LA Mayoral Candidates Karen Bass and Rick Caruso Spar Over Crime, Homelessness in Only Televised Debate

The two candidates faced off Wednesday at LA’s only mayoral general election debate before voters go to the polls on Nov. 8

L.A. Mayoral candidates Karen Bass and Rick Caruso
Karen Bass and Rick Caruso split Hollywood in L.A. mayoral race. (Getty Images)

Los Angeles’ homeless problem, the lack of affordable housing, and public safety dominated the first and only televised mayoral debate Wednesday between billionaire developer Rick Caruso and Congresswoman Karen Bass.

Both candidates agreed that homelessness is wrecking the city, and when asked to describe the state of the city in one word, Bass chose the word “crisis.” Caruso said: “We’re beyond crisis.” 

Caruso said he would “call a state of emergency” to help get people off the street and into shelters. 

“We have people living and dying on the streets,” he said. “The premise is to get them into shelters and get them safe. Then offer them the services they need.”

He said he wants to immediately provide an additional 30,000 beds in homeless shelters, while providing more psychiatric care and drug addiction services to the homeless. 

“People don’t feel safe,” Caruso said. “I believe our city is in trouble and I want to help.” 

But Bass said she doesn’t think more shelter space is the answer.

“The shelters have become so dangerous that people don’t want to be in the shelters,” Bass said. “You have to move people out of shelters and into permanent, supportive housing.”

She added: “The way we deal with affordability is to increase the supply.” 

Caruso said he would “open the doors to City Hall” to help businesses get what they need to succeed.

“I’m pro-business,” Caruso said, adding that he would like to streamline regulation, especially when it comes to new construction. 

“I’m a builder and I know how to build,” he said. 

Caruso added:  “It’s so expensive to build in this city, people aren’t building. That’s why affordability is so upside down.” 

Bass said she would appoint a deputy mayor for business, to help businesses comply with regulations and “to reach out to business owners and meet their needs.”

Caruso said, “I understand business…You need a mayor who understands business.”

To make the city safer, Bass said she wants to get more officers on the street immediately by moving officers off administrative duty.

Caruso, who previously served as president of the Los Angeles Police Commission, said he would like to increase the number of LAPD officers from about 9,200 to 11,000. Caruso said that in 2019, city leaders agreed to “defund the police.”

“We are trying to dig our way out of a hole,” he said. “There is a clear difference between the Congresswoman’s plan and mine. We are dealing with life and death. We are dealing with the highest homicide rate in 15 years.”

He said it’s gotten to the point where “people take off their jewelry before they go out to dinner.” 

“They don’t feel safe,” he said. 

He said that Los Angeles has always been viewed as a place “where big dreams come true.”

“Crime is dampening dreams,” he said.