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ZEV YAROSLAVSKY : He's Spruced Up and Slimmed Down--but Retains Old Intensity and Driving Ambition

August 18, 1985|DAVID FERRELL | Times Staff Writer

At night, when it's time to put away the cares of the nation's second-largest city, Los Angeles City Councilman Zev Yaroslavsky dreams to the chatter of an all-news radio station.

His home, in the Fairfax district, is a drab yellow structure with peeling paint and a dirt-patched front lawn. But Yaroslavsky says that he has little time for home improvements--not when there are greater problems to worry about, such as hostilities in Beirut, budget problems in Washington, and potholes on Pico Boulevard.

He spends five, sometimes seven nights a week at community meetings, speaking engagements or political fund-raisers, his wife Barbara said. On those rare evenings at home, he raps out letters on his computer or follows world events on television, scanning the networks with a remote control device. Often he travels miles downtown to get the latest evening edition of the newspaper.

"Last night I came home and he had the New York Times spread open on his chest," Barbara Yaroslavsky said. "He was sleeping."

His council colleagues agree that Yaroslavsky has a voracious appetite for news--particularly, his critics say, when he is a part of it. But colleagues also describe Yaroslavsky as perhaps the most driven and ambitious of the city's 15 council members.

"He's a very calculating politician," City Councilman Ernani Bernardi said, couching the comments as a compliment. "He's very aggressive, very bright. He knows the value of . . . good box-office issues."

In recent weeks, Yaroslavsky's aggressive politicking has made him a major player in a critical issue now before the City Council--the extent to which Los Angeles should grow.

That fight over planning and zoning issues pits developers against neighborhood groups and environmentalists anxious to restrict growth. Yaroslavsky has allied himself with the neighborhood groups, accusing many of his council colleagues of responding too willingly to the blandishments of the big money developers he blames for overbuilding in many traffic-congested parts of the city.

Hoping for Hero Status

If the neighborhood groups win most of the battles over planning, Yaroslavsky's supporters hope that he will emerge as a popular hero and find himself in a good position to realize his long-time goal of becoming mayor of Los Angeles.

"There's no bigger challenge facing the city right now than to set the priorities straight about what our quality of life is going to be . . . about who's calling the shots," Yaroslavsky said in an interview. Those shots, he said, are being called by the men building high-rise office towers, not the homeowners who live in their shadows. "The average person walking into City Hall is behind the eight ball before he ever gets to the first step."

In his own Westside district, Yaroslavsky boasts of "killing more hotel projects than you can name in your lifetime."

But he has been criticized by some homeowner groups for supporting a 14-story, 214-room hotel now being planned for the southern edge of Westwood Village.

Yaroslavsky says that a luxury hotel there might help improve the image of an area marked by fast-food stands and T-shirt shops.

"Let's have a little vision," he said. "What does Westwood Village need? Another McDonald's? Pioneer Chicken? What this town needs is a little vision."

Yaroslavsky recently injected himself into the selection process to find a successor for city Planning Director Calvin Hamilton, who will retire sometime next year.

Hamilton was criticized by developers for being anti-growth and by homeowners for being ineffective.

Yaroslavsky asked Mayor Tom Bradley to include homeowners, neighborhood leaders and environmentalists on an advisory panel to help pick Hamilton's successor.

Yaroslavsky has generally refused to criticize other council members by name for their part in the city's rapid growth. But he made an exception this spring by speaking out against the reelection of Peggy Stevenson, the councilwoman from Hollywood. Stevenson was a pro-growth representative who had helped defeat a controversial building moratorium planned for part of Yaroslavsky's district.

Council Tradition

In endorsing Stevenson's opponent, Michael Woo, Yaroslavsky broke with a council tradition that members do not campaign against each other.

Woo's victory brought to the council a voice on growth issues more in tune with Yaroslavsky's views. But whether the gain of one prospective ally was worth alienating other council members is not clear.

Councilman Dave Cunningham, for instance, likened Yaroslavsky's move against Stevenson to back-stabbing.

Other council members noted that it was not the first time Yaroslavsky had bucked a colleague, pointing to his role in the unseating of Councilman John Ferraro as council president a few years ago.

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