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Growth Revolt Is a Factor : Development: Council members Hal Bernson and Ruth Galanter face June runoffs. Both had been broadly criticized for their policies on building.

April 11, 1991|RICH CONNELL and NANCY HILL-HOLTZMAN | TIMES STAFF WRITERS

The slow-growth revolt that erupted in the mid-1980s proved to be a potent force in this week's voting when two Los Angeles City Council members who had been criticized for their development policies were forced into runoffs, officials said Wednesday.

"The election results indicate that the concern with the environment and reasonable growth is overwhelming . . . deep-rooted and profound," said Councilman Marvin Braude, who co-authored a landmark 1986 slow-growth initiative that offered the first serious challenge to the city's historic pro-development ethic.

Braude and other observers pointed to the showing of San Fernando Valley Councilman Hal Bernson, a 12-year-veteran who came under intense attack from a field of five challengers for backing the controversial, 1,300-acre Porter Ranch development in the northwestern area of his district.

Returns show Bernson garnered 34.7% of the vote. He will face a June runoff against school board member Julie Korenstein, who received 29% of the vote and said Wednesday she will make development a central theme of her campaign.

Also apparently pushed into a runoff was one-term Councilwoman Ruth Galanter, who won a 1987 upset on a slow-growth platform, but recently has had to fend off charges that she has gotten too close to developers and lobbyists. She also has been criticized for large projects in her district, including the sprawling Playa Vista development near Marina del Rey.

Galanter received 49% of the vote against a field of six challengers. While some absentee ballots remain to be counted, city officials said she almost certainly will face Mary Lee Gray, a Westside aide to county Supervisor Deane Dana, in a June election.

The furor surrounding the police beating of motorist Rodney G. King draped the final weeks of the campaign. But many observers say frustration over such problems as traffic congestion, as well as pollution of the air and Santa Monica Bay still are overriding concerns for many voters.

"It hits people close to home," said city Planning Commission President William Luddy.

This is particularly true in coastal and outlying suburban districts like Bernson's and Galanter's, where prime, open tracts of land remain and big projects can have a dramatic impact on the landscape and roads.

Political consultant Joe Cerrell, who helped run Bernson's campaign, conceded his client has been hurt by being labeled pro-development. "It is still . . . the major issue," he said.

Bernson can recover in the runoff by emphasizing differences with Korenstein on other issues, Cerrell said, including his support for Police Chief F. Gates in the King controversy. Bernson will attempt to defuse the growth issue by "talking common sense (about) newlyweds who can't afford housing" and about the need to create jobs.

But Korenstein at a press conference Wednesday called the election a "referendum on overdevelopment."

"The community will no longer stand for developers buying special privileges," she said, referring to $55,000 in campaign contributions Bernson has received from a Porter Ranch developer and his business associates since 1982. "Voters want safe neighborhoods, slow growth, a healthy environment."

Korenstein could pick up backing from other candidates, who also criticized Bernson's development stands and who won more than one-third of the vote.

In the 6th District, prominent developers and lobbyists attended Galanter's fund-raising events, fueling the criticism that she had abandoned her slow-growth roots.

Her challengers, meanwhile, struggled to raise money to pay for postage and lawn signs. They walked door-to-door, worked the phones and, in Gray's case, stood on a street corner on Election Day as a "human sign," flagging down commuters and asking for their votes.

At community forums, opponents hammered away at Galanter's development record, particularly the specter of the massive Playa Vista project which many fear will engulf the Westchester, Playa del Rey and Marina del Rey areas.

Galanter has praised the project's developer, Maguire Thomas Partners, for increasing the size of the Ballona Wetlands and funding some wildlife restoration, but Galanter said she has not taken a position on the Hermosa Beach-sized project.

It is not clear yet how much of Gray's support is anti-development, as distinguished from being anti-incumbent or partisan. Gray is a registered Republican and Galanter is a Democrat, though the race itself is nonpartisan.

The third-place finisher, slow-growth community activist Salvatore Grammatico, grabbed 15% of the vote, overwhelming Galanter in several areas of Westchester, near the Playa Vista project. "'Grass-roots is alive," said Grammatico, adding that he does not know if he will endorse anyone in the runoff.

Galanter blamed the runoff on a crowded field in a diverse district, that includes white and Republican Westchester and the black, heavily Democratic Crenshaw District, as well as the beach areas of Venice.

"It seems to me in a district as vocal and active as this one and in a crowded field, a couple of hundred votes from winning outright is very encouraging," she said.

Gray, optimistic about her chances in a runoff, said Galanter erred by being an "invisible candidate" who relied on raising money and sending mail, while bypassing many community forums.

Gray, who has said she supports managed growth and has been critical of Galanter on the Playa Vista project, polled well in portions of the affluent Venice Peninsula, as well as the Crenshaw District.

Many observers think Gray's ties to pro-development Supervisor Dana will seriously hurt her in the runoff.

Times staff writer Jack Cheevers contributed to this story.

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