Galanter Opponents See a Backlash : Elections: Councilwoman’s 6th District challengers hope that development, the issue that swept her to office, is back to haunt her.
In the Crenshaw area, they are crying out for more development and economic growth. In Venice, they are saying there has been too much. And in Westchester, they are worried about the mini-city called Playa Vista that a developer plans to build next door.
Los Angeles City Councilwoman Ruth Galanter says such opinions are a natural in her district, which she said leads the city in activism and where “you can put two people in a room and get 28 opinions.”
But opponents in the 6th District say the concern is more than part of the landscape--that it comes from Galanter’s failure to live up to promises she made four years ago when a wave of anti-development sentiment swept her past 17-year Councilwoman Pat Russell and into office.
The true measure of the feelings should come on April 9. That is when Galanter will face six challengers in a municipal primary election. If no one receives more than 50% of the vote, the top two finishers will square off in a June 4 runoff.
While Galanter will run in defense of her first term in office, her opponents will have to prove they can win votes by transcending the divisions of the eclectic 6th District--from conservative, suburban Westchester to economically wanting, crime-plagued Crenshaw and to Venice, a community that has long defied easy classification.
Four years ago, Galanter emerged from a pack of five challengers to force Russell into a runoff. She then won that race by decisively carrying Westchester and her home community of Venice. She did not fair as well in Crenshaw, which at the time was a Russell stronghold.
So it should not be surprising that Crenshaw and the Baldwin Hills area, one of the city’s most affluent black enclaves, have produced three of the challengers running against Galanter this time.
Tavis Smiley has been the most active of this group. Smiley, who worked for Councilwoman Russell before her defeat, left his job as an aide to Mayor Tom Bradley last September to begin campaigning full time.
The other two Crenshaw-Baldwin Hills residents on the ballot are college administrator J. Wilson Bowman and Charles Mattison, a minister and dentist.
Along with Mary Lee Gray, a Mar Vista resident and longtime aide to County Supervisor Deane Dana, they represent the largest field of black candidates ever to run in the district. But the district is racially and ethnically diverse--44% of its residents are Anglo, 33% are black and 17% are Latino--so that an appeal to any one group or geographic area will not work.
“You can’t win in one area,” Gray said. “I am running all over the district.”
Playa del Rey business consultant Mervin Evans and realtor Salvatore Grammatico, who lives in the community of Del Rey just west of Culver City, add to the geographic diversity of the field.
Grammatico finished last in the primary four years ago, but has been a familiar face in the district and a consistent voice for controlled growth as president of the Coalition of Concerned Communities, an alliance of homeowners groups.
Just like 1987, development promises to be the most discussed campaign issue.
To get her message out, the 50-year-old Galanter has stepped up meetings in the community, appearing a dozen times since last summer at Town Hall gatherings around the district.
She has told voters about zoning ordinances that she has put in place for more than half of the district to control construction. She has also described citizen’s advisory panels she established in four regions--Crenshaw, Mar Vista, Playa del Rey-Westchester, and Venice--to review development proposals. Those controls have led to an 80% decrease, from 1987 to 1989, in the number of building applications in Venice, Galanter said in an interview last week.
Saying development cannot be stopped altogether, Galanter has taken a conciliatory approach with builders, trying to shift them away from building offices and shopping centers toward more housing. She said this not only helps correct the area’s critical housing shortage, but produces less of a traffic burden.
“If they can’t mitigate it, they can’t build it,” she says. “I’m proud of my record.”
Galanter’s opponents said she was elected to present a more combative stance toward construction.
“She is making project-by-project deals with developers,” protested Steve Schlein, a Venice Town Council member who supported her four years ago but is opposed to her reelection. “She includes a few extra parking spaces or a few affordable housing units or she says, ‘It could have been even bigger.’ ”
The Channel Gateway project along Lincoln Boulevard typifies the disagreement.
Schlein said the $400-million project, with 300,000 square feet of offices and more than 1,000 apartments and condominiums, is simply too large for the congested stretch of the boulevard adjacent to the Marina Expressway.
Galanter proudly notes that her intervention led the developer to set aside 109 apartments for low-income families and to reduce the project to the point that it will produce 65% less traffic than the original proposal.
The councilwoman cites as her greatest accomplishment another compromise: expansion of the acreage to be preserved at the Ballona Wetlands. The developers of Playa Vista--the mini-city proposed on 670 acres between Marina del Rey and the Westchester bluffs--agreed last fall to add 60 acres to a 209-acre wetlands preserve. In exchange, the Friends of Ballona Wetlands environmental group agreed to drop a lawsuit and opposition to Playa Vista. State officials also agreed to sell Maguire Thomas Partners, the developer, 70 acres of land for the planned community.
But activists, such as Westchester’s Marilyn Cole, said they fear that compromise removes the last substantial hurdle for Playa Vista, which includes more total square footage in its current plans than it did four years ago. Maguire Thomas wants to build 11,750 residential units, 5 million square feet of offices, 25,000 parking spaces, 720,000 square feet of retail space, 2,400 hotel rooms and a marina for 750 boats. The housing would exceed that in all of Hermosa Beach and the offices would be more than two times what exists in Century City’s twin triangular office towers.
Galanter vowed in 1988 to reduce the project by 40%. She said last week that she must see an environmental impact report before she decides if the project should be built. Playa Vista’s builders “may be in for a surprise,” she said, if they think the wetlands compromise is enough to get their project approved without alterations.
Among Galanter’s foes, Gray has said she is in favor of reducing major projects and pledged to cut the density of Playa Vista by at least 30%. Smiley also says significant developments should be scaled back, but he said it is premature to say by how much.
Still, it remains unclear if either can capitalize on opposition to Galanter’s development policies.
Some observers say that the mere number of challengers is already evidence that Galanter is in for a tough race.
But a review of the city’s election history shows that large campaign fields are not necessarily fatal to incumbents. Over the past three decades, Los Angeles City Council members have faced five or more challengers in 22 elections. Incumbents were forced into runoffs in 13 of those primaries, and lost eight times.
Only two of Galanter’s challengers have been actively campaigning for a substantial period.
Gray, who for the past 17 years has served as an aide to three county supervisors in a district that largely overlaps the 6th Council District, has been campaigning full time since launching her campaign in September. She has concentrated on meeting with community groups and opening campaign offices in Venice and the Crenshaw area.
Galanter has questioned Gray’s credentials for representing the district because of her connection to her boss, Dana, a Republican who has consistently voted in favor of development. In the slow-growth district where Democrats outnumber Republicans by nearly 3 to 1, the link with Dana could hurt Gray.
Gray, 50, has fought back by arguing that she is an independent thinker, not beholden to Dana, and saying that she also once worked for liberal Democratic Supervisor Yvonne Brathwaite Burke.
Smiley, 26, has also campaigned full time since September. He has concentrated on walking precincts around the Baldwin Hills and Crenshaw areas. He also sent a mailer and absentee ballot applications to 14,000 homes in the area.
Smiley said his campaign has enlisted support from students at UCLA, USC and Loyola Marymount University, in a manner similar to a youth-oriented campaign that elected Zev Yaroslavsky to the council in 1975.
Smiley and Gray have shown initial fund-raising strength, bringing in $24,894 and $27,985, respectively, during the last six months of 1990.
But Gray had spent all but $9,213 of her money by year’s end, while Smiley had just $1,837 left.
Galanter collected $25,418 during the same period, but had substantially more money in the bank--nearly $80,000--because of earlier fund raising.