Los Angeles City Councilman Zev Yaroslavsky called for a new 5- to 10-cent gasoline tax to subsidize public bus transportation, and his three opponents also said that improved transit is vital to the city's welfare, at a 5th District candidates forum Thursday night.
Yaroslavsky said the gas tax, which he has championed in the past, would also provide the funds needed to upgrade the bus system.
"That's what you need to get the white-collar workers out of their cars," Yaroslavsky said.
Environmental activist Laura M. Lake, who is seen as Yaroslavsky's toughest foe, said she would put more buses on the street, build a light-rail system and use more shuttle buses.
Ryan Snyder, a professional transportation consultant, said he would be the "most pro-transit member of the City Council that the city has ever seen."
Snyder said he opposed Metro Rail as an inefficient way to use transportation funds. He called for improved bus service, more ride sharing and better transportation planning.
Jack McGrath, a write-in candidate, said he would mandate that all city employees use public transportation. McGrath also called for a half-cent sales tax to pay for road improvements.
The candidates fielded a series of similar questions at the well-attended forum, held at Temple Beth Am in West Los Angeles. However, they also showed more restraint than in past meetings.
On development, Lake said Yaroslavsky has opened the 5th District to more mini-malls and large malls than any other district in the city. "What we need is planning," Lake said. "You have to give more than lip service."
Yaroslavsky, the co-author of the city's landmark slow-growth initiative, said he has done everything possible to protect the 5th District from excessive development but said that even that may not be enough. "Sometimes you have to tell a developer that we're going to emasculate your zoning," he said.
Snyder said growth should be addressed as a regional phenomenon and called for a better balance of jobs and housing, while McGrath said community plans should never be violated.
On the subject of encouraging ethnic harmony in Los Angeles, Snyder said the city must spend the money to help immigrants assimilate. Yaroslavsky said that the city should celebrate its ethnic diversity and that better job training is needed. Lake called for better language-training programs. And McGrath said he would provide more recreation facilities in poor areas to discourage gang participation.
Thursday's forum marked the third time the candidates have appeared together. The challengers have accused Yaroslavsky of ducking other joint campaign events, but the councilman is expected to participate in at least one more, a debate sponsored by a cable television station on April 9.
In Full Command
As the race enters its final week, Yaroslavsky still appears to be in full command. The councilman has been actively campaigning, even going so far as to mail potholders with campaign messages to voters last week, and political observers say they would be surprised to see him forced into a runoff.
Lake, who has been fairly quiet in recent weeks, tried to turn up the heat on Yaroslavsky on Wednesday in a press conference at which she accused him of a series of questionable deals.
Lake claimed Yaroslavsky has allowed the demolition of more affordable housing than any other council member. She produced a chart showing that 27% of the affordable housing lost citywide between 1977 and 1987 was in the 5th District.
"It's a demolition derby," Lake said. "Those are the cold, hard facts."
Lake also criticized Yaroslavsky for promoting permit parking as a solution to the district's intense parking shortage. In permit parking districts, parking is limited to residents who have obtained special permits. Lake said the permits, which cost $35 a year, are an unnecessary inconvenience.
She also noted that Yaroslavsky's district, which includes West Los Angeles, Century City, Westwood, the Beverly-Fairfax area and parts of the southern San Fernando Valley, has more permit parking than any other. The 5th District has 18 of the 30 permit parking districts created citywide.
Lake said she would push for more parking in commercial developments and would free parking meter funds for the construction of new facilities.
Yaroslavsky brushed Lake's criticisms aside, saying they were a symbol of desperation.