Beach Cities Take Center Stage in Race for Senate's 28th District : Election: Candidates are emphasizing environmental issues to attract voters in coastal communities.


State Sen. Ralph C. Dills (D-El Segundo) promotes his opposition to oil field development in state tidelands.

Torrance Councilman George Nakano trumpets his endorsement from the Sierra Club and the California League of Conservation Voters.

Public interest attorney Mike Sidley takes a tour of Santa Monica Bay, pointing out its most notorious polluters.

In the 28th State Senate District, which includes Venice, Marina del Rey, Playa del Rey and Westchester, candidates are fighting it out in the beach cities, where they are hoping that a strong environmental stand resonates with voters.

The environment "is a potent issue in the beach cities," Republican consultant Allan Hoffenblum said. "(Residents) want to clean up the bay. They don't want to see offshore oil drilling."

A fourth candidate, Jo Ann Rodda, has not emphasized environmental issues. But she notes that as a real estate broker in Manhattan Beach, she is familiar with the concerns of beach city residents.

Political analysts say that Dills, 84, can expect to maintain a stronghold in the district's inland areas, including Compton, Carson and Wilmington. He has represented those areas at some point in his legislative and judicial career, which dates to 1938.

But by his own account, he is not known to as many as two-thirds of the voters in the 28th District, where he chose to seek reelection after his Gardena-area district was carved up in the 1992 reapportionment. Many of Dills' billboards, with the slogan "Too Old to Quit" and a picture of him playing the saxophone, were placed in the beach cities.

"Fewer people know who I am than normal," said the gravel-voiced senator. "That's a disadvantage that I have to take care of."

Dills has tried to use his longevity as an asset. He helped create Cal State Long Beach and the State Teachers Retirement System. During World War II, he refused to support the creation of Japanese internment camps.

"If people have any judgment, they will know that just because you are old, it should not be a negative," he said.

Dills points out that he has been praised by other senators for getting approval from the Government Organization Committee, which he chairs, for a ban on new oil drilling in state waters. And in a campaign brochure he cites legislation he is writing to save redwoods.

"After all, someone my age has to defend something their age," he wrote.

Despite his effort to take a more friendly approach to environmental issues, Dills is on the League of Conservation Voters' hit list of incumbents to defeat. The political action group cites his campaign contributors as "a veritable who's who of polluters."

Dills, however, defends his record on environmental issues and his current campaign approach. "I vote the district," he said. "When you run for office, you determine what is the will and the wish of the constituents."

Nakano, 58, has harshly attacked Dills' environmental record, including his acceptance this year of $2,500 in contributions from oil companies.

"He doesn't have much conviction in what he is doing," said Nakano, a former school administrator. "His actions are entirely political."

If he is elected, Nakano would be the first Asian American in the Senate since the 1970s. He is expected to get strong support in Torrance and among Asian American groups, analysts say.

Nakano said he has formed a business advisory group--which includes the president of the South Bay Assn. of Chambers of Commerce--to come up with ways to improve the state's business environment.

He says no contradiction exists between being business-friendly and pro-environment.

"If the environment is bad, businesses will not want to move in. People won't want to live here," he said.

He is also calling for further reform of the workers' compensation system and more tax incentives for companies to stay in the state.

But Nakano, like Dills, has little name recognition in the beach cities, which have 37% of the Democrats in the district.

Sidley, 32, a member of the Los Angeles County Environmental Crimes Sentencing Task Force, says that he will fight for funding of the Santa Monica Bay Restoration Project, a bay cleanup plan. He also advocates a ban on handguns and a 50% tax on ammunition.

"People are ready for (the ban) here, in the state and in the nation," he said.

Rodda, 53, is running on a platform of legal reform after a bitter divorce four years ago. Her campaign calls for removing divorce from the courts and putting it in the hands of a government agency with no fees. She also proposes that the California State Bar be replaced by a consumer group.

"I have a very difficult time keeping up," Rodda said of balancing her legal hassles, the campaign and business responsibilities. "But is there any doubt that I can get the job (as state senator) done? I don't think so."

The winner of the primary will face Republican lawyer David Barrett Cohen, who is unopposed in his party's race. The district is heavily Democratic, but Republicans see a chance to win. Their choice to win the Democratic primary? Dills.

"The age issue will be very, very strong," Hoffenblum said. "He will be the easiest to defeat."

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