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Bernardi Brings in the Big Bands in Battle Against CRA

March 15, 1995|HUGO MARTIN

Unlike Crosby, Stills and Nash, Bob Dylan and other musicians of the '60s and '70s, the Big Bands of the '30s didn't mix music and politics.

Until now.

Former City Councilman Ernani Bernardi, a Big Band saxophonist turned politician, is reviving the Swing Era sounds to finance his continuing legal battle against a longtime foe--the Los Angeles Community Redevelopment Agency.

Facing mounting legal bills, Bernardi, 85, began hawking a videocassette Tuesday of several Big Bands playing his favorite tunes, including some songs in which he is featured as a conductor or a soloist. The profits are going to continue his fight against a Downtown redevelopment project for the Central Business District he has battled for 20 years.

"I'm trying to get as much publicity for this, so I can sell as many cassettes as possible," he said.

A penny-pinching, cantankerous City Hall legend who retired after 32 years on the City Council, Bernardi now sounds like a television commercial for the tape he titled "The Way It Was." He says the tape is available at the Wherehouse music store in Granada Hills, and he is taking orders over the phone.

Bernardi began his battle against the CRA 20 years ago, when he joined a lawsuit that forced local government agencies to agree to a $750-million spending cap on the redevelopment project. However, in 1993, the City Council, the County Board of Supervisors and the CRA met to discuss lifting the spending cap. Bernardi filed four lawsuits, claiming that the panels met privately in violation of the state's public-meeting law.

The public-meeting law--formally known as the Ralph M. Brown Act--requires that nearly every government meeting be held in public. One exception allows closed-door meetings to discuss pending litigation.

Bernardi argued that no litigation was pending and that the meetings were therefore illegal. In response, the City Council approved a $150,000 contract with a Downtown law firm to fight Bernardi's suits and to petition a judge to raise the $750-million spending cap.

Last year, Bernardi won a partial victory in one of the suits against the county but lost two other suits. He is still awaiting a ruling on the fourth.

He says he plans to appeal those suits he lost and is prepared to continue his legal battle.

The video collection of Big Band music has been a longtime dream of Bernardi, who played sax and clarinet in the '30s and '40s with such greats as Benny Goodman, Bob Crosby and Tommy Dorsey. About half of the $15 cost of the tape will be set aside for his legal battle, Bernardi said.

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