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Decision '93 / Los Angeles County Elections : City Council : 7TH DISTRICT : 2 Moderate Contenders Conduct a Polite Race


In sharp contrast to the vitriolic campaign for mayor of Los Angeles, the race to succeed City Councilman Ernani Bernardi in the northeast San Fernando Valley has been decidedly polite.

The contenders in the June 8 runoff election--Lyle Hall and Richard Alarcon--are moderate-to-liberal Democrats who agree on the issues more often than not. Both are cautious, soft-spoken men who instead of criticizing each other seem to prefer discussing their plans to expand the police force or attract new jobs to the 7th District.

Even their mailings to voters are tame. In a recent campaign brochure, the worst thing Alarcon managed to say about Hall was that he is "a candidate who happens to live in the district," rather than one who has been actively involved in it.

Both men bring city government background to their bids to succeed Bernardi, the octogenarian incumbent who is giving up his council seat after 32 years. Hall is a retired city fire captain who long was active in the department's union. Alarcon has worked for the city for 10 years and currently is on leave as Mayor Tom Bradley's chief aide in the Valley.

If elected, Alarcon, 39, would become the Valley's first Latino councilman. The district, which stretches from Van Nuys to Sylmar, is a largely blue-collar area whose population is 70% Latino. But its voter demographics are dramatically different. According to city election officials, the breakdown among registered voters is 49% Anglo, 30% Latino and 19% African-American.

The ethnic issue has been largely submerged in the runoff campaign. Both candidates have stressed that the next councilman should be chosen on the basis of ability, not ethnicity.

This year's contest is the second for the 53-year-old Hall. He challenged Bernardi in 1989, losing in a runoff. This year, he was the No. 1 vote-getter in the primary, buoyed by strong support from city firefighters and other union activists.

Although Alarcon lagged in fund raising during the primary, he surprised many observers by running a strong second. His campaign was aided by numerous young volunteers, many of them Latinos, who walked precincts and operated phone banks in the primary campaign's closing days.

Despite the genteel tone of the campaign, Hall and Alarcon have significant differences on some issues.

Hall opposed a failed proposal on the April ballot for a property tax increase to finance 1,000 more police officers, while Alarcon said he voted for it.

Hall is an ardent backer of a plan by state Sen. David A. Roberti (D-Van Nuys) to split up the Los Angeles Unified School District into smaller districts, while Alarcon has said he does "not specifically" support that proposal. He said he would support a breakup if there are guarantees that reconfigured Valley schools would have adequate parental and teacher input, as well as social service support.

If the candidates have a central disagreement, it is over which of them has been the more devoted public servant.

Alarcon has repeatedly stressed his deep roots in the area, where he grew up and was a schoolteacher before going to work for the city.

His campaign brochures cite a long list of community organizations and activities he has been involved with, from serving on the board of a local hospital to setting up a "graffiti bank" in San Fernando that makes supplies available to community groups to paint over vandals' work.

Hall emphasizes his 31 years with the Fire Department, including a stint as commander of the Mission Hills fire station, which serves the 7th District. He also was a reserve police officer in Burbank for 11 years and often tells voters that he has "protected your lives and homes."

The candidates also have battled over endorsements, with both lining up support from prominent figures and organizations inside and outside the district.

Alarcon, for instance, is backed by City Council members Mike Hernandez and Richard Alatorre, along with the Democratic Party of the San Fernando Valley, a collection of local Democratic clubs.

Alarcon also is backed by Bradley. But he has spotlighted that endorsement sparingly, given the mayor's mixed reputation in the Valley.

Hall has been endorsed by county Supervisor Yvonne Brathwaite Burke, the Los Angeles County Federation of Labor, AFL-CIO, and the Los Angeles Police Protective League, the union that represents most of the Police Department's 7,400 officers.

Leading Issues

SCHOOL DISTRICT BREAKUP: Hall backs efforts to break up the 640,000-student Los Angeles Unified School District, while Alarcon stops short of yet embracing such a move. Hall argues that the district has become too big and bureaucratic. Alarcon says he favors a "massive restructuring" of the system to give individual schools more autonomy and increase parental involvement. If that does not work, he says he would support "a more drastic breakup" of the school district. Although the issue is one for which the City Council has no direct responsibility, it is of keen interest in the San Fernando Valley.

ECONOMIC DEVELOPMENT: Alarcon says the city should produce a strategic plan for economic development that focuses on developing a more skilled work force and attracting industries that provide better-paying jobs. Hall says the key to rebuilding the local economy lies with promoting small businesses. He suggests that the city streamline its permit process to enable small businesses to open and expand more easily.

DRUG TREATMENT PROPOSAL: A plan by Phoenix House to open a drug treatment program in a vacant hospital in Lake View Terrace has sparked controversy within the district and offered a clear contrast between the two candidates. Alarcon opposes the facility while Hall supports it, despite strenuous protests from local residents.

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