The head of a downtown-based business group entered the race for Los Angeles mayor on Monday, making the fight against homelessness the central message of her campaign.
Jessica Lall, president and chief executive of the Central City Assn., promised to build more housing for those experiencing mental health crises, change zoning rules to allow for the construction of more affordable housing and press other cities in Los Angeles County to do more to address homelessness across the region.
Lall said the city, which is frequently sued by homeless advocates over its efforts to clear encampments, also needs to stop "playing defense" in court. And she promised that, if elected, she would start the process of creating a city health department to serve those who need substance abuse and mental health services.
"It is clear that even despite good intentions, our government institutions have failed to adequately address the housing and humanitarian crises plaguing our city," she said.
Monday's announcement makes Lall, 37, the most prominent female candidate in the race. However, she is not the only business leader running to replace Garcetti, who faces term limits and was recently nominated to become the U.S. ambassador to India.
Real estate broker Mel Wilson, who has served on the boards of various San Fernando Valley business groups, launched his own mayoral campaign three months ago. Wilson said the city needs a mayor with business experience to tackle homelessness, housing affordability and the region's economic recovery in the wake of COVID-19.
“What I've found is that a lot of businesses are moving out of state because they say their employees cannot afford to live here," he said. "They’re going to Texas, Nevada, Arizona. A person who understands the housing piece can change that dynamic.”
For now, the field of candidates still features just two City Hall politicians: City Atty. Mike Feuer and City Councilman Joe Buscaino, who represents neighborhoods stretching from Watts to San Pedro. Councilman Kevin de León and U.S. Rep. Karen Bass (D-Los Angeles) are also seriously considering a run for the office.
Another possible contender is real estate developer Rick Caruso, best known for developing the Grove and Americana at Brand shopping centers.
Lall has spent nearly five years as the head of the Central City Assn., which focuses heavily on housing production, transportation and other major issues facing the region. Her father immigrated to the United States from India and her mother was born in Oklahoma.
The Mar Vista resident previously worked on former Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa’s business team. She also was communications director for the brief mayoral campaign of Austin Beutner, an investment banker who later became superintendent of the Los Angeles Unified School District.
This story originally appeared in Los Angeles Times.