Council Recruit Knows Turf in San Fernando

Times Staff Writer

Forty years ago, when men wore hats and orange groves covered much of the city, future politician James B. Hansen would ride his horse through the open fields and dirt roads of San Fernando.

The world was younger then, and Hansen was an 11-year-old boy who lived in a white house on Harding Street. His father ran a corner grocery store and worked as a San Fernando city fireman. Hansen himself spent his days at St. Ferdinand’s Elementary School and had a crush on a blonde named Anna.

Today, Hansen still lives in San Fernando, and Anna has been his wife for 30 years. Although in the early days he concentrated on building his accounting career and rearing four children, he soon began to dabble in local government--serving first on a city personnel committee, then on a housing committee and, for the last eight years, as a member of the city’s planning commission, part of that time as chairman.

Last week, Hansen moved up again. After 15 years of political involvement, he was appointed to a vacant seat on the City Council.


The appointment came after two council members--Hansen declined to say which ones--asked whether he’d like to trade in his planning commissioner hat for one of city councilman, he said.

Consulted Wife and Boss

“I told them I had to talk to my wife and my boss,” said Hansen, who is vice president of finance for Simon Levy Co., a wholesale liquor distributor in Carson.

After receiving thumbs up from both parties, Hansen said he would be happy to accept.

He will attend his last planning commission meeting Sept. 26 and will be sworn in on his new job at the City Council’s next meeting on Sept. 30.

Fond of Old Homes

Hansen, a soft-spoken 51-year-old, sat in an easy chair at home last week and talked about the city where he has lived since childhood.

He said he is particularly fond of its fine, old houses, some of which are 100 years old. He said he would like to see more residents take pride in their community and maintain their old homes.

Also of concern to Hansen is San Fernando’s growth, particularly the fate of its former airport, a 52-acre tract that the city has been trying unsuccessfully to develop for several years.

“We’re an older city, and we don’t have a lot of vacant land,” he said. “We’ve got to be practical and develop the land we do have to its highest and best use.”

Friends and colleagues in city government described Hansen as unassuming but effective.

Survived Political Battle

Colleagues also pointed to his political tenacity. During a violent upheaval in city government two years ago, Hansen emerged unscathed while two other planning commissioners were terminated, according to Norm Canchola, the city’s planning director.

“He does his homework and he’s very fair,” said Canchola, who has worked with Hansen for two years.

Councilman Roy Richardson, who nominated the planning commissioner to the City Council, said Hansen’s years in local government would make him a valuable asset.

Another council member also was impressed with Hansen’s experience. Jess Margarito, the only Latino council member in a city that is 75% Latino, said colleagues spoke highly of Hansen’s work on the planning commission.

“It tells me he’s been able to work with different types of local government people and administrators,” Margarito said.

With his financial expertise, Hansen was also seen as a likely replacement for former Councilman Pat Modugno, a local businessman who resigned last month to move out of town.

In fact, only Councilwoman Cam Noltemeyer voted against Hansen’s appointment. She said the seat should be left open until the city’s next municipal election in April, 1986.

To Inspect Station

Hansen said one of his first tasks this week will be to tour the city’s controversial police station on Macneil Street. The City Council, convinced that the station is obsolete, has tentatively approved plans to build a larger one nearby on First Street and Brand Boulevard. Hansen said he wants to see the old station for himself before voting on the issue.

The new council member said he is a staunch supporter of San Fernando’s independent Police Department. In fact, he listens to police scanner radios several hours each evening. The radio calls are reassuring, he said, and the sound helps lull him to sleep.

Hansen said he has monitored police scanners since college, when he worked as a photographer for the now defunct Los Angeles Mirror.

Monitoring the radio scanner in his car, Hansen would cruise around Los Angeles until he heard reports of an accident or crime. He would then hurry to the scene to photograph it for the paper, he said.

Hansen attended Woodbury University in Los Angeles and majored in accounting. After graduation he left photography to work as a junior accountant for a liquor wholesaling firm in Glendale. By the time he left in 1963 to work for his current employer, he was assistant controller.

Liquor-Control Issue

Coincidentally, one of Hansen’s upcoming tasks as a city councilman will be to review a proposed ordinance aimed at limiting the sale of alcoholic beverages within city limits. The ordinance was prompted by people who complained that the city’s many bars contribute to crime, drunkenness and delinquency.

Hansen said he agrees. “In certain parts of the city, I think, there’s been an abuse,” he said. Hansen feels “totally comfortable restricting the sale of alcoholic beverages if this is what the public wants.”

In fact, the new councilman wants to hear more from the residents of San Fernando.

“It’s kind of sad when no one is sitting in the audience, no one cares enough to show up,” he said. “It’s fun, and in a small town you really feel you can accomplish something.”