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Prop. U Backers Hit Mail Hard to Blunt Critics

Times Staff Writer

Despite lack of organized opposition, proponents of Proposition U, the slow-growth initiative on Tuesday’s Los Angeles city ballot, are aggressively campaigning this week by piggybacking their message on more than 1 million mailers flooding voters’ mailboxes.

About half of these are aimed strategically at black sections of the city, a tactic designed to blunt criticism of the measure by key minority elected officials. A recommended “yes” on Proposition U will appear on two Democratic ticket mailers going to about 250,000 households in South-Central Los Angeles this week. Proponents and opponents alike predict the measure will pass.

Most of the City Council’s minority members, who are part of the pro-development majority led by Council President Pat Russell, have criticized Proposition U as an elitist measure that caters to the overdevelopment fears of affluent and largely white neighborhood groups of the Westside and the Valley. They argue that the initiative, which would reduce by half the size of commercial buildings that can be built in most of the city, would discourage development and jobs in areas thirsting for economic growth.

Among those who have voiced such concerns are South-Central Los Angeles Councilman Robert Farrell, former southwest Los Angeles Councilman David Cunningham, Eastside Councilman Richard Alatorre and Russell, who is white but represents the predominantly black Crenshaw district.

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Just how much attitudes toward development vary from one part of town to another were highlighted at last week’s groundbreaking for a $100-million shopping mall in the Crenshaw district. Hundreds of community leaders and residents cheered and gave a standing ovation to Russell, who is regularly attacked by slow-growth groups in other parts of town, including other areas of her own district.

Russell led the 12-year struggle for the large, four-department-store shopping mall--exactly the type of traffic-inducing project that would run into a hurricane of opposition on the Westside or in the Valley.

Her black constituents, Russell said, “come and beat on me and say, ‘Get us jobs!’ ”

Proponents of Proposition U, authored by Westside and Valley council members Zev Yaroslavsky and Marvin Braude, argue that all residents need protection against oversized buildings intruding on neighborhoods. The measure will not adversely impact minority areas, they say, because the intense type of development that would be cut back by the initiative is not occurring in economically depressed areas.

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Yaroslavsky and Braude also claim that the “elitist” argument is a desperate, divisive attempt by Russell’s allies to protect developers whose real interest is building in lucrative suburban areas. “It’s hogwash,” Braude said. “The big developers are trying to use the poor. . . .”

Proposition U supporters, having spent more than $300,000, according to the latest campaign finance reports, are taking their argument directly to minority voters. The reports show that Citizens’ for a Livable Los Angeles, the pro-Proposition U committee, paid $5,000 to get their message in the newspaper-like “Community Democrat,” which blankets the black community with voting recommendations before each major election.

Willard Murray, who has published the campaign mailer for many years, said he is concerned that the initiative “might have a negative impact” on the black community. But he said he later was persuaded that it could help minority areas by spreading commercial development more evenly throughout the city. He denied that the $5,000 payment affected his decision.

In addition to the black slate, Proposition U supporters will have their message carried on several hundred thousand Democratic slate mailers elsewhere.

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Wide Approval Seen

Yaroslavsky predicted last week that the measure will carry in “every district of the city.”

But interviews by The Times with black and Latino community leaders and political organizers indicate that there is little interest in--and some suspicion of--Proposition U in the inner city. Larry Fondation of the South Central Organizing Committee, a grass-roots political force in the black community, said: "(It) is fairly abstract . . . compared to the palpable reality of walking down the street and having somebody jiggling dope in front of you and saying, ‘Here, buy this.’ ”

Lydia Lopez, a spokeswoman for United Neighborhoods Organization, a large church-based Latino organizing group on the Eastside, said that group is taking no stand on Proposition U. “I don’t think I’ve had more than half a dozen people in the organization ask about it,” she said.

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Paper Opposes It

The Los Angeles Sentinel, the city’s largest black newspaper, Thursday came out in opposition to Proposition U.

And Mark Ridley-Thomas, executive director of the Southern Christian Leadership Conference, a black group concerned with economic development issues, said Thursday that while there are “credible” arguments on both sides, he is urging blacks to vote against Proposition U. “This blanket kind of slow-growth policy might further retard development in communities that need it most,” he said.

Such arguments have been weakened because there are few, if any, minority area developments that would be immediately harmed by the initiative. Even the new Crenshaw Shopping Center, one of the largest commercial projects in the black community in recent times, is not intense enough to be directly affected by the initiative’s building limits. There is some talk of building a hotel adjacent to the center, but those plans are preliminary.

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"(Proposition U) doesn’t have any real relationship to what’s going on in South-Central,” said Ted Watkins, administrator of the Watts Labor Community Action Committee. “ ‘The problem’ has not been a problem in South-Central.”

Proposition U supporters point to the support they have from South-Central Los Angeles residents who are battling a proposed city trash burning plant. But some acknowledge that the initiative has not generated the support hoped for in black and Latino areas. “Overdevelopment has not yet been a problem,” said Jackie Brainard, spokeswoman for the Proposition U campaign. “We’re disappointed we didn’t get further in the minority communities.”


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