IN THEORY, AND ONLY in theory, the Los Angeles City Council could be completely remade three weeks from Tuesday with elections to fill a majority of the 15-member body. Forward-looking candidates could profoundly affect how traffic flows, where housing is built, how the streets are policed and whether young Angelenos have places to learn, play, work and steer clear of trouble. The job pays $171,648 a year, and with good behavior (and better fundraising), successful members can serve up to 12 years. Everyone should want this job.
But people are hardly lining up for it. There will be no vast remaking of the council on March 6. Five incumbents are unopposed, the other two sport a huge advantage in money and organization and, in the race for the open seat, an old-timer is returning for a victory lap. The challengers are earnest but, in most cases, unqualified.
Last November, voters extended the two-term limit to three. Does that mean impatient candidates will finally stop waiting for incumbents to be termed out? Or does it mean instead that incumbents will now be left alone for 12 years instead of eight? Time will tell, but this election marks another year of free passes for a host of elected officials. Even council members who are doing a good job should be subjected to an occasional performance review.
The Times endorses selectively. In three races, there is at least a semblance of a legitimate contest; in the other five, there is no serious opposition. There will be a runoff May 15 in those races in which no candidate receives a majority of votes cast. Here are our recommendations in the races that offer voters a real choice, and a few thoughts on the races that don’t.
District 6: Tony Cardenas
Cardenas is figuring out how to make the city work for residents of his residential, industrial and (in some places) semirural San Fernando Valley district, and he deserves a second term. But it hasn’t always been smooth sailing. The four community activists challenging him are not the only ones in the district exasperated with pockets of prostitution, crime and blight.
But the challengers fail to acknowledge how major thoroughfares such as Van Nuys Boulevard and Sepulveda have improved over the last several years. Cardenas could do more, but he’s on the right track. None of the challengers is up to the task, and their campaigns often appear more like school projects than real quests for public office.
Cardenas has taken upon himself the citywide challenge of improving the city’s response to gang crime. Having done that, he must produce results, soon, in the form of a concise assessment of which prevention and intervention programs work and which don’t, and how best to proceed.
District 7: Monica Rodriguez
After voters loosened term limits, councilman-turned-senator-turned-assemblyman Richard Alarcon decided to abandon the Assembly seat he won a little more than three months ago and instead return to the City Council. In the process, he chased two good contenders, Felipe Fuentes and Cindy Montanez, from the race. His move is crass and cynical. Voters must be offered more than a chance to ease their representative’s commuting pattern or vest his city pension.
Fortunately, voters in this San Fernando Valley district have an excellent candidate in Rodriguez, a housing executive who in Richard Riordan’s mayoral administration helped run community empowerment programs targeting gang crime and prostitution. She was chief of staff to school board President Caprice Young and worked with schools, the county and the city to bring job and training opportunities to youth in her district. She would bring badly needed experience in bridging the public and private sectors.
District 14: Jose Huizar
The election challenge by former Huizar staffer Alvin Parra has been good for Huizar and good for his Eastside district. Residents were expecting a more hands-on approach from their councilman, who came over from the school board a little more than a year ago in a special election to fill the seat vacated by Antonio Villaraigosa.
In the last year, graffiti has worsened and gang crime remains a severe problem. The long hours and sometimes the drudgery that come with the position and the salary are often a surprise to first-timers in City Hall, and Parra’s challenge has helped Huizar refocus his delivery of nuts-and-bolts services.
But Parra doesn’t articulate the essential citywide vision that a council member also needs. Huizar remains the better candidate for the job. But he should not forget Parra. A good councilman is hard to find, and we hope that, to do his best, Huizar won’t need somebody there to run against him every minute of his tenure.
In the other five districts, endorsements would be superfluous. But here’s what we’ll be keeping our eye on.
District 2’s Wendy Greuel, known as the San Fernando Valley’s “pothole queen,” is smart enough to know not to taper off on constituent service. But meanwhile she should step up her efforts on a citywide interest that perfectly suits her interests and talents: rattling the bureaucracy’s cage. In District 4, which touches both sides of Griffith Park, Tom LaBonge is so attached to his city that his first instinct appears to be defending the status quo instead of questioning it. LaBonge’s knowledge of the Department of Water & Power and the ins and outs of City Hall could be put to more vigorous use.
Bernard C. Parks of District 8 has done a creditable job of safeguarding the city budget, and he brings decades of perspective as a police officer and chief. Residents should expect him to lead the effort to rally against the gang crime that continues to prevent the area from achieving its destiny as the city’s core. In District 10, Herb Wesson, a former state Assembly speaker, has the knowledge and experience (and should have the clout) to make his district running from Koreatown to Palms one of the most livable parts of the city. He can do it -- if he chooses to stick around. Finally, District 12’s proximity to a major landfill has made Greig Smith an expert in waste management. He’s good at it, but he should press the city bureaucracy to move even faster on recycling and alternative disposal methods.