As slow-growth sentiment in Culver City gains momentum, challengers in the City Council race are hoping the same groundswell that swept Los Angeles City Council President Pat Russell from office last year will help them unseat three longtime incumbents this April.
As of last week, four challengers--three of them former councilmen--have announced that they will run against Mayor Richard Brundo, Vice Mayor Paul Jacobs and Councilman Paul Netzel in the April 12 municipal elections.
All four challengers--former councilmen Jim Boulgarides, Richard E. Pachtman and Ron Perkins, and attorney Steven Gourley--have charged that the council has allowed too much commercial development within the city and has not done enough to stop projects in neighboring parts of Los Angeles.
"We have an inept City Council that has shown a total lack of leadership," Boulgarides said. "I think we need a citywide moratorium (on commercial development) for about a year until we can assess what we're doing."
All four support the drive for an initiative that would reduce the maximum height of new buildings in some parts of the city from 12 stories to four.
But Netzel, running for his third term, defended the council.
"The council's record on development in this city is a very fine one, particularly compared with other cities in the area," said Netzel, 46, a professional fund-raiser who chairs the Redevelopment Agency. He cited the three-story height limit in 11 of the city's 14 non-residential zoning districts, and the council's decision last August to reduce the density of the Marina Place project by 40%.
Most of the city's traffic problems are caused by development in surrounding areas, which the council has been working hard to curtail, he said.
For example, Netzel said, the City Council won significant concessions from builders of the Howard Hughes Center in Los Angeles, including a reduction in density and $3 million for traffic mitigation in Culver City. He added that the council is negotiating for similar agreements with the developers of the Playa Vista project.
Gourley, however, said the council has not protested outside development strongly enough. He said that he opposed the settlement with the developers of the Hughes project and favors reviving the city's lawsuit to stop the project.
"The City Council has done nothing to stop anything going on outside its jurisdiction," said Gourley, 38, a former president of the Culver City Democratic Club. "They keep complaining about Los Angeles, but not one of them supported anybody running against Pat Russell."
Jacobs, a 46-year-old attorney running for his fourth term on the council, said he is not entirely satisfied with the council's record on development.
"I wish the Corporate Pointe development was not approved in the scope and intensity that it was," he said. Jacobs was the only councilman to vote against the 1.5-million-square-foot high-rise office project near Fox Hills Mall when the council approved it about eight years ago.
Jacobs also lamented the proliferation of mini-malls in the city, but said he is proud of some recent changes in council policy, including the call for a study of a 30% reduction in density for projects in the Fox Hills redevelopment area and negotiations to scale back planned sections of Corporate Pointe.
Jacobs favors a review of the city's height limits but does not support the campaign to place the issue on the ballot.
Both Netzel and Brundo said they do not support the initiative either.
Brundo, 46, an interior designer seeking his fourth term, said a height limit by itself does nothing to restrict density.
He said the initiative is unnecessary because the city has regulations such as setback and parking requirements that are far more restrictive than a height limit by itself.
"Anyone who thinks that Culver City is overdeveloped with high-rise developments needs to take a better look at the city in which they live," he said.
The council had a difficult year in 1987. Angry residents descended on meetings over such issues as the location of the new city hall, a proposed maintenance fee assessment district and traffic barricades in the Sunkist Park neighborhood.
Each time, the council bowed to pressure and reversed itself, providing political ammunition to opponents who say the incumbents have lost touch with their constituents.
"They think they are gods in their position," said Pachtman, 64, who served on the council from 1968 to 1976. The former mayor said council members should be limited to two terms in office. "They have been in office so long that they have lost sight of who they represent," he said.
Brundo, however, said the opposite is true.
"If the council was out of touch with the people, the Sunkist Park problem would not have even been looked at, the city hall site would not have been rejected," Brundo said. "How more can you be in touch with the people than by listening to them?"
Perkins disagreed. The former councilman, defeated in 1986 after three terms, said he has been dissatisfied with the council's performance since he left.
He said the decision to place barricades in Sunkist Park was "unthinkable, particularly since the majority of the people didn't want it."
In addition, he said the proposed Culver Boulevard-Overland Avenue site for the new city hall, which was rejected, should not have been purchased in the first place.
Perkins, 66, who is also a former Culver City police captain, said: "In the past, I've been a fairly strong supporter of commercial development," but he added that he now favors slow growth and wants a moratorium on building in the city.
Perkins said he was defeated in the last election because of allegations that he failed to disclose a business relationship with developer W. Patrick Moriarty as required under state law. The state attorney general has since closed the case, he said.
But Pachtman doesn't accept Perkins' change in position on growth. "I wouldn't trust him to be my city councilman," Pachtman said.
Boulgarides, 64, a professor of business management at Cal State Los Angeles, said the annual budgets of both the city ($44 million) and Redevelopment Agency (nearly $65 million), need to be cut.
He said the Redevelopment Agency spent almost $2 million on consultants from 1985 to 1987.
"That's an area for major surgery," he said. "We're paying good money to the staff. What is the staff doing?"
He said instead of creating another tax through an assessment district, the council should look for inefficiencies within city government and eliminate them.
But Jacobs said revenue has not kept pace with expenditures for the past three years, and that if residents want to maintain the present level of city services, new funding sources must be found.
Gourley said Councilman Richard Alexander is supporting his candidacy. Councilwoman Jozelle Smith said she does not plan on endorsing anyone.
Thursday was the first day candidates could file for the election. The last filing date is Feb. 4 for challengers, Feb. 9 for incumbents.