EDUCATION / SCHOOL BOARD POLITICS : Conservatives Label Valley's Veteran Board Member a 'Turncoat' : Roberta Weintraub: Critics say her support of redistricting plan will become a major issue in her '93 reelection bid.


Roberta Weintraub earned her political stripes 15 years ago fighting for San Fernando Valley interests as the housewife-turned-leader of the anti-busing movement.

But recently some have questioned if Weintraub, once a symbol of grass-roots politics, is still singing in political tune with the Valley.

"A turncoat," said conservative school activist Barbara Romey of Weintraub.

"The Valley feels like she deserted them," added Cecelia Mansfield, a vice president of the 31st District PTSA, an organization often aligned with liberal educational causes.

Such harsh assessments of Weintraub are emerging from the hotly contested school redistricting vote at City Hall where she backed a plan that potentially increased Latino representation but decreased Valley-based membership on the board.

And those views could spell trouble for the board's senior member as she prepares to seek reelection in 1993.

"It's a very difficult time," Weintraub, 56, said.

Paul Clarke, a former Weintraub political ally in the anti-busing movement, said, "It's going to be tough for Roberta to survive when she's made as many mistakes as she has."

Clarke and other conservatives view Weintraub's redistricting position as the latest in a series of missteps including her reregistration as a Democrat, her flirtation with running for several state legislative offices and her support for the closure of some Valley schools.

"This is the last straw," said Romey, who has run twice as a conservative challenger to West Valley school board member Julie Korenstein.

Weintraub's latest troubles stem from her decision to back the school board redistricting plan, adopted Tuesday by the Los Angeles City Council.

Crafted by Latino civil rights groups and their City Hall champion, Councilman Richard Alatorre, that plan has as its central goal the creation of a second Latino district.

But critics say the Alatorre plan seriously weakens the Valley's voice on the seven-member board that runs the sprawling, multibillion-dollar school system.

The plan guarantees that only one board seat, the one Weintraub now occupies, will be filled by a Valley resident where two such seats existed before.

Moreover, the Valley will lose because the other three board members representing the Valley under the plan will be beholden first to the majority interests of their constituents outside the Valley, critics say.

On top of all this, according to her critics, Weintraub supported the plan out of narrow self-interest.

Weintraub denied having any political agenda.

Yet, one byproduct of the plan is that it moves Weintraub into an arguably safer seat, one that's more middle-class and white. For example, her old seat was 42% Latino, her new one 26.7%.

But while she may have a safer seat demographically, the political price she is paying for it may be high.

"There's no question this will be a campaign issue against her," said Rick Taylor, a Los Angeles political consultant who has represented three of the board's current members.

"In her last campaign, she had only slightly more than 51% of the vote. Clearly, that shows vulnerability," Taylor said. "And now she has gotten on the wrong side of a very passionate issue in the Valley. You don't lightly give your opponents passionate issues to organize around when you are about to run for reelection."

How did Weintraub get in this political pickle? Her critics speculate that she failed to realize that the Alatorre plan's "anti-Valley" feature would become controversial and when it did, that her own position of support for it would be put on trial.

"It backfired on her," Mansfield said. "She miscalculated. Her support for the plan became a liability for her when it became controversial."

A top City Hall proponent of the plan also acknowledged that the fierce antipathy was a surprise. "Nobody figured the Valley would react to it this way," said the proponent, who asked for anonymity.

In fact, opposition to the Alatorre plan quickly became a litmus test of Valley loyalties as the area's four-member City Council delegation, led by council members Joy Picus and Joel Wachs, closed ranks with the PTSA, black community activists and business groups to block the plan.

Councilman Hal Bernson noted during the debates that he was compelled by his Valley ties to vote against the plan even though it meant allying himself with a political foe, school board member Korenstein.

Joining the Valley forces were several other City Hall lawmakers, including Councilmen Zev Yaroslavsky and Nate Holden, both of whom have goals of extending their political reach into the Valley. Holden, a black lawmaker from the inner city, stuck with the Valley forces to the end while Yaroslavsky, a West Side-based lawmaker, finally voted for the Alatorre plan.

As the Valley rebellion picked up steam and for a suspenseful two weeks stymied final enactment of the Alatorre plan, Weintraub found herself painfully swimming against the current.

Others say Weintraub had little choice but to back the Alatorre plan when faced with its possible alternative, a PTSA plan that would have squeezed her into an East Valley district with a 50% Latino population minus most of the affluent neighborhoods along Ventura Boulevard where she's shown past political strength.

"Her back was to the wall," said Mary Louise Longoria, an Arleta Latina activist who ran against Weintraub in 1985 but appreciates the plight in which Weintraub found herself.

Weintraub herself has no regrets about her stance.

The Alatorre plan will actually benefit the Valley because it will now be represented by four, not two, board members, she said.

"The Valley has had a hard time making its needs known at the board in part because of the perception that it's a wealthy, lily-white community, when it's not. It's racially mixed and needy," Weintraub said.

Hopefully, that perception will be corrected when a majority of the board's members represent the Valley, Weintraub said.

But others, like Korenstein and Mansfield, say that when the question becomes one of allocating scarce school resources, Valley schools will suffer because board members who have only a piece of the Valley to represent will choose to help those schools outside the Valley, not those in inside it.

Under the adopted plan, Weintraub's 6th District pushed westward, shifting into the more white and middle-class West Valley even as it pulled out of the poorer and more heavily Latino East Valley.

For example, Weintraub's former district had the San Diego Freeway as its western boundary. But her new district stretches as far west as Corbin Avenue and includes all of Reseda and Encino and most of Northridge south of Devonshire Boulevard.

On the east, Weintraub lost Sun Valley, North Hollywood, San Fernando and Pacoima--all of which were part of her former district.

Her supporters have suggested that because her political fortunes with the school constituency are at low tide, Weintraub should consider running for City Council.

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