Problems in Paradise
On the day in June 2002 when the Los
Angeles City Council booted Ruth Galanter from the coastal district she had represented
for 15 years, when it shaved off some black neighborhoods to the east and joined
the funky beaches to mansion-laden Brentwood and Pacific Palisades, forging a
new 11th Council District of astounding wealth and open space, Angela Reddock
had plenty to think about besides whether she, a black woman from Compton, might
become the first person elected to fill the ritzy new Westside seat.
A sharp young lawyer on the rise, Reddock had campaigned for Mayor Jim Hahn and was just settling into her new position on the city Transportation Commission. She had impressed several politicos with her intelligence and drive, and new opportunities were opening up quickly. In the space of just a few months, Reddock helped create and became a partner in a high-profile Century City law firm (her best-known partner is Thomas Mesereau, lawyer to Michael Jackson and, briefly, Robert Blake). County Supervisor Yvonne Brathwaite Burke appointed her to a county commission, and Assembly Speaker Herb Wesson tapped her for a state commission. Before the end of the year she took on what is so far her best-known case, representing the family of a Cal State Los Angeles student who died in the waves of Dockweiler State Beach as part of a sorority hazing ritual.
There has been a constant honing of who I am as a leader, Reddock said. But no, I wasnt thinking about the City Council at the time. Until Ruth Galanter was termed out of her new district [she was sent into exile in the San Fernando Valley], and it became clear that Cindy Miscikowski was going to be termed out soon too. When we began to settle the sorority hazing case, I looked seriously at running.
Bill Rosendahl, too, likely had things on his mind other than the new district born on that date in the summer of 2002. As vice president of Adelphia Cable with control over Southern California operations, Rosendahl watched as the Rigas family that bought and ran the company was forced to give up control amid bankruptcy and a corporate accounting scandal. There would soon be indictments and guilty pleas for several top executives. Rosendahl, never a big fan of the family that bought out his Century Cable a few years earlier, wanted more than anything to be able to keep his beloved public-affairs talk shows, which he had hosted for 16 years.
But the new post-Rigas owners of Adelphia werent impressed. They offered Rosendahl a severance package or, if he chose, he could keep doing his shows for nothing. He chose the shows. Then, in February 2003, I got a Dear William letter, and the shows were gone too.
What to do now?
Because of my experience with politics and government at all levels, I talked to a lot of folks and said, What do you think, should I run for office in this new district or not? Rosendahl said. And people just urged me to run.
Flora Gil Krisiloff, when the new district was born, was raising her three sons together with her husband, urologist Milton Krisiloff, part of a four-physician team assigned to former President Ronald Reagan. She also was enjoying a sweet victory. Krisiloff was intimately involved in the redistricting fight, and used the skills and knowledge of government processes that shed picked up over years of lobbying for her Brentwood neighborhood to help persuade council members that the new coastal/Westside district should be the 11th, even though two-thirds of what would be the new district had never voted for Miscikowski.
It was a very ugly redistricting battle, Krisiloff said. Mike Bonin [Galanters top staffer] was fighting to keep the district for himself, because he wanted to succeed Ruth, and I was chairing the Brentwood Community Council and advocating for Cindy, and for a more integrated district.
Krisiloff claimed to have no thought at the time of running herself in the very first election for the new district, which is set for March 8, a week from Tuesday. When Miscikowski staffers suggested the idea to her, she asked them if they were crazy.
Two and a half years after the district was created, though, Reddock, Rosendahl and Krisiloff have jumped headlong into the battle to become the first elected council representative in the new seat. Residents of Venice, Mar Vista, Del Rey and Westchester, part of Galanters old district, have been six years without electing a council member because of the redistricting move whose chief purpose was to create a new district miles away in the Valley as an effort to help block secession.
Miscikowski, as a termed-out incumbent, was able to broker a plan to revamp Los Angeles International Airport without having to worry about community outrage over new traffic and worries about jet noise. Now the three candidates are campaigning on essentially the same page reverse that new airport plan, ease traffic congestion, control development, preserve open space.
Not every neighborhood in the massive district of nearly 250,000 residents is as tony as Brentwood and Pacific Palisades, but even in socially conscious Venice especially in socially conscious Venice, where many of the neighbors are taking a cue from the Valley and contemplating secession from Los Angeles there is a suspicion of City Hall and of developers. In a city where Not-In-My-Backyard defines a way of life, the 11th District is the ultimate NIMBY community.
The key task for each of the candidates is to convince Westsiders, beach dwellers and long-suffering airport neighbors that they are the best choice to manage growth responsibly. Underlying the district issues are lingering tensions over the redistricting battle, with Mike Bonin, would-be heir to Galanters old Venice-based district, running the campaign of Mar Vista neighbor Rosendahl, and Krisiloff seeking to step into the shoes of Brentwood neighbor Miscikowski.
Being from Venice, I was totally surprised at how well-behaved this audience was, Nikki Gilbert said after a recent candidates forum. Especially in progressive politics, in districts like this one, there sometimes tends to be a lack of respect for different opinions.
On a recent Saturday, Krisiloff, 53, knocked on doors in her own friendly Brentwood area and asked her neighbors to keep her in mind on voting day.
Im the one who kept the Country Mart corner from being overdeveloped, the soft-spoken but intense woman told a man just getting into his minivan. This goes over well, as do Krisiloffs rapid-fire recitations of her other just-hold-on-a-minute successes in slowing development she led an effort to get Congress to require the Veterans Administration to go through a master plan process, with community input, before developing the 400-acre V.A. property near Westwood. She also spearheaded the citys first specific plan, which keeps billboards at bay and local businesses on site along a stretch of San Vicente Boulevard.
It was the Country Mart, a quaint shopping area that abuts the Santa Monica city line, that got Krisiloff started in community activism. She and her husband had just moved in from Mar Vista and learned that the shops were about to become a mini-mall. Councilman Marvin Braude, drafter of L.A.s slow-growth ordinance, said nothing could be done.
I dogged the process, recalled Krisiloff, using a favorite term, and got the owner to agree to down-zoning. And that was the beginning. That you can be told no, that it wont happen, but you do your research and you find the facts out and youre reasonable.
At one Brentwood house, Krisiloff became aware that she was speaking to a real estate developer.
Well, then you should know Im the most balanced of the three candidates, she said.
Im not against development, Krisiloff explained later. I think its inevitable. Im for appropriate, responsible growth. I absolutely support bringing in more affordable housing. Its absurd what people have to pay at this point. And I absolutely agree and believe that it needs to be spread throughout the districts.
A native of Hong Kong, Krisiloff spent her childhood in Taiwan, then came to the U.S. with her family on a Costa Rican passport (one grandparent was Costa Rican, the other three Chinese).
She enrolled in UCLA as a nursing student and wanted to join the Peace Corps when she graduated. But she was barred, not yet being a U.S. citizen, and instead joined VISTA and was sent to Idaho to take a mobile clinic along the Snake River to care for migrant farm workers.
After her program was finished, she worked at a public-health center in Compton, then returned to UCLA for a masters degree in nursing (she was later to earn a third UCLA degree an MBA).
When her first son was born 21 years ago, she became a full-time mom. Sort of. She no longer had a paying job, but she became a devoted student of land-use planning and community organizing. Along the way, she organized the Brentwood Community Council (it has opted out of the citys neighborhood council system) and was appointed by Mayor Richard Riordan to the first Area Planning Commission, which took over land-use decisions from the old Board of Zoning Appeals.
Rosendahl, 59, grabbed the microphone at a recent candidates forum in Venice and, basically, took over. Hes a natural with a mike, having interviewed Southern California movers and shakers for a decade and a half on his talk shows. He peppers his talk freely with well-known names, leaving the listener to fill in: Rosendahl knows these people from his cable show. Maybe they will help.
Case in point: Gangs are a big problem in this great city. Father Greg Boyle has been dealing with it all his life.
Later, speaking at his campaign headquarters on Venice Boulevard, a stones throw from his Mar Vista home, Rosendahl recited a list of friends who he met through his show and who he would call on to help get things done.
Mike Gordon and I, we trust each other and we are friends, Rosendahl said. Sheila Kuehl and I are friends. Im just talking about this district for a minute. Fran Pavley and I are friends, and Debra Bowen and I are friends. And Paul Koretz and I are friends. On the federal level Ive got Jane Harman and Maxine Waters and other parts of that group. We need to get together, as various levels of government, and look at the issues. Once you do that, Ill make decisions. Im not afraid to make decisions. But part of the process is lobbying other levels of government.
Rosendahls charisma and the easy way in which he drops names are off-putting to some, but many enthusiastic district residents see in his personality just the sort of thing the Los Angeles City Council needs to shake things up.
It is personalities, rather than positions, that separate the candidates. Where Krisiloff might confront a problem by saying, We need to look that over carefully and run the numbers and see what we can do, Rosendahls approach is to get everybody to the table and work things out.
One of the reasons I created my show as a public advocate on public-policy issues was to tie the region together, so that people could see themselves and see the issues from a perspective that we all could touch, Rosendahl said. I want to take those skills of bringing people together and actually now solve the problems. Instead of asking the questions, come up with the solutions. And Ive been around politics all my life, so its time for me to use those skills and hopefully with some maturity and give it back to effect social change.
Rosendahls life story could make a creditable cable movie, and he supplies his own subtitles, peppering his narrative with statements like Im a social-change agent and Im a guy who likes action.
One of eight children of German immigrants, the New Jersey native worked his way through college in Pennsylvania, then hooked up with the Robert F. Kennedy presidential campaign in 1968. Rosendahl led the RFK effort in an Indiana congressional delegation, spent some time with a Benedictine monk building houses in Alabama, was drafted, and worked with veterans as a psychoanalyst. In Crown Point, New Mexico, he led an effort to get the military to build an extension to a hospital. The program was featured in Life magazine and caught the attention of John D. Rockefeller III, who asked Rosendahl to work his magic in bridging the gap between youth and the Establishment.
After working for a while at Rockefeller Center, he went back into politics, running Illinois for the George McGovern presidential campaign. Other campaigns followed, then came an 18-month jaunt around the world, then an appointment to the Carter State Department. Then he joined the infant cable industry, first with Group W, then Century and Adelphia.
The cable years give Rosendahl his L.A. presence and campaign clout, but Krisiloff has made a point at some campaigns to brand him the cable guy and to point out that he wasnt just a talk-show host, but also the head of operations for a company with the worst record of customer complaints in Los Angeles.
She has gone negative, Rosendahl said, although he sometimes refers to himself now as the cable guy.
There was also a flap over Rosendahls ballot designation: university professor/journalist. Rosendahl said it properly described his position as an adjunct, or, officially, a distinguished visiting professor at Cal State Dominguez Hills, where he ran a talk show much like the one from his cable days and then taught classes in politics and the media. Krisiloff said the description implied, falsely, that he was a full-time college professor. Misleading or not, though, courts have long permitted candidates to call themselves professor if they teach even a single class.
Angela Reddock, 35, is meanwhile trying to remain above the fray and in the race, although she lags in fund-raising. She was all smiles and confidence on a recent Saturday, handing out brochures at a pancake breakfast at Venice High School, outside a Westchester Trader Joes directly under the path of landing jets, and at the Santa Monica Farmers Market, just over the line from the 11th Council District.
Will you stop Playa Vista? one woman at the market demanded. Oh, most definitely! Reddock replied. She was rewarded with an assurance that she had won another vote.
She is our future, CeCe Bradley of Santa Monica said. I wish I could vote for her. We need women who can think, and who can teach other women to think.
Reddock, born in Germany, raised in Birmingham, Alabama, and then Compton, became a Westsider through an exchange program that put her in the Brentwood School. She went on to college at Amherst and law school at UCLA.
She is seen by many as a spoiler, a person whose best hope is to get enough votes to put Krisiloff and Rosendahl in a runoff.
But Reddock insists that if there is a runoff, shell be in it.
I represent the future of this city, she said. With the other two I think we get the same level of governance that weve seen for years. Im trying to make a safe city where our children can afford to stay here and live here.
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