Los Angeles Herald Examiner (April 7, 1989)

From – Los Angeles Herald Examiner (April 7, 1989)

Title – “Once again, Latinos won’t get their seat”

Created when the city was forced to redraw its political lines in 1986, the 7th Council District looked to be L.A.’s third Latino seat. Councilman Ernani Bernardi, deprived of his Van Nuys base, appeared vulnerable this election. And many Latinos expected the Democratic Party to live up to its rhetoric of promoting Latino empowerment.

Instead, the party, along with the media, have acted as if the district were still the fabled white bedroom community of the past. Fact is the 7th District is now predominately Latino.

Even 10 years ago, it was roughly 40 percent Latino. The 1980 census counted more than a million people living in the San Fernando Valley. 19 percent of whom were Latino. In the East Valley, where the 7th District is situated, Pacoima/Arleta was already 60 percent Latino, Sun Valley, 34 percent, Sylmar, 28 percent and North Hollywood, 25 percent.

More recent data and projections, however, suggest that the 7th is currently 55 percent to 60 percent Latino. The Latino population in the San Fernando Valley may well be 300,000, making it one of the largest concentrations of Latinos in the U.S.

It’s no surprise that the media’s demographic slight has colored their determination of a frontrunner in the Councilmanic race. Consider the case of Lyle Hall, 49.

A former president of the firefighters union and now a fire captain, he’s lived in the Panorama City area for the past couple of years. In endorsing him, the County Federation of Labor seemed to go out of its way to insult the Latina candidate. The interview committee was composed of five males – four whites (two firefighters) and one black. On the basis of this endorsement alone, Hall, an unknown to the 7th’s Latino majority, became the frontrunner in most news accounts.

By contrast, Irene Tovar, 50, raised in Pacoima, graduated from San Fernando High School and California State University, Northridge, received the endorsement of the L.A. County Democratic Party Central Committee. But according to sources inside the Tovar campaign, the endorsement has been worthless. Without donations from the County Federation of Labor, the party will not even mail out a slate card.

The tragedy is that Tovar is more than qualified to represent the district. During the past 25 years, she has held high-level jobs in both city and state government. She is past president of the statewide Hispanic Caucus to the Democratic Party and was the highest-ranking Latina in Gov. Jerry Brown’s administration.

More important, Irene Tovar has served the Northeast Valley all her adult life. As a student, she walked the barrios on weekends to persuade parents to send their children to preschool to learn English and get a head-start. Before she became a public servant, she was a founder of the Latin American Civic Association. In the mid-1960s, the association brought the federally funded head-start program to the San Fernando Valley. Since then, 20,000 children of all colors have been served by the program.

Tovar also played a leading role in organizing Legal Aid, campaigning for fair housing and better race relations and establishing the equity programs at San Fernando Valley State College, now Cal State Northridge.

Why, then, have the labor and media establishments been so intent on slighting Tovar’s candidacy? Why have they ignored a homegrown Latina candidate, one who is especially equipped to handle the district’s problems? Why haven’t they owned up to the fact that there is more vacant land in the 7th than any other district and that this represents an obstacle to Latino empowerment?

Anyone who’s seen the Hansen Dam area, for example, can tell you why developers are drooling over it. They can also tell you how Hansen Dam, in contrast to the Sepulveda Basin, has been allowed to deteriorate. The lake hasn’t been restocked in years, and is drying up. Yet, this recreational area is important to those who live in the district.

True, the 77-year-old Bernardi is not considered pro-development, though he does accept developer money. Hall, however, was endorsed by the San Fernando Valley Realtor Association, which, along with the County Federation, is pro-developer. Problem is that either candidate, once in office, will probably be pressured to develop Hansen Dam and other areas in the district. In the end, development creates a reliable political constituency, and Latinos aren’t a part of it.

Truth be told, the affluent in the San Fernando Valley mock Latinos. The Valley’s leaders are among those who own and rule Los Angeles. Eight of 15 City Council members have Valley offices – and not one of them is a known advocate for Latino interests.

The 7th District is the “Other San Fernando Valley,” where lower- and middle-class Latinos, whites and blacks live in modest but well-kept neighborhoods. Some of the more affluent live in the foothills. In the lowlands, multiple-dwelling complexes are home to the foreign-born. Two to three families living in a single unit is the rule there.

Bernardi inherited the problems of the 7th when the city was remapped. But his career preoccupation has been cutting the budget, and many of the programs cut were aimed at solving the problems of the 7th.

Although most Latino officeholders have endorsed Tovar, they have done little else. Notably missing from her supporters are Rep. Edward R. Roybal and Council members Gloria Molina and Richard Alatorre. This is all the more disappointing because Valley Latinos, deprived of their own representative, have always looked to them to defend their interests.

One explanation is that should Bernardi win this time around and retire in 1993, a Latino would be in a better position to succeed him. Coupled with strong Latinos running in the 1st and 9th districts, the 7th would help get Latinos to the polls at a time when a Latino – Alatorre being a likely candidate – will possibly be running for mayor.

Should this scenario develop, it would be potentially divisive. Latino candidates loyal to the two East Side camps would trigger a fight within the Valley Latino community, ending all hope of a homegrown candidate such as Tovar from emerging in the 7th District. The Northeast Valley deserves better.

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