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Bernardi Wins Round Against CRA


Ernani Bernardi, the curmudgeonly former Los Angeles city councilman, has won another round in his seemingly endless fight with the city's Community Redevelopment Agency.

On Tuesday, the 2nd Appellate District of the California Court of Appeal upheld Bernardi's earlier court victory preserving a 1977 agreement designed to limit the CRA's ambitious Central Business District redevelopment effort.

"It's as big a victory for the taxpayers as I ever won as a councilman," Bernardi said.

CRA Board Chairwoman Christine Essel issued a terse statement saying that the agency was disappointed by the appellate court decision.

Bernardi--a onetime Big Band saxophonist whose 32 cantankerous, penny-pinching years on the council made him a City Hall legend--began his battle with the CRA more than 20 years ago, when he joined a lawsuit that forced the agency to agree to limit its spending to $750 million in a 1,549-acre downtown redevelopment zone. The agreement pledged that the terms of the pact would be "forever binding and conclusive on the parties hereto."

But the CRA already has spent $750 million in the downtown zone, which is bounded roughly by the Hollywood, Harbor and Santa Monica freeways and Alameda Street but it does not include the Bunker Hill area.

Without an increase in the ceiling, the agency has effectively been barred from engaging in new projects in the central business district. The limit has been especially galling to agencies whose income is derived from tax revues generated in the district--revenues that probably would rise if the cap is lifted.

In 1993, the CRA, the City Council and the Board of Supervisors met to discuss lifting the spending cap, suggesting that it be raised to as much as $7.1 billion to permit development of low-cost housing, refurbishment of public facilities and revitalization of the city's historic core along Spring Street and Broadway.

Bernardi refused to alter the agreement, arguing that downtown blight can be eliminated by the private sector, with conventional help from the city.

Thwarted in its negotiations with the 84-year-old retired councilman, the CRA tried to have the 1977 agreement voided in court.

Last October, Los Angeles Superior Court Judge Florence Pickard ruled that California courts cannot overturn the agreement. On Tuesday, the appellate court denied the CRA's request for a writ of mandate that would have overturned Pickard's ruling.

But that's not the end of it. Essel said Thursday that the CRA may file another appeal.

"They're still not giving up," Bernardi said Thursday. "The CRA is spending hundreds of thousands of taxpayer dollars on frivolous legal maneuvers, but there's no way they can overturn this. We'll win."

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