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Replacing Wendy Greuel in the Valley

With City Councilwoman Wendy Greuel’s big win on March 3 to replace Laura Chick as city controller, San Fernando Valley residents might get to choose from several up-and-coming local leaders to fill Greuel’s empty seat — or they might have an insider forced upon them in an unusual but legal maneuver to appoint Greuel’s successor.

Under law, City Council members can decide whether to let citizens choose a representative or instead, appoint one themselves.

Greuel’s barbell-shaped District 2 links highly activist Sunland-Tujunga’s horse country with urbanized and equally activist Sherman Oaks and Studio City. Much of District 2 rebelled on March 3, giving Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa less than 50 percent of the vote — and rejecting his Measure B solar plan.

While Villaraigosa did well in North Hollywood and northern Van Nuys, he won less than 50 percent in Sunland and Tujunga and in big swaths of Sherman Oaks, Studio City, Valley Glen and Valley Village. Measure B was even more unpopular, losing in almost every voter-rich neighborhood flanking the Ventura Freeway, as well as in Sunland-Tujunga.

Political analysts say that if a special election is held, the voter rebellion in District 2 may spell trouble for two possible candidates close to Villaraigosa: Tamar Galatzan, a member of the Los Angeles Unified School Board, and Cindy Montanez, a politician from the tiny, economically devastated city of San Fernando.

Others who expressed interest, in a Los Angeles Daily News analysis, are Studio City Neighborhood Council President Ben Neumann, former Sherman Oaks Neighborhood Council President Ken Gerston, and Joan Pelico, a field deputy for City Councilman Jack Weiss.

If the City Council decides against holding a special election, it would be the first time voters have been cut out of such a decision since 1966, when John Ferraro was appointed. Arti Panjwani, media coordinator for the Los Angeles City Elections Division, says that first, “We have to officially certify the March 3 election, [Wendy Greuel] has to vacate the office, and then the council has to decide what they want to do.”

Given the power of incumbency, L.A. history strongly suggests that whoever fills out the last two years of Greuel’s seat will stay until forced out by term limits — in 2023. Because the L.A. City Council is the highest-paid council in the U.S., earning about $179,000 a year, the seat is potentially worth $2.5 million at today’s pay.

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