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L.A. mayoral race still needs Zev Yaroslavsky's ideas

Zev Yaroslavsky, an L.A. County supervisor, decides not to run for L.A. mayor, depriving the race of his vision for the city's design and fiscal health.

August 24, 2012
  • L.A. County Supervisor Zev Yaroslavsky is seen surveying the work being done on the 405 freeway on July 16, 2011. Yaroslavsky announced Thursday that he will not run to be mayor of L.A.
L.A. County Supervisor Zev Yaroslavsky is seen surveying the work being… (Los Angeles Times )

Zev Yaroslavsky has been a fixture of Los Angeles politics since he was 26 years old, and his decision not to join the campaign for mayor deprives the field — and the electorate — of one of the region's most enduring and respected political figures. It also threatens to narrow the debate over the city's future, as Yaroslavsky, 63, won't be in the campaign to offer his particular vision, which encompasses both the city's physical design and its fiscal health.

Among the candidates, City Councilman Eric Garcetti has emerged as a leading proponent of a certain idea of Los Angeles — one that is taller and denser, with high-rise corridors paralleling public transportation. That design would, in his view, help address traffic and the environment by favoring public transit over automobiles and by locating more housing close to workplaces. He has pushed for that in Hollywood, which he represents and where the recently adopted community plan will encourage high-density growth in certain areas. County Supervisor Yaroslavsky, on the other hand, is skeptical of that approach, arguing that Los Angeles still has large amounts of housing capacity without having to encourage denser development. Each of those is a valid concept of the city — and they overlap some, with Garcetti acknowledging a place for traditional homes and Yaroslavsky favoring much transit development — but the debate should not end just because Yaroslavsky won't be on the podium to argue it.

Similarly, Garcetti and fellow candidates Controller Wendy Greuel and Councilwoman Jan Perry all serve or have recently served on the City Council, which has been complicit in the decisions that have created the city's alarming budget shortfalls. A Yaroslavsky candidacy promised to focus public attention on that problem and the difficult choices that will be needed to solve it. Without him, Garcetti and Greuel in particular, given their strong support from organized labor, have the incentive and the opportunity to duck the budget issue or minimize its importance.

There are other candidates and potential candidates for mayor who may take up some of Yaroslavsky's mantle. Radio personality Kevin James is running a spirited critique of City Hall, and developer Rick Caruso has the personal fortune to wage a competitive campaign. But James has yet to show the fundraising or polling strength to be regarded as a first-tier candidate, and Caruso may still pass on this race. Yaroslavsky's decision not to join the race thus leaves a hole. It is the responsibility of those who run to address these issues, even without a rival to force the debate.

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