Twenty-eight years ago, a wave of public indignation over plans to carve a major highway across the Santa Monica Mountains swept Marvin Braude onto the Los Angeles City Council.
Then as now, he championed preserving parkland in the rugged range that forms a natural divide between the Westside and the San Fernando Valley.
From that first successful fight to block the mountain highway and create a regional park instead, Braude built a political career around protecting the environment.
His determination to preserve the quality of life in the city's most affluent council district won him the ultimate compliment for a politician--no one challenged him for reelection during the last dozen years.
But Los Angeles today is not the same place it was four years ago when voters sent Braude--unopposed--back to City Hall for a seventh term.
This time, a divided city, plagued by crime, weakened by a troubled economy, and struggling to recover from last year's riots, is not focused on environmental protection. And this time, the 72-year-old councilman faces two opponents--both of them newcomers to politics with limited campaign resources.
One issue dominates the low-key campaign in the upscale and overwhelmingly Anglo 11th Council District. From Palms to Pacific Palisades, Brentwood to Encino, and Woodland Hills to Van Nuys, that issue is crime.
"We've had enormous increases in crime," said Braude, chairman of the council's Public Safety Committee.
Braude readily acknowledges that Los Angeles needs substantially more police officers on the street. He is sponsoring a measure on the April 20 ballot to raise property taxes to pay for 1,000 more officers. A similar measure, that he also sponsored, fell short of the two-thirds majority needed for approval last November.
"We have to have a city that is based on law and order, and we have to have a system of tough cops to enforce the laws," Braude said.
But his opponents fault him, along with the rest of the council, for failing to provide an adequate police force.
Daniel Pritikin, 27, a West Los Angeles attorney, said Braude bears responsibility for Los Angeles being "the most under-policed major city in the nation."
The number of officers on the street at any one time is "woefully low," Pritikin said. "It's no wonder people are just frightened."
"Crime is up dramatically," said Braude's other challenger, John B. Handal II, 39, president of the Brentwood Village Chamber of Commerce.
Handal, an outspoken businessman who operates two Italian restaurants in Brentwood, can describe incident after incident where people in the posh neighborhood have been assaulted and robbed, including an afternoon attack that sent him to the hospital for four days two years ago.
He said the number of police officers on the streets is too low and response times are too long. "This is traumatic. This is scary," Handal said. "The first issue is fear."
Handal blames the City Council for allowing Los Angeles to deteriorate and Braude for not paying enough attention to the city's problems, particularly crime.
For his part, Braude said, he was thrust into the leadership of police reform efforts in the wake of the videotaped police beating of Rodney G. King.
Braude was named chairman of an ad hoc council committee to act on the recommendations of the Christopher Commission, which investigated use of force and racism in the Los Angeles Police Department. He counts the commission's chairman, Warren Christopher, now U.S. secretary of state, among his campaign contributors.
After the Christopher Commission issued its report, Braude backed last spring's successful ballot measure to reform the Police Department and establish a system of community-based policing in which officers try to establish closer relationships with neighborhood businesses and residents.
"How can we expect to have more jobs and businesses if we can't have a city in which people have confidence in the Police Department?" he asked.
Both Pritikin and Handal blame Braude, however, for doing nothing to help the city prepare for the riots that followed last April's verdicts in the King case.
Braude responds by criticizing the Police Department and former Police Chief Daryl F. Gates.
"We thought we had a Police Department that was the best in the world, but in the moment of crisis, the Police Department failed us," Braude said.
With new Police Chief Willie L. Williams, Braude said, the department is moving "forcefully in the right direction" and is "much better prepared than we have ever been" to respond to any new disturbance.
Although Braude and his opponents agree that the city needs substantially more police to establish community-based policing, they differ sharply over how to pay for them.
Unlike the incumbent, both challengers oppose the ballot measure to raise property taxes for more police. Handal said the city has to "stop soaking property owners." Pritikin said the proposed tax would hit individuals and struggling businesses hard.
Instead, both challengers want the city to lease Los Angeles International Airport to a private operator and use the revenues to hire more police.
Braude said he is skeptical of such a proposal, preferring that the city get a better share of airport revenues and increase its income by raising landing fees charged airlines.
Since the city faces a budget shortfall that could reach $550 million, and since they call police and fire services their highest spending priority, all three candidates agree that cuts in other city services are inescapable.
Braude said the city government must downsize its operations, including its staff. "I believe it will be necessary to have layoffs," he said.
Braude advocates scaling back spending for the mayor and the City Council, reducing the Planning Department and the Building and Safety Department, and possibly eliminating the Board of Public Works. Except for police, Braude said, cuts generally will have to come before tax increases.
Handal said he objects to any tax increase until the city spends existing resources wisely. He wants the city to bring in outside auditors to recommend merging and eliminating departments. He said the city needs to stop paying excessive amounts to outside contractors and should consider turning over trash collection to private firms.
Pritikin wants to cut the $90,680 salary for council members, eliminate such perks as city cars and scrutinize spending in all city departments. He offered few specific budget cuts, other than curtailing the Community Redevelopment Agency and pressing the state and federal governments to share the cost of serving illegal immigrants.
Though the City Council has no direct involvement in the issue, the controversial question of breaking up the huge Los Angeles Unified School District has arisen in the campaign.
Braude favors reforming and decentralizing the district as recommended by LEARN, a coalition of business leaders, educators and community activists. He also states, "I am not fearful of breaking up the school district into, say, two or three districts."
Pritikin said the only way to make the school district more responsive to the needs of students and communities is to divide the district into six or seven separate parts. The San Fernando Valley should have at least two independent districts, and the Westside, one, he said.
Handal concurs that the district must be broken into smaller, more manageable units.
And then there is an issue that must seem to Braude like deja vu --the question of paving a road across the Santa Monica Mountains.
The concept, now all but blocked by a new state law aimed at preserving parkland in the scenic mountains, would create a new route for valley commuters to the San Diego Freeway.
It involves extending Reseda Boulevard from the San Fernando Valley across a stretch of Topanga State Park to hook up with Mulholland Drive. Several miles of the mountaintop drive, now a dirt road, would have to be paved to link up with Reseda Boulevard.
Braude flatly opposes the idea as a violation of the mountains. So does Handal.
But Pritikin, echoing the complaints of Tarzana and Encino Hills residents about commute traffic in their neighborhoods, said he favors extending Reseda and paving Mulholland, although he admits the alternate route will be "slightly environmentally damaging."
11th Council District
After 28 years at Los Angeles City Hall, veteran Councilman Marvin Braude is running for reelection to an eighth term. He faces two challengers, John B. Handal II, a Brentwood restaurateur and president of the Brentwood Village Chamber of Commerce, and Daniel Pritikin, a family law attorney from West Los Angeles.
The district includes many affluent, well-educated residents and encompasses parts of West Los Angeles, Brentwood, Pacific Palisades, Woodland Hills, Encino and portions of Van Nuys. Registered Voters: 131,086 Demographics
Anglo Black Latino Asian % of Total Population 72 3 18 8 % of Total Registered Voters 91 2 4 3