In one of his first political outings since he decided to seek reelection to the Los Angeles City Council instead of running for mayor, Zev Yaroslavsky got a warm welcome from a major residents' group.
Appearing with his three opponents for the 5th District seat before the Sherman Oaks Homeowners Assn., Yaroslavsky spoke at length of his efforts to increase police protection, reduce large development and improve government services.
Later, Richard Close, the homeowner group's president, said Yaroslavsky has won the respect of voters on the valley side of the district. "The people in Sherman Oaks view him as a leader trying to solve problems," Close said. "That was indicated (at the meeting). I would be shocked if he had any problems in the valley."
Close allowed Yaroslavsky to speak much longer at than any of his three challengers on the ground, he said, that the forum, which was the monthly meeting of the homeowners group, gave the voters a good opportunity to hear their representative.
But Yaroslavsky's opponents cried foul, charging that the councilman was given preferential treatment at the meeting, held Wednesday at the Dixie Canyon Elementary School and attended by about 100 people.
Laura M. Lake, a Westwood activist who is seen as Yaroslavsky's primary foe in the council race, said each candidate deserved equal time. The three stayed to talk to Close at the end of the meeting.
"Close played fast and loose with the format. . . . We wanted more fairness," Lake said.
Challenger Jack McGrath of North Hollywood, a former campaign manager and chief deputy of Yaroslavsky's who now works in real estate, said he complained about the format before the meeting, to no avail. McGrath said he had hoped to question Yaroslavsky about development and other issues during the forum.
Residents, however, were in no mood to throw stones, Close said. "This meeting was an opportunity for the general public to complain or criticize. But everyone appeared to be very pleased with what (Yaroslavsky) is trying to do."
In another event Wednesday, the ever-changing field of candidates in the 5th District race changed again, when political activist Steve Saltzman bowed out of the race.
Most observers say Yaroslavsky will be reelected easily now that he has decided against running for mayor. But the remaining three challengers have vowed to wage active campaigns, and Yaroslavsky said he takes them seriously.
In his opening remarks to the homeowners group, Yaroslavsky unveiled a plan to add 10,000 officers to the Los Angeles Police Department by 1993. He also discussed efforts to reduce development along Ventura Boulevard by lowering density. Responding to questions, Yaroslavsky said he would oppose an above-ground light-rail system in the valley if it were to cause problems for residents.
"When it comes time to make the decision, . . . there's no way I'm going to allow it to go by people's windows," he said. "I just ain't gonna do it." Yaroslavsky also defended his support for slow-growth initiatives, telling a disgruntled developer that he knew of no other way to control development.
The other three hopefuls in the April 11 election for the 5th District seat, which includes the Beverly-Fairfax area, Century City, Bel-Air, Westwood, West Los Angeles, and parts of Sherman Oaks, North Hollywood and Van Nuys, were allowed to make only brief remarks at the beginning of the meeting.
Lake, a UCLA environmental sciences professor on leave who has been highly critical of Yaroslavsky's representation of the Westwood area, said she would always put the people's interests first.
"This race will be about fairly representing the people of the 5th District," she said. "We need a council person willing to work with the 5th District rather than against it. . . . Vote as if your neighborhood depended on it, because it does."
Lake had formally kicked off her campaign Monday with a spirited rally outside the Westside Pavilion. At that time, Lake, who heads Friends of Westwood, blamed Yaroslavsky for the expansion of the shopping mall and for other developments that have plagued Westside residents. Lake said she believes Sherman Oaks residents have the same concerns.
"I would not say that Sherman Oaks is in anyone's pocket," Lake said. "They have enormous problems, and I think they're looking for a leader to solve them."
McGrath also accused the councilman of turning his back on the voters.
"Zev was an independent, he was a visionary," McGrath told the Sherman Oaks homeowners. "But the last three years, something has happened. We've got real problems in River City here. . . . And we've got to bring people together."
Ryan Snyder, a private traffic consultant from Westwood, was the final challenger to address the group. Snyder did not criticize Yaroslavsky but told the group that he himself is the only candidate with the know-how to solve the area's chronic traffic problems.
Snyder said he would create transportation-management organizations aimed at addressing traffic woes in each community. Snyder also pledged to return the diamond lane to the Ventura Freeway.