get passed an anti-camping law that too broadly defined camping. The Hancock camping bans became city code, and Nichols got to personally experience the reign of terror that followed at the hands of the Denver Police Department. The tactics were so aggressive, and so surgical in its target of the homeless population, that both the ACLU and the NAACP sued the city to stop the harassment. By then, Nichols was already years into his sobriety (he has not had a drink in seventeen years), so this began to focus his activism around the issue of homelessness.
The success the activists had in overturning the total ban, now has Nichols on alert to not see another city go down the same aggressive, hateful path towards the homeless. Then he hears Caruso speak, and all the bad ol’ days of terrible policy came rushing back like a mental trigger. Caruso’s vision is even more extreme than what they were able to push back in Denver. Experience made it clear when he heard the same creeping tactics being used to move towards the extreme outcome: start with something everyone can agree on — like homeless away from schools, then it’s afterhours doorway sitting, then a ban away from parks, and before long there’s an alert to find anyone who “looks” homeless, so that they can be harrassed, and rounded up. This is where Nichols sees the rhetoric is moving towards, right here in liberal Los Angeles, as competing camps attempt to paint themselves as the most aggressive towards the homeless “problem”. That was enough to get him off the bench, and throw his hat into the ring as a longshot candidate with real solutions to address the crisis of homelessness in our city.
Nichols begins the conversation optimistically because he highlights that the City Council has already voted and approved a project that would convert or build 222 structures, to create 60,000 units. The problem so far, continues to be that local opposition prevents many of these units from progressing past the planning phase. This is why his approach will acknowledge that the Los Angeles effect is stemming from a national cause, where increasing homelessness throughout the country is driving migration and adds daily to our local homeless population.
For this reason, a National State of Emergency must be declared for homelessless here in Los Angeles, and the spending and solutions must be granted emergency powers to streamline the acquisition and planning phase, so that a group of determined neighbors don’t hold veto power over the solutions to the emergency. More detail on these plans can be reviewed on his website: NicholsforLAmayor.com
With homelessness the major issue dominating the Nichols platform, a big part of the solution involves getting people back to work. Nichols envision that the skilled labor required for green building to expand the stock of housing, can be supplied by setting up apprenticeship programs aimed at the unhoused. Those jobs can also be a precursor qualifier for some of the final units. Nichols also envision that Los Angeles could have an all-electric vehicle fleet by 2029. This too can be a fertile source of well paying city jobs. The new skills required to maintain this fleet will develop the auto mechanics of the future, and provide middle class jobs that can not be outsourced. Nichols also pledges to not commit to mass displacement to accommodate the Olympic games, while also directing city hiring for the games to pull too from the homeless population.
In the utopia that Nichols hope for, he would be free to bring his big ideas for solving this major issue to the public, who would have just as equal a chance to hear his proposals as anybody else running in this race. But the reality of our system makes it that the biggest home field advantage a candidate can have when running for office, is access to big money donors — even stronger if a candidate can self-finance.
Nichols understands that he does not have the big-money back door to slide in through. For this reason he has to work much harder than other candidates just to have a one-in-a-million longshot. And if at the end, it is not he who gets to deliver a positive solution for the city he loves, he is paying attention to all the major candidates, and considering their platforms. So he says, “vote for me, the only homeless guy in the race, and I can use my lived experience to solve the problem. But if you don’t vote for me, consider Karen Bass. At the very least, she is not Rick Caruso.”
@rapidsvideogroup.comDouglas Nichols For Los Angeles Mayor