Los Angeles County Supervisor Hilda Solis danced cautiously around some controversial topics when she spoke to a downtown crowd of political insiders and power brokers Wednesday.
She was the speaker at the Los Angeles Current Affairs Forum luncheon, run by public affairs consultant Emma Schafer, who also compiles the political blog Emma’s Memos. Lawyers, transportation business executives and engineering firm representative were in the audience at The Palm. Solis is a good person for them to know. Most have business with either the county or the Metropolitan Transportation Authority. Solis is not only a member of the five- person Board of Supervisors, which has influence on projects throughout the county, but she is also on the MTA board, in charge of building and running transit lines.
I’d never heard Solis, who was elected to succeed Gloria Molina last year after serving as U.S. labor secretary and a member of Congress. She had little opposition and few campaign appearances. I had a much clearer take on Sheila Kuehl, who was speaking all over the place in her intense race with Bobby Shriver. So I was curious. Solis is sharp, pleasant and has a practiced technique of smiling her way through troublesome questions without giving much of an answer.
I asked her about her stand on future negotiations with the unions, which represent county workers. The county unions supported Kuehl in that election and previously enthusiastically helped elect Supervisor Mark Ridley-Thomas. That gives the unions three friendly seats on the board. Molina and then Supervisor Zev Yaroslavsky, while liberal Democrats, often tangled the unions.
She said she’d approach the matter “very diligently." What’s she going to do in negotiations? Determine costs of proposals to see what the county can support. She said it would be a challenge. The only light she shed on the subject was to say she’d be “a big change from being antagonistic.” The blunt Molina was famous for not getting along with people, some of them union leaders.
Solis was also cautious in discussing two projects—approval of a big hotel-apartment-retail development on Bunker Hill downtown and completion of the 710 Freeway. The freeway project would have to be environmentally sound and the Bunker Hill development would have to serve more than rich people, she said. She is chair of the Grand Avenue Authority, the city- county body overseeing Bunker Hill development.
A laborers’ union executive was at the head table and his members build freeways, office buildings, hotels and much more. So Solis made it clear that her comments on the projects doesn’t mean she’s hostile to construction. She talked positively about the MTA transit projects underway, words pleasing to the union leaders and transportation engineers and lobbyists in the room. They came to lunch for that kind of reassurance.