Sheila Kuehl and Bobby Shriver laid out competing views on the need for changes in state environmental laws during a debate in Studio City, crucial ground in their contest to replace retiring Supervisor Zev Yaroslavsky.
Roughly half of the 2 million people in Yaroslavsky's 3rd District reside in the San Fernando Valley, and wooing voters there could make the difference in who wins the Nov. 4 election, analysts say.
As in past debates, Shriver, a former Santa Monica City Council member, and Kuehl, a former state lawmaker, agreed on many issues in the hourlong event Thursday night sponsored by the Valley Alliance of Neighborhood Councils and held at Carla's Cafe at CBS Studios.
But differences emerged when moderator Conan Nolan, NBC-LA's political reporter, asked whether changes are needed in the California Environmental Quality Act, the state's landmark environmental law, to speed up the process of resolving lawsuits over development.
Kuehl argued that CEQA works well, and that long delays in construction could be avoided if the state routinely appointed neutral arbiters — or "masters" — to speed the process of resolving litigation.
Shriver disagreed, saying the law needs to be reformed because too often it is used as a cudgel to slow or even stop development. With rents soaring across the region, more building is necessary to increase the stock of affordable housing, Shriver said.
"This law, because of the way it's written, can be used in a very aggressive way to stop a project," he said. "I've seen it happen."
The candidates also sparred over a county policy on federal immigration authorities' requests to hold L.A. County jail inmates who are believed to be in the country illegally. Kuehl said the holds appear to be unconstitutional. She said she wants more information on how the county makes decisions on detaining people before deciding whether she would support the policy.
Shriver said the policy makes him uncomfortable because it diminishes immigrants' legal rights. But, he added, many Valley residents have told him they support the policy, and he would consider supporting holds for suspects being held for violent crimes.
"That policy makes some sense," Shriver said. "And based on my travels here, a lot of people support that policy."
An audience of about 100 heard Kuehl and Shriver, both Democrats, agree on making a north-south transit line connecting the Valley to the Westside, likely by tunneling through the Sepulveda corridor, a priority.
Both said they would work with a new sheriff to root out deputy-on-inmate violence in the county's jails and supported raising the county's minimum wage.
Yaroslavsky, who has not endorsed in the race, is retiring due to term limits. The district he's represented for two decades includes the Westside, Hollywood, the coast from Venice to Malibu and much of the San Fernando Valley.
Kuehl, 73, is backed by the Democratic Party, environmental and women's groups, the county public-sector unions and several high-profile politicians, including U.S. Rep. Henry Waxman.
Shriver, 60, is endorsed by the Los Angeles Area Chamber of Commerce and other business groups, a construction trades union, Westside activists and former U.S. Rep. Howard Berman.