With a month of intense campaigning left in the runoff for Los Angeles' 13th District council seat, incumbent Peggy Stevenson is working to win over affluent homeowners in the Hollywood Hills to stave off challenger Michael Woo.
Stevenson's campaign manager, Allan Hoffenblum, said the outcome in the hillside communities--where Woo ran strongly during the April primary--could prove critical in what both camps expect to be a close election on June 4.
Although Stevenson led Woo and four other challengers in the 13th District primary, amassing 42% of the total vote to Woo's 35%, Woo surpassed her in the Hollywood Hills precincts and did well enough throughout the district to reach the runoff.
Reapportionment in the council district hurt Stevenson during the primary, Hoffenblum said, by bringing in hillside voters who were unfamiliar with her record. But Stevenson aides contend that hillside homeowners can be swayed during the next month.
"The hills are new territory and people there haven't got to know her yet," Hoffenblum said. "Her opponent did a good job of beating up on her in the primary, but he's the only one running against her this time. We think his support is soft."
According to a precinct-by-precinct analysis of the Hollywood Hills primary vote, Woo won that area with 35% to Stevenson's 29%. Arland (Buzz) Johnson, a Republican candidate who appealed to conservative, anti-Stevenson homeowners, took 18% of the hillside votes in the primary.
With Woo her only challenger, aides said, Stevenson can win the hills by attracting a majority of former Johnson supporters and persuading some of Woo's primary backers to switch sides.
"The areas she seemed to have the most trouble with are the ones with the yuppie vote--the singles who seem to be very concerned about environmental issues," Hoffenblum said. "I think they have a misperception about her record and we've got to straighten that out."
In the last two weeks, Stevenson has introduced legislation expected to have favorable political impact in the hills. A little more than a week ago, Stevenson led a fight to protect the Highland-Camrose Bungalow Village from apartment developers by persuading the City Council to give the area's 15 hillside homes historic-landmark status.
And last Tuesday, Stevenson introduced a motion that would enact a 360-day moratorium on development in the Cahuenga corridor, a section of the Hollywood Hills where homeowners have been battling high-rise apartment projects for the past three years.
'Window of Opportunity'
Dan Wooldridge, Stevenson's deputy press aide, said the councilwoman introduced the moratorium bill because "the council's vote on the Highland-Camrose bungalows gave us a window of opportunity. It was an indication that the council would be receptive to a moratorium."
The bill, which would protect the well-organized homeowners in the Whitley Heights area from apartment projects that have been going up along Franklin Avenue in Hollywood, cleared the council's Planning and Environment Committee last week and will be reviewed by the city Planning Commission.
Brian Moore, president of the Whitley Heights Homeowner's Assn., hailed the moratorium proposal, saying it was "long overdue. We're glad she finally woke up to our concerns."
Moore said that in Whitley Heights and surrounding neighborhoods, voters have been leaning toward "a change in (council) leadership," but added that Stevenson's moves may be regaining her support in the hills. "She's been doing a great deal to change that attitude," Moorse said. "She certainly seems to be doing everything she can."
Woo, while saying he supported Stevenson's moratorium proposal, criticized her political timing and questioned whether she would continue to support the bill after the June 4 election.
"She's trying to alleviate the heat on her," Woo said. "This situation didn't spring up overnight. Why didn't she come up with this idea a year ago?"
Woo also pointed to a similar moratorium in Silver Lake that Stevenson helped pass five months ago, saying that once the moratorium was in place, Stevenson tried to undermine it by supporting two apartment projects planned there.
"They would have gone through if the Silver Lake community hadn't rebelled against her," Woo said. "Then she did a flip-flop and claimed she had been against the projects all along. If she can't be trusted in Silver Lake, how can she be trusted in the hills?"
"That's ridiculous," Wooldridge responded. "Of course that's what he would say."
Even without the legislation, Stevenson's campaign aides expect to devote more attention to the hills than any other section of the council district. "We'll probably spend a little more time and campaign resources in that area," Hoffenblum said. "We think we'll do well, especially with the Republicans there."