Oral Histories

Interview of Mike Hernandez

Political activist and 1st District Los Angeles City Council member from 1991 to 2001.
Z: Orphan Interviews after 1999
Latina and Latino History
Politics and Government
Biographical Note:
Political activist and 1st District Los Angeles City Council member from 1991 to 2001.
Nicolaides, Becky
Hernandez, Mike
Persons Present:
Hernandez and Nicolaides.
Place Conducted:
Mike Hernandez’s home in Cypress Park, California.
Supporting Documents:
Records relating to the interview are located in the office of the UCLA Library’s Center for Oral History Research.
Interviewer Background and Preparation:
The interview was conducted by Becky Nicolaides, UCLA Center for Oral History Research; Ph.D., U.S. History, Columbia University. Nicolaides has published a book and articles on the history of Los Angeles, has taught L.A. history courses at University of California, San Diego and UCLA, and has consulted on numerous cultural resources projects on Los Angeles history, including projects on Latino history in Los Angeles and California and the Chicano Moratorium.
Processing of Interview:
The interviewer prepared for the interview by reading Rodolfo F. Acuña’s Anything But Mexican: Chicanos in Contemporary Los Angeles; David Gutiérrez’s Walls and Mirrors: Mexican Americans, Mexican Immigrants, and the Politics of Ethnicity; Mike Davis’s Ecology of Fear: Los Angeles and the Imagination of Disaster; Raphel J. Sonenshein’s The City at Stake: Secession, Reform, and the Battle for Los Angeles; Enrique C. Ochoa and Gilda L. Ochoa’s Latino LA: Transformations, Communities and Activism; William Fulton’s The Reluctant Metropolis: The Politics of Urban Growth in Los Angeles; Dan Horn’s Anointed Moments; Manuel Pastor, et. al.’s “Roots/Raíces: Latino Engagement, Place Identities, and Shared Futures in South Los Angeles,” USC Center for the Study of Immigrant Integration (November 2016); and various archival articles from the Los Angeles Times and Los Angeles Daily News. The transcript is a verbatim transcription of the recording. It was transcribed by a professional transcribing agency using a list of proper names and specialized terminology supplied by the interviewer. The interviewee was then given an opportunity to review the transcript and made a few corrections and additions. Those corrections were entered into the text without further editing or review on the part of the Center for Oral History Research staff. The transcript may thus differ slightly from the audio recording because of the changes the interviewee made at the time of their review.
8.75 hrs.
Regents of the University of California, UCLA Library.
Parents’ roots and marriage—Childhood in Tijuana, Mexico, with relatives—Tensions between mother’s and father’s families, Texans v. Californians—Lives in poverty in Tijuana—Two-year migration from Tijuana to Los Angeles—Suffers from challenge of having a club foot—Experiences both support and serious challenges at public schools in Cypress Park—Presence of gangs—Becomes an athlete by high school—Family life and Hernandez’s responsibilities to the family as a youngster—Cypress Park neighborhood—Troubles at Nightingale Junior High School—Spends summer in Lodi working in farm fields—Key life changes at Franklin High School through sports and political activism—Enters Upward Bound program in high school, which brings him to Occidental College—Beginning of political activism in high school—“Blowouts” and United Teachers Los Angeles activism at Franklin High—Influence of Ricardo Romo and other mentors during high school—Occidental College years of activism and self-discovery—Drug use in Upward Bound—Involvement with Chicano Moratorium—Scrutiny of FBI, police, and sheriffs during college—Police beating at Watts Festival in Will Rogers Park—Later, on city council, advocates against false arrests—Mother, Beatrice Espinoza, purchases homes then loses them to foreclosure—Wife Sylvia Castro’s background and parents—Nuanced connection to Mexican culture—Importance of work ethic from an early age.
Mentors facilitate a transition at Nightingale Junior High—Challenges faced by minority students at Occidental College—Influential professors and political networking at Occidental—Works at Pacific Bell during and after college—Works way up management ranks at Pac Bell—Latino marketing and employment initiatives at Pac Bell—Leaves Pac Bell to help mother with faltering bail bond business—Turns the business around—Lobbying for bail bond industry leads to political connections—Through friend Victor Griego (field deputy to Richard Alatorre), becomes co-finance chair for Alatorre—Helps lead Southwest Voter Registration Education Project in Los Angeles during 1980s, registering Latino voters—Applies leadership training work for Jaycees to Latino political empowerment—Works on Plaza de la Raza cultural center and tackles Head Start controversies—Hones management skills through work with Head Start, Jaycees, and Pac Bell’s Los Padrinos—Builds bail bond business and forms separate immigration bond service for undocumented immigrants detained by Immigration and Naturalization Services (INS)—Sbicca Shoe factory raid by INS as turning point—Emerges as activist bail bondsman connected to immigration rights activists—Leadership work with civic groups in Highland Park—Forms Boy Scout troop at Loreto Elementary School—Runs for 56th Assembly District (California) in 1987—Manages Xavier Becerra’s campaign for 59th Assembly District (California) in 1990—Helps develop strategies for building local Latino candidacies—Small group “Breakfast Club” forms to discuss how to acquire political power—Runs grassroots campaign for 56th Assembly District, challenging Latino political machine—Importance of local issues and listening to constituents in decision to run for city council.
Builds business and civic involvement with Jaycees in late 1980s—Works on campaigns of Latino politicians—Challenges the Latino political machine (“Golden Palominos”)—Campaigns for 56th Assembly District seat—Works on Gloria Molina’s campaign for Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors and learns lessons—Gains familiarity with First Council District before and during council campaign of 1991—Conditions in Pico Union area—On city council, works to represent poverty-stricken First District by claiming fair share—Challenges city’s formulas on budgeting—Fights inequality around city services—Negotiates long-term rent contracts for Olvera Street merchants—Challenges Community Redevelopment Agency (CRA) budget—Builds network of More Advocates for Safe Homes (MASH) chapters in his district to represent the grassroots community, especially in poor neighborhoods—Zones of Need mapping project reveals geography of poverty in Los Angeles—Works to secure federal aid after Rodney King civil unrest—Media sees Hernandez as representing the voice of Latinos and immigrants during the unrest—Struggles with city council for resources in riot-torn areas—Secures low-income housing for his district—Protests deployment of INS to police Pico Union during the riots—Chicano identity and use of the term Latino—Rebuild L.A. unites the city—Immigration as rooted in California history.
Works on “Weed and Seed” after Rodney King uprising—Helps immigrant street vendors through Pedestrian Areas to Secure Economic Opportunities (PASEO)—Pushes rebuilding of infrastructure in riot-hit areas in Pico Union—Supports Rebuild L.A. and a privatized approach to recovery from the riots—Serves as chair of council’s Administrative Services and Economic Development committees—Uses Tax Increment Financing to finance development in his district—Northeast Los Angeles Community Plan and the politics of light rail—Learns lessons from California League of Cities and National League of Cities—Pursues federal funding methods that link housing element to transportation funds—As a staffer, assists Councilman Bernard Parks on light rail project through South L.A.—Trains council members on light rail policy formation—The Northeast Community Plan—Puts together a development plan for Taylor Yards—Battles with Philip Anschutz over placement of fiberoptic lines—Community workshops over Taylor Yards—Three phases of Taylor Yards development (manufacturers, open space, schools) and the “creative stresses” in that process—Relations with Chinatown and building of Chinatown Metro Station—Navigates multicultural constituencies in Los Angeles—Build alliances with other council members and with Ronald F. Deaton (chief legislative analyst)—Handles fallout from Fairfax High School shooting—Trains two hundred council staffers to develop legislative policy—Chairs Budget and Finance Committee and holds community budget hearings that surprise fellow council members—Quick interventions during 1994 Northridge Earthquake—Takes advantage of funds for affordable housing to build full social services in housing complexes—Questions Los Angeles Police Department’s crime statistics—Through his staff, learns early on about the “Rampart Reapers,” a rogue group of police officers in the Rampart Division—Supports term limits and charter reform—Difficulties of sustaining effective neighborhood councils in South Los Angeles—Business development as key to building civic capacity in poor, minority neighborhoods—After leaving office, supports Richard Polanco for First District council seat, to consternation of Ed Reyes—After leaving office, works as staffer for Nate Holden, Jan Perry, and Bernard Parks—Enjoys post-council work training staffers more than years on council—Works as lobbyist at L.A. City Hall after 2013.
Hides his substance abuse problems in 1990s—Los Angeles Police Department task force arrests him in August 1997—Events leading up to arrest, including mother’s death—Goes through hospital rehab in the media spotlight—Rehab process delves into physical and emotional issues—John Ferraro insists he meet with each council member to discuss his political future—Returns to city council with support of constituents but criticism by media, Mayor Richard Riordan, and others—Continues rehab while serving on council; sobriety becomes a priority—Post-council work serving council members and staff grows out of sobriety process—John Ferraro, Laura Chick, Mike Feuer, Nate Holden, and other council members respond differently to his situation—Post-arrest work is his best—Suffers physical problems after leaving city hall—Responds carefully to Rampart scandal in 1998—L.A. Live is his most pressing issue when he leaves hospital, as chair of ad hoc committee—Discussions on locating a football stadium at Dodger Stadium—Feasibility study points to convention center area as ideal for a stadium—Developers push for a basketball arena at that site—As ad hoc committee chair, helps form agreement to develop L.A. Live—Uses Tax Increment Financing on L.A. Live to generate wealth for the district—Work on council raises prospects for neighborhoods in his district, which become desirable areas—Importance of constituents engaging to solve their own problems—The costs of serving in public office—The “Sobriety District” concept.