May 15, 2003
Clash Over Council, School Board Seats
In the North San Fernando Valley lies District 12, which has been represented by Los Angeles City Councilman Hal Bernson for 24 years. Bernson, 72, is retiring because of term limits, and the battle for his seat has resulted in the nastiest fight in years.
Not since "the Richards" -- Katz and Alarcón -- duked it out for the Assembly have there been so many accusations between two candidates. In one corner is Julie Korenstein, the longest-sitting member on the Los Angeles Board of Education, on the other is Greig Smith, Bernson's chief deputy.
Each has a long record of public service: Korenstein has been on the Board of Education since 1987, while Smith has been Bernson's top aide since 1980. Both are on the May 20 ballot to replace Bernson, whose district covers Chatsworth, Northridge, Granada Hills and parts of Canoga Park, West Hills and Encino.
Both candidates have long lists of endorsements. Korenstein's backing reflects her political links: Reps. Brad Sherman (D-Sherman Oaks) and Adam Schiff (D-Burbank), the Los Angeles League of Conservation Voters and the United Teachers Union of Los Angeles. Smith has the political support of state Sen. Tom McClintock (R-Thousand Oaks), United Firefighters of Los Angeles and former Mayor Richard Riordan.
In the hotly contested battle, each has accused the other of, among other things, lying, playing dirty and being beholden to special interests. Smith says Korenstein is tied to the unions, while Korenstein says Smith is hand-in-hand with developers.
Korenstein's main challenge in the race is to convince voters that she is City Council material. In this, she believes her Board of Education experience has served her well, noting that as a board member, she has had oversight of a $9.9 billion budget.
"Los Angeles Unified covers 28 cities or parts of cities," Korenstein said. "We have a transportation division, a construction program with 120 schools, which are going to be built in the next five to six years. So I think I'm ready [to work for the city]."
In an appeal to Jewish voters, Smith took credit for helping North Valley Jewish Community Center (NVJCC) advocates secure funding in order to begin the process of purchasing the site from the troubled Jewish Community Centers of Greater Los Angeles (JCCGLA).
"I went in and fought to keep it open," Smith said. "I was offended by the [JCCGLA] saying there weren't enough Jews in the area to maintain it, when there is a very large Jewish community in the area that wants to keep the center open."
Andrea Goodstein, vice president of the NVJCC board, confirmed that Smith did attend the meetings to help secure the center, either with Bernson or as Bernson's representative. However, she said that members of the NVJCC are split on the candidates. The center has held "meet-and-greets" for both candidates, but cannot endorse either one.
"We hope whoever takes Hal's place will continue to work to support the center," Goodstein said.
Both candidates have been vocal on many of the issues in the district, most notably the Sunshine Canyon landfill. Smith differs with both Bernson and Korenstein in his approach to the North Valley area.
"Hal's viewpoint is more global, as far as dealing with transportation and air quality, and looking at the city as a larger entity," Smith said. "I really want to focus my attention on the street level and work with the neighborhood councils."
Korenstein said she sees land use and transportation issues as "the most frustrating to people in the northwest Valley." She is concerned about equestrian property owners who moved to the area because it was horse-friendly and now are seeing their favorite trails eaten up by development.
One development of which she would approve, however, is a freeway.
"We really need another north-south freeway, because the San Diego Freeway can't take the traffic anymore," she said. "We also need to improve bus service and look at a light-rail system. We need to bring our public transportation into the 21st century, like San Francisco or London or any normal city."
Elsewhere, two-term Board of Education member David Tokofsky is facing a strong challenge from Nellie Rios-Parra, a Lennox schools administrator and teacher, in what has shaped up as sharply contested battle. The two are vying for the Fifth District seat, representing an area whose student population is largely Latino.
Sue Burnside, Tokofsky's election consultant, said polls show the incumbent is ahead as Election Day nears. However, Rios-Parra has received strong support from the Coalition for Kids, a political action committee backed by Riordan and millionaire businessman Eli Broad.
"We run on things that are very David Tokofsky, like textbooks and kids graduating with reading and writing skills and fiscal oversight," Burnside said. "We're still ahead in the polls, but if our voters don't turn out, we lose. It's all an issue of who's going to be there on Election Day."