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'Scrapper Quality' : Galanter an Activist Since College Days

May 07, 1987|JANET CLAYTON | Times Staff Writer

When she decided last year to run for Los Angeles City Council against Council President Pat Russell, Ruth Galanter said many of her friends "told me to forget it. There was no point."

"Well, we did it," she defiantly told supporters in Venice Tuesday night, referring to forcing Russell into a June runoff. "And we'll win in June with your help."

Hours later, in her Venice home, Galanter, a longtime environmental activist, was beaten and repeatedly stabbed in the neck by an unknown assailant. She is in critical condition at UCLA Medical Center.

"She's such a positive, confident, optimistic person," said Galanter's friend Rubell Helgeson. "We've got to believe that scrapper quality will help her now."

Since she filed to run for office last fall, Galanter, 46, a political unknown until recently, tapped a growing anti-development sentiment and turned it into the foundation of her Los Angeles City Council candidacy.

Focused on Frustrations

In her campaigning, she focused on the frustrations of everyday life in Los Angeles--too many cars, too few parking places, too much smog, too many people--and gave them a name: Pat Russell.

She vehemently opposed major development projects in the 6th Council District, including the proposed Howard Hughes Center, a 3.1-million square-foot office and hotel building in Westchester.

She talked about the Hughes Center and other developments she opposes Monday night to supporters. Sensing that the Hughes Center was hard to visualize, she got dramatic: "The Hughes Center is 3.1 million. The Pentagon is 3.7 million square feet. We're talking about putting the Pentagon on one side of the San Diego Freeway." There were gasps in the room. She had made her point.

"This movement is no longer backed by the sterotypically rich hillside types, but by people . . . who buy a house to raise their kids in," Galanter said in a recent Times interview. "Suddenly they find out that there's an old landfill next door, or there's an office building going in nearby. At that point, they've had enough."

Born in New York City, an only child, Galanter received her undergraduate degree from the University of Michigan, where she knew Tom Hayden, now a Democratic assemblyman from Santa Monica. Many years later in 1982, she endorsed him for the Assembly. In her council campaign some opponents have suggested that she is a "pawn" of left-wingers and Hayden, a charge Galanter has denied.

She received a master's degree in planning from Yale. While there, she and scores of others fought a New Haven urban renewal program that proposed massive bulldozing and construction of streets through poor and working-class neighborhoods, said John Wilhelm, a fellow student activist and now a union official in Las Vegas.

'A Genuine Liberal'

"When I knew her she was a genuine liberal, a no-nonsense person who believed her training and expertise ought to be paid back to the community somehow," Wilhelm said. "She was not radical in a wacky sense, but if that or liberal is a term that means you think the purpose of government is to enhance the lives of all people, then she was a liberal."

In 1973, she became the first California resident to file an appeal objecting to a project under provisions of the state Coastal Act. The Santa Monica project first proposed as 1,480 luxury residential units wound up as 340 condos and 160 units for seniors.

Her zeal in fighting for what she calls "sane growth" caused her some difficulties when she was on the now-defunct South Coast Regional Coastal Commission. She was appointed by former Gov. Edmund G. Brown Jr. to the commission in 1977 and served for four years.

One opponent from those days called her "a social engineer" whose "goal is to provide low-income housing for every poor person in the whole world."

In projects that came before the commission, which oversaw planning for the south coast, Galanter insisted on including low-income housing in every planned housing development "no matter how large or small," said Henry Wedaa, a Yorba Linda city councilman and a member of that commission. "I think she hid behind this militancy by being a pseudo-environmentalist."

After leaving the commission, Galanter started her own planning consulting firm, working with several environmental groups and politicians on the Westside. "She was the opposite of the stereotyped environmentalist who cares more about the grasslands than she does about people," said Rep. Howard L. Berman (D-Panorama City).

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