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LOS ANGELES VOTERS' GUIDE | CITY COUNCIL

Term Limits Mean a Transformation

Forced departures will bring at least six new members into the once unchanging group.

April 08, 2001|TINA DAUNT | TIMES STAFF WRITER

Welcome to the age of term limits in Los Angeles: For the first time in the city's history, at least six new members will be brought into the once-seemingly immutable 15-member City Council.

With all but two incumbents forced to step aside, dozens of candidates--from San Pedro to Woodland Hills--are running for eight council seats, all in the odd-numbered districts. (The even-numbered districts are up for grabs in two years.) This year's field is as diverse as the city itself.

"We're talking about a real cross-section of people from different professions," said political consultant Jorge Flores. "There's Janice Hahn, from the business community, and Ed Reyes, who already worked in City Hall for a number of years.

"There's Tom Hayden, who is not only a politician but a cultural figure in his own right. And Eric Garcetti, who is really activist."

Term limits will force turnover beyond the City Council chambers. The new law, which restricts all city officeholders to two four-year terms, will also produce a new mayor, city attorney and city controller. Though the law was passed by voters in 1993, only now is its full impact being felt.

As a result, historians are calling Tuesday's election the most profound shift in city government in nearly a century, giving novice politicians--many of them young, female or members of ethnic minorities--a shot at public office.

"It used to be that people stayed in office until they died or got appointed to a judgeship," said Steven Erie, a UC San Diego political scientist who studies Los Angeles government. "It was a wonderful sinecure.

"Then, boom!"

While the turnover on the council is viewed by many as being good for the city, it is not without its drawbacks.

"I'm one who happens to think that the cost outweighs the benefits," Erie said. "You end up losing tremendous institutional knowledge."

Among those leaving office are council members Mike Hernandez, Rita Walters and Rudy Svorinich Jr. Jackie Goldberg already left to take a spot in the state Assembly. Councilwoman Laura Chick is running for city controller, while Mike Feuer is running for city attorney.

Meanwhile, council members Cindy Miscikowski and Alex Padilla are seeking reelection to their second terms--the most they can serve under the new charter. Padilla is running unopposed, while Miscikowski faces one opponent.

Amid all the turmoil, another phenomenon is developing at City Hall: A number of state legislators--facing term limits of their own in Sacramento--are seeking council seats. Among them are Hayden and former Assemblyman Scott Wildman.

"This is the musical-chairs game of term limits," said veteran campaign consultant Joseph Cerrell. "You see state senators running for Assembly and Assembly members running for council. They all want jobs.

"Voters say to me, 'Don't these people know when it's time to quit?' They are not very sympathetic."

But Flores says there's one important benefit: At least the state politicians understand parliamentary procedure. "They already know how government works," he said.

Even so, the newcomers will have to be quick studies on how the city works. In virtually all the council races, candidates are trying to convince voters that they can hit the ground running.

The issues have varied from district to district, but they largely focus on affordable housing, police reform, crime and education.

Some of the candidates say they want a stronger Police Commission to exercise greater control over the Los Angeles Police Department; others are pushing for the completion of the Belmont Learning Complex. Others say they will fight for more jobs and after-school programs for the city's youth, while some have vowed to implement more affordable housing programs.

Many pundits and candidates themselves predict that runoffs will be necessary June 5 between the top two vote-getters in many races.

Two of the most hotly contested council battles are being waged in the 5th District, which stretches from Westwood through Bel-Air to Van Nuys, and in the 13th District, which includes parts of Hollywood, Silver Lake and Echo Park.

Hayden is running for the 5th District seat--currently held by Feuer--where he is enjoying the most name identification. But Hayden's high profile has made him a frequent target of the other candidates, several of whom have blasted the former state legislator for moving into the district last year to run for the council.

Hayden counters that he lived just outside the district in Brentwood, and has represented much of the area for years in the state Assembly and Senate.

In the 13th District, eight people are running for the seat held by Goldberg. Five are considered serious contenders--all with lengthy histories of community activism.

With the 13th Council District serving as the example for the rest, the smaller and more ethnically diverse districts have favored candidates who are usually more liberal and aggressive than the mayor and other citywide seat holders.

Riordan and the City Council have often been at odds. As a result, city government watchers see the turnover as a chance for the new mayor and council to finally get along.

But it could take awhile for the dust to settle.

"There's going to be real uncertainty for a while," Erie said.

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