Former state Sen. Sheila Kuehl won the endorsement of a key activist group Saturday after a wide-ranging debate among five candidates vying to replace Los Angeles County Supervisor Zev Yaroslavsky.
The two-hour forum at the Pacific Palisades Woman's Club allowed the candidates to share their views on mass transit, Proposition 13, arts funding, term limits and cleaning polluted storm water. In the end, the board of the Pacific Palisades Democratic Club voted to endorse Kuehl in the June 3 primary.
Kuehl emerged with 60% of the vote in a secret ballot, said Melissa Grant, president of the partisan group.
The board members were impressed by all of the candidates' knowledge of local issues and commitment to run, she said. But the majority felt that Kuehl, who spent 14 years as a state lawmaker, has the right skill set for the job, she added.
"The board felt that Ms. Kuehl has a unique combination of experience, knowledge of the issues and innovative thinking that we need in our L.A. County supervisor," Grant said.
The race to fill Yaroslavsky's seat is nonpartisan, but all of the major candidates running to replace him are Democrats. Three of the forum participants — Kuehl, former Santa Monica City Councilman Bobby Shriver and former Malibu Mayor Pamela Conley Ulich — were close to home turf as Santa Monica residents. Other forum participants were West Hollywood Councilman John Duran and county critic Eric Preven, who lives in Studio City.
Grant, who moderated the forum, asked candidates about a number of issues important to Westside residents, including what the county can do to get more motorists to take subways and trains.
All agreed that a big problem is a lack of parking near transit corridors, making it difficult for motorists to leave their cars to board trains. Kuehl said the county, working with the Metropolitan Transportation Authority, should create a system of DASH buses to link neighborhoods with transit stops.
Duran said the transit system won't have broad appeal until it's fast and convenient. Local officials have to "take the heat" and approve well-thought-out transit lines, he said. In his view, that didn't happen with the recent proposal to end the Crenshaw/LAX line just short of the airport terminal.
The candidates were also asked about Proposition 13, the landmark 1978 initiative that limits property tax valuations in California. Kuehl, Shriver, Duran and Ulich said they support a "split-roll" update that would leave current law in place for residential properties but phase in higher valuations on commercial land. Advocates of a split-roll are hoping to get a statewide measure on the 2016 ballot, and support from the Board of Supervisors could be key.
Shriver said that even if a split-roll is rejected, legislators should close loopholes that allow commercial property to change hands without a legal sale, keeping property valuations artificially low.
"That's a practice that has to stop,'' he said.
Yaroslavsky is leaving office after 20 years because of term limits, creating a rare opportunity for candidates hoping to represent nearly 2 million people across a broad swath of Los Angeles County, including Hollywood, Santa Monica and the San Fernando Valley.