It is an unusually intense rivalry, one deeply rooted in hard-fought battles over Westside development, that pits environmental activist Laura Lake against powerful Los Angeles City Councilman Zev Yaroslavsky.
From Westwood Village to Beverly Center and many battlegrounds in between, the two adversaries have for years on opposite sides of one development fight after another. And now, they face each other again in another race for the Los Angeles City Council.
Lake's second bid to oust Yaroslavsky from City Hall after his nearly 18 years in office has struck a nerve with the councilman. He makes no secret of his disdain for the challenger.
"Laura is not a principled person," Yaroslavsky said. "She is obsessed with me and that's her problem. I hate to be so direct about it, but that's the problem."
As might be expected, Lake believes it is Yaroslavsky who has a problem--with being challenged. "He obviously doesn't take that very well," she said. "He keeps talking about Laura Lake. I'd call that an obsession."
Obsession or not, Westside community activists in recent years have learned to expect almost any significant development issue to eventually become polarized, with "Zev and Laura," as they are universally known, on opposite sides. Those active in civic affairs say remaining neutral is difficult--and indeed, most activists are solidly in one camp or the other.
"It has become a bitter rivalry," said one Westside community activist said. "They have been political enemies for so long, been on opposite sides for so long, it has turned into a somewhat personal thing for both of them."
Such feelings are close to the surface in the race for the 5th Council District, which cuts a broad swath across the city from the Fairfax District to Bel-Air and Sherman Oaks to North Hollywood.
There is a third contender on the ballot, city building inspector Michael Rosenberg of North Hollywood, but most attention in the campaign has focused on the contest between Yaroslavsky and Lake. Although the economy, jobs and crime are dominant issues, deep differences over growth and development separate the two.
Based on their history, it was all but inevitable that the latest clash between Yaroslavsky and Lake would involve Fox Studios' plan to expand its production and office space in Century City.
Yaroslavsky favors Fox's expansion, on condition that the project be scaled back slightly and built in stages. He talks of the importance of preserving jobs, particularly at a time when Los Angeles is suffering from a deep recession.
But Lake opposes the Fox expansion because of the potential for increased traffic on already congested streets and residential neighborhoods near the studios.
Lake, a former UCLA environmental sciences professor and founder of the slow-growth group Friends of Westwood, says she wants real protection for the neighborhoods and "not voodoo mitigation" to offset the increased traffic spawned by the project.
"The time for sacrificing the environment in the name of business is over," she said at a recent public hearing on the studio project. "It is smart to invest in the environment and not to ignore it."
The issue is not jobs, Lake says, but keeping Los Angeles livable. "We all want Fox to stay," she said.
But she argues that the studio merely wants to shuffle jobs by consolidating its operations in Century City and moving television station KTTV from Hollywood. "It's not an increase in jobs," she said. "It's moving jobs around."
Such talk draws a sharp rebuttal from Yaroslavsky, who accuses Lake of trying to evict Fox from the historic Westside movie lot. "You are talking about our hometown industry," he said, "an industry that has employed many people who live in that immediate area. It is the backbone of L.A. Why wouldn't we want to try to synthesize their interests with the community's interest instead of having a knee-jerk reaction which Laura Lake had?"
Yaroslavsky promises to work to protect the neighborhood as much as possible without losing the studio. Lake counters that Fox's proposed mitigations, which she dismisses as "a few speed bumps and stop signs," will not achieve that balance.
"Each time over-scaled projects are permitted, we mortgage the future and drive families and businesses away," she said.
The battle lines over Fox mirror other land-use fights that have found Lake and Yaroslavsky at odds.
One of the hottest involved plans to expand the Westside Pavilion shopping mall at the crowded intersection of Westwood and Pico boulevards. Homeowner groups in the vicinity complained bitterly of the traffic that spills into residential areas.
Lake joined in their efforts to resist the expansion project and later to oppose retail outlets on a pedestrian bridge connecting the original mall with the new stores across the street.