Councilwoman Nury Martinez became president of the Los Angeles City Council in January of 2020, becoming the first Latina City Councilwoman to serve in this position in the history of the City. Needless to say, there was no way that the newly elected madam president could have foreseen all of the unprecedented events that would rock the city and the nation when she took on the historic position.
Under Martinez’s presidency, she has been instrumental in helping the city cope with and navigate through the tragic death of Lakers superstar, Kobe Bryant. She is also leading efforts to bring resolution to an unparalleled homeless crisis in Los Angeles, while challenged by a court order limiting how and what the City can do to address the thousands of homeless people sleeping on the streets, under and over freeways and throughout the city. Then, there was the COVID-19 pandemic, which the entire nation was unprepared for, and the federal government’s slow response only perpetuated an already critical disease that is debilitating Los Angeles. The fallout from COVID-19 forced businesses throughout the city to close, bringing about record unemployment, putting an overwhelming strain on our medical system, and virtually bringing the Los Angeles economy to a screeching halt.
In May of 2020, the nation also witnessed the brutal murder of George Floyd in Minnesota, a public killing that outraged the world and lead thousands, if not millions of people, to the streets all over the world, calling for justice and police reform. The outrage over Floyd’s death also brought attention and shed light on other tragic Black deaths at the hands of police, including Breonna Taylor who was murdered in her own home when Louisville police entered into the wrong house and subsequently shot and killed her.
Yet, through all the city’s challenges, Martinez has endured, pushed forward, and continued to lead her council district (#6, Pacoima/San Fernando Valley area) and the city council doing the people’s business.
“We are busy working for our citizens; people are hurting, people are not working. We are trying to re-open the economy and unfortunately, some jobs may not come back online, and people are not going to be able to go back to the jobs that they had before COVID,” stated Martinez.
Needless to say, 2020 has been a tough year so far, and she is quick to remind us that we are only halfway through. The council president also wants to remind the city that we have to still navigate through fire season (which the City is currently updating plans for). The City is still trying to lock in the 20-21 fiscal budget and then, there are the challenges City Council faces with “Defunding LAPD.”
When asked about defunding the police, the council president had this to say. “Sometimes, you have to make a difficult decision that makes some people uncomfortable. And since the pandemic, this council has had to make some very tough decisions. So, when it comes to the LAPD question, we are in the middle of a pandemic and an economic crisis. We’ve been asking everyone (City departments) to take a look at their budgets. We’re not asking LAPD to do anything that we are no asking other City departments and employees to do themselves. We know there is going to be a shortfall of hundreds of millions of dollars and we all have to share in this sacrifice in order to be able to provide some of our other critical services.”
Martinez points out that she values public safety and values good officers and appreciates the work that they do. She points out that “We ask police officers to do jobs that they shouldn’t have to be doing; they’re not mental health workers, they’re not homeless care providers and we are relying on them to do work that they should not be doing. We are asking them to do too much.”
But, her decision to reallocate funds from the police and direct them to other departments to re-think how the City and the police department allocate their resources, has brought the council president under fire from members of the rank and file, as well as from the powerful peace officer’s union.
A Spectrum News report brought to light that she had a security detail placed in front of her home for several weeks, providing the council president with added security for herself and her family. When asked for her version of the story, President Martinez said, “Thank you for asking; no one has asked me for my side of the story.”
Because of COVID-19, the entire city council was forced to change how they did business, just as many businesses and governments throughout the nation have had to do. The City of Los Angeles has an old and antiquated voting system. So, as a result of the mayor’s Safer at Home Order, the City had to figure out how to conduct its business remotely. This caused her to have to cancel some city council meetings while the city got up to speed on how to handle meeting remotely. Martinez’s decision was not a popular one, with protesters blocking her street and protesting in front of her home, threatening her and her family (the council president has an 11-year-old daughter), calling and emailing her office and threatening her life. Because of these threats, she met with LAPD and the recommendation was to assign a detail to protect her and her home, and to ensure that none of the protests and protesters got out of hand.
“I don’t live in a gated community; I live in the same neighborhood I grew up in. I live in a working-class community and these protesters were not only disrupting me and my family, but they were showing up early in the morning, blocking driveways and not allowing my neighbors to get out of their driveway and go to work.” Martinez has never had a protection detail; she doesn’t have a driver. Only the mayor and the City Attorney have a full-time protection detail, but when one of her neighbors asked a protester to move so they could pull out of the driveway, the protester refused and altercation escalated. At that point, Nury agreed to allow LAPD to provide her, her family and her neighborhood with a patrol detail in front of her home.
After the city council had worked out its remote meeting challenges, Martinez’s office began rolling back the protection detail, but the threats to her and her family continued, so Martinez went back to LAPD and asked for advice on what to do. The advice came back to leave the detail in place, and so she did.
“My daughter’s room is at the front of our home, so to have people out front yelling profanity, making noise and being disruptive to my family and my neighbors was crazy.” The protesters were not people from her community, but what she was really trying to avoid was her neighbors taking control of their street and confronting the protesters, which Martinez believes was certainly possible.
Nury Martinez has always been about her community; at a young age, she learned that it was Black and Brown and communities of color that were often disenfranchised and needed the most help. This inspires her to bring resources into her community and communities of color. She says she sees and knows first-hand how Black and Brown people are often the last communities to receive the desperately needed resources from the City and the federal government. Through all of the challenges she’s faced in 2020, she continues to provide and direct as many resources as she and her colleagues can to those most in need. She has worked tirelessly for the COVID-19 Paid Leave for Families Motion, which ensures paid leave for people needing to care for a family member affected with COVID. She has also led the effort to create the Workers Retention Ordinance and Workers Recall Ordinance to insure when employees go back to work, they return at the same status or level they were at pre-COVID. She fought for the creation of the COVID Eviction Moratorium and included giving tenants the right to sue landlords who pressured them for stimulus monies or who do not honor the eviction moratorium. She is also leading the council to provide over $100 Million for Residential Renter Relief paying landlords directly for tenants who have been laid off or have been affected by COVID.
With the help of her city council colleagues, Martinez has gotten a lot done, but her biggest challenge to schematically reimagine how to reinvest public safety and public safety dollars for the betterment of all communities and the people who live them. She is not shy about pointing out that racism in Los Angeles and throughout this nation is real. She says, addressing racism requires the uncomfortable conversations that many don’t want to have. She knows there are good police officers and that the few bad ones make it difficult for all of the good ones. She remembers growing up, she had never seen a Latina police officer, and it was not until she was 19 years of age that she had ever met a police officer of color.
“I was organizing a community clean up and someone suggested that I go to the police station and ask them for help. I had never even imagined you could ask the police to help on a community clean-up project.” But there she met then Captain Kenny Gardner, a well-known African American police officer who passed away from a heart condition a few years ago. Kenny was a beautiful person; he asked where the clean-up was taking place? That Saturday, he showed up with his then 6-year-old daughter and helped with the clean-up.