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10 candidates sparring for L.A. council's 2nd District seat

Their residency and community credentials in the sprawling Valley district have emerged among the defining issues in the special election to replace Wendy Greuel.

September 21, 2009|Maeve Reston

In the sprawling Los Angeles City Council district that stretches from Sherman Oaks and Studio City to the horse country of Sunland-Tujunga, there is little admiration for the policymakers at City Hall.

So it is no surprise that the 10 candidates running to replace Wendy Greuel in Tuesday's special election have spent the last few months distancing themselves from "downtown interests" while striving to persuade voters they are best positioned to fight development that threatens the character of their neighborhoods and for the San Fernando Valley's "fair share" of services like street repairs and graffiti removal.

That has placed a premium on the candidates' roots in the 2nd Council District -- which has kept the two best-funded contenders, former Paramount Pictures Corp. executive Christine Essel and Assemblyman Paul Krekorian (D-Los Angeles), on the defensive.

Both moved into the district in May after Greuel won her race for city controller. Former mayoral candidate David "Zuma Dogg" Saltsburg also recently moved into North Hollywood, but he has been less of a target.

Essel, according to paperwork filed with the city, left what was listed in city zoning records as a four-bedroom home in the Sunset-Doheny hills for an apartment on a busy stretch of Laurel Canyon Boulevard where a school and a shopping plaza with a McDonald's are some of her closest neighbors.

The move by Krekorian, a former Burbank school board member, is so recent that his biography on his Assembly website still says he lives with his family in Burbank.

Both candidates grew up in the Valley and dismiss the criticism as irrelevant.

Essel has argued that her business experience over three decades at Paramount would help her lead efforts to expand the job base in the San Fernando Valley.

Krekorian, a lawyer who sent voters a mailer bearing his Northridge Junior High school identification card as evidence of his bona fides, said at a recent Valley Village forum that he was running to provide better representation for residents at "a city hall that doesn't know the Valley exists."

But in a race with visible neighborhood advocates including Mary Benson of Sun Valley, Michael McCue of Studio City and Pete Sanchez of Valley Village, their rivals have continually returned to the residency issue.

Candidate Frank Sheftel argues that 2nd District credentials have become the defining issue of the contest: "If you have no roots or ties to a community, how can you represent that community?" said Sheftel, who owns the Candy Factory in North Hollywood. "The voice of the community is going to be muffled."

At a Sherman Oaks Homeowners Assn. forum last week, candidate Tamar Galatzan, who has faced criticism for attempting to leave her L.A. school board seat after just two years, demanded that Essel list 2nd District neighborhood meetings she attended before becoming a candidate. "I have never seen you in the community," Galatzan, a deputy city attorney who works out of Van Nuys, told Essel during the event.

Essel, who offered to show her skeptics her apartment's utility bill at an earlier forum, noted that the distance between her old house and the 2nd District border was just a mile. "I lived in the Valley over 35 years, I bought my first home in this district, and I'm very proud to be here," she said.

At the same event, Benson, a member of the Sun Valley Area Neighborhood Council, asked Essel to assure voters that she would keep the borders of the 2nd District in the Valley during the upcoming redistricting process -- alluding to her concern that district lines might be drawn to include Essel's previous home. Essel, who has been endorsed by Greuel, said she saw no reason to expand the district beyond the Valley.

Krekorian deflects complaints about his move by noting that his Assembly district overlaps part of the 2nd District: "I'm not parachuting in from West L.A. or something," he said at a recent Valley Village candidate event. "This is a place that I shop and spend my time, so the idea that I'm an outsider coming into this -- even though I represented one-third of the people in the 2nd Council District -- is ridiculous."

The sparring between Krekorian, who has raised $158,000, and Essel, who has received $294,000, has grown heated in the final weeks.

Playing on the contempt for City Hall in a district where community activists have waged high-profile battles against Home Depot in Sunland-Tujunga and a 229-home development that would replace the Verdugo Hills Golf Course, Krekorian has tried to cast Essel as a "downtown political insider" because of her past service on the city's Community Redevelopment Agency board and the Board of Airport Commissioners.

Krekorian and several other candidates also questioned the positions Essel took as chairwoman of the Central City Assn.

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