City council member-elect Eunisses Hernandez wants to ‘bring more community into government’

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Eunisses Hernandez
Photo courtesy of Laura Coholan.

It was Nov. 8, Election Day, and Eunisses Hernandez, member-elect of the LA City Council, said she was worried about folks not showing up to vote for her progressive colleagues.

Hernandez, 32, won the March 2022 LA city council election to represent District 1, replacing Gil Cedillo. A lifelong resident of Highland Park, Hernandez said she ran for city council so she could represent her community and put decades of experience working on policy to good use.

Hernandez said that there were several races she was paying attention to on Election Day. Important to note, Hernandez said, is that the mayor cannot veto council votes.

“We need eight votes on the city council to move policy,” Hernandez said. “In the city of LA, we have a weak mayor, strong council system. If we’re strong on the council, we have a strong fighting chance. The mayor will just be a figurehead.”

Hernandez said that growing up as the daughter of Mexican migrants in Highland Park with friends who were in the foster care system instilled her with values that prioritized life over property.

“A lot of my loved ones and friends were criminalized because of a lack of access to stable housing and mental health services,” Hernandez said. “I wanted to be a cop growing up because I thought that I could have been the cop that would have helped my friends.”

According to Hernandez, pursuing her degree in criminal justice at California State University, Long Beach (CSULB) showed her that the issues impacting her neighborhood were systemic.

“My criminological theory class converted me into saying, ‘I can’t become a cop’ because I was not going to be able to fix the system from the inside. The system is not built to address these issues,” Hernandez said.

Hernandez said she co-founded La Defensa, a political action committee that works to find alternatives to incarceration and help progressive lawyers become judges in LA County.

Meredith Gallen, the deputy public defender at the LA County Public Defender’s Union, said that Hernandez has been a fierce advocate through her work at La Defensa.

“As a public defender, I have never met a person who was seeking office who seems to so innately understand the issues of people who are suffering — people who are in need of services from the government or protection from the people that they elect,” Gallen said.

According to Hernandez, gentrification is a major reason why she ran for city council.

“There are different levels of policy that we can work on to try to prevent the further displacement of folks. One is definitely renter protections and having stronger political and public education on renter’s rights,” said Hernandez. “There’s a measure on the ballot called United to House LA, which would help create a fund to support renters and keep them housed.”

Hernandez said she is also committed to helping LA through a just transition by protecting communities of color in the shift to sustainable production. According to Hernandez, District 1 is one of the districts most impacted by environmental racism.

“We have over 700 oil wells in this district. Folks are seeing oil spills in the middle of the city of LA. I see a just transition happening in two ways. One is through the cleaning up and remediation of the land where oil wells sit,” Hernandez said. “The second way is also a just transition with the criminal justice system. How do we begin to transfer jobs out of law enforcement responses into responses that will prevent harm and keep us safe?”

By the end of her term, Hernandez said she hopes to see a significant increase in city services and access to Mental Health Crisis Response Teams.

“The safest communities don’t have the most cops,” Hernandez said. “The safest communities have the most resources.”

Hernandez said she wants to increase the accessibility of council meetings by expanding translation options and explaining in detail the reasons for specific council decisions. Hernandez said that stopping policies that perpetuate racism is another major goal.

“We’ll have to continually figure out how we will not allow for racist policies to keep moving forward, particularly those that impact predominantly black communities,” said Hernandez. “As a Latina woman, I feel like I have a heavy responsibility to make sure that any anti-blackness and other ‘isms’ that come up are immediately addressed.”

According to Hernandez, she has often been compared to a young Gil Cedillo, the current council member for District 1. An audio recording of city council president Nury Martinez making racist comments was leaked in October, and Cedillo was one of the council members involved in the conversation. Cedillo has yet to apologize, despite ongoing calls to resign from both within District 1 and from officials like Mayor Eric Garcetti. Because of what she has seen happen in her community over the last 10 years, Hernandez said that she never really looked up to Cedillo.

“If you have not done anything in the last 10 years, and people are reflecting on what you did 20 years ago, then that’s not enough because at this moment, he has sold out our communities and he has left us behind,” Hernandez said. “The frustrating part is that I appreciate the work he’s done since I know that he has paved the way for people like me and others to run. But at some point, we have to recognize that these people are no longer the people they were 10 or 15 years ago and that is very problematic.”

Danielle Davis, a board member of the Echo Park Neighborhood Council, said that communities depend on their city council members to respond to their requests for action and to step up on their behalf.

“Hernandez is definitely willing to work with us and aligns with our values,” Davis said.

Hernandez said that her goal is not to be a politician forever, but to craft the next group of future leaders.

“Part of my job is to build the bench of the next people who have shared the same values,” Hernandez said. “People who understand that we need to dig in our heels and put people over profit, people over politics, and who understand the ways in which you can build community power so that you don’t need to rely on special interest groups or dirty money to get you into those seats.”

Contact Ava LaLonde at lalonde@oxy.edu