Carson’s Political Newcomer Tries to Beat the Learning Curve

  • 01/24/2013
  • Terelle Jerricks

By Terelle Jerricks, Managing Editor

The large screen TV in Charlotte Brimmer’s office was tuned to a documentary about the 20th anniversary of Los Angeles Riots when I walked in.

After 20-plus years with the Community Redevelopment Agency of Los Angeles, she was still upset that Gov. Jerry Brown dismantled the primary tools of community development.

“It was very, very interesting,” she said, almost sardonically.

The political upstart spent the day walking neighborhoods and was in a comfortable black jumpsuit and slippers. She was working at her desk before I arrived.

She was working out of the Redevelopment office in Watts before the CRA was shut down.

“I was assigned there when I was 51,” she said thinking back. “That’s where I grew upmentally. That’s where I saw the real thing,” she said, referring to the moment where she shed her naivete.

Growing up in West Los Angeles during the 1960s, she noted that she was never exposed to the reality that other African Americans were facing in Watts during that time and after.

[*A correction was made indicating Charlotte Brimmer was born and partly reared in Los Angeles before moving to Carson.]

“It’s like, you know, but you don’t know, at least not to the level that I found out,” Brimmer explained, describing her own personal culture-shock after seeing high rates of poverty and ingrained patterns of community and familial
dysfunction ranging from drug abuse, teenage pregnancies and joblessness rooted in the lack of economic development.

“At the peak of it, when we really could have made a difference where people were finally believing in the system and there were a lot of things in the pipeline, Gov. Brown comes and says we don’t need redevelopment anymore,”
she said.

The Brimmer family could be in the midst of emerging as a political dynasty. Her third child, out of four, Justin Brimmer and former aid to Councilwoman Janice Hahn, ran for the Los Angeles 15th District City Council seat. He came in a distant fourth, but there are expectations of a bright future for him in local politics.

It is no secret that Brimmer is Mayor Jim Dear’s preferred candidate to replace either Councilwoman Julie Ruiz-Raber or Councilman Mike Gipson, two incumbents that have been a thorn in the mayor’s side this past year. Dear has been actively campaigning on Brimmer’s behalf even as he campaigns for reelection in the March 5 Carson City elections. He was the keynote speaker when she officially announced from her home this past December, and even appeared prominently in her campaign video on YouTube.

Aside from Gipson and Ruiz-Raber, Brimmer is running against several other candidates that include an attorney, Albert Robles, community activist Rita Boggs, and fellow planning commissioner Joseph Gordon.

Brimmer is generally described as very bright, assertive and an independent thinker by her colleagues on the Planning Commission and others who have worked with her in the past.

When Brimmer announced her candidacy and said she was running under the banner of change. Dear agreed, saying that change indeed is needed on the council and that Brimmer would be welcomed new blood.

For a political newcomer like Brimmer, the mayor’s endorsement is fraught with advantages and risks. The biggest risk is that she’ll be labeled simply as a reliable Dear vote rather than an independent council member.

“It’s time to restore respect in our city government,” said Brimmer responding to why Carsonites should vote for her.

“We’ve been lacking in terms of our image, with the unpleasantness, [lack] of respect, teamwork and leadership. And that’s been missing for a number of years… I believe citizens have been crying out for change. That’s one reason.

“A second reason is to strengthen our public safety. And, that was before Connecticut [Sandy Hook School shootings] for me. But that’s probably more because of Watts…because they have [a] Watts gang task force. So I would like to bring a taskforce here. Where you can bring community people, bring city government all to the table on a regular basis.”

She said she was unaware of the Gang Alternatives Program in Carson, as well as others with similar policy aims that are annually the beneficiaries of $100,000 from a Housing and Urban Development block grant.

In 2012, the Gang Alternatives Program received $12,000 and the Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department Carson Gang Diversion Team received $15,500. Both received almost double what they were given in 2011, despite the city council’s cutting off a number of other community organizations.

Brimmer is supportive of veterans, wishing to provide more support for those returning from the war in Afghanistan. She’s also supportive of seniors and wants to encourage volunteerism amongst the youth. But there’s no particular
policy agenda on her platform. Choosing instead to wait until she’s elected and gain more information.

Helen Kawagoe Honor Controversy
A procedure code like Carson’s Standard Management Procedures manual should theoretically keep issues like the naming of buildings from being politicized. Carson operated under such a code until 2011 when it was deemed obsolete and was suspended.

In January 2012, after long-time City Clerk Helen Kawagoe suffered a health setback that forced her to resign for good, a motion to rename the council chamber after her came up for a vote.

The item failed 2-3, with Dear and Councilman Elito Santarina as the “yes” votes.

The mayor was taken aback, as were a number of Kawagoe admirers in attendance at the meeting.Eventually, the council passed a substitute motion, that same night after three hours, whereby the council chambers would be renamed after
Kawagoe immediately upon her death, eliminating the required 60-day delay that usually accompanies such a naming process.

“I know about the issue,” said Brimmer about the vote.
“I don’t know what the policy is. I’d go back to that…[the] procedures and what their administrative code calls for…Regardless, if it’s been
revised or not, or reviewed and approved, whatever is existing is what will hold.”

She said this is a matter on which she would ultimately defer to the city

Nevertheless, Brimmer joined the Helen’s Dream Coalition to understand the passion that was driving Kawagoe’s supporters to push so hard for her to be immediately honored with a namesake.

“Believe it or not, I was curious,” Brimmer said. “Why were we arguing?…I didn’t want to take anybody’s word for it and I didn’t want to pull anyone over to the side and say, ‘Tell me what’s going on.’ I thought, ‘Why don’t you
[meaning herself] go to one of their meetings, and maybe you can get a better understanding yourself?’ So I’ve attended quite a few meetings.

I learned that they were very passionate about this and its probably one of the top issues we will have to deal with once we’re sworn in.”

When asked if she has learned where their passion come from, she said, she hoped she was right that it was because she gave so many years of her life as a civil servant.

“If procedures and policies allow it, then I don’t see what the problem would be in recognizing her,” Brimmer said.

Brimmer noted that Del Amo overpass was named after Councilwoman Kay Calas while she was still alive, but reiterated that she would abide by what the administrative code and city attorney say, alongside her colleagues on the council, if she is elected.

Regarding cities using redevelopment monies to rehab public buildings
In 2009, the City of Carson launched a $4 million rehabilitation effort of the Cong. Juanita Millender-McDonald Community Center using redevelopment money and a grant from the federal government. When given the hypothetical, “if you
were on the council, would you have voted for that item?” Her answer was an emphatic, “No.”

“Wow!” she exclaimed. “So they entered into an agreement with themselves? They just decided to allocate redevelopment funds to cover those expenses?”

Brimmer said that during her employment with the Community Redevelopment Agency she has seen cities use redevelopment funds for public buildings and said that that is something that is not generally accepted.

“I don’t know the code,” she said. “I would refer you to the city attorney to provide the specific code for it. But over at Los Angeles, it has occurred. And it’s something that’s frowned upon.

Carson, like a number of small cities in Los Angeles County is a general charter city. The city council also doubles as other entities such as the Redevelopment Agency and the Housing Authority.

“Somebody’s head should have rolled there,” Brimmer said.

Then she noted that City Manager Jerry Groomes was in charge at the time as a possible explanation for the council’s move. Brimmer was informed the item was approved by a majority vote.

“That’s why it’s time for a change because a lot of the current council people do not have the technical experience to understand what the difference between development and redevelopment, and between planning and urban planning,” she said.

Brimmer said that if she were on the council, she would be able to red flag potential issues with the city attorney and open a frank discussion with
council colleagues to move forward.

She was asked if she would have voted with the majority, if she were on the council, in issuing a bond to pay for the cleanup efforts at Boulevards at South Bay—a bond that required the community center to be put up as collateral.

She said, “Absolutely not!”

But she dialed back her critique of the council noting that they rely on the information given to them by staff and may not be sophisticated in such matters on their own. She said that’s why she should be elected.

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