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Wolfsheimer Builds Record as Naysayer : Councilwoman Digs In, Convinced She's Right

July 06, 1986|RALPH FRAMMOLINO | Times Staff Writer

Her estranged husband, prominent land-use attorney and San Diego Port Commissioner Louis Wolfsheimer, asks:

Dear Abbe:

What is all this commotion I hear at City Hall about the enfant terrible of the City Council? You and I know that you are a thoughtful, gentle soul. Why do your fellow council members think of you not in these terms but rather more harsh terms? What happened?

"I don't think I'm the enfant terrible ," said San Diego City Councilwoman Abbe S. Wolfsheimer, responding to the inquiry relayed by a reporter. "I think I'm doing my job."

Doing a job is one thing. But the job that the 47-year-old rookie councilwoman from La Jolla is doing at City Hall has been enough to make some people gnash their teeth.

For the Record
Los Angeles Times Wednesday July 9, 1986 San Diego County Edition Part 1 Page 2 Column 1 Metro Desk 1 inches; 29 words Type of Material: Correction
The Times on Sunday incorrectly reported the amount that Councilwoman Abbe Wolfsheimer spent on her recent campaign. The total cost of the campaign was $236,016, which came from loans and contributions.

The former property law professor has picked fights with the city attorney's office over legal matters and procedures, including the way zoning appeals are handled.

The fiscal conservative has repeatedly criticized city administrators for hiring so many consultants.

The daughter of a San Diego philanthropist has openly resisted plans to sell off city property, saying it is a violation of the public trust.

Last month, Wolfsheimer took on the building industry and won. She persuaded her colleagues to approve a five-week moratorium on building permits and sewer connections to an undependable Sorrento Valley sewage pump station, which has spilled millions of gallons of human and industrial wastes into Los Penasquitos Lagoon since 1979.

She has done all this with a style that has tongues wagging.

Wolfsheimer has accused her fellow council members of "grandstanding" and lambasted a city manager's report as "gibberish."

With her face often fixed in a frown, she excels at questioning city staff members during open meetings with the unsettling precision of a defense attorney during cross-examination. And when it comes time to vote, chances are good it will be Everybody Else "yea," Wolfsheimer "nay."

City records show that since she was inaugurated in December, she has been the lone "no" vote on at least 21 council issues, ranging from the controversial council pay raise to more mundane matters of continuances, consultant contracts and leasing space for city offices.

"Abbe is someone who is consumed with being right," said one person at City Hall who asked not to be identified. "My evaluation is the most important thing in her life is being right."

Serving on the City Council is a matter of conscience, Wolfsheimer says.

"I'm still an idealist," she said. "Many moons ago, I said that if I ever entered politics or ran for office, I would like to be able to maintain my principles the entire time I was there, truly vote my conscience. . . .

"I don't believe it can't be done. I'm an optimist. I believe people can enter this arena and maintain their principles and maybe have some impact and maybe get other people to do the same thing. I may be wrong."

Yet Wolfsheimer readily admits that some of her idealism these days is being tempered by frustration. Since a good portion of the council's weekly business pertains to her district, she can't afford to take the advice of people like her estranged husband to sit back, observe and learn.

Trained as an attorney and teacher to engage in debate, she says she's at a loss in the cagey world of city government.

"There's no feedback on the 10th floor," she said, referring to the council offices. "There's no feedback anywhere. You can ask a question and there is no response. It's almost like talking to a brick wall.

"I think to be open is not what's done at City Hall. I think they're astounded and don't know what to do with it.

"I'm a different kind of colleague."

Wolfsheimer is so open that she agreed to answer "Dear Abbe" letters solicited by The Times from people who know her or have business at City Hall.

Dear Abbe:

You're very opinionated and you feel the necessity to express your opinion on everything. You also ask so many questions. Why do you think you know it all? And why do you think you should know it all?

Hours in the Council Chambers "I don't think I know it all, which is why I ask questions," Wolfsheimer said. "I also ask a different type of question, which is not too productive. I ask specific questions. I have just recently learned this week that I'm not to ask specific questions, I'll get better answers if I ask open questions."

Wolfsheimer was chairman of the Department of Property Law, Land Use and Negotiations at Western State University College of Law when she started to ask herself questions in January, 1985.

After 11 years of teaching, do you want to continue? Is it time for a sabbatical? What about becoming a full-time arbitrator for the Superior Court? Want to go to England?

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