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Decision '93 / A Look at the Elections in Los Angeles County : Los Angeles City Council : Two races are wide open because the incumbents have quit to run for mayor. Some members seeking reelection are in tough fights. : 3RD DISTRICT : Picus Confronts New Problems, Challengers' Well-Funded Campaigns

April 11, 1993|JOHN SCHWADA | TIMES STAFF WRITER

The reelection bid of Councilwoman Joy Picus--feminist, critic of big development and champion of the San Fernando Valley--is facing well-financed opposition from several ex-allies who say she has grown stale and ineffectual.

Speculation that she is in hot water does not appear to dismay Picus. Her popularity with her middle-class, heavily Jewish constituency in the West Valley has been underrated before.

"The media always says I'm in trouble," she said.

But Picus, a former League of Women Voters activist and ex-employee of the Jewish Federation Council, confronts several new problems in 1993.

Among them:

* An anti-incumbency mood that spells trouble for a 16-year City Hall veteran who has openly considered running for Congress, mayor and the County Board of Supervisors in the last year.

* Her widely publicized losing effort to block the Warner Ridge project in the Valley.

* Her problems raising campaign money.

"It looks like Joy's in a runoff," said attorney Roger Stannard, a civic activist whom Picus appointed to a Woodland Hills planning panel. If no candidate in the April 20 election gets more than 50% of the vote, the two top vote-getters will go into a runoff election.

Picus strategist Robert Carrick scoffs at the prediction, citing a poll that says 47% of 3rd District voters prefer her and that 32% are undecided.

Over the years, Picus, a housewife until her 40s, has emerged as one of the council's strongest advocates for women, supporting pay equity for female city employees and rules to require more child-care facilities in new developments.

Five candidates, including three former associates, are challenging her.

Laura Chick, the race's top fund-raiser, was a Picus field deputy for nearly three years; LAPD Sgt. Dennis Zine was a visible fixture in Picus' prior reelection campaigns, and homeowner activist Robert Gross was Picus' top ally in the Warner Ridge fight.

Also running are Woodland Hills businessmen Charles Nixon III and Mort Diamond, a former hot-dog vendor who got about 6% of the vote running against Picus in 1989.

In recent years, Picus has been in several notable anti-development brawls.

Her dramatic fight to block Warner Ridge, an office complex proposed for Woodland Hills, dominated her current term and left her politically bloodied.

The City Council backed Picus in the fight, but the developer replied with a $100-million lawsuit accusing her of improperly torpedoing his plan for political, not land use, reasons.

In 1992, after several costly courtroom defeats, the council was forced to accept a large-scale Warner Ridge project very much like the one it had rejected.

Picus has been a sharp-tongued voice for Valley interests. In 1992 she opposed a redistricting plan to deprive the Valley of one of its two school board seats and tried to establish a Valley-based planning commission. Both initiatives failed.

In the campaign, Picus has been the target of two major complaints: that she is ineffectual and that she is unfriendly to business.

A compromise on the Warner Ridge project was possible, Gross said.

"If Joy had exercised leadership, she would've taken the two sides by the scruff of their necks and forced them to reach an agreement," he said. As it is, the Warner Ridge developer won most of what he had sought.

"I don't think I've ever heard Joy talk about business without calling it greedy or developers without saying they are whiny and selfish," said Chick, wife of a politically well-connected insurance executive and former city airport commissioner.

Chick's business-friendly message and her husband's connections have enabled her to tap corporate interests and people affiliated with Mayor Tom Bradley's Administration for financial contributions that are normally available just to incumbents.

As of mid-March, Chick had raised more than $105,000. Zine and Gross had raised $25,000 between them.

Picus had raised $95,000, a disappointing amount when measured against the $263,000 she amassed in her 1989 campaign. That year, Picus outspent her challengers by better than a 4-1 margin and only narrowly won reelection with 52% of the vote.

Besides money, Chick has been endorsed by diverse groups, including the gay-oriented Stonewall Democratic Club, the Democratic Party of the San Fernando Valley and the League of Conservation Voters.

Chick's stature has been confirmed in part by her challengers who, at times, have attacked her as vigorously as Picus.

"Her election would mean politics as usual," Gross says of Chick, citing her Establishment backers.

The Zine campaign also has sniped at Chick while seeking to define itself by advocating Valley secession from the city of Los Angeles. The Valley is not getting its fair share of municipal services, including police protection, so it should secede, Zine contends in a pitch designed to reawaken a decades-old passion of Valley conservatives.

But the police sergeant also says that if the threat of secession produces a reallocation of municipal services, secession may not be needed.

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