Los Angeles City Councilman Greig Smith, whose 12th District extends to the northern and western ends of the San Fernando Valley, is one of only two Republican councilmembers. Once a campaign consultant for Vice President Spiro Agnew, Smith has endorsed Mayor James Hahn for re-election, even though he has opposed Hahn on some major issues. Smith was an early leader of the Valley's secession movement, but as predecessor Hal Bernson's chief deputy, he did not support the 2002 secession bid. He was elected to the spot when Bernson was termed out in 2003. A reserve officer, Smith has been heavily involved in police issues and has pushed for more LAPD funding although he opposed a half-cent sales tax hike championed by Hahn.


Question: Where do you stand on the mayor's race?
Answer:
I support Hahn. I'm not so sure I represent my district on this one. Every time I've gone to the mayor and asked his support for my district, he's said, "Absolutely, what can I do to help?"


Q: Your constituents in the Valley may remember that Hahn led the campaign to defeat secession.
A:
I was part of the original group in 1975 that started the secession movement, but I was on the sidelines in the last election. I was not impressed with the plan that was put forward by the Valley leadership. I think the Valley could make a great city some day. (Attracting voters from the Valley) is up to the mayor's campaign. It's not incumbent upon me to carry that message for them. Most (secessionists) are with Hertzberg.


Q: What do you think of the harsh criticism leveled at Hahn?
A:
It's very distracting and not useful. But it's the way the world is now, with instant media and radio talk shows. He's the incumbent, so he's the natural focal point of attack. Jim brought a lot of this on himself. Part of it is his style. He just doesn't get out in public. If he had been going out there, doing a lot more participating in local things, he might do a lot better. Then there's the pay-to-play issue. No one is accusing him of corruption, but it happened within his administration, it's on his watch.


Q: Do you agree with those who say that council meetings have become uncivil?
A:
During the debate on the half-cent sales tax, people got very passionate and there were comments between council members like, "How could you, what's wrong with you?" and "You're killing people." That was very inappropriate. I hope that's the end of it. I've never seen it happen before on this new council. But in previous years, in the mid-1990s, it was a lot worse. There was some real hatred there between some former members.


Q: What made you want to leave business and go into public service?
A:
I was in public service first. I worked with Richard Nixon. I was a very close assistant to Vice President (Spiro) Agnew. And it was in that timeframe that I knew it was going the wrong way. I was very crushed by what happened to both of them. So I came back home, married my high school sweetheart and opened my own business. After seven years of that, I was very restless. I was making money, but not having fun doing it. And my friend Hal Bernson came along and said he was going to run for office. I told him, "I've been there, you don't want to do it." But I couldn't talk him out of it.


Q: What are the challenges of succeeding someone who was in office so long?
A:
Everyone knew Hal. He was very visible on certain issues like earthquake planning. On development and planning he was a national expert. But we have a different approach. I grew up a public activist. I was very active in community affairs and on a lot of boards, which helped me get elected. My focus is more on the street level, where he was on the regional level, looking at the big things. The things I've introduced have been like the news rack ordinance. I push things that I call "quality-of-life" issues.


Q: What do you think the city is doing well for business and what could it do better?
A: I
owned a tuxedo shop in Northridge, Greig's Formal Wear. I started it in '73 and sold it in '81. I come in with a business background, (Councilman) Tony Cardenas did, as well as (Councilwoman) Wendy Greuel. The three of us were on the Business Tax Reform Committee. More than the actual dollars that businesses will save from tax reform to some it won't be much it was a huge message that Los Angeles has come out of that dark age of 30, 40 years ago when we didn't have to do anything to attract business because it came here automatically. Now we have competitors on all our borders. The reason I fought so hard against the half-cent sales tax was that it was the opposite of what we just said in the message, which was that we want to be business-friendly, that we cut business taxes.


Q: How did you become involved in police work?
A: My wife and I witnessed a murder. We were coming out of a movie rental place and it was a road-rage situation, and there was a gun battle, and a kid got killed and his brother went to the hospital and almost died. There was an altercation going on in the parking lot about 25 feet away between a car full of young guys and two kids on motorcycles. The brothers were deaf-mute, and the kids from the car were yelling at them, and they couldn't respond. As I was walking over to check it out, one of the kids pulled out a gun and shot the brothers.


Q: What happened next?
A: For me, it was just like a light bulb went off, while I was sitting down with the detectives and going over the crime. So I became the key witness in the case against the defendant, and he went to jail. My wife had reservations about me going on patrol as a reservist, she still does. She's had a lot of sleepless nights about it.


Q: Any harrowing moments?
A: I've had a shotgun pointed at me, and he hesitated for one second and I had the draw on him, and he decided not to shoot. It was a holdup at a liquor store in Granada Hills. My partner and I got him at an angle, and he figured he was going to lose that gun battle, so he dropped his gun. I'm not doing patrols much anymore, because of my public exposure.


Q: Policing is one of your big issues. Did the LAPD need to revise its shooting policy after the death of 13-year-old Devin Brown, who drove a stolen car into a patrol car?
A: I don't think so. I think it was campaign-oriented. The policy, is, if he's trying to back up and kill you, you shoot in your own self-defense. The question is, do you go through a whole big training program, or could we do it through our roll-call system? The department is going to ask for a lot more money now for training. Can we afford this?


Q: The city is going to borrow against a $65 million state refund in order to place 278 more officers on the streets for four years. How do you fund these positions long term?
A: For the long-term, we want to reduce the amount of money we give away in waivers of fees for public activities. We give away $20 million a year in fees for large parades and public events. We don't charge our citizens for trash collection. If you live in Glendale, Pasadena or Carson, you're probably paying $30 or $35 a month for trash pickup. That $200 million out of the general fund would hire 1,500 to 2,000 police officers.


Q: What inspires you to get out of bed and work those long days?
A: All we do in government is help people solve problems and find some solution. In the federal government, you were dealing with huge, monumental issues, but you never got to see the face of the person you were helping. Here, you do. There's never enough resources to solve everybody's problems. We have 4 million people in this city, and every week we have to identify what the most important issues are and direct the resources we have.

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