Patrick McCartney, a leader of anti-growth efforts in Westchester, announced Tuesday that he will challenge 6th District incumbent Pat Russell in the April 14 Los Angeles City Council elections.
McCartney is the third candidate to announce plans to challenge the powerful council president. Earlier this fall, Salvatore Grammatico, 34, president of the Mar Vista-Del Rey Homeowners and Neighbors Assn., and Ruth Galanter, 45, an environmental activist and former chairman of the California Regional Coastal Commission, said they will run against Russell.
McCartney, 38, president of a homeowners coalition that fought the Howard Hughes Center, Playa Vista and other large commercial projects recently approved for the district, said he will try to rally what he called strong communitywide opposition to Russell, who spearheaded City Council approval of those projects.
In light of Proposition U, a citywide growth-limitation measure overwhelmingly approved by voters in November, opponents believe Russell is at the most vulnerable point in her 17-year council career, McCartney said. Russell was a leading foe of Proposition U and has supported controversial development agreements aimed at shielding some large projects from the initiative.
"It's more important to get her out of office than for me personally to get elected," McCartney said at a press conference at City Hall.
In interviews Tuesday, each challenger charged that Russell has alienated voters by supporting new projects and ignoring the many constituents who opposed them. The challengers said projects approved with Russell's support will result in substantial additional traffic and air pollution in the district, which encompasses Westchester, Venice, Mar Vista and much of the Crenshaw area.
In addition, the candidates said, construction of those projects during the next two decades will place further demands on the city's overburdened sewage system, which has overflowed repeatedly into Santa Monica Bay.
"The people are dissatisfied," Galanter said of Russell's leadership. "The incumbent seems very responsive to the people who want to add more development, but not very responsive to the people with more mundane concerns, like the traffic they have to deal with."
Russell, who has battled through four reelections since winning a vacant seat in 1969, said she has worked diligently to control new development. She cited her introduction of a regional traffic plan that requires developers in the district to pay for road improvements and her introduction of a less-restrictive, ill-fated alternative to Proposition U, under which large-scale growth would have been limited to designated commercial centers in Los Angeles.
"The real story in Westchester is that (the late billionaire) Howard Hughes was here for a long time" and left vast stretches of vacant land, which are now being developed, Russell said in an interview. "I have looked to see what development is coming and tried to control it. We, unlike other parts of the city, will not have the added congestion and other problems resulting from overdevelopment."
Russell downplayed the challengers facing her, saying she expects to approach this campaign as she has others in the past. "I've always had a lot of opponents," she said. "They don't understand, until they get into the campaign, what the 6th District is all about. (But) I've always taken campaigns seriously and will run very hard."
Councilwoman Joy Picus, who described herself as a Russell ally, said the 6th District poses difficulties for Russell and her challengers because Venice, Westchester and the Crenshaw area are diverse areas that have differing needs.
"It's never been clear sailing," Picus said of Russell's campaigns. "I wouldn't consider her a shoo-in. (But) I don't perceive that she's in trouble."
Some observers, however, predicted that the coming election will be one of Russell's most difficult because of the growth issue. Four major projects she has supported in Westchester--Howard Hughes Center, Playa Vista, Continental City and the northside development at Los Angeles International Airport--are expected to result in nearly 19-million square feet of new office construction, roughly twice the office space of Century City.
Proposition U, which won by a 69% margin citywide, drew 70% support in her district.
One council member, who asked not to be named because of Russell's power on the council, said the landslide victory of that initiative may be a tip-off that Russell is in trouble.
"Proposition U shows she's out of touch" with voters, the council member said. "She's not been responsive to her people's needs. (But) she'll have a lot of money, she has a lot of power, and she'll have a lot of opportunity to make amends.
'It's Too Late'
"My gut tells me it's too late."