Los Angeles City Council President Herb Wesson said Thursday that he has selected himself to temporarily manage the San Fernando Valley district represented until recently by Felipe Fuentes.
Wesson, whose own district stretches from Koreatown to South Los Angeles, will oversee services in the northeast Valley for the next six to eight months, depending on when the contest to replace Fuentes is decided.
The announcement will leave Wesson responsible for an array of issues — trash pickup, street repairs, graffiti removal, to name a few — for twice as many constituents, or around 500,000 people. It also could require his involvement in the contentious issue of where to place a high-speed rail route.
“I love the Valley too much to let its residents go without representation until next year,” Wesson said in a statement. “Residents have my word that I will do whatever is necessary to ensure their district is protected and their interests are championed.”
Fuentes resigned from the council Sunday to become a lobbyist, departing nearly 10 months before his term ends. His former district takes in Sylmar, Pacoima, Mission Hills, Sunland-Tujunga, Lake View Terrace, and other areas.
Although Wesson will oversee operations in two districts, he will continue to have only one vote on the council, his spokeswoman, Vanessa Rodriguez, said.
When a council member steps down early, city lawmakers have the power under the city charter to fill the vacant seat temporarily or call a special election. Wesson ruled out a special election last month, in part to spare taxpayers the extra cost.
Former Councilman Richard Alarcon, whom Fuentes replaced in 2013, said he had never heard of an L.A. council member taking responsibility for two districts. Fielding complaints from double the number of constituents will be a challenge, he said.
“It’s a heavy lift, no question about it,” Alarcon added. “But if there is one person on the council who has the expertise to lift heavy tasks, it’s Herb.”
Lydia Grant, a neighborhood activist who lives in Lake View Terrace, said she hopes Wesson will reverse some of the actions taken by Fuentes over the past three years. One was his decision to push the Sunland-Tujunga Neighborhood Council out of a city building, she said.
Wesson “may be able to undo some of those things that were done wrong,” Grant said. “So it actually could be beneficial.”
Serving constituents in the Valley, even temporarily, could enhance Wesson’s political profile, helping him should he run for citywide office in the future. Parts of his district, particularly the mid-rises of the Wilshire Boulevard corridor, are a world away from the foothills and horse trails of council District 7.
Wesson said his decision followed “weeks of meetings with community stakeholders” in the Valley council district.
The election to replace Fuentes already has 24 candidates, according to a preliminary candidate list on the Ethics Commission website. If no one gets a majority of votes in the March primary election, a runoff will be held two months later.
The council president said he wants the ultimate winner of the race to be installed ahead of July 1, to give the district elected representation as quickly as possible. The council is expected to vote on that proposal on Friday, Rodriguez said.