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Robbins Sees No Wrong in Living Outside District

February 21, 1988|STEVE PADILLA | Times Staff Writer

For at least 18 months, state Sen. Alan Robbins (D-Van Nuys) has lived in a six-bedroom, $600,000 hillside house on an Encino street that he acknowledges is several blocks out of the district he represents.

Although the 15-year state legislator said there is nothing legally wrong with his living situation, he characterized it Saturday as a "problem" that was produced by a clerical error when the district was reapportioned in 1982.

Ever since he discovered the error, Robbins has listed the North Hollywood address of his former father-in-law on his voter registration, campaign reports and driver's license. He even occasionally stays there. He says he has the blessing of his former father-in-law, Nathan Elbaum, to do so.

"I would be lying to anyone if I said I spend a lot of time there," he said.

The situation is unusual, perhaps embarrassing, but not necessarily illegal, according to Robbins and state officials.

A spokeswoman with the secretary of state's office in Sacramento said Saturday that state representatives can live outside their districts. However, she would not comment specifically on Robbins' situation.

Most voters and candidates assume that a representative will remain in their district, but it is not required by law, said spokeswoman Caren Daniels-Meade. "You have to be a resident of the district when you run; you don't have to be a resident when you serve," she said.

Deputy Dist. Atty. Steven A. Sowders, head of the special investigations unit, said laws concerning residency are often vague and open to interpretation. Sowders said that inquiries into an elected official's residence are rare and that no such investigation has been launched in Robbins' case.

"We don't randomly check the voters' rolls, " Sowders said.

Reelection Plans

Robbins said the location of his home could influence his ability to run for reelection in 1990.

It also is unclear exactly why Robbins uses Elbaum's North Hollywood address and why he stays there when it is only miles from his Encino house.

"My father-in-law and I have a very close relationship," said Robbins, who is divorced from Elbaum's daughter. "While his daughter and I are no longer married, our relationship is still close.

"I've certainly been very open about the fact I have the house in Encino."

Robbins purchased the large, 47-year-old house on Oak View Drive in 1984. But he did not move in until 1986 because of extensive remodeling being done on the house. Before that, he lived in a Tarzana condominium, which was in his district. He has since sold the condominium.

Robbins said he had intended that his new home be within the district and even went house-hunting with a reapportionment map in hand. But he said he found out in the summer of 1985 that his street had been inadvertently omitted from his newly reapportioned Senate district.

Clerical Mistake

Robbins said preliminary maps used by the Legislature during the 1981 reapportionment debate showed that the house he was hoping to buy was in one corner of his district. By the time he actually purchased it, he said, the clerical mistake had been made. A few blocks were cut from Robbins' district and ended up in the neighboring 22nd District of Sen. Herschel Rosenthal (D-Los Angeles).

Robbins complained to Sen. Daniel E. Boatwright (D-Concord), a key fighter in the reapportionment battle, in the summer of 1985 and, in August, Boatwright wrote back:

"I have checked the matter out. . . . while we can't recall with absolute certainty, there may well have been errors in the measure affecting Senate District 20." Boatwright said that "certain block groups that we discussed to be included in Senate District 20 were left in Senate District 22." Robbins said his home is on one of those blocks.

He said the error left him "in a bit of a quandary as what to do."

Robbins said he considered a lawsuit and felt confident that a judge, after reviewing the original legislative maps, would order that Oak View Drive be placed in the 20th District.

But fellow legislators and congressmen, including Rep. Howard L. Berman (D-Studio City), discouraged a lawsuit, he said. Several conservative groups were legally challenging the reapportionment plan at the time, he said, and colleagues feared that a suit by Robbins could encourage other challenges to the tediously negotiated reapportionment plan.

Senate President Pro Tem David Roberti (D-Los Angeles) said he was among several politicians who argued against Robbins' suing. "That's pretty much what everybody said to him," Roberti said Saturday. "They didn't want to reopen it in any shape way or form."

For the same reasons, Robbins said, introducing legislation to clear up the problem also was out of the question.

Robbins said he thought about selling the house, but quickly dismissed that option.

"There isn't a big market for half-renovated, 47-year-old houses," he said.

Simple Solution

With Elbaum's consent, he gave his father-in-law's Martha Street address as his legal residence beginning in September, 1986.

"It was a simple way to solve the problem," Robbins said.

He called the maneuver a "good, legal, proper, temporary solution." Robbins said it would not pose any problems for him until he decides if he will run for another term.

Should he run again in 1990, Robbins said, he probably will have two choices: file a lawsuit or move.

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