Bucking the Trend on Clean Air

When Ray Remy was Los Angeles deputy mayor, he liked to smother controversy by using a bureaucratic device called "reaching a consensus."

He'd announce that the Administration had made a unanimous decision. The truth was, City Hall might have been torn apart with dissension. But dissidents in the bureaucracy, worried about job security, knew enough to keep their mouths shut.

Since 1984, however, Remy's been out of the consensus business. As president of the Greater Los Angeles Chamber of Commerce, he's fighting the strict clean air rules proposed by the South Coast Air Quality Management District. He says the rules are anti-business.

The transformation of Remy from super bureaucrat to tenacious lobbyist--and his employment by the chamber--reveal something about the changing nature of power in L.A.

Remy was more than City Hall's dictator of consensus. He was also the master of the technical end of government, working in perfect harmony with technocrat Mayor Tom Bradley.

The two loved to talk about the details of sewage disposal, street construction and power generation. They'd been doing it for years. Remy worked for the League of California Cities when Bradley first met him. Later, Remy headed the Southern California Assn. of Governments before going to work for Bradley in 1976. Meetings of both organizations are seminars in the heavy details of planning, sewage disposal, road building, police deployment and all the other municipal tasks.

Remy was friends with like-minded bureaucrats from around the area. He knew his way around Sacramento and Washington, was on a first-name basis with powerful lawmakers and important staff members. And he knew the insides of every City Hall from Long Beach to West Covina. All that made him just the man for the chamber.

Since its founding in 1888, the chamber has gone through periods of furious activity followed by sleepy ineffectiveness.

Created to pull the city out of a business bust, the chamber manufactured the early Los Angeles image of sunshine and health. One chamber advertising campaign featured a "California On Wheels" train, carrying fruits, vegetables, nuts and pitchmen. It toured the country, luring families to the Southland. In another promotion, the chamber built a 1,200-pound elephant, "Jumbo," out of walnuts.

The chamber had more to offer than advertising. It was a political force in building the harbor and bringing in water from the Owens Valley. Decisions were made by a few powerful chamber cronies who settled things over lunch at the California Club in downtown Los Angeles.

But by mid-century, the city of Los Angeles was just one part of an economic network that spread from the harbor and the airport through the Inland Empire, and from Ventura through Orange County. Decisions at places like the Lockheed plant in Burbank were more important than those made in the California Club.

So Remy and board supporters remade the chamber to fit the new political realities. The board became more diverse, becoming 20% minority.

Remy also recognized that the fight against clean air proposals was more complicated than anything faced by his early-day chamber predecessors.

All they had to do was fix matters at City Hall or bully a few key members of Congress into voting for a harbor appropriation. But the chamber couldn't push the AQMD board around. That's because it's not elected. Members are appointed by cities, counties, the governor and legislative leaders and serve five-year terms, designed to make them immune from political pressure.

So Remy's hoping to benefit from all those trips to Washington and Sacramento, all those journeys on the small-city banquet circuit. He's got to find members of Congress and legislators who'll write laws weakening the district's regulatory power. He needs small-city officials to help persuade members of Congress.

That's not easy in Southern California, where polls show people are willing to make sacrifices to clean up the air. It's tough in Washington, too, where Remy must confront the House's most influential clean air advocate, Rep. Henry Waxman of Los Angeles.

Remy's a lot smoother than his predecessors, the harbor and aqueduct builders. He tries to avoid making waves. But in the end, Remy knowns this is no time for consensus.

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