Los Angeles City Councilmen Nate Holden and Michael Woo, who political observers think may be preparing to face off in the race for mayor, traded personal insults during last week's council debate over a proposed hillside construction ordinance.
The catalyst for the rare public feuding Tuesday was an article in the July 25 edition of the Times that disclosed that even as Woo was pushing new restrictions on hillside construction, he was ignoring the proposal's costly public-safety features in remodeling his own hillside home in Silver Lake.
The story quoted hillside property-owner leaders who oppose the measure as calling Woo a hypocrite. Woo's rejoinder was that he saw "no contradiction" in his stand and that the measure, still under consideration, was not meant to retroactively affect properties like his.
Although Woo has not declared his intention to run for mayor, many City Hall observers see him as a potential candidate.
The often-abrasive Holden, who has already declared his intention to raise money to run for mayor, drew first blood Tuesday when he bluntly asked Woo, in a break with protocol and parliamentary rules requiring him to address the chair: "Are you in favor of the hillside ordinance?"
Rising to address Holden personally, Woo shot back: "Is there a reason why you are trying to front for hillside developers?"
Holden replied that he wanted it "on the record" that "you wanted it applied to everyone but yourself."
Then--as the audience and lawmakers began to chuckle or moan, depending on individual attitudes toward the ordinance--Holden sarcastically added: "I'm going to vote 'no' so Mr. Woo can build his house without criticism."
In fact, however, Holden had previously opposed the ordinance, saying it interfered with homeowners' property rights.
Later, Woo rose to speak, saying he did so only to respond to the "attacks from pro-development interests" who want "to build oversized mansions on matchbook lots."
"Your smear tactics will not work," Woo warned his critics as he reiterated his position that the ordinance was never meant to have a retroactive effect on projects like his, begun before its passage.
In a second, puzzling reference, Woo ended his passionate remarks by saying: "These attacks against me and my wife" are meant "to stop the hillside ordinance," but "they are not going to work."
Holden immediately rose to address the presiding officer, council President Pro Tem Marvin Braude, saying: "Mr. President, I never mentioned Mr. Woo's wife," setting off a general outbreak of laughter.
Questions to Woo's office about his reference to his wife--previously unmentioned in discussion of the issue--were not answered.
Later, Holden told his colleagues that "not one developer came to me to ask me to oppose the hillside ordinance."
The Times story disclosed that Woo's $129,000 home remodeling project does not include automatic, interior fire sprinklers nor a third parking space at the front of his house, as the ordinance he championed will require on such projects in the future.