A twice-failed candidate in West Hollywood's political wars has proposed carving up the 1.9-square-mile city into five City Council districts.
"It's the fairest way to go," said Stephen D. Michael, who picked up 13% of the vote in last November's special election to fill a City Council vacancy.
Council members currently are elected at large.
Michael, who also ran in a regular election last April, plans to try again in 1988, he said Monday. He and the proposal's co-sponsor, Robert Davis, will push for a change in the electoral system at the same time.
They have not drawn up a map. Instead, they proposed that three retired judges be named to decide the district boundary lines.
City Council members would be required to live in the district that chooses them.
Michael and Davis have drawn up a petition and hope to gather the 1,900 signatures needed by the end of the year to put their proposal on the ballot in April, Davis said.
"My own and other neighborhoods are not adequately represented on the council and the commissions," said Davis, who owns a home in the eastern half of town.
"No council members were elected from the east end or West Hollywood West," a neighborhood of single-family homes next to Beverly Hills, he said.
Difficult for Minorities
Michael said that under the current system, "it is very difficult, often impossible, for minority candidates to be elected. This applies not only to racial and ethnic minorities, but also to groups that form a minority for economic, geographic or other reasons."
In West Hollywood, which has few members of ethnic minority groups, Michael is in a minority because of his political affiliation. He and other Republicans total only 4,462 of the city's 20,909 registered voters, according to figures supplied by the Los Angeles County registrar-recorder's office.
Although Michael and Davis argue that district voting will cut the costs of campaigning and make city government more responsive, their proposal was dismissed by the City Council's five incumbents as futile.
"My initial reaction was something that I don't want quoted," said City Council Member John Heilman, recalling that West Hollywood voters rejected the idea by a 2-1 margin when the city voted to incorporate in November, 1984.
"Now the city as a whole elects five City Council members and you get to vote for five different people," he said. "This way you could only vote for one. They'd end up pitting neighborhood against neighborhood."
Challenge to Rent Control
Heilman and other incumbents said they saw the move as a challenge to the current City Council's strong support for rent control.
"The only thing that he might do is try to convince people they're voting for something they're not voting for," said Mayor Pro Tempore Helen Albert.
"When we run at large we're all accountable to everybody and if we're broken up into districts we'd each be accountable to much smaller numbers, and I don't think it would work," she said. "We want to keep this place unified and not divisive."
Council Member Steve Schulte agreed, saying, "It was beneficial for me to run citywide so people in general feel they have some relationship to you."
Aides to Mayor Alan Viterbi and Council Member Abbe Land, who were both out of town, said their bosses both felt the same way.
Schulte also said the petition drive was motivated by concern about the power of the Coalition for Economic Survival (CES), a 5,000-member group that was instrumental in the cityhood campaign and the immediate imposition of strict rent control once West Hollywood was incorporated.
But he noted that he has been elected twice without endorsement from the coalition. "It clearly can be done," Schulte said. "I've done it."
He suggested that a better change might be to number all five at-large seats, so that challengers could take on a specific incumbent. Under the current system, incumbents and challengers all run against each other.
Despite suggestions to the contrary, Michael and Davis said they are not against rent control. In any case, more than three-fourths of the city's voters are renters, they said.
"The tenants are going to run the city, no matter how you divvy it up," said Davis. "So it's a red herring to bring it up."
However, he said, "possibly the power of the CES is threatened. They seem to think so."
Dividing Up Power
"No matter what happens, you're going to have a City Council with a strong majority for rent control," Michael said. "But it is in the realm of possibility that Larry Gross (director of CES) and others won't be in a position to decide how the city spends its budget of over $20 million in other areas, and that would be an improvement.
"If anything, it's the people of this city who need to decide, not one person who uses rent control as an issue."
Gross, whose group includes three council members on its West Hollywood Steering Committee, said the issue is a sham, designed to win publicity for Michael's third attempt at public office.