Progressive activist campaigns in E. Lakewood
Cassandra Chase hopes to make an impact on City Council.
By Brian Maquena
April 15, 2022
EAST LAKEWOOD, CALIF. — As she embarks on her political campaign for City Council’s district 5, Cassandra Chase would like others to join her in being an agent of change.
“The overarching theme of our program is that I could make a difference,” said Chase about her nonprofit motivating children to read.
Thanks to last year’s redistricting efforts—forced via a lawsuit pushed by reformer Gregory Slaughter—Lakewood voters living east of the 605 Freeway will cast their votes on June 7 for their district 5 Council Member. As far as anyone knows, no sitting Lakewood Council Member has ever lived east of the freeway.
Chase and Veronica Lucio are the two east Lakewood residents running to represent district 5. Unlike the two other district Council races, there is no longtime incumbent attempting to safeguard his seat.
Read Lead, a nonprofit co-founded by Chase, puts on summer reading programs for Los Angeles County youth. It has also been active in Seattle, as well as Barbados and Jamaica, where Chase’s parents were born.
“I love reading and I’m really passionate about storytelling,” said Chase, crediting her parents for her childhood library.
Standing up against bullying and not eating meat to save the environment are some of the messages Read Lead’s books offer. The program also teaches children to oppose oil fracking in south Los Angeles and educates children on voters’ rights.
“It’s a program of not just learning but also a program of action,” she said.
The 2007 Miss Greater Lakewood serves on the Measure L Citizens Oversight Committee, which oversees the proper usage of Measure L sales tax funds.
“She has inquired about funds and more specifically how those funds are being used on the east side of Lakewood,” wrote Brad Crihfield, chairman of the committee.
Chase got onto the committee via a random drawing that selected Jaycees, a nonprofit leadership program, to choose a member. Thanks to her pageant background, Chase has been affiliated with Jaycees for 15 years and was selected.
Her consulting group, Chase Consulting Group, mostly helps small business owners but has done some political consulting. Chase is also a fellow for Emerge California, an organization that helps elect Democratic women.
This civic involvement has not only helped Chase build up a regional political network, but also introduced her to east Lakewood’s major issues.
Her main employer is Empowerment Congress, an organization founded in 1992 by former Los Angeles Councilman Mark Ridley-Thomas. The organization holds workshops discussing issues mirroring those in Lakewood.
Law enforcement & homelessness
Three workshops promoted taking money from law enforcement for community programs, an aspect of the “Defund the Police” movement.
“I don’t support taking money away [from LA Sheriff’s Department], but I do want us to critically look at why we’re spending what we’re spending and if it’s being helpful,” said Chase, adding she didn’t think cutting the Sheriff’s budget was necessary.
Chase pointed to the Neighborhood Watch program as something Lakewood could channel more funding towards, but couldn’t offer another concrete example.
For violent homeless, Chase wanted to look at non-incarceration solutions, such as mental health services via public-private partnerships.
“I don’t believe locking people up is the end all, be all,” she said.
Riots & anti-Hispanic hate crimes
One Empowerment Congress workshop panelist excused violence caused by the summer 2020 riots.
“We’re in 2020 and we’re seeing riots, well, uprisings, excuse me,” said panelist Derric Johnson at the “Uprising 2020: What’s Next” workshop. “Folks who are fighting for a chance to be seen...as full human.”
Chase agreed with Johnson.
“My understanding of what happened in 2020 is largely most of those protests were not [riots],” she said, blaming the media for making people think otherwise.
Such “uprisings” resulted in probably the worst act of bigotry in Lakewood this millennium. A group of Hispanics on June 26, 2020 were racially targeted by black youth. Shouts of “F_ck Mexicans!” were heard in the recorded assault that went viral on Instagram.
Chase pointed to her childhood background of growing up with Hispanics and Asians, saying that her refusal to not see summer 2020 as a period of violence was not anti-Hispanic.
Lakewood Council discriminated against Hispanics by not publicly condemning anti-Hispanic bigotry until 10 months later, unlike Council’s immediate condemnation against anti-black and anti-Asian attacks that same period. Prodding by the Lakewood Populist resulted in a new mayor, Jeff Wood, treating Hispanics with equal respect.
“Any sort of abuse towards anyone is not OK, especially when it becomes racially motivated,” said Chase. “I don’t believe we should sit back and not say anything.”
Housing mandates, traffic safety, and government reform
Between Roseton Avenue and Norwalk Boulevard, east Lakewood suffers from congested housing and dangerous traffic conditions. This was caused by old Council zoning policies, something Chase acknowledges as she lives in the area.
Yet last year Council opposed SB-9, a state law that would force the rest of Lakewood to endure the same zoning policies.
While Chase supports more apartments, she is against blanket congested housing policies. She pointed to the Lakewood Mall as a potential mixed-use development site.
“If we’re talking about any part of the city that could absorb additional people, it would be there,” said Chase, adding that apartments in east Lakewood “just doesn’t work. It effects property values. ... It effects quality of life.”
Lakewood also has transparency issues.
Public comment segments at Council meetings aren’t broadcasted. Detailed reports explaining public salaries are lacking. A video showing “The Purge” in Lakewood crimes wasn’t released after the video’s owner requested it be publicized.
On the other hand, Crihfield wrote that Chase is a strong advocate for transparency, pointing to how she tries to get community input from around proposed Measure L construction sites.
“What does the public want? That’s the most important thing,” Chase said.