|Photo by Debra Dipaolo|
The 41st Assembly District gave old-time New Leftist Tom Hayden his first elected office in 1980. Then its residents voted in the state’s first openly gay Assembly speaker pro tem. So there was some surprise when a candidate with a homeowner-association background took that particular Democratic primary last week. Many Santa Monica and West L.A. residents knew little about Fran Pavley. And while Westsiders know Malibu, Pacific Palisades and Topanga, many didn’t know much about Pavley’s hometown of Agoura Hills. Or the four other, newer Los Angeles County cities north of Santa Monica that also helped elect her.
Do I exaggerate? Well, some of us still think of westerly Los Angeles County as it recently was, not the way it is. As though it remained the generally vacant hinterland of the San Fernando Valley — Woodland Hills and Granada Hills and the like — extending north of the Santa Monica Mountains into Ventura County. Malibu also probes beyond the Palisades, of course, but its recent cityhood affects few besides its residents. Over this region, from time immemorial, jut the 2,000-plus-foot coastal Santa Monica Mountains, with their sage-studded canyons and those scary, winding roads with the high traffic-fatality rates. Some locals lived in architecturally outspoken homes with great views and uncertain water supplies. Others owned end-of-the-road housing complete with old cars and corrals. North, toward the 101 freeway and beyond, you’d run into some serious agriculture in the form of sheep — lots of them, in actual herds — grazing the burlap-colored Calabasas and Agoura hills. This bucolic practice — dating to before the Spanish and Mexican land grants — continued through the Reagan presidency.
And then, as it were, Wham. The local housing crunch of the early ’80s dumped development all over the area. By 1982, Agoura Hills wasn’t just a geological feature; suddenly, it was a city. By 1991, so was Calabasas — making, with gated-community Hidden Hills, Westlake Village and Malibu, fully five nascent cities on this corner of the map, whose present aggregate population of over 90,000 is nearly that of Santa Monica. The five are closely associated in a joint committee of local governments; they listen to one another because they share issues like traffic problems and watersheds as well as development. Their residents all knew Pavley and her accomplishments, and with her candidacy, they were able to help elect their own.
So the Las Virgines district — that’s what local officials call this big hunk of suddenly populous land that lies southwest of the San Fernando Valley — is now on the political map. And as Valley people tend to differ from Westsiders, those who presented Pavley — schoolteacher, longtime Agoura mayor and environmentalist — to fill the big shoes of Tom Hayden and Sheila Kuehl in the 41st Assembly District differ from both.
How so? For one thing, the folks of Agoura and Calabasas claim to have come to terms with the much-reviled concept of “sprawl,” which deposits thickets of development in some areas while leaving others untouched. Initially unplanned, the arrangement of housing and nature in Las Virgines is now conscientious, particularly to save the hillside landscapes that originally attracted residents. “Now they call it ‘smart growth,’” Pavley said.
She says she got involved in environmental issues back when Agoura was unincorporated county territory. Agoura Hills was incorporated in 1982 by Agourans like Pavley, to keep planning decisions local in a supervisorial district then represented by development-maddened 5th District Supervisor Mike Antonovich. Pavley’s subsequent four terms of office on the Agoura council — including several as mayor — corresponded to the new city’s wrestling with the realities of development and the local affection for the environment that’s kin to the laid-back local lifestyle (Agoura’s City Hall is open only four days a week, and some sheep and cattle pastures remain).
“I would guess that about a third of my neighbors come from the San Fernando Valley,” she said, adding that she was born in Sherman Oaks. She says that present-day Agoura Hills strongly reminds her of the Valley suburbs of her childhood. But she recalls that, while in the late 1950s her parents felt helpless against the overdevelopment of their landscape, she now feels empowered to defend hers. Pavley’s most recent triumph in this area was the passage last week of an Agoura Hills ballot measure that would require a two-thirds popular vote to override current open-space planning. This measure, she proudly notes, passed by 90 percent.
Pavley’s seats on both the Coastal Commission and the Santa Monica Mountains Conservancy left her with the best environmental credentials of any candidate in the race. This factor was a key to her surprise win over front-runner David Freeman in the March 7 primary and will probably assure her victory over Republican Assembly candidate Jane Shapiro this fall in an Assembly district that has been solidly Democratic and environment-minded for 20 years. What remains to be seen, though, is how someone who’s risen to politics in the foothills of a benign, generally affluent sprawl of single-family homes — with an accent on the “family” — will cope with, for instance, the needs of the dense rental population of inner Santa Monica.