Southern California's 40-year struggle against the nation's most intractable air pollution problem is approaching a turning point under a reorganization of the South Coast Air Quality Management District board that takes effect in January.
The AQMD's governing board will be reduced in size to 11 members from the current 14 and vested with new powers to bring the nation's smoggiest urban area into compliance with national clean-air standards.
How the district exercises those powers--from new controls on polluting industries to banning heavy trucks from freeways during rush hours--will depend in large part on who sits on the board.
Under terms of the reorganization, the governor, the state Senate Rules Committee and the Assembly Speaker each have one appointment to the board. In addition, each of the four county boards of supervisors in the South Coast Air Basin has an appointment. They are the counties of Los Angeles, Orange, Riverside and San Bernardino. Another four board members will be chosen to represent cities in each of the four counties.
Local officials, business interests and environmentalists said they are closely watching developments. So far, four appointments have been made to the board, including the selection Wednesday of Redlands Mayor Carole Beswick to represent San Bernardino County cities. She defeated AQMD incumbent Faye Myers Dastrup and two other candidates.
But seven appointments remain, and nowhere is interest more intense than in a hotly contested race that could be settled tonight when Los Angeles County's 84 cities are scheduled to elect their representative. Orange County cities are also scheduled to elect a representative tonight.
The meeting of Los Angeles County cities is open to the public and is scheduled to begin at 8 p.m. at AQMD headquarters, 9150 Flair Drive, El Monte. The Orange County cities meeting is scheduled at 6:30 p.m. at the City of Orange City Council chambers, 300 E. Chapman Ave., Orange.
Five candidates are vying for the Los Angeles cities seat, and there is concern that a stalemate could result, temporarily leaving the cities without a voice on the AQMD.
While business interests appear to be sitting the race out, environmental groups and local government officials are actively lobbying for their favorite candidates. Environmentalists said they believe the outcome will have a significant impact on the future course the board takes.
One candidate, Los Angeles City Councilman Marvin Braude, is backed by three major environmental organizations--the Coalition for Clean Air, the American Lung Assn. of California and the Sierra Club.
Another candidate, Rolling Hills City Councilman Thomas F. Heinsheimer, has won non-binding endorsements from organizations of smaller cities and is playing to concerns by smaller cities that the City of Los Angeles' interests and concerns would dominate if Braude is elected to represent them.
Braude and Heinsheimer are incumbents on the AQMD board. Currently Heinsheimer represents all Los Angeles County cities and Braude represents the City of Los Angeles. Under the reorganization approved by the Legislature, the City of Los Angeles will lose its seat.
Others in Contest
There are three other candidates, Duarte City Councilman John Hitt, Baldwin Park Mayor Leo King and Glendora City Councilwoman Lois Shade. All three are viewed as "favorite son" candidates from the San Gabriel Valley, but King, a former member of the California Coastal Commission, appears to have more support.
Each city will have a vote. To win the new seat, a candidate must not only have the votes of two-thirds of the cities in Los Angeles County (56 of 84), but the votes of cities that combined account for at least two-thirds of the county's 7.3 million population.
The population requirement gives an edge to Braude because he has the backing of Los Angeles Mayor Tom Bradley and Los Angeles by itself accounts for 45% of the county's population.
But the other three candidates may be able to deny Braude support from the required 56 cities. "A half dozen cities would have veto power and might represent a fraction of 1% of the population of the county," Braude complained.
To Urge L.A. Seat
On the other hand, Braude's opponents said that Los Angeles by virtue of its population can make their election difficult. "There's no doubt that the City of Los Angeles has a veto. Basically, no one can get in there without L.A. voting for him," said Hitt.
Braude told The Times that no matter who is elected, he will urge the Legislature to restore the City of Los Angeles' separate seat on the AQMD that it lost in the reorganization.
"The process itself is cumbersome. I don't know whether it's workable," agreed USC political scientist Larry Berg, who was reappointed to the new AQMD board by Assembly Speaker Willie Brown. Others, however, are more optimistic, although they said there will be numerous ballots before a winner emerges.
The race affords a good example of local government concerns.