The 14-year record of how Zev Yaroslavsky has dealt with development in his real estate-rich Westside district reveals two sides of the Los Angeles city councilman, who plans to run for mayor on a slow-growth platform.
One side is the crusading neighborhood preservationist who has taken many strong and innovative steps to control growth. The other is the councilman who, while advocating anti-growth legislation and attacking Mayor Tom Bradley as being pro-development, has acted quietly in support of the same projects he has assailed in public.
The Yaroslavsky record is expected to come under intense scrutiny in a 1989 mayoralty campaign, certain to be fought before a large and highly attentive audience of voters on the issue of whether strict development controls should be placed on a city that has, for many decades, boasted of its growth.
Already, Yaroslavsky, seeking to carry the banner of residential neighborhoods resisting more office and retail development, has called Bradley "a jingoistic" advocate of all-out growth who "has prided himself on it."
The mayor, in turn, has committed to memory the location of every large building in Yaroslavsky's district and asks visitors why Yaroslavsky, if he opposes growth, did not stop their construction.
"I lead a dual life," Yaroslavsky said in an interview. "I have to deal with the practical, day-to-day monotony of negotiations between contesting parties. . . . I can't lock myself in a closet and say, 'I'm a crusader.' "
A Yaroslavsky colleague agrees. Duality, expressed in day-to-day compromise, is the only way for a slow-growther to survive on a Los Angeles City Council where "the influence of developers and their lobbyists has been substantial," said Marvin Braude, also from the affluent Westside and the council's strongest critic of growth.
"There are many projects I tried to stop but could not," said Braude, who, disgusted with most of his council colleagues, joined with Yaroslavsky in 1986 in the successful growth control initiative, Proposition U. "I had to shift gears, do things incrementally."
But a critic finds the Yaroslavsky two-sidedness more pronounced--and self-serving. "Zev probably understands the land-use system as well as anyone on the council," said Dan Garcia, president of Bradley's city Planning Commission. "I think Zev's biggest difficulty is that while I consider him a moderate on growth, he has been reacting to a number of groups, some of whom are extremists, which has . . . caused him to try to be in front of the (slow-growth) movement rather than be crushed by it."
The Yaroslavsky record on development is reflected in files of city actions--some making big news, others obscure--over the last several years that tell how some of the most controversial projects in his district have been built. The story of these projects, including controversial Wilshire Boulevard high-rises, as well as shopping malls such as the Westside Pavilion and Beverly Center, help answer a question that will be asked of Yaroslavsky as the campaign progresses:
"If he is Mr. Slow Growth, why are there so many big buildings in his district?"
In examining that record, The Times found that Yaroslavsky forced a sharp scaling down of original plans for Century City, grandiosely envisioned in the early '60s as a mini-Manhattan with 18 apartment buildings of 18 floors and 17 with seven floors. During his fight to set limits, the councilman, for the first time in the city's history, factored in potential traffic congestion in determining the harmful effects of development. The projected traffic count Yaroslavsky pioneered is now used as a standard measurement in gauging the impact of growth.
Imposed Height Limits
The councilman also pushed through ordinances that imposed height limits on mile upon mile of neighborhoods of single-family homes and small businesses. These measures prevented, for example, bankers and property owners replacing the delicatessens and synagogues of the Pico-Robertson area with tall buildings.
He has accomplished these goals in the face of powerful economic forces determined to build high-rises and other commercial structures in his 5th District, which surrounds rich and fashionable Beverly Hills.
"I am the doughnut, Beverly Hills is the hole," he said. "I've got the most valuable real estate, commercial and residential, in this town, some of the most valuable in the world. That's what I am fighting against every powerful economic interest that wants to exploit this land."
But the record also reveals that Yaroslavsky took unpublicized official actions to help projects he either criticized or outright opposed:
- He wrote letters to a little-known city agency, used by council members to assist favored projects, asking that permits be expedited for several major developments in his district, including one, the Westside Pavilion, that he now criticizes.