PEOPLE: Political Tradition
Just five months into her first term, L.A.'s other Hahn, 15th District Councilwoman Janice, is finding the post more hectic and fulfilling than she expected.
By HOWARD FINE
Janice Hahn grew up living and breathing L.A. politics. Her father Kenneth was a county supervisor for 40 years and her brother, James, was city controller and four-term city attorney before being elected mayor in June. But now that she's been elected an L.A. councilwoman, Janice Hahn finds the job more demanding than even she imagined including facing an effort by some of her own San Pedro and Wilmington-area constituents who wanted to secede from the city. Hahn, who served 20 years in the private sector as a government relations/marketing executive and a local chamber head, has also been trying to deliver on her campaign promise of redevelopment of the San Pedro and harbor areas, both of which have languished for years.
Then came the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks and its economic fallout as well as the threat to the safety of the critical shipping berths at the harbor.
Question: How have things been going for you now that you've been in office five months?
Answer: Well of course there's been Sept. 11. But I feel like things are going all right. I've learned what everybody else has learned: that there are two different worlds, the City Hall world and the district world. The issues and needs in your district are really what it's all about. And as soon as you get lost down at City Hall with the issues there, you can forget the needs of your district. It's a constant tension between the two.
Q: Besides Sept. 11, what's been the biggest surprise of your first few months in office?
A: This is a huge job. I've wanted to be a councilwoman my whole life and you'd think I would have known what this is about. If there is anyone who sort of grew up in this business, it was me. But now that I'm here, it's a much bigger job than I ever imagined. The schedule is incredible, the issues are complex and monumental. Even in one department, the issues can be really monumental.
Q: So the city is too big, right?
A: This has nothing to do with size. It's really all about holding general managers accountable. When we hold our City Council meeting in Wilmington (later this month), we're busing every general manager in and they are going to have to personally shake hands and introduce themselves to members of the neighborhood council and other constituents in my district.
Q: There's been dissatisfaction among some of your fellow councilmembers especially the so-called old guard with the performance of Alex Padilla as council president. You supported him. Do you think he can retain his post?
A: One thing I really like about this debate is that I may be an older woman, but I get lumped in with the new, young councilmembers. But seriously, though, while there may be some undercurrents there, I think most of us aren't feeling at this point like we need to overturn the (council) presidency. That would simply set a bad precedent, to have someone in there four or five months and then get kicked out. It kind of makes the next person who would be president really nervous.
Q: That does not sound like a ringing endorsement.
A: (Long silence)
Q How much of a distraction has it been that your brother is the mayor?
A: When I first got elected, I was invited to a Girl Scout event in San Pedro. I was so thrilled that I was going there as a city councilwoman a real role model for them. I walk in and this nine-year-old girl looks at me and says, "I know who you are! You're the mayor's sister!" I waited my whole life to be an elected official on my own, and who would ever have guessed? But you know what, it's great. I love being the mayor's sister. I know how he thinks and he knows what I think.
Q But when you came into office, there was talk about how the two of you would be working in tandem, in a very public way. But we haven't seen much of that.
A: I think we're both sensitive about that. I realized that first and foremost I've got to figure out how to work with all the councilmembers. You still always need eight votes. What's more, he's got to have relationships with all the councilmembers as well, which he's doing quite well on his own. But when he really needs me, I'm there for him and I'll help work the council for him.
Q: What's the status of the security preparations at the port?
A: We boosted the strength of the port police and the Coast Guard also began boarding the ships to check for security threats. And just this week, the first class of "sea marshals" were graduated. Like air marshals, they are going to be on the ships both cruise ships and cargo vessels.
Q: Is the city taking any additional security measures?
A: We've formed a security task force with members from both the Long Beach and L.A. harbors. One thing we're looking at are better identification tags and screening procedures for the people working down at the port. We're also looking at setting up a satellite emergency response center right by the port, so if any hazardous materials are released by accident or by terrorists we can be on the scene very quickly.
Q: With the city so short on funds these days, where's the money going to come from to pay for all this?
A: The port itself will pay for increased deployment of harbor police. But a lot of these other measures will cost the city extra dollars and there's no question it's going to be a difficult task to get the funds. We'll try to go after federal or state funds as much as possible.
Q: What about the larger budget picture for the city? Are you preparing to cut government services?
A: It is a bleak picture that's been presented to us. It's bleak in terms of some of the things this new City Council wanted to make as a priority. We were going to be different. One example was going to be setting up a $100 million affordable housing trust fund. This council was also going to, once and for all, fix the infrastructure of this city the streets, the sidewalks. And now it's things like the housing trust fund that are in jeopardy. But there is one silver lining. With the new city charter, the controller has the power to audit city departments. And Laura Chick is taking this power and running with it. I'm convinced that there are millions of dollars right under our noses that either bad management or bad policies are making go to waste.
Q: With the recent report from the Local Agency Formation Commission showing that the San Pedro/Wilmington area would not be self-sufficient if it split off from L.A., a lot of the steam has been taken out of the secession movement there. Is that your take?
A: Exactly. When the bottom line is that people are going to have to pay more to be in a separate city, it really does change the equation.
But there's more to it than that. The mayor lives in San Pedro. His sister the councilwoman now lives in San Pedro. It's sort of like this community has hit the political jackpot with clout and having an ear to city government.
Q: So just having the mayor and yourself there is enough?
A: We're bending over backwards to take care of basic city services in my district. That's really at the core of what people were so angry about. For example, we're going to hold the first-ever city council meeting in Wilmington. Also, I just opened up Saturday morning visiting hours, where anyone from my district can come in and talk to me about city issues.
Q: What's that been like?
A: It's been really rich and it's a demonstration of why we have these secession movements. The first thing people say to me when they sit down in my office is, "Thank you, I've never met my elected official before. I never even knew how to make an appointment before." They can't believe I'm just sitting there the whole time and listening to them talk about their issues.
Q: What's your take on the recent motion in City Council to extend term limits?
A: The debate on term limits has been interesting because the fundamental reason for extending term limits is that you can't get anything done in this city in eight years. It's not about how long we're in office. It's that something has fundamentally got to change the way we do business and provide these basic services that everybody has a right to.
Q: Where do you stand on the issue of term limits itself?
A: Well my father Kenny would probably have gotten elected to an 11th term if he had decided to run that time. But look, it was just the wrong time to do this. Even though the voters passed this in 1993, term limits just took effect this July. It's simply too soon to check back with the voters.
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