The five candidates running against Los Angeles City Councilwoman Pat Russell in the 6th District race confronted an empty chair last week.
Russell sent late word that she would be unable to attend the Venice Town Council forum at Venice High School. And her opponents seized the opportunity to charge that Russell's absence symbolized her overall disregard for Venice.
"One reason I'm running against Pat Russell is, as you can see, there's no one sitting next to me tonight," said Salvatore Grammatico, a Mar Vista real estate broker. "That (shows) her insensitivity to the community's needs."
The other four candidates in the Venice, Westchester and Crenshaw-area race--Rimmon C. Fay, Ruth Galanter, Virginia Taylor Hughes and Patrick McCartney--sounded a similar note during the 90-minute meeting. And the crowd of about 250 people booed when the forum's moderator said that Russell sent her regrets.
But her absence was not unexpected. Russell has clashed repeatedly with the liberal Venice Town Council over development, crime and parking. And the core of her opposition comes from Venice, a small but politically active community.
"We have a chance to recapture our district from the special interests that control it," said Galanter, a Venice resident and former chairwoman of the South Coast Regional Coastal Commission. "(Russell) is no longer working for us."
Fay, a Venice marine biologist active in efforts to clean up Santa Monica Bay, and McCartney, a Venice-area activist, said Russell has ignored community problems for several years. Taylor Hughes, a Crenshaw resident, said people in Venice are obviously unhappy with Russell's representation.
Denies Being Pawn
Russell was not able to respond to the charges leveled last week, but two weeks earlier, at a Westchester forum, she denied that she was a pawn of commercial developers and accused her opponents of using sleazy propaganda techniques. "The big lie is a technique used by propaganda artists . . . ," Russell said.
The five challengers said they oppose Russell's development policies because of her support for such projects as Playa Vista and the Howard Hughes Center in neighboring Westchester. However, they differ on whether they would stand firm on Proposition U, the Los Angeles law limiting growth.
Taylor Hughes said development should be restricted in Venice if residents oppose it. In an economically depressed area such as Crenshaw, however, Taylor Hughes said officials should try to encourage growth.
Would Stand by Limits
McCartney said he would "stand by" the growth limits laid out by Proposition U to discourage the "feeding frenzy" by Westside developers.
Fay said he also supports Proposition U. But he added that there are times when variances should be granted because they are legally supportable.
Grammatico said that he would consider making an exception to growth guidelines if the community supported the idea or if an environmental impact report showed that the development would not adversely affect the community.
Galanter said she would never approve growth in excess of Proposition U guidelines, saying, "There's too much strain on our neighborhoods already."
All five said they support preservation of the Ballona Wetlands. And the challengers agreed that Venice's parking problems, which are particularly severe during the summer months, must be solved quickly.
Galanter suggested that "unused and underused" property, such as the run-down Venice Boulevard median strip and the soon-to-be-vacated RTD bus maintenance yard, should be converted into parking lots.
Look for Available Land
Taylor Hughes said that any available land should be considered for parking lots. McCartney called parking a "neglected problem" and said subterranean parking structures are another option. Fay said the "optimal solution" will never be found. But he added that a shuttle bus may be the best answer.
Grammatico said that he also favors the construction of more parking lots. And he said that he would seek county and state funding for such projects.
All five candidates favor restoration of the historic Venice canals. And all five are critical of a citywide ordinance, backed by Russell, that is supposed to relieve traffic congestion in commercial development areas.
In summarizing his strengths, Fay said he would bring strong management skills and a good understanding of the city's bureaucracy to the council. McCartney pledged to restore true community representation to the district. Taylor Hughes said she would go on the offensive against nagging community problems.
Galanter said she would use her planning expertise to protect the 6th District from overdevelopment. And Grammatico said he would form a community advisory board to keep him apprised of the district's concerns.