Nika Soon-Shiong ’s appointment to West Hollywood’s Public Safety Commission didn’t make headlines, but the board that advises City Council on the No. 1 concern of its citizens now has a very newsworthy name in its roster.
Long known as the daughter of multi-billionaire media mogul and Los Angeles Times owner Patrick Soon-Shiong, twentysomething Nika is quickly becoming a powerful figure of her own.
Over the past two years, she has emerged as a leading voice at the Times, advising her father on the direction of the paper and gaining clout and influence in the newsroom for her progressive viewpoints and her rapport with the editorial staff.
She was instrumental in preventing the word “looting” from being used by L.A. Times writers in stories about the George Floyd protests of 2020.
Soon-Shiong shares much of her progressive political stance with Councilmember Lindsey Horvath, who appointed her. Neither she nor Horvath answered requests to be interviewed for this article.
During Commission meetings over the past three months, Soon-Shiong has questioned the need for more police presence in WeHo, advocating instead for the social services approach supported by Horvath and others on the council. She has also taken aim at Sheriff Alex Villanueva, criticising his refusal to enforce the county’s vaccine mandate and aiding the inquiry into the department’s billing scandal.
As a co-director of the Compton Pledge, Soon-Shiong is shaping public policy and driving support for guaranteed income programs, which recently have gained traction in cities nationwide — including West Hollywood.
“Why is West Hollywood experimenting with universal basic income?” asked the San Francisco Chronicle last August as city staff were preparing a pilot project that gives no-strings-attached monthly payments of $1,000 to LGBT senior citizens. Why in a city “with a reputation for being quite affluent,” as the article describes it, where median per capita income is twice the national average?
“While our community may be seen one way, we do have a portion of the population that’s living below the poverty line,” Horvath, who was mayor at the time of the interview, told The Chronicle. “We want to focus work on uplifting vulnerable community members.”
Horvath is a vocal member of the Mayors for a Guaranteed Income coalition, a network of mayors around the country running guaranteed income test pilots. She is currently campaigning to become L.A. County’s next Supervisor for the Third District.
The Compton Pledge is one of the country’s biggest guaranteed income test pilots, having raised $9.2 million from private donors such as Amazon Studios. The goal, however, is to get the programs funded with taxpayer dollars.
TIME described The Compton Pledge as a “laboratory for wealth distribution” that “gives some of society’s poorest and most marginalized people cold-hard cash, and then lets them spend it however they want.”
That cold-hard cash and how it gets transferred is Soon-Shiong’s special focus.
According to her bio on the Compton Pledge website, Soon-Shiong established the World Bank Group’s strategy for managing partnerships with global technology companies. A doctoral candidate at Oxford University, she was writing her thesis on cash transfer systems in India when the pandemic struck. As the idea of government payouts became more familiar to the American public, she was inspired to begin her work closer to home.
The City of Los Angeles began a guaranteed income program in October that gives 3,200 households a monthly stipend of $1,000 for a year, and the State of California is devoting $35 million to its own program, which started in July.
A universal basic income that gave every American adult $12,000 annually would cost the government more than $3.1 trillion per year — about 90 percent of all the money the government collected last year.
Public polling still suggests most Americans oppose guaranteed basic income, and it remains a politically risky pursuit in statehouses and in Congress.
But Soon-Shiong isn’t deterred.
“This is an inevitable future,” she told TIME.