San Fernando Valley will be key in race to succeed Zev Yaroslavsky

Kim Gutierrez needs help keeping a growing population of homeless men from chasing down customers at her Studio City doughnut shop.

A few miles north, Alma Dellafuente is frustrated having to wait weeks — sometimes months — for specialized care at the county-run San Fernando Health Center.

And in Sherman Oaks, retiree Hal Schneider and his wife, Rose, worry about taxes going up to pay for mass transit that may never reach their part of the San Fernando Valley.


In years past, all could take their concerns to longtime Los Angeles County Supervisor Zev Yaroslavsky. But newly activated term limits will force Yaroslavsky to step down Nov. 30 from a post he’s held for two decades.

Lining up to replace him are eight candidates. But none are well-known to West Valley residents, making the 3rd District’s Valley vote up for grabs in the June 3 primary election, political analysts say.

“For somebody to win, they have to win the Valley,” said Jill Banks Barad, a Democratic consultant and Sherman Oaks resident. “It’s a Westside seat, but it’s also very much a Valley seat.”

The district has nearly 2 million people from the Westside and Hollywood in Los Angeles to Calabasas and San Fernando. But about two-thirds of them live north of Mulholland Drive and the Santa Monica Mountains. That Valley portion typically supplies roughly half the vote.

In a recent interview, Yaroslavsky said turnout could be low for the midyear contest in which Gov. Jerry Brown is considered a shoo-in for reelection. But he agrees that the Valley portion of his district will play a key role in determining his successor.

“The Valley’s up for grabs whatever turnout will be.”

Former Los Angeles city controller and mayoral candidate Wendy Greuel, a Valley native, had been expected to be a serious contender in the contest. But she dropped out in January and announced that she would seek the seat of retiring Rep. Henry A. Waxman (D-Beverly Hills).

The remaining candidates include Sheila Kuehl, who represented portions of the West Valley during 14 years as a state lawmaker. Kuehl has been running for nearly a year and has raised $429,400 for her campaign.

John Duran, a West Hollywood City Council member, said he’s raised $130,000, more than twice what he reported at the end of December. Attorney Bobby Shriver, a former Santa Monica City Council member and nephew of President Kennedy, entered the race in late January and hasn’t ruled out using his personal wealth to finance a campaign.

Others who filed for the race by Friday’s deadline include Pamela Conley Ulich, a lawyer and former Malibu mayor; Doug Fay of Santa Monica; Yuval Daniel Kremer of Los Angeles; Rudy Melendez of North Hollywood; and Eric Preven, who describes himself as a county watchdog.

The most politically prominent candidates have been busy meeting Valley residents and interest groups to gather endorsements and raise campaign contributions. Kuehl picked up key backing last week from the San Fernando Valley Democrats, a coalition of 27 Democratic clubs.

“We just felt she was very well prepared for the job,” said Agi Kessler, the group’s chair. “She seems to really understand the position.”

The Valley Industry & Commerce Assn., a business group, will hold a forum in April but hasn’t yet decided if it will endorse a candidate, said Stuart Waldman, the group’s executive director.

Waldman said he initially thought the race would be a “battle royal,” but that hasn’t happened. Kuehl, Shriver and Duran are all liberal Democrats, so there isn’t much choice for those with a more conservative outlook in the nonpartisan race, he said.

“I think the biz community as a whole was looking for someone else to jump into the race,” Waldman said. “But for some reason all of the ambitious politicians don’t want to run.”

Voters in more conservative Calabasas, Northridge and Woodland Hills could be critical in a close election, and the candidates will have to tailor their messages to attract them, said Tom Hogen-Esch, a political science professor at Cal State Northridge.

“Greuel was the prohibitive favorite,” Hogen-Esch said. “With her gone, I think it will come down to some pivotal endorsements. Zev Yaroslavsky’s endorsement will be highly coveted.”

Yaroslavsky so far hasn’t named a favored candidate and says he probably won’t. Kuehl and Shriver are both “very competent, very smart and, in their own way, dynamic people,” he said.

“Sheila is the tortoise in this race, and Bobby is the hare,” he said. “I don’t know if it will end up that way.”

One problem the candidates will face is explaining what the Board of Supervisors does and what that means for the Valley, Hogen-Esch said. The five supervisors oversee the nation’s largest county government, with 101,000 workers and a $25-billion budget — three times that of the city of Los Angeles — funding welfare, public health and foster care programs. The board also directs the collection of property taxes, runs elections, maintains vital records and has an indirect hand in managing the nation’s largest system of jails.

Steve Afriat, a government lobbyist and Valley resident, said none of that resonates with the average middle-class suburban voter, who is more concerned that taxes don’t go up too much and that the Valley is getting its “fair share.”

“Zev was the guy who kept the county in the black, and people are going to want someone to continue to do that,” Afriat said. “More affluent voters in Encino, Sherman Oaks, Calabasas, they would say they are glad he’s held the line on spending, and they’re going to support someone who articulates that.”

Transportation is also a “huge issue” with Valley voters, said Waldman, the business group executive. If the Valley were a city it would be the sixth largest in the country — but it still doesn’t have a rail system, he said.

The next supervisor will sit on the Metropolitan Transportation Authority board and have influence over whether a proposed East Valley Transit Corridor runs along Van Nuys or Sepulveda boulevards.

“Whoever expects the Valley vote is going to have to come up with a real transit plan for the Valley,” Waldman said. “We need more than a busway.”

Times data analyst Sandra Poindexter contributed to this report.