Political Heat Rising in 3rd, 7th Districts : Challengers Pin Hopes on Forcing City Council Veterans Into Runoffs
Al Dib is a 55-year-old father of eight who sold his produce business and put $11,000 of his own money into his campaign to unseat veteran Los Angeles City Councilman Ernani Bernardi.
“Believe me, I would never have run again if I didn’t think I had a chance of winning,” said Dib, who is making his fourth try for political office. He pledges that, if elected, he will drive around the San Fernando Valley’s 7th District, assisting police in capturing drug dealers.
Paul M. McKellips, a political newcomer opposing City Councilwoman Joy Picus, recently met privately with the 12-year incumbent.
“I had never met her,” he said. “I told her my biggest reason for running is I don’t think any public official should stay in office for more than eight years. She seemed to understand my position. She was very friendly.”
Dib and McKellips are among 11 active challengers to Bernardi and Picus in the most competitive Valley races leading up to the April 11 municipal election.
Councilmen Mike Woo and Zev Yaroslavsky, whose Westside districts were extended into the Valley in the 1986 realignment of council district boundaries, are favored to win reelection. Councilman Marvin Braude, who also represents part of the Valley, is unopposed.
Candidates gained a spot on the ballot by collecting the signatures of 500 voters and paying a $300 filing fee or, to avoid paying the fee, gathering 1,000 signatures.
So far, the contests have been relatively quiet. But the pace is expected to pick up considerably as a barrage of campaign mailers begin hitting homes.
In the hottest Valley race, Bernardi faces six active challengers. They contend that the 77-year-old lawmaker is not well-known to voters in his largely new district, carved out by the City Council in the 1986 reapportionment.
The district takes in Arleta, Pacoima and Sylmar and parts of Lake View Terrace, Mission Hills, Panorama City, Sepulveda, North Hollywood, Sun Valley and Van Nuys.
Want to Force Runoff
The challengers hope to pull in enough votes to force the 28-year incumbent into a runoff. A candidate must get more than 50% of the vote to win the April election. Otherwise, the top two vote-getters will meet in June.
Lyle Hall, a 49-year-old Los Angeles firefighter and former president of the firefighters union, appears to be Bernardi’s most formidable opponent. He is supported by organized labor in a district with substantial union membership.
Other candidates are Jules S. Bagneris III, 28, president of the Lake View Terrace Home Owners Assn.; Irene Tovar, 50, former head of the Hispanic Caucus of the state Democratic Party; Dib, past president of the Arleta Chamber of Commerce; Barry Gribs, 50, a drug therapy intern, and James Braun, 29, office manager for a construction company. Richard Yanez withdrew from the race and endorsed Hall, but his name will still appear on the ballot.
Hall has attacked Bernardi for missing 29 of 135 council meetings between Feb. 1, 1988, and Jan. 31, 1989, to tie for the worst attendance record. Bernardi was afflicted with a virus and was hospitalized after falling and hitting his head. His wife was also ill, causing him to miss additional meetings.
“Ernie has been on the City Council for 28 years and, during the last 18 months, his illnesses have made him a part-time councilman,” Hall said in a campaign mailer sent to voters last week. “We need a councilman who will work full time for all of us.” Bernardi replied that he is fully recovered and has resumed his busy schedule.
Drug Center Backed
Hall supports opening of the Nancy Reagan Center for drug rehabilitation in Lake View Terrace. The proposed facility is opposed by Bernardi and many of the area’s residents who fear that it will bring crime to the neighborhood.
Bagneris, who was 8 months old when Bernardi was first elected in 1961, contends that the district needs a younger, more energetic councilman with fresh ideas. His name is pronounced Bon-er-eese, but even Bagneris has begun calling himself Bag-ner-is during the campaign because everyone else does. “Why fight?” he sighed.
Bagneris, the son of a politically active minister from Pacoima, said he decided to run for office after attending a rally for 1968 presidential candidate Hubert H. Humphrey. He said Humphrey was seated next to him in a church pew and when the vice president got up to speak, he mentioned the 7-year-old Bagneris by name.
“My eyes lit up,” Bagneris said. “It was then that I decided that I wanted to go into politics because politicians wanted to help people and they could make a difference.”
Bagneris, who is also a minister but works as a stockbroker, has preached that Bernardi exhibits a “lack of leadership, timidity, powerlessness that is not going to address our needs.” He also says the councilman has been unable to close the Lopez Canyon Landfill in Lake View Terrace. Nearby homeowners complain about noise, odor and traffic congestion from the dump.
“The residents around Mission Canyon Landfill had an effective and vociferous voice in the City Council, and they were able to close down that dump,” Bagneris said, referring to a now-closed dump in Sepulveda Pass. “If we had such a voice in the City Council, we would be able to do the same thing.”
Bagneris has also blamed Bernardi for the poor condition of the 1,437-acre Hansen Dam recreation area, site of a once-popular lake that is now a stagnant pond.
“I see no reason why the residents of the 7th District should not be able to enjoy the same type of quality facilities as those enjoyed by the residents of the area surrounding the Sepulveda Basin” in Encino.
Bernardi replied: “Challengers have a knack of making everything seem so simple and easy to resolve.”
On Lopez Canyon, Bernardi said he has sought to open landfills in other areas of the city but has been unsuccessful because of opposition from other council members who do not want the political headache of dumps in their districts. On Hansen Dam, Bernardi said the city is working on a plan to improve the area.
Little League Team
Dib said he deserves to be elected because of his years of community service, ranging from donating food to poor families in Pacoima to sponsoring a Little League team in Sylmar.
“I paid my dues in the area,” he said.
“Do you think your quality of life is as good as it is in Sherman Oaks, in Northridge, in Encino?” Dib asked at a recent candidates forum. “If you do, you should reelect Ernani Bernardi.” Dib has promised, if elected, to push for building a monorail line from Sylmar to downtown.
Tovar said she decided to run because Bernardi opposed the redistricting.
“He has never really wanted to represent this district,” she said. Bernardi said he merely opposed the political maneuvering that led to the remapping.
Tovar has advocated reassigning more police from lower-crime areas to the northeast Valley. “Don’t be deceived,” she said. “We can have more police without more taxes.”
‘Makes It Even Worse’
Gribs has said at candidate forums that throwing gang members in jail is not the way to reduce crime.
“These gang members are from dysfunctional, alcoholic families,” he said. “The first thing you do when you arrest these gang members and put them in jail is reinforce the feelings that they are not worthy of anything, that they are no good. . . . This makes it even worse.
“What I propose is that we build or change the jails into locked treatment centers where we could keep them secure but treat them in a more loving, positive way. This would build their self-esteem.” He supports opening of the Nancy Reagan Center.
Braun has pledged that, if elected, he would seek a halt to all building in the district until new development plans can be prepared for each community.
He has contended that Bernardi has become ineffective. “He has been a maverick for so long now” that he cannot obtain the support of his colleagues for programs that benefit the district, Braun said.
3rd District Challengers
In the West Valley’s 3rd District, Picus, 58, faces five challengers led by Peter Ireland, 43, an aide to County Supervisor Deane Dana, and Jeanne Nemo, 60, a Republican activist backed by County Supervisor Mike Antonovich. The others are Morton Diamond, 57, a hot dog vendor; McKellips, 30, a businessman, and Ron Rich, 40, an auto dealer.
The district extends roughly from Balboa Boulevard to the western city limits between Roscoe Boulevard and the Ventura Freeway. It includes Canoga Park, Reseda, Tarzana, Warner Center, West Hills, Woodland Hills and west Van Nuys.
Ireland works for a pro-development supervisor. But he has campaigned on a slow-growth platform.
“In the four years I have lived in my neighborhood, I have seen it get dramatically worse,” he said.
“We’ve got to pull back and take a strong, hard look at what the planning options are before we allow more to take place,” he said. He advocates a halt to construction of any new large apartment and condominium complexes in single-family residential neighborhoods until development plans for each community can be reviewed.
‘Scale Back Warner Center’
“I’m afraid we’re going to have to scale back Warner Center,” he added.
Picus responded: “We, in the West Valley, enjoy one of the lowest growth rates in Los Angeles.”
Ireland opposes a Picus-backed study of building of a light-rail line along Chandler and Victory boulevards. Instead, he favors construction of a light-rail line along Southern Pacific railroad tracks running diagonally across the Valley from Burbank to Chatsworth.
Ireland is also against development of an arts park in the Sepulveda Basin. Picus supports the proposal.
Nemo, a former teacher who sells real estate, ran against Picus in 1985 and finished second in a field of five with 21% of the vote. Picus won with 56%.
‘Lack of Leadership’
Nemo has accused Picus of “a total lack of leadership on any major issue” and said she flip-flops on development issues, “depending on what group she is talking to at the moment.”
Nemo supports construction of a rail line on or along the Ventura Freeway. She said she would consider establishing a rubbish collection fee on single-family homes to raise money for additional police.
“We are about the only major city that subsidizes trash collection,” she said. “I think it is time that we started charging for that if that is the only way we can raise money to hire sufficient number of police.”
Picus supports a plan to increase the police force from the 7,677 officers to 10,000 by 1993, but has not proposed a way to pay for the additional officers. However, she said she would need to “look at all the options” before considering a rubbish-collection charge.
Nemo supports development of an arts park in the Sepulveda Basin.
Care for Homeless
McKellips has made caring for the homeless a major theme of his campaign.
“I lived on the streets of Skid Row for two days,” he said. “And I guarantee you there’s not adequate housing.”
“We need to stop all development for a year,” McKellips said. However, he said he supports the controversial office development proposed for the Warner Ridge, a hilly, 22-acre site at the eastern edge of Woodland Hills, because planning for the project has been under way for a long time.
“I’d rather have 3,000 jobs on those 22 acres rather than 15 to 20 $800,000 homes overlooking warehouse rooftops and air-conditioning units,” he said. Picus said she favors construction of single-family homes on the property.
McKellips supports the Chandler-Victory route for a light-rail line.
Failed to Settle Problem
Rich said he decided to oppose Picus after the councilwoman failed to settle a problem that he was having with the Department of Water and Power.
“I went into her office in downtown Los Angeles and they told me they were still looking at it,” he said. “As I was walking down the hall, I bumped into someone and told him about my problem.” The someone was Councilman Richard Alatorre, who resolved the problem in 48 hours, Rich said. Alatorre, however, has endorsed Picus.
“I really wasn’t going to run,” Rich said. “My wife said, ‘If you think you can make some changes, just do it.’ ”
Asked how his position on light rail differs from Picus’, Rich said: “If she is supporting it, I’m not.” He supports the use of diamond lanes on freeways, but only if new lanes are built.
Rich also supports the Warner Ridge office development, conceding that “I’ll probably lose a lot of votes” as a result.
Arts Tax Criticized
Rich said he doesn’t oppose building of an arts park in the Sepulveda Basin as long as no public money is spent. He criticized the City Council for approving a 1% tax on private development to pay for the arts.
“You got crime and gangs and everything, and here they are worried about arts,” Rich said. “They don’t have their priorities straight.”
Diamond said he decided to run after listening to his customers complain as they bought hot dogs.
“You get to learn a lot selling hot dogs on the street listening to people,” he said.
Diamond said he opposes building of a light-rail line or a subway anywhere in earthquake-prone Los Angeles. “What we need are mini-buses running throughout the Valley.” He said that if elected, he would push for free bus service for senior citizens.
“All my funds come from people on the street,” he said. “I’m not supported by any developers.”
Times staff writer Amy Pyle contributed to this story.
BERNARDI’S OPPONENTS JULES S. BAGNERIS III -- 28, a minister with the African Methodist Episcopal Church who works as stockbroker. President of Lake View Terrace Home Owners Assn. Former aide to State Sen. Alan Robbins (D-Tarzana). Received bachelor’s degree in political science from UC San Diego where he was student body president. Working on master’s degree at Claremont School of Theology. Born Sept. 1, 1960, in Bakersfield. He, his wife and daughter live in Lake View Terrace. A Democrat. Never ran for office before.
JAMES BRAUN -- 29, office manager for L.A. County Masonry, a Chatsworth construction company. Attended college but did not graduate. Born Aug. 8, 1959, in Pittsburgh, Pa. He is single and lives in Panorama City. He is registered independent. Never ran for office before.
AL DIB -- 55, a longtime community activist who sold his produce business to campaign full time. Past president of Arleta Chamber of Commerce. Endorsed by Councilman Hal Bernson. Active in anti-school busing and Proposition 13 campaigns. Served on citizens’ committee studying a Valley light-rail line. Attended college but did not graduate. He and his wife live in Arleta and have eight children and 14 grandchildren. Born Feb. 16, 1934, in Detroit, Mich. A Democrat-turned Republican. Ran unsuccessfully for council in 1973 and 1977. Lost 1985 race for school board.
BARRY GRIBS -- 50, a drug therapy intern at Glendale Community College. Previously worked in dry-cleaning industry. Born March 20, 1939, in Los Angeles. He is widowed and lives in Sylmar. A Democrat, this is his first try for political office.
LYLE HALL -- 49, a 27-year veteran of the Los Angeles Fire Department and former president of city firefighters’ union. Received Fire Department’s Medal of Valor for rescuing police officers involved in a shooting. Endorsed by Los Angeles Police Protective League representing 7,600 police officers and the Los Angeles County Federation of Labor, which has 36,000 members in the district. Studied at Harvard and other colleges, but did not graduate. Born Feb. 29, 1940, in Gardner, N.D. He and his wife have six children and live in Panorama City. A Democrat, this is his first try for political office.
IRENE TOVAR -- 50, former chairwoman of Hispanic Caucus of state Democratic Party. Consultant to a health clinic that serves low-income residents in East Los Angeles. Served in administration of Gov. Edmund G. (Jerry) Brown Jr. Former member of Los Angeles Civil Service Commission. Endorsed by a number of prominent Latino political officials. Born Aug. 23, 1938, in Boyle Heights. Received bachelor’s degree in social sciences from Cal State Northridge. She is single and lives in Mission Hills. Ran unsuccessfully for Los Angeles Community College District board in 1969.
PICUS’ OPPONENTS MORTON DIAMOND -- 57, hot dog vendor. worked as supermarket manager for 24 years. Received associate of arts degree from Chaffey Junior College in Ontario, Calif. Born Jan. 24, 1932, in Newark, N.J. He and his wife and six children reside in Canoga Park. Conservative Democrat. Never ran for public office before.
PETER IRELAND -- 43, deputy to Los Angeles County Supervisor Deane Dana and son of actor John Ireland. Serves on Reseda Community Assn. board. Board of Supervisors’ appointee to Santa Monica Mountains Conservancy board. Former president of Concerned Citizens for Property Rights, made up of 2,500 Santa Monica Mountains landowners. Received bachelor’s degree from Cal State Northridge. He and his wife have two children. Born June 20, 1945, in Los Angeles. A Republican, this is his first try for political office.
PAUL M. McKELLIPS -- 30, quit job as vice president of executive search firm to campaign full time. Director of youth ministries at St. James Presbyterian Church in Tarzana. Received bachelor’s degree in theological and historical studies from Oral Roberts University. Born Feb. 15, 1959, in Neenah, Wis. He and his wife live in Woodland Hills. Republican. Never ran for public office before.
JEANNE NEMO -- 60, a GOP activist who ran against Councilwoman Joy Picus in 1985. Former schoolteacher who sells real estate. Endorsed by County Supervisor Mike Antonovich. Co-chair of Ronald Reagan’s 1980 presidential campaign in the Valley. Was active in citizens’ committee studying Valley succession from Los Angeles. Received bachelor’s degree in history and political science from Rutgers University and master’s in school administration from Cal State Los Angeles. Divorced, she has three sons and a grandchild. Born March 6, 1929 in Brooklyn, N.Y.
RON RICH -- 40, fleet and truck manager with Metro Ford in North Hollywood. Board member of Reseda Community Assn. Served with U.S. Army infantry in Vietnam. Attended college but did not graduate. Born April 17, 1948, in Cambridge, Mass. He and his wife and son live in Reseda. A Republican, this is his first try for public office.