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ELECTIONS : Council Members Depicted as Being Hostile to Business : Politics: Two incumbents targeted for defeat are criticized for their slow-growth leanings. One of them, James Boulgarides, calls the issue a 'red herring.' He blames recession for drop in sales and business taxes.

March 26, 1992|BERNICE HIRABAYASHI | TIMES STAFF WRITER

CULVER CITY — Differing philosophies about what the city's attitude toward business should be are emerging as a key issue in the Culver City Council campaign. Five candidates are competing for three seats in the April 14 election.

In an effort to unseat two incumbents known for their slow-growth leanings, two challengers are painting the city as hostile to business interests.

Richard Alexander, who served on the City Council for four consecutive terms ending in 1990, said he came out of retirement because he couldn't bear to watch city government strangle business with excessive regulation.

"Businesses are feeling ignored and 'unliked' by the City Council," he said. "I want to reverse that."

Albert Vera, who has served on the city's Civil Service Commission for the past 10 years, expressed a similar sentiment.

"This feeling of anti-business is like a cancerous thing that has grown little by little," he said.

Both candidates say delays in applying for permits and strict building codes drive potential businesses away and discourage existing businesses from expanding, and they have targeted incumbents James D. Boulgarides and Steven Gourley for defeat.

Mollie "Lee" Welinsky, a civil rights lawyer, rounds out the group of five candidates. The third incumbent, Mayor Paul A. Jacobs, has decided not to run again. Donald Lane, a retired police chief, has officially withdrawn from the race, but his name will appear on the ballot.

Gourley and Boulgarides acknowledge that revenues from sales and business taxes are down, but they say it's not the City Council's fault.

"I think it's a red herring," Boulgarides said. "We've done many things to support business. . . . The real situation is the economy for the past several years has been devastating. We've been seeing business leaving, but they leave for many reasons."

The two incumbents said they knew of no businesses that had left Culver City because they were dissatisfied with municipal laws.

Boulgarides and Gourley agree that business must be encouraged to help the city's struggling economy. A $3.8-million budget shortfall is projected for the 1992-93 fiscal year.

"But we have to be careful we get quality businesses that are assets to the community," Boulgarides said. "So it enhances the environment as well as the economic base."

The incumbents say they favor slow, controlled growth with lots of input from residents. They consistently demonstrated this view by voting against large-scale projects, such as the proposed Marina Place regional mall, citing traffic, density or the need for further study. They were consistently outvoted, however, by the council majority of Mike Balkman, Jozelle Smith and Jacobs.

Vera and Alexander propose encouraging business by relaxing laws, but Gourley defends most regulatory hurdles because "they keep us from becoming another Los Angeles."

"If you want to have no regulations," he said, "just look around at the fast-food franchises, four-story apartment buildings and the horrible signs they put up (in Los Angeles)."

Besides business, a big issue being raised during candidate forums is the 56-foot building height limit passed by voters in 1990. Although drafters of the initiative intended for the law to cover all of Culver City, two past city attorneys have ruled that the City Code exempts redevelopment areas from the law. These areas account for 30% of Culver City land and are targeted for large-scale projects, including Sony Pictures Studios' proposed expansion.

Welinsky, who has served on the city's landlord-tenant mediation board since 1982, said she joined the race to support the height limit for all areas of the city.

"It's a directive," she said. "The fact that the City Council won't accept it makes me angry."

Welinsky aligns herself with Gourley and Boulgarides in her intent to apply the height limit to the Sony project. But she also promotes herself as a woman, pointing out that the city has had only two councilwomen, including Smith.

The incumbents have also been seen as vulnerable because of the $4.8 million in cuts made last June to balance the city's $43-million 1991-92 budget.

In recent weeks, the candidates have heard a variety of views and questions from residents as they have made the rounds at candidate forums.

City workers have raised concerns over job cuts and meager pay raises. The largest group, the 200-member General Service Employees union, questioned the candidates about the city's plan to contain the rising cost of medical benefits by requiring employees to pay for future increases in insurance premiums.

The union, apparently dissatisfied with being the first group to be targeted for the cap on insurance premiums, endorsed the three challengers.

At a forum sponsored by the Fox Hills Homeowners Assn., all candidates promised support for a new community center in the neighborhood.

"We found $2 million to renovate McManus Park," Welinsky told the association. "I'm sure we can find some money for a community center."

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