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In the Hot Spot

Victoria Castro
Valerie Fields
Genethia Hayes
Jose Huizar
Julie Korenstein
Mike Lansing
David Tokofsky
Caprice Young

(Click on the name of the school-board member or scroll down to read about each one in alphabetical order.)



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VICTORIA CASTRO

The last remaining board member of a slim majority that enthusiastically pushed through the Belmont project in the mid-1990s. Castro decided not to run for reelection, and her term ends June 30. She makes no apologies for her unwavering, pro-Belmont position, but she won’t be in office when board members make a final decision on the project.

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VALERIE FIELDS



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Photo by
Debra DiPaolo

In December, Valerie Fields was one of three board members willing to sell the Belmont property immediately. Currently, Fields is involved in a June runoff election that could determine Belmont’s fate. Her opponent, Marlene Canter, would like to see the school opened, as long as it’s safe. Fields has shown no signs of flexibility, having opposed Belmont virtually since she was elected in 1997. On December 8, she told the L.A. Times that she would not vote for any plan for the site that includes the option of completing the school. She recently told the L.A. Weekly: "I rarely, rarely feel that my feet are in cement on any issue. I’m at least up to the hips in cement on this one. I just don’t feel it’s safe. I don’t think that morally I could vote ever to open up that school and take the risk that children or the staff will be harmed in any way." Fields also opposed the idea of turning the property into needed district office space, including offices for the school board. In several interviews, she said she would fear for her own safety if obliged to step foot on the site.

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GENETHIA HAYES



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Virginia Lee Hunter

School Board President Genethia Hayes is regarded by some Belmont proponents as a potential swing vote in favor of completing the project. She is a member of the slim 4-3 majority that supported Superintendent Roy Romer’s plan to either complete Belmont or sell the site. But Hayes doesn’t sound much like a Build Belmonter. ''I gave the superintendent my word to support him, and it would be like kicking him in the teeth'' to vote for the sale outright, Hayes told the Daily News December 13. "I haven't changed my mind. Belmont isn't safe," Hayes told the Los Angeles Times on the same day. On December 6, according to the Daily News, Hayes said the school board would not waver on opposing Belmont’s completion: ''This is about social and environmental justice.'' In one interview, Hayes suggested that the downtown area may not be environmentally suitable for any schools. Like other board members elected in 1999, Hayes made the Belmont scandal a campaign issue. Once elected, Hayes seemed initially uncertain regarding Belmont. But she pushed hard for a final decision on the project a year ago, and was among five board members who voted to abandon the project. The half-finished school, however, did not simply disappear; nor has the district found sufficient alternate sites. As a result, Romer wants the school board to reconsider, but Hayes, for one, is not known for changing her mind.

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JOSE HUIZAR



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Debra DiPaolo

A 32-year-old land-use attorney just elected to the Board of Education, Huizar replaces Victoria Castro, who did not run for reelection. Huizar’s district encompasses heavily Latino areas east and south of downtown filled with overcrowded schools. In this district, it is no liability to support Belmont, and he has said the project should be finished as long as it would be safe. He isn’t as pro-Belmont as Castro, but he’s a likely vote for finishing the school.

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JULIE KORENSTEIN



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Debra DiPaolo

One of the two school-board members, along with David Tokofsky, who is most entitled to say "I told you so" to Belmont project managers who originally ridiculed her environmental concerns. Korenstein, a board member since 1987, opposed Belmont virtually from the project’s inception, which automatically allied her with influential unions that have opposed the project for a variety of reasons. And in her reelection campaign, her anti-Belmont history also inoculated her against anti-Belmont campaign themes that knocked out board incumbents two years ago. In the end, Korenstein won a hard-fought election by a surprisingly comfortable margin. An April newspaper account quoted Korenstein saying that the Belmont site should be sold. She recently told the Weekly: "I do not believe you build a school on top of oil fields." When pressed on what makes Belmont different from other "oil-field schools," Korenstein quickly referenced the theories of environmental activist Bernard Endres, who insists that the Belmont site is both unique and uniquely dangerous.

 

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MIKE LANSING



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Virginia Lee Hunter

Like fellow board members Genethia Hayes and Caprice Young, Mike Lansing was elected in 1999 in a campaign largely financed with funds raised by Mayor Richard Riordan. A key campaign theme was the need to elect new board members who would "never permit another Belmont." Six months after entering office, in January 2000, Hayes and Young voted with the board majority to abandon the Belmont project, but not Lansing, who stood alone with longtime Belmont supporter Victoria Castro in arguing that the school board was acting hastily: "I cannot decide to blow up an option when I don’t have another bridge to go over." At the time, Lansing and Castro, by not wanting to ditch Belmont outright, were virtually lone figures among elected officials. That is no longer the case. Much of the political establishment has now crossed sides, or at least decided it’s no longer political suicide to say that the school should be completed. These days, the school-board majority is somewhat isolated in its unbending anti-Belmont stance.

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DAVID TOKOFSKY



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Tokofsky joined the school board in 1995 and has unrelentingly raised doubts about the Belmont project from that time forward. Although his concerns have included environmental issues, his primary focus has been on the development agreement — which he characterized as incomplete, spendthrift and risky — and Belmont’s design. The size of the school — which could serve more than 5,000 students — always bothered him. Tokofsky ascribes to research findings suggesting that small schools are more effective. Belmont’s designers addressed such objections by creating "career academies" within Belmont, but Tokofsky was unimpressed. More recently, Tokofsky has talked of Belmont being a "litigation magnet," referring to the notion that staff members and former students would sue the school district for all sorts of health problems that they would blame on Belmont. Tokofsky was one of three board members (along with Valerie Fields and Julie Korenstein) who recently voted to sell the Belmont site without further ado — the motion failed by a 4-3 margin. It’s difficult to imagine that Tokofsky would ever support finishing the school, but he has mentioned the possibility of reducing the number of students and using the rest of the campus for district office space. Politically, Tokofsky is perpetually vulnerable. His board district stretches across heavily Latino areas in which there is strong support for finishing Belmont. In the past, however, his political survival has depended on union support, and unions have generally opposed the project for a variety of reasons.

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CAPRICE YOUNG



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Debra DiPaolo

Like other board members elected in 1999, Caprice Young made the Belmont scandal a campaign issue. Young is probably the school board member closest to outgoing Los Angeles Mayor Richard Riordan. But while Riordan would be content to have Belmont open, Young apparently would not. She did, however, vote to permit Superintendent Roy Romer to explore options that include finishing the school. At the same time, she told the Daily News on December 13: ''I don't think there's any hope that anyone can come forward with (a proposal) under which it can be built safely.'' On the same day, she told the L.A. Times: "I haven't changed my vote. I still believe we should sell the school site." Several months prior to that, she told the Weekly that she wouldn’t feel safe sending her own children there — which she characterized as the fundamental rubric for judging the project.

 

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