In one of the final organized events leading up to the April 14 election, Los Angeles Councilwoman Pat Russell told her Westchester neighbors that she has done everything possible to protect them from overdevelopment.
Russell, who has been roundly criticized by her five opponents in the 6th District race for her support of commercial development, said Westchester needs to keep her in office. "I am the only Westchester resident running," the councilwoman said. "We cannot stop development. But we can control it."
Russell's comments came during a political forum at Orville Wright Junior High School last week. The 63-year-old councilwoman received polite applause from the 200 residents who came to hear the candidates speak. But her comments did nothing to quell the storm of criticism from her opponents who noted that 19 million square feet of development is slated for Westchester.
Ruth Galanter, a planning consultant from Venice who is considered Russell's toughest challenger, said Westchester "will be ringed with hotels and offices" and choked with traffic congestion if Russell remains in office.
The other candidates--Rimmon C. Fay, Salvatore Grammatico, Virginia Taylor Hughes and Patrick McCartney--characterized Russell as a pawn of special interests and said they would protect the quality of life in Westchester.
Although Russell's opponents in the 6th District race are largely under-funded and unknown, their focus on development in the diverse district that also includes Venice, Mar Vista and Crenshaw has put Russell on the defensive.
The councilwoman, who has represented the area since 1969 and served two terms as council president, has told voters that she actually persuaded developers to reduce the density of commercial development around Westchester. Russell has also claimed that commuter congestion will be eased by her new traffic plan, which forces developers to pay for transit improvements.
As the council race enters its final weeks, however, Russell's five opponents are hammering home the argument that the veteran councilwoman has done more harm than good in an effort to force her into a runoff in June.
Fay, a Venice marine biologist who has been a leader in the fight against contamination in Santa Monica Bay, received enthusiastic applause at last week's forum when he said Russell is "part and parcel" of the problem.
McCartney, another Venice activist, said the district will be sold out to special interest groups if Russell remains in office. Taylor Hughes, a Crenshaw neighborhood leader, said Russell has ignored problems there. And Grammatico, a Mar Vista real estate broker, said Russell is no longer an effective leader.
The candidates offered a wide variety of answers to written questions submitted by the audience. On the subject of channeling and controling growth, Taylor Hughes said she would consult with a citizen's oversight committee. Grammatico said he would ensure that growth conformed to the community plan.
Russell said the city is already controlling growth by limiting the density of projects but that other solutions should be sought. Fay said growth should be controlled but cannot be stopped because of the large influx of residents. Galanter said growth should be channeled into areas that need it and discouraged in areas that are overbuilt. McCartney said the solution is a better balance of jobs and housing.
Responding to a question about Los Angeles budget shortages, Grammatico suggested that the city seek more funding from federal, state and county officials and consider contracting some services out to private companies. Russell noted that state and federal cutbacks are causing the budget shortage and said the city has to spend its money more carefully. Fay said a sales tax increase or increase in the refuse-deposit fee should be considered.
Calls for Creativity
Galanter said the city should be more creative. She suggested reorganizing the way sales tax revenue is distributed. McCartney suggested that the city impose a tax on people who work in Los Angeles but live outside the city. Taylor Hughes said she opposes new taxes but favors budget cutbacks.
On the subject of traffic gridlock, Russell said her traffic plan, which has yet to come before the City Council, would help to solve the problem. She called the plan, which would require that developers pay for public transit improvements, a model for Southern California. Fay said Russell has supported an endless spiral of more development and more traffic and said the spiral must end. Galanter also accused Russell of causing traffic congestion by supporting development. "Other areas are crying out for the type of development that is strangling this side of town," she said.
McCartney and Grammatico said they favor an elevated light rail system. Taylor Hughes suggested that transportation officials personally direct traffic at peak congestion hours to make it move more smoothly and said more employers should stagger work hours.
One audience member, apparently tired of the serious comments on 6th District problems, asked each candidate to tell what they do for fun.
Galanter answered that she hikes, listens to music and reads books. McCartney said he plays tennis, basketball and chess in addition to hiking and reading. Taylor Hughes said she spends much of her free time with her six children and seven grandchildren.
Fay said his life is centered around the ocean, where he dives and studies marine life. Grammatico said he loves to "get my hands in the dirt." He said that he is a member of several garden societies. He also hikes and does scuba-diving. Russell described her hobbies as gardening, scuba-diving, hiking and mountain climbing. Her latest physical endeavor was the Los Angeles Marathon, Russell said, proudly displaying the medal she received for placing third in her age category.