The Canoga Park and Winnetka neighborhoods that would comprise most of the 9th District of the proposed San Fernando Valley city have some of the lowest crime rates in Los Angeles. But public safety issues are still the top priorities of most of the nine candidates for the council seat.
"Crime is a big issue," said Jerry Wang, 33, a computer programmer who lives in a Winnetka condominium. "My car was broken into and it took six hours for the police to take a report. It shouldn't take that long. I want to make this a safer place."
The district is bounded roughly by Roscoe Boulevard on the north, Topanga Canyon Boulevard on the west, Vanowen Street on the south and Wilbur Avenue on the east. It includes a small part of Reseda.
The 14-member council will take office only if Valley secession wins on the Nov. 5 ballot.
Wang said that, if elected, he would encourage residents to help the police by being their "eyes and ears."
Retired elementary school teacher Wilma Bennett said that cracked sidewalks, graffiti and weeds can worsen crime by creating the appearance of a neighborhood in decline.
"There are so many wonderful neighborhoods here, but many have little problems that lead to major problems," said Bennett, 62. "Research has shown kids do better in a troubled home in a good neighborhood than in a good home in a troubled neighborhood. We need to fix things before they get out of hand."
Ronald Clary said he has heard residents talk a lot about crime as he campaigns in this mostly middle-class, ethnically mixed district. But he said he also hears complaints about a general lack of services.
"They talk about potholes and roads that are not fixed," said Clary, an estate planning attorney. "Yes, security issues are big, but a lot of it is due to the perception that there is a lot of crime."
Clary, 49, said he wants to sit on the council so he could "continue the work I've been doing in revitalizing downtown Canoga." He is president of the volunteer supporters of the 5-year-old Madrid playhouse, which replaced the X-rated Pussycat movie house.
Michael N. Cohen, 58, who has been active in Valley VOTE for two years, admitted that running for Valley council may not be the wisest move. "We all have to be idiots to run for a position that doesn't exist and would pay $12,000 a year," said Cohen, a financial manager.
Still, Cohen said he wants average residents to have more local control over city government. "People are almost barricaded in their homes," said Cohen, a former block captain in his Reseda neighborhood. "The cops are spread too thin."
Retired schoolteacher Linnea Eades has lived in her Winnetka home for 40 years. She's seen her quiet neighborhood afflicted by "the same problems you see all over the Valley."
"The rising crime rate shows we need more police," said Eades, 64, who plays violin for the San Fernando Valley Symphony Orchestra. "The homeless are a problem too. You might not see them because they try to hide. We need to have a place for the homeless."
Robert Lamishaw, another longtime Winnetka resident, agreed with new Los Angeles Police Chief William J. Bratton's recent statement that stopping graffiti is crucial to fighting crime. "Graffiti is a substantial problem that is indicative of potentially more serious problems if allowed to go unchecked," said Lamishaw, 53. "I want to help make Canoga Park and Winnetka one of the most desirable and solid middle-class areas in the Valley."
Only one candidate, Leonard Miropol, says crime is not a major problem in the area.
"Crime is not a big concern," said Miropol, 54, who grew up in the Fairfax district and has lived in Winnetka for two years. "It's pretty low, especially compared to other parts of town."
Miropol, a teacher, said easing traffic congestion is a more urgent need. He wants to add bus lines to the district.
Jim Topaloff, a former Marine, is among those concerned about crime. "I used to give my kids 50 cents to go buy something at the corner store," said Topaloff, 66, a retired salesman. "Now I wouldn't send my wife."
Several attempts to reach candidate Matthew Lynch were unsuccessful.