John Lee wants to finish what he started

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Courtesy Photo of John Lee

Sloane Bozzi, Reporter

Just days away from the California primary election, nerves are no concern for Councilmember John Lee. He just wants to finish what he started in August 2019.

Lee is running as an incumbent council member of the 12th Council District after winning the special election last August. The council race is nonpartisan, and candidates’ political affiliation will not show up on the ballot. Lee dropped his Republican registration to become an unaffiliated candidate, because he wants to maintain an independent voice at City Hall.

“I feel good,” Lee said. “And now just looking forward to Tuesday being over and really focusing on the long term goals that we need to work towards.”

Lee grew up in the 12th District, which includes Porter Ranch, Chatsworth, Northridge, North Hills, Granada Hills, Sherwood Forest, Reseda and West Hills.

“Now actually Council District 12 is one of the most diverse communities,” Lee said. “I’m very proud of this diversity.”

The son of South Korean immigrants, Lee attributes his work ethic and interest in public service to his parents.
“My work ethic is definitely from my mom,” Lee said. “She opened up a store and that one little small business gave me and my brother every single opportunity we have in this world.”

Lee reflected on lessons from his father, giving examples of racism his father faced after immigrating to Kentucky and later to the San Fernando Valley. Lee believes his father sparked his interest in public service, and taught him that change should be made from the inside.

After attending various local schools, Lee attended CSUN. He continued on to serve District 12 under councilmembers Joel Wachs and Grieg Smith. Lee had worked as chief of staff for the previous councilmember, Mitchell Englander, before taking his place.

One of Lee’s priorities when he assumed office was keeping the council district safe and continuing beautification efforts. As a resident of Porter Ranch, Lee’s family was evacuated during the Saddleridge wildfire.

Lee had already begun relief efforts for evacuees displaced by the wildfire when he decided to call his own family to evacuate their home. Lee’s family also evacuated for four months during the 2015 Aliso Canyon Gas Leak, the largest methane release in U.S. history.

Being a victim of these emergencies himself, Lee made it a priority to make headway on getting the SoCalGas Aliso Canyon facility shut down to prevent future disasters for his district.

“Honestly, it’s those moments when you’re helping the community when you know you’re making a really direct, immediate impact,” Lee said.

Lee’s office receives over 30 calls per day regarding service requests and clean up. He takes pride in the quick response time, whether it’s doing a trash cleanup or removing graffiti around the community.

One of the hotly-debated issues in Lee’s council district is how to address the homelessness issue. Rather than starting with providing housing to people living on the streets, Lee believes in dealing with mental health and drug addictions first.

“For the past few years, we’ve heard of this housing first model,” Lee said. “And I just don’t think that’s the correct way to approach this crisis that we are experiencing right now. I think we have a mental illness crisis going on, and I think we have a drug addiction crisis going on and we need to address those issues.”

Lee believes that repealing Proposition 47 would allow the police to more effectively process homeless criminals in the community. The proposition currently allows for drug and theft crimes up to $950 to be classified as misdemeanors rather than felonies, as long as the defendant had no prior violent crime records.

“I do not want to make criminal activity for people who live on the streets,” Lee said. “But at the same time if people are committing crimes, then yes we need to have laws that allow us to address it. When officers are filling out paperwork, it takes them longer to fill out paperwork than it does for people to be processed in and out of the system.”

Lee understands there are only so many officers available to serve in District 12, but he wants to secure funds to make more overtime available to officers at the Devonshire division to address high crime areas.

“I think the reason why the men and women of the LAPD and the LA Fire Department have endorsed my campaign is because they’re truly hoping for a different voice on the City Council,” said Lee.

During his time as chief of staff for Englander in 2014, both Englander and Lee were accused of sexual harassment by a former aide working in the office. The aide alleges that Lee made sexual jokes and declined to offer her a job on the basis of her being a woman.

“She had alleged that I had made certain comments and that the city failed to follow certain procedures,” Lee said. “I was dismissed from the case, and then the city settled on the case.”

The city paid $75,000 to settle the lawsuit.

“I’m very proud of my record,” Lee said. “I’m a son of a strong business woman, I have a daughter of my own, who I support in whatever she wants to do. I really truly reject the notion that we somehow ran an unprofessional office.”

Although he has years of experience in public service, Lee knows his re-election would allow him to make more decisions for the community he’s known nearly his whole life.

“Now you’re the one making the decisions that are going to affect people’s lives,” Lee said. “That little bit of a difference definitely hits you when you sit down in that chair.”