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Two aides sitting on Hahn's right discreetly help her, cuing her by quietly mentioning "high-speed rail" — a big favorite among labor unions underwriting her campaign. Hahn likes their suggestion and offers it up, reasoning, "It takes cars off the road, and it's probably less pollution than airplanes." In truth, a debate is raging over how many personal vehicles the costly bullet trains, at $55 to $105 per ride, will really remove from roads, and the trains' land-gobbling routes are being attacked by environmental and community groups because they would wipe out open space and cut some communities in half.
In answer to a question about citywide environmental measures she's spearheaded in L.A. in the past nine years, Hahn provides a few examples focused on the port. Hahn then asks her aides: "Is there anything else?" The aides remind Hahn of the 2004 PierPass program, which attempts to ease peak-hour traffic and smog caused by a crush of trucks servicing the Port of L.A. The program encourages truckers to operate at night and on weekends. "There are 15 million trucks that are now traveling on off-peak hours," she says.
The strain she sometimes exhibits to recall meaningful accomplishments is not uncommon on the City Council, whose members are the highest-paid in the United States at $178,789 per year — yet are best known for mishandling policies and key issues ranging from illegal billboards to medical pot to solar power, while other big cities approach such issues with far more sophisticated planning and substantially less drama.
Given that Hahn does not shine, even on the City Council, some question whether she has the intellectual heft to hold higher office. Noting that the Los Angeles Times, Sacramento Bee and San Francisco Chronicle endorsed Newsom, Republican political analyst Allan Hoffenblum suspects that Hahn bombed during her interviews with their editorial boards. "It's a sign that she may not fully understand the issues," says Hoffenblum.
When the L.A. City Council recently clashed with the Department of Water and Power, Jack Humphreville, a longtime DWP watchdog and neighborhood-council representative, followed the proceedings closely. Hahn's contribution to the pitched battle — in which the DWP board and Villaraigosa sought stiff electricity rate hikes that would hit residents and small businesses unusually hard — was "not very smart," says Humphreville. Although she claims kinship with the little guys, she "didn't stand up for the rate payer — not at all."
Hahn's quirky suggestion to fix L.A.'s budget crisis was "Sunday Fun Day," in which she proposed that Angelenos donate money to city coffers to prevent librarian layoffs and keep some public libraries open on Sundays. The councilwoman, along with much of the City Council, seems oblivious to the palpable anger in recession-smacked Los Angeles over the council's decisions during the past three years to jack up car-towing fees, parking-ticket fees, trash-collection fees, parking-meter fees, electricity rates, dog-license fees and many other fines and charges — all while failing to seriously trim their own spending on personal staffs, pet projects and noncritical services.
When asked about Hahn's track record, her colleagues tend to give vague descriptions. Councilman Jose Huizar, who sits next to her in City Council chambers, says Hahn is a "reliable progressive voice" and a leader on harbor issues. As to whether he looks to her for guidance on the budget crisis, he softly says, "No."
L.A. City Council President Eric Garcetti describes her as "very responsible" on budget issues and a "dependable grassroots vote. ... She sees herself as a good old-fashioned populist," Garcetti says. He points to her work as a champion of the Watts Gang Task Force, which fights gang violence, as well as her success in winning a living-wage increase for some 5,000 airport workers that now requires airport contractors that do not provide health insurance to pay wages of $14.80 per hour. "That's the most important thing she's done," says Garcetti.
Asked for a tally of her top 10 citywide achievements, Hahn, who was re-elected to a third and final four-year term in 2009, sent a list to the Weekly that shows she has focused largely on proposing policies and projects for the port and LAX as chairwoman of the City Council's Trade, Commerce and Tourism Committee.
Hahn advocated for higher wages for airport workers, modernizing LAX, counterterrorism and disaster-response improvements at the port, the PierPass night-trucking program, redevelopment of the waterfront's cruise-ship and shopping facilities, the port's Clean Air Action Plan to reduce smog, and the Clean Trucks Program — a troubled initiative led by Villaraigosa and the Teamsters that landed the city in court after union allies Hahn and Villaraigosa tried to stop independent truckers from servicing the waterfront. (The case is winding down in federal court, with a judgment expected soon.)
Hahn's constituents in San Pedro, where she lives in a hilly, affluent neighborhood with harbor views, are pleased with her. "She's been very good and responsive," says Soledad Garcia, a 40-year resident and board member of the Coastal San Pedro Neighborhood Council. John Stammreich, a former board member of the Northwest San Pedro Neighborhood Council, says, "Overall, she's been good for San Pedro."