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THE TIMES POLL : L.A. CITY COUNCIL ELECTIONS / 12TH DISTRICT : Bernson Seen Headed for Runoff With Korenstein

TIMES STAFF WRITER

Los Angeles City Councilman Hal Bernson has suffered substantial political damage over his support of the Porter Ranch development and would be likely to face a runoff election with school board member Julie Korenstein if the election were held today, The Times Poll has found.

A survey of 971 registered voters in Bernson’s 12th council district found that just 35% are inclined to vote for him, while 44% are inclined to vote for someone else. Seventeen percent said they are unsure who they would vote for.

“I think he’s got his work cut out for him,” Times Poll Director John W. Brennan Jr. said. “A 35% reelect number is not good for an incumbent, particularly one who got 80% in the last election.”

The poll, conducted by telephone Saturday and Sunday, found Bernson faring even worse among those who were very interested in the April 9 election and said they would vote. Just 25% said they would vote for Bernson, while 62% favored someone else.

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Bernson, who is seeking his fourth term, faces Korenstein and four other challengers. He needs a majority of votes to avoid a June 4 runoff and has predicted he will get it.

Bernson’s opponents have repeatedly attacked him for supporting the massive Porter Ranch project, which will not be finished for at least 20 years. The development, to be built in the hills north of Chatsworth, involves construction of nearly 3,400 dwellings, two hotels, a regional shopping mall and other commercial facilities.

The Times Poll asked registered voters whether they were inclined to vote for or against each of the six candidates.

The poll found that 26% were inclined to vote for Korenstein and 24% not inclined to vote for her. It found 23% of respondents were inclined toward Bernson and 35% against.

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The poll indicates that many voters do not know enough about the other candidates to form an opinion.

Ten percent said they were inclined toward Northridge businessman Walter Prince and 13% against. Nine percent were leaning toward police Detective Arthur (Larry) Kagele and 14% against.

For newsletter publisher Leonard Shapiro, the poll found 7% inclined to vote for him and 18% not inclined. The numbers for printer Allen Hecht were 5% inclined and 13% not inclined.

The poll found that issues of crime and growth were uppermost in the minds of voters in the district, a largely affluent suburban enclave in the northwest San Fernando Valley where Republicans outnumber Democrats nearly 52,000 to 47,000.

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Half of the respondents said crime should be the top priority of their City Council representative, while 35% said growth was the most important single issue.

Asked for their views on Porter Ranch, nearly two-thirds said they are strongly or somewhat opposed to the massive project, while 25% favored it.

The survey also found that Bernson’s well-publicized backing for the project has substantially damaged him among voters.

Forty-two percent said his handling of the development made them feel less favorably toward him, while just 5% said it made them feel more favorably. Forty percent said the issue had little impact on their impression of the councilman.

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“Many voters seem to be hanging Porter Ranch around his neck,” Brennan said. “Voters don’t like growth, they don’t like Porter Ranch and they don’t like Bernson’s association with it.”

Asked to cite the biggest problem in their community, 65% of those polled mentioned either crime, drugs or gangs. Voters appeared very satisfied, however, with the quality of police services in the district, with only 2% citing that as a problem.

Voters were also strongly supportive of Police Chief Daryl Gates, who faces calls for his resignation following the videotaped beating of a black motorist by police officers.

Fifty-eight percent said Gates should not quit, while only 15% favored his immediate resignation. By comparison, in a Times Poll of voters citywide last week, 31% said the chief should resign immediately.

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Also, 33% of voters in the 12th District said they would look less favorably on a candidate who favored Gates’ quitting. Korenstein last week called for Gates to quit; Bernson is a longtime supporter who said he would not pressure Gates to leave his job.

The poll found a relationship between candidates and the issues their supporters thought were most important. Among those identifying themselves as Bernson supporters, 55% identified crime as the top priority for their City Council representative.

But among respondents who identified themselves as supporters of other candidates, 47% said growth was the top priority.

Large majorities of voters said they believe that the quality of life has deteriorated in the district and expressed strong opposition to further growth.

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Nearly two-thirds of the respondents said they believed that the quality of life has decreased in the past decade. Asked about the pace of development in their neighborhoods, 63% said they thought that it was proceeding too fast.

Fifty-nine percent of respondents said they disapproved of local officials’ handling of quality-of-life issues in the district. Fifty-seven percent said they strongly favored limits on development--even if that meant a loss of jobs in the area.

Moreover, more than two-thirds said they had little or no confidence that city zoning decisions are made for the benefit of the community, rather than real estate developers.

Among those who said they were very interested in the election and would go to the polls, just 19% said they were inclined to vote for Bernson, while 56% said they were inclined not to.

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But 39% of those highly interested voters were inclined toward Korenstein, while 30% said they leaned away from her.

Sixteen percent said they were inclined toward Prince; 11% leaned toward Kagele and 10% toward Shapiro.

Although Bernson could theoretically pick up some support from undecided voters, Brennan said he saw no indications that they are leaning toward the councilman. Among all respondents, the poll found that 17% did not know if they would choose Bernson or someone else.

The survey showed a high degree of interest in the 12th District race. Sixty-one percent said they were very or somewhat interested, and 38% said they were very or somewhat uninterested.

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City Council races in off-election years are usually marked by low turnouts, with about 15% of voters going to the polls.

The poll also indicated that opponents of Bernson appear to be more motivated to vote than his supporters, Brennan said.

Of those backing the councilman, 57% knew the election is within one month, while 67% of those backing another candidate were aware of that.

Also, 19% of those identifying themselves as Bernson supporters said they were “very interested” in the campaign. By contrast, 36% of those backing someone else expressed the same level of interest.

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HOW THE POLL WAS CONDUCTED

The Los Angeles Times Poll interviewed 971 registered voters who reside in the 12th Los Angeles City Council District, on Saturday, March 23, and Sunday, March 24. The survey was conducted by telephone utilizing random-digit dialing techniques that allow voters with listed and non-listed phone numbers an equal opportunity to be interviewed. Results are adjusted using census and party registration data so that the sample accurately reflects the makeup of the district’s population on variables such as sex, age, income, race and national origin, labor force characteristics and party identification. The margin of sampling error for the 971 registered voters is plus or minus four percentage points. The error margin on subgroups of the total sample might be somewhat higher.

POLL AT A GLANCE

City Councilman Hal Bernson faces the prospect of getting fewer than half the votes April 9 and thus being forced into a runoff.

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“If the election for City Council were being held today, would you vote to reelect City Councilman Hal Bernson or would you vote for someone else?” Bernson: 35%

Someone else: 44 Don’t know: 17 No one: 4 Among Bernson’s five challengers, Julie Korenstein is the front-runner for a runoff spot.

“Would you be inclined or not inclined to vote for” each candidate “or don’t you know enough to say?”

Inclined Inclined Don’t toward against know Korenstein 26% 24% 50% Bernson 23 35 42 Walter Prince 10 13 77 Arthur Kagele 9 14 77 Leonard Shapiro 7 18 75 Allen Hecht 5 13 82

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Bernson’s backing of the Porter Ranch residential and commercial project north of Chatsworth appears to have damaged him politically.

“Has City Councilman Hal Bernson’s handling of the Porter Ranch development project made you feel more favorable toward him, less favorable toward him or hasn’t that had much impact on your feelings toward Bernson one way or the other?” More favorable: 5%

Less favorable: 42 Not changed much: 40 Not sure: 13 Crime and population growth are most important to voters.

“What do you think should be the top priority for the person who represents your district in the City Council.” (Two replies permitted). Reducing crime: 50%

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Growth/development: 35 Reducing traffic congestion: 21 Environmental protection: 18 Public transportation: 17 Ethics of politicians: 16 Improving police quality: 13 Education: 4


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