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Hahn, Secessionists Clash Over Rent Control

Breakup: Mayor says Valley, Hollywood cities would not protect tenants as well as L.A., stirring a confrontation in Sherman Oaks.

September 13, 2002|PATRICK McGREEVY | TIMES STAFF WRITER

The campaign to break up Los Angeles moved to the streets of a quiet Sherman Oaks neighborhood Thursday when secessionists noisily confronted Mayor James K. Hahn and tenants' rights advocates, accusing them of trying to scare voters over rent control.

Backers of San Fernando Valley and Hollywood cityhood also taunted the mayor for soliciting $10,000 for his anti-secession drive from the Entertainment Industry Development Corp. while sitting on the quasi-public agency's board. "Give the money back!" several people shouted.

The crowd of about 30 secessionists sought to drown out a news conference by Hahn and 20 tenant advocates on apartment-lined Noble Avenue. The mayor and the advocates said voters should not believe secessionists' pledges that independent Valley and Hollywood cities would adopt Los Angeles-style rent controls.

"They may tell you that they support tenants' rights, but their record shows differently," Hahn said. "A pledge is a pledge. People break pledges all the time."

Rent control is considered a key issue in the campaign because six in 10 Los Angeles residents are tenants.

Secession backers said last week that 101 of the 111 candidates for Valley mayor and city council signed a pledge to adopt rent control if voters approve the breakup measures Nov. 5. Candidates for a Hollywood city council have said they would also enact rent control.

But Hahn and the tenant groups said those promises are suspect because several leaders of the secession movement have opposed rent control in the past.

"Why would renters trust someone who has this type of track record to support tenant protections in the future?" asked Larry Gross, director of the Coalition for Economic Survival.

Gross also questioned whether state law would prevent the breakaway cities from adopting Los Angeles rent controls.

That drew boos and catcalls from the secessionists, who later said they were offended that Hahn belittled their pledges.

"The mayor has no confidence in pledges because he does not keep his pledges," said Mel Wilson, a Valley mayoral candidate.

Wilson contended that Hahn had promised Valley leaders he would stay neutral on secession, which the mayor denies.

Thursday's clash signaled that the secession campaign is heating up. At one point, a police patrol car moved up the street between the demonstrators and Hahn. There were no incidents, however.

The secessionists have seized on a criminal investigation of the EIDC to criticize Hahn.

The district attorney's office is looking into the agency's lavish spending on dinners and travel for its staff members and political contributions to board members.

Because the city and county formed the EIDC, which collects money for film permits, the investigation is focusing on whether the agency's funding is public money, which cannot be used for political contributions.

In response to a reporter's question, Hahn made his first public defense of the $10,000 contribution, maintaining the agency is a private corporation.

"At this point in time, I haven't seen anything improper about it," Hahn said.

"We did ask them to help because I have seen them get involved in other races in the city, but I didn't have any way to influence how that decision came out," he said.

"The EIDC has made contributions to candidates for some years and there haven't been any questions raised about it," Hahn said.

Meanwhile, Assemblyman Keith Richman (R-Northridge), a Valley mayoral candidate, said Thursday he would increase the police force in the Valley by 30%, or 500 officers, build two new police stations and expand community policing.

Richman held a news conference at a site in Mission Hills where work is beginning on a sixth Valley police station promised by the city in 1989. "Not only has the city failed the Valley on this police station, but it has failed us with inadequate numbers of police officers and rising crime," Richman said.

Richman said the share of the Los Angeles budget a Valley city would receive for policing would pay for about 2,200 police officers, whereas 1,650 are now deployed in the region. He said the Valley Bureau logs the highest number of criminal offenses in the city, but is patrolled by 1.1 officers per 1,000 residents, about half the ratio of some other parts of the city.

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