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Keeping a Voice on the City Council : Quake-Torn Valley Must Have a Replacement when Zev Yaroslavsky Leaves Office

Zev Yaroslavsky’s election as county supervisor could leave a major gap on the Los Angeles City Council, since it’s quite possible that whoever is elected to serve the last two years of his term won’t take office until mid-1995.

As Yaroslavsky and several San Fernando Valley civic leaders noted last week, the 5th District could lack representation during a crucial earthquake recovery period.

Some of them fear that without a champion, the southeast Valley would be vulnerable to unfair distribution of city money and services. And constituents would find it difficult to get help at City Hall, since Yaroslavsky intends to take key city staffers to his new county job.

Yaroslavsky’s June 7 victory will remove him from the City Council on Dec. 5. The election to replace him will be in April, but a runoff, if necessary, will not occur until June, and a swearing-in about July 1.

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The prospect is not reassuring. In theory and in practice, every part of the city needs an elected representative to protect its interests, and the south Valley has a special need now.

The area was hit hard by the Jan. 17 quake. By early 1995, steps could be under way to create a redevelopment area to speed recovery in the Ventura Boulevard corridor.

“To have no one on City Council for seven months will set back the rebuilding process tremendously,” says Richard Close, the Sherman Oaks Homeowners Assn. president. He also thinks developers would “have a field day” without a council member watchdog. His concerns may be exaggerated, but maybe not.

More prosaically, many decisions affecting neighborhoods are routinely left to their individual council members. An empty seat would leave decisions to distant bureaucrats.

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Since 1966, the council has not used its appointing power to fill any of 10 vacancies. Council President John Ferraro says letting a City Hall staffer do business for vacant offices has worked fine in the past. But precedent should not be the only guide. The district’s situation is critical; the prospective vacancy, long.

Any interim appointment has to be made before the end of the five-day period in January in which spring candidates for the seat must file to run. To avoid giving anyone an undeserved advantage of incumbency, the council can demand a solemn non-candidacy pledge.

It should be able to find a super-temp, an experienced leader to do the job. If there are compelling reasons not to, they have not yet been brought forth.


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