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'Quality-of-Lifers' Fight to Shackle Growth

First of three articles about some of the personalities behind the Westside's burgeoning environmental movement.

March 29, 1987|JILL STEWART | Times Staff Writer

UCLA professor Laura Lake is undertaking a wholesale rewriting of Westwood's community plan in an attempt to scale down what she sees as "helter-skelter" growth in the congested district.

Planning consultant Ruth Galanter, who lives in Venice, is trying to unseat City Councilwoman Pat Russell in the 6th District and dreams of slowing development in that populous Westside area.

Urban planner Madelyn Glickfeld is keeping a vigil over a new coastal plan for Malibu, which she and others fear could allow the County Board of Supervisors to more than double the population of that quiet community.

Los Angeles Valley College professor David Brown is lobbying landowners, trying to persuade them to join an effort to double the 56,000 acres of parkland that has been saved from developers' bulldozers in the Santa Monica Mountains.

Meet a few of the city's self-declared "quality-of-lifers."

They are a loose collection of planners, professors, environmentalists, attorneys and politicians who share a belief that densely packed areas such as the Westside and the San Fernando Valley are facing neighborhood ruin and that rural oases like Malibu and the mountains could be the next casualties of overbuilding.

What drives them is a belief that they can alter decades-old practices that have granted developers a liberal hand in creating the city.

Last November's landslide voter approval of Proposition U, which limits commercial growth in many areas, was cheered by the activists as proof that people are primed for change.

"If it goes too far and too many people are crowded in here, people are going to take power into their own hands, and Proposition U is that message," Glickfeld said.

"I hope the County Board of Supervisors is listening up, too, because it hardly ends at City Hall," she said. "We'll tackle a statewide initiative, we'll do it in the courts, we'll do it by running for office . . . we will stop this incessant chant of build, build, build."

Politicians who support environmental issues say the quality-of-lifers wield more political clout than the slow-growth advocates of the 1970s, who were often viewed as elitists and radicals.

"They aren't somebody who hung out at Stanford, is named Muff and wears button-downs," Assemblyman Tom Hayden (D-Santa Monica) said. "They aren't that kind of environmentalist.

"A quality-of-lifer is somebody who may live in a tract home or on a well-traveled street rather than among the redwoods or the trees of Marin. The activists are the voice, and standing behind them are millions who believe the same things."

City Councilman Marvin Braude, who with Councilman Zev Yaroslavsky has proposed major development reforms, said a wide spectrum of residents "believe that the development industry has got Los Angeles and the City Council by the throat, and they are absolutely right.

"What we're seeing now is the fantastic reaction to that. The big shift has begun."

Emboldened by voter sentiment on Proposition U, Westside activists are taking aim at local government.

They say one big victory was the recently approved amendment to the state's Brown Act, requiring local governmental bodies to notify the public 72 hours before they vote on a development project or other non-emergency issue.

Members of the coalition dubbed Not Yet New York, including Lake and Beverly Hills attorney Barbara Blinderman, were among the leaders of a lobbying effort at state and city levels supporting the 72-hour notice.

"Now," said Lake, who is president of Friends of Westwood, "we can be there in force to fight things that used to slip through our fingers."

Seen by other activists as a savvy strategist, Lake gained a citywide reputation for helping bring together diverse groups from poor and rich neighborhoods when she co-founded Not Yet New York with several other community leaders.

The coalition's groups have effectively questioned the safety of LANCER, the city's controversial trash-to-energy incinerator plant proposed in the South-Central Los Angeles. Giving a nod to those concerns, Mayor Tom Bradley recently said the project will not proceed unless its emissions are shown to pose no health hazard.

(If the first LANCER is given the go-ahead, a second is envisioned on the Westside. A third is contemplated in the San Fernando Valley.)

Despite her clashes with city government, Lake has earned grudging respect for her detailed knowledge of planning issues.

Yaroslavsky, whose district includes Westwood, said Lake is known in City Hall as someone who "does her homework, knows the problems, and is certainly not a gadfly."

However, Yaroslavsky said Lake's approach is unsettling. "On a scale of 1 to 10, Laura views everything as a 10, and that's a problem," Yaroslavsky said.

Refusal to Compromise

As a result, he said, Lake refused to compromise on what Yaroslavsky called "some good projects," like the embattled 14-story Murdoch Hotel in Westwood that he backed.

Lake said the city's troubles demand a hard-line attitude.

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