When it came to battling Los Angeles Councilwoman Pat Russell, no one worked harder than Arnold Springer. He was the quintessential City Hall outsider, a grim-faced trench warrior locked in a bitter struggle against Russell's policies on development.
Last week, after Ruth Galanter handily defeated the veteran councilwoman with a grass-roots campaign backed largely by community activists, Springer finally laid down his arms and smiled. "Democracy works," he proclaimed. "It's a new day."
Galanter's victory is having a profound effect on 6th District residents such as Springer. Political outsiders are becoming insiders. Unpopular development projects that once seemed inevitable are being shelved or re-evaluated. The Venice local coastal plan and other programs that languished during Russell's 17 years on the council have a renewed sense of urgency. And people on both sides of the political fence are embracing a new leader.
"There's no question that we can work with Ruth because our goals are the same," said Venice Action Committee President Harlan Lee, who supported Russell.
Takes Office July 1
"I feel confident we can work with Galanter," said Westchester businesswoman Rowena Ake, another of Russell's staunchest supporters.
Galanter, who is still recovering from a May 6 knife attack, does not take office until July 1. But aides said they expect swift action on several fronts. She has already announced her support for scaling back four massive projects that Russell backed--Playa Vista, the Howard Hughes Center, Continental City and the northside development of Los Angeles International Airport.
Crime and community improvement projects are also top priorities. Spokesman Jim Bickhart said Galanter will be a strong Neighborhood Watch advocate and will seek new ways to deploy police to trouble spots within the district. In addition, she is expected to accelerate the pace of several community projects that have stalled.
Venice is likely to profit most from those efforts. Residents said they expect Galanter to seek quick adoption of a local coastal plan for the diverse and volatile community. The plan, which would establish formal zoning and development guidelines for Venice, must be approved by the City Council and the state Coastal Commission.
Patrick McCartney, the president of a slow-growth group called A Coalition of Concerned Communities, said Galanter, an urban planner and former chairwoman of the California Regional Coastal Commission, has the expertise needed to win approval for the plan.
"With her record of coastal management Ruth will definitely end the planning vacuum that has existed," he said.
Springer, a one-time leader of the Venice Town Council--which virulently opposed Russell's policies--said Galanter recognizes the importance of the local coastal plan. He said its adoption will help end battles between community activists and developers.
"The rules will be clear and the community will know that it won't be shafted," Springer said. "It can be nothing but positive for everyone."
Another project facing Galanter is the cleanup and restoration of the historic Venice canals. Under Russell's tenure, about 85% of the residents living along the canals approved a plan that has been forwarded to the Coastal Commission by the City Council. Murray Leral, a leading supporter of the $3-million project, said he expects Galanter's full support.
But Tom Moran, who opposes the plan because he says its design is historically inaccurate, said the project may be reassessed under Galanter. "I would hope that she would take a long look at the canals," Moran said. "I would not ask her to stop the project, but I hope she would consider some changes."
Galanter will also be pressured to solve Venice's chronic parking shortage, according to residents and supporters. Lee of the Venice Action Committee said he has high hopes. "We want more parking and Galanter is totally for it," Lee said. "Ruth will bring a lot of new energy to Venice."
In Westchester, residents are concerned about the four major developments slated for their community, in addition to more mundane matters as better tree trimming and trash collection.
Development was a central issue in the campaign. Russell said she had done everything possible to limit the 30 million square feet of construction planned for the area. Galanter called Russell a pawn of developers and pledged to reduce the scale of the four projects, saying they would increase traffic and smog.
"Russell was willing to give developers more than was necessary, and most people knew it," McCartney said. "She was absorbed in grandiose plans."
Housewife Bette Woodmansee was a long-time Russell supporter who abandoned the councilwoman this year. She said that she hopes Galanter will reduce the amount of development planned for the area. Svea Costanza, another Westchester housewife, said she would settle for some simple services. "The day Russell took over as president of the council she lost interest in the little old homeowners," Costanza said. "People were fed up with her."
In Crenshaw, the only part of the district where Russell received more votes than Galanter, residents said they hope to see more economic revitalization and less crime. Sue Shaw, a Russell backer, said Crenshaw residents are more than ready to work with Galanter.
The Rev. Steve Stevens, a community organizer who opposed Russell, said major drug dealing persists in an area known as Sherm Alley. At Jim Gilliam Park, residents have been plagued by muggings. Blight is also a problem, according to Stevens, despite the construction of a new shopping complex.
"I see quite a bit of potential in Galanter," Stevens said. "I think that she will have people working. People are beginning to see some hope."
Among Galanter's closest supporters, many of them long-time Venice activists and 1960s sub-culturists, the word hope has taken on a whole new meaning.
"Someone who shares some of our values and views will be the councilwoman" said Moe Stavnezer.
"That's remarkable. I haven't felt this good since Woodstock," said Judy Brill.
Times staff writer Mathis Chazanov contributed to this story.