Longtime Westside “quality-of-life” guerrilla Terry Tippit remembers the battle and its young warrior like it was yesterday: In 1985, a developer began erecting a multistory, several blocks–long mall with a baffling, meandering parking structure — the Westside Pavilion — in what was then, mostly, a quiet neighborhood of single-story and single-family houses.
Neighbors feared the mall was going to bring more traffic than they could absorb, says Tippit, who soon became a de jure leader for restrictive parking.
That’s how she met teenager David “Ty” Vahedi. “He knocked on my door and asked to help,” recalls Tippit, chairwoman of the Westside Neighborhood Council.
More than a quarter-century later, Vahedi — now a friendly-faced, 40-something with wavy, jet black hair — is still knocking on doors asking neighbors to fight City Hall, except now it’s for his own campaign.
On May 19, Vahedi, a lawyer and former state-government auditor, squares off against former West Hollywood City Councilman Paul Koretz, who has served in the Legislature, in an expensive, highly contested election to represent District 5.
The affluent voting district includes Encino, Sherman Oaks and much of L.A.’s Westside, from Bel Air and Beverlywood to Palms and Fairfax. Vahedi has long lived there and has hankered to try his hand at politics, running four years ago against Jack Weiss. But in 2004, Vahedi was trounced and Weiss won big, thanks to his name recognition and seasoned fund-raising machine.
Now Weiss’ name ID is hurting him in his district. His legacy of green-lighting crushing developments that draw more and more commuters to the infamously clogged area has given Vahedi and his rival, Koretz, a shared campaign theme: Don’t trust City Hall.
Vahedi, who was endorsed by the Los Angeles Times and Daily News, has vowed to always invite area residents to his meetings with land speculators or developers — meetings that, under the current City Council, unfold behind closed doors.
Koretz faces a bigger challenge than Vahedi to look like a guy who opposes City Hall and its practices. He is a longtime West Hollywood political insider who moved into Los Angeles proper to run for this, his latest political seat. He’s tried to divorce himself from his many tight alliances inside City Hall — for example, he led a team that inventoried the billboards and supergraphics in District 5, which is jammed with illegal outdoor ads thanks to the Los Angeles City Council’s broadly failing billboard ban.
Political handicappers were stunned when Koretz got fewer voters in March than Vahedi. Since, Koretz has touted his 498 endorsers, many from L.A.’s entrenched power establishment. He says he is fiscally prudent, arguing at a debate at Temple Isaiah that, as a state assemblyman, “I asked for the cheapest car in the fleet” — referring to the free cars provided to Sacramento politicians. Koretz also says he is researching a plan to scrap expensive subways for L.A. and instead build an “El,” starting with one from Sherman Oaks to Westwood — essentially, a light-rail line running above streets and homes.
Yet clearly, Koretz’s followers are worried about the engaging upstart Vahedi. Some have attacked Vahedi as a closet Republican after L.A. County Supervisor Mike Antonovich endorsed him. Another rumor tried to imply that Vahedi, a Catholic whose family fled Iran years ago, is Muslim.
The ethnic undercurrent is also seen in political groups like the Community Research and Information Center who took out an ad in a Jewish-themed paper promoting Koretz, who is Jewish, as understanding “the special needs and unique requirements of Our Community.” Meanwhile, Iranian-American groups have praised Vahedi for “becom[ing] the first Iranian-American ever to win a City of Los Angeles primary.”
Such ethnic jockeying doesn’t interest Westwood resident Irma Hopkins, who sums up the anti–City Hall fever driving this contest: “These people sit on their asses and get paid to go to social events. I think we spend too much money on street repair — and we have too many potholes to show for it! We need a fiscally conservative person.” She thinks Vahedi will bring a new watchfulness to the 15-member City Council, the highest paid in the nation, which failed year after year to plan for a rainy day and now faces a $530 million budget deficit.
Whoever wins May 19, District 5 will probably see more voting activity than elsewhere in the city. Other than at election time, Barbara Broide of Westside Neighborhood Council says, “The only time the city [can] hear us is when we sue.”