ELECTIONS : Valley Voters May Witness Spirited Race for Council : Seven candidates vie for retiring Ernani Bernardi’s District 7 seat. Joy Picus appears vulnerable as she seeks a fifth term in District 3.
Municipal politics in the San Fernando Valley in 1993 are likely to be far more competitive and volatile than usual.
Change is inevitable in the East Valley where Los Angeles City Councilman Ernani Bernardi, 81, will retire from the seat he has held for 31 years. The big question is whether the 70% of the District 7 population who are Latino can elect one of their own to the seat.
But change also could come to the West Valley, where some political mavens believe that City Councilwoman Joy Picus is in trouble as she seeks reelection to a fifth term.
Finally, the 1993 mayor’s race could create another vacancy by elevating a current Valley officeholder. City Councilman Joel Wachs, whose District 2 ranges from Studio City to Sunland, and state Assemblyman Richard Katz (D-Panorama City) are in that race. If either is elected, it would mark the Valley’s emergence from the political shadow it has been under since a Westside Jewish and black coalition formed to elect Tom Bradley mayor 20 years ago.
“For the first time in 20 years, since Sam Yorty was mayor, the Valley will have a shot at playing a major role in picking the next mayor--and having him be one of their own,” said Joe Cerrell, a veteran Democratic consultant.
“If a Valley mayoral candidate is elected, there will certainly be a lot of speculation that the minority-Westside coalition no longer dominates,” agreed consultant Steve Afriat, who predicts Valley voters might account for 50% of the April, 1993, election turnout.
Cerrell said voters here also will experience what may well be the two hottest council races in the city: the District 7 battle to replace Bernardi and Picus’ efforts to extend her 16 years on the council.
Latino hopes of filling Bernardi’s slot were boosted by the redistricting plan adopted last summer.
The plan raised the district’s Latino population from 62% to 70%. Also, Latinos now represent 31% of the district’s registered voters, up from 26%. Encouraged by those numbers, Richard Alarcon, a Latino who is Bradley’s Valley liaison, joined the race in November. Alarcon, through his work for Bradley, has developed contacts in a number of community organizations that he is expected to draw on in his campaign.
Also in the race for the seat Bernardi is vacating is Ray Magana, a Latino who is a former Bernardi aide, and five others, including a number of strong non-Latino candidates.
Among them are Anne Finn, the widow of former Councilman Howard Finn; Fire Capt. Lyle Hall, who forced Bernardi into a runoff in 1989 during a campaign largely financed by labor union contributions; and businessman Al Dib, who can count heavily on the advice and financial support of Councilman Hal Bernson. Also running are LeRoy Chase, executive director of the San Fernando Valley Boys & Girls Club, and Sharon Humphrey-Peterson.
“I see a Latino and white getting into the runoff, but given the low Latino voter registration it’s going to be very difficult for a Latino to win unless they have a broad appeal across ethnic lines,” Afriat said.
Although Anglos comprise only 17% of the District 7 population, they make up 48% of registered voters. The Anglo vote in the district has added potential because Latinos are less likely than other ethnic groups to vote, even if they are registered, said Cerrell.
A wide open race to succeed Bernardi after more than three decades was expected because of the departure of the longtime incumbent. The District 3 race is hotly contested because of the widely held perception that its incumbent, Picus, is vulnerable.
“Joy Picus is in for the race of her lifetime,” predicted political consultant Rick Taylor.
In her last two campaigns Picus barely avoided being drawn into runoffs, winning in the 1989 primary with only 51.5% of the vote.
Picus’ future on the council was in doubt from the outset of 1992 when she weighed running for a number of other offices.
Until Rep. Anthony C. Beilenson (D-Los Angeles) announced last January that he would run, Picus said publicly she was considering becoming a candidate for a Valley-based congressional seat created through redistricting. Picus then said publicly that she was considering running for either mayor or county supervisor. She did not announce that she would seek reelection to the council until Oct. 28.
Ironically, Picus’ leading opponents are two former allies: Robert Gross, president of the Woodland Hills Homeowners Organization, and Laura Chick, a former Picus field deputy.
Gross’ candidacy arises in part from his belief that Picus was ineffectual in the fight against the controversial Warner Ridge office-condominium project. The city was sued over its denial of a permit for the project and eventually agreed to settle the case by reversing its position.
Chick, who is married to Airport Commission president and Bradley appointee Robert Chick, also has attacked Picus for failing to block the Warner Ridge project. She has criticized the incumbent’s inability to bring a subway to the Valley or to halt a remap of the Los Angeles Unified School District’s voting areas that was deemed unfavorable to the Valley.
“Sure, Joy Picus fights for the Valley, but she always comes up a loser,” Chick said recently. “We need a winner.”
But Picus believes her long record as a scrappy defender of Valley interests will help her win another tour of duty.
“What’s true of Bob Gross and Laura Chick,” Picus said recently, “is that they are running for council not because they believe in anything, but because they want to be somebody. Their motives are all wrong.”