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Endorsement: Hydee Feldstein Soto for Los Angeles city attorney

(Mher Vahakn / Hydee Feldstein Soto campaign)

What should Los Angeles voters look for in the next city attorney? With Los Angeles City Atty. Mike Feuer termed out, they will be asked to choose from among seven candidates in the June 7 primary. It’s a tough question because the job has a variety of roles and responsibilities, each demanding a different skill set.

The Los Angeles city attorney, for example, is the city’s legal counsel, advising the mayor, City Council and city departments on what they can and can’t do — or what they should or shouldn’t do, since the office provides legal advice, which policymakers can choose to ignore. This responsibility requires the city attorney to be thoughtful, persuasive and creative to help shape effective, humane policies.

The office also represents the L.A. government in lawsuits. There are many claims and lawsuits threatened and filed against the city — some of which are entirely warranted. The city attorney’s job is to decide when to fight and when to settle, and that requires a pragmatic and responsible decision-maker. Too often those decisions have been informed by ego and political expediency rather than what’s best for the city.

The city attorney can also bring lawsuits on behalf of the city and consumers. The L.A. city attorney has specific authority under state law to sue under the state’s Unfair Competition Law, as Feuer did when he sued Wells Fargo & Co. for practices that allowed employees to open bank accounts without clients’ consent. That puts L.A. at the grown-ups’ table, along with district attorneys and federal regulators and prosecutors.

Here are the L.A. Times’ editorial board endorsements for elected offices in Los Angeles city and county, LAUSD, superior court, statewide offices, the state legislature and U.S. House and Senate seats.

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The city attorney is a law enforcement official responsible for deciding when and if to prosecute individuals accused of misdemeanors, which include vandalism, petty theft, DUI and other lower-level offenses that carry a maximum penalty of a year in jail. To hear some of candidates talk, the city attorney is primarily a prosecutor, and preferably a tough-on-crime one. But a successful city attorney is focused on making communities safer and the criminal justice system work for all, not just racking up convictions.

The candidates in the June primary have a diverse range of experiences and ideas. We recommend Hydee Feldstein Soto. She would bring deep legal expertise, independence and intellectual curiosity to the job.

Retired for the last decade, Feldstein Soto was a longtime partner in corporate law firms with specialties in bankruptcy and acquisitions, and she managed teams of lawyers with different disciplines. It was complex work that required collaboration and problem-solving to finalize deals that worked for clients. It was good training for managing the 500-plus lawyers in the city attorney’s office and navigating City Hall, which is full of difficult challenges and competing priorities.

Her top priorities include helping departments streamline approvals for affordable housing, reviewing agreements with the county to ensure the city is receiving its fair share of public and mental health services, and scrutinizing the city’s contracting to understand why homeless housing is costing so much to build. She wants to ramp up enforcement of city ordinances by using the administrative penalty system to issue fines for offenses like illegal vacation rentals and building code violations.

With an auditor and CPA’s zeal for numbers and transparency, Kenneth Mejia is the best candidate to be L.A.'s next city controller.

As for the prosecution of misdemeanors, she believes offenders should face consequences for crimes but that penalties or interventions should include diversion to treatment, community services or restorative justice programs.

Feldstein Soto understands the possibilities and limitations of the office. The city attorney is not a policymaker. That’s important. Feldstein Soto has been a skeptic of state bills designed to override local zoning to allow denser housing, and she opposed Senate Bill 9, which allows up to four units on a single-family zoned lot. But SB 9 is now law — and a good one — and the office is responsible for implementing it, even if the city attorney disagrees with it. If elected, we hope she uses her land-use savvy to modernize city plans and laws so communities can make room for the housing that L.A. desperately needs rather than spend time crafting schemes to thwart state housing laws.

Among the other candidates, former Board of Public Works President Kevin James knows how city government works and has a reputation for being a pragmatic, results-oriented manager. Civil rights lawyer Faisal Gill has focused on holding the Los Angeles Police Department accountable for officer misconduct and has said he would not enforce the city’s ban on homeless encampments. Both candidates, former Republicans, now Democrats, have made major ideological shifts over their careers. James was a conservative talk radio host while working as an entertainment lawyer before working in Mayor Eric Garcetti’s administration, and Gill worked in the George W. Bush administration and advocated against gay marriage.

Marina Torres was a federal prosecutor for six years before running for city attorney, and Richard Kim is a deputy city attorney. Both have focused their campaigns on corruption and fighting crime and said that they would be more aggressive in prosecuting misdemeanors. Teddy Kapur is a corporate restructuring lawyer, and Sherri Onica Valle Cole is a former deputy city attorney.

Among the candidates, Feldstein Soto stands out for her experience, legal acumen and problem-solving skills, and The Times recommends her for city attorney.

Read more endorsements at: latimes.com/endorsements.


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