December 17, 2002
Section: News
L.A. Daily News

James Nash
Staff Writer

ENCINO - Meeting with the would-be leaders of a new San Fernando Valley city, Mayor James Hahn pledged Monday to increase police presence in communities, pursue ``common-sense'' reform of the city business tax, and lobby harder for state and federal grants for public safety and other programs.

Addressing about 60 of the 111 people who ran for Valley offices in the Nov. 5 election, Hahn promised to look into a variety of issues - including more power for neighborhood councils, funding for street lights in unlit neighborhoods and a controversial land-use measure in Chatsworth - but promised few specific reforms.
``I think you should hold me accountable to see some real changes in the next six months,'' Hahn told the former candidates gathered in the Encino Community Center. Reaction was mixed.

Assemblyman Keith Richman, R-Granada Hills, the top vote-getter for Valley mayor, chided Hahn for not pledging specific reforms of the city business tax and for not taking a position on a Chatsworth land-use provision that some say threatens horse-keeping in some neighborhoods.

``I don't think that he answered the questions at all,'' Richman said after the meeting. ``I think he skirted the issues. I would characterize this meeting the way my kids would: as a dog-and-pony show.''

Others were more charitable, although they said they would be watching City Hall to make sure the issues aired Monday night get further attention.

``I was very pleased with what I heard,'' said Benito ``Benny'' Bernal, the second-place finisher for Valley mayor. ``I think the mayor is a man of his word.''

The meeting - Hahn's first with a group of the Valley office-seekers - covered a broad range of topics.

Candidates asked about Hahn's positions on dealing with homelessness, asking crime suspects about their immigration status, and medical marijuana.

The 80-minute forum was largely civil, and candidates applauded Hahn at three points.

Only one candidate, Hal Netkin of Van Nuys, sparred with Hahn on an issue - the immigration-status question.

Early in the meeting, Hahn invited the former candidates to work with him on reforming city government and said the secession campaign spurred several reforms, including neighborhood councils and the seven area planning commissions.

``I hope that I can count on all of you to work with me,'' Hahn said. ``I know we're not perfect - I know we're a long way from that.''

In the Valley, 111 people ran for 14 council seats and for mayor - positions that don't exist because a majority of voters in Los Angeles, outside the Valley, opposed Valley cityhood.

The meeting Monday evening at the Encino Community Center was Hahn's first with a group of former Valley candidates.

Hahn met with Richman shortly after the Nov. 5 election.

Hahn also invited the 21 people who ran for council offices in Hollywood. But many of the former Hollywood candidates boycotted the meeting, saying many of their concerns are distinct from those of the Valley and warrant a separate meeting for Hollywood.

``If we're going to move forward, we need to have a discussion on the root causes (of the secession movements) and our specific priorities in Hollywood,'' said Gene La Pietra, leader of the Hollywood secession movement.

Hahn spokeswoman Julie Wong said she hasn't seen the Hollywood letter and doesn't know whether Hahn is interested in meeting separately with the Hollywood candidates.

``He hopes this (meeting) will be the start of a dialogue with people who truly want to be a part of the solution, not a part of the problem,'' Wong said.

Before the meeting, many of the former Valley candidates said they planned to stress the themes of the secession movement: a more responsive city government, better public services and improved public safety.

While many of the candidates pledged to work with Hahn in a spirit of cooperation, others still nursed the wounds of the secession campaign. They said they were skeptical that Hahn was committed to genuine reform of city government and said the flurry of promises that city officials made during the campaign has largely evaporated.

Many of the candidates remain active in civic affairs.

A group calling itself United Valley Coalition met over the weekend to fine-tune its positions on issues.

Richman formed a group called the Valley Leadership Forum that includes candidates and other civic and business leaders. Valley Voters Organized Toward Empowerment, which pushed to get secession on the ballot, remains intact after the election and will advocate for Valley issues, group leaders said.