Voters cast their ballots on Tuesday for eight Los Angeles city council seats. Incumbent Greig Smith, who serves District 12, ran unopposed in the election.
Political science professors attribute his unchallenged seat to a couple factors.
“If a candidate has a treasure chest of money, it will scare off any potential challenger,” said Lawrence Becker, associate professor of political science.
Smith raised more than $200,000 for his campaign.
“That was in the beginning (of my campaign),” Smith said. “But since I am running unopposed, the money will be returned to the donors or donated to charity.”
Tom Hogen-Esch, assistant political science professor, said “the fact he has no challenger tells you he is doing an adequate job.”
Smith, who was elected to the city council in 2003, is unknown to some CSUN voters.
“I haven’t heard of him,” said Ed Voliva, a junior political science major.
Another student was as puzzled as Voliva to the identity of District 12’s councilman.
“Haven’t heard of him,” junior social work major Michelle Shapiro said. “I’ve never bothered to know who the town’s council member is.”
Though his name is not well known among CSUN students, Smith’s political achievements may one day affect their lives.
His recently introduced legislation, known as the “Recovering Energy, Natural Resources and Economic Benefit from Waste for Los Angeles (RENEW L.A.),” was unanimously adopted by the council in March 2006.
“At the heart of the policy is a zero percent waste goal,” Smith said. “RENEW L.A. is now the policy of the city.”
RENEW L.A. is a 20-year plan to permanently change the waste removal process in Los Angeles.
The plan will end the city’s use of landfills through recycling, transforming trash into clean electricity, and using alternative fuels and valuable raw materials that would normally be dumped into landfills.
Smith said he was inspired to research other methods of waste removal after he fought to shut down the Sunshine Canyon Landfill in Granada Hills, where community members living near the site raised concerns about possible negative health effects, and visited other parts of the world to see how recycling works abroad.
“Japan and Europe recycle and reuse 93 percent of their waste,” Smith said.
As part of the RENEW L.A. plan, businesses and apartment complexes will also be recycling through the use of private trash vendors such as Crown Disposal Co, Inc.
Smith said these private companies will pay a hauler fee to the city, which will total about $10 million.
Trash companies will be reimbursed for some of the cost by “passing (a small fee) to the tenants (for) 50 cents or $1 more a month,” Smith said. Some will just receive the reimbursement from recycling and will not charge the tenants.
The money will be used to aggressively inform Los Angeles Unified School District schoolchildren and Los Angeles residents about the importance of recycling via television advertising, mailers and door-to-door campaigns.
“Wire hangers and plastic bags from the grocery stores can now be recycled,” Smith said.
City residents who recycle well will be rewarded.
“(The city) just gave one Canoga Park resident $500,” Smith said. The award came from the city’s Department of Public Works.
Students who learned of his plan were for it.
“I think it is marvelous,” Voliva said. “China sends us all their crap and it ends up in our dumps. They make money and we end up with their waste.”
Voliva said he was stunned to learn where to dispose of some steel he thought could be recycled.
“They told me to put it in the trash,” he said. “I was shocked to find out my table scraps go in the same place as perfectly good reusable steel. (Smith’s plan) makes perfect sense.”
Shapiro said she agreed with Voliva.
“I think it is important as not enough people are willing to make the effort,” Shapiro said.
Another piece of legislation Smith has introduced involves prohibiting throwing guns and ammunition into trash cans.
He cited two reasons for the proposal.
First, it is currently not a crime to throw a gun or ammunition into the trash. Making it a misdemeanor will help law enforcement solve crimes since authorities will be able to trace guns back to their owners.
According to Smith, the second reason is that “if people are throwing loaded guns into the trash, one could discharge and hurt a worker.”
Shapiro said she thinks Smith’s gun proposal is a “great” idea.
“(It is) one small step to prevent an accident,” she said.
Smith also said one of his primary concerns for CSUN students is the large amount of traffic.
He said he wants to make traffic flow easier by working with the Department of Transportation to regulate traffic lights “and do whatever it takes to make it easier on the travelers around CSUN.”
Another issue he is trying to work on regarding CSUN is housing for students and professors.
“I would like to work on creating a Greek Row. Take the fraternities and sororities out of the neighborhood so we don’t have the constant (hostility) between the residents and the houses,” he said. “President (Jolene) Koester and the administration don’t agree with me.”
“It’s not a question of not wanting to,” said John Chandler, director of public relations for CSUN. “The key word he used there is on-campus. And the issue is that we have a limited amount of available ground on campus, and after a lot of consideration, the university has decided that our highest priority for that land is to develop both additional student housing and our first on-campus faculty and staff housing, which most of the available land on North Campus is being put toward.
“Fraternities and sororities are not university entities; they’re private entities. They’re a student club and organization, essentially,” Chandler added.
Smith said that most major universities in the United States or around the world have a Greek Row.
“Now that CSUN is grown up, it needs one,” he said.
Smith said he would like to also create housing for professors but it is hard to find any professors outside of the area who like the idea.
While in office, Smith has voted on controversial issues such as the $2.7 million settlement to Tennie Pierce and the “living wage” for hotel workers along Century Boulevard near Los Angeles International Airport.
Smith was one of three council members who voted “no” on both proposals.
Pierce was a firefighter who, as a prank, was fed dog food in his spaghetti by other firefighters and sued the city, claiming racial discrimination and emotional harm.
A committee from the city attorney’s office recommended awarding Pierce $2.7 million.
“At the time, we just rubber-stamped the committee’s recommendations,” Smith said.
Pictures surfaced the day after the settlement was approved of Pierce committing pranks that were far worse than the one that was played on him. As a result of the new information, public outrage was fierce and the settlement was rescinded.
Smith said in light of the new evidence, he did not see why Pierce should receive anything.
Smith said since then an outside attorney has been hired to handle the matter.
The living wage proposal was brought forth to increase 3,500 workers’ hourly wage at hotels near LAX.
The ordinance was passed 10-3 in November 2006. Not wanting to cost the city millions of dollars, the council rescinded the proposal on Jan. 31 after the hotel owners threatened a referendum for the May ballot.
The proposal was later revised to include improvements to beautify the area surrounding the hotels and was passed by a vote of 9-3 when it was again presented to the council on Feb 13.
Attorneys for hotel owners filed a lawsuit last Wednesday, seeking a stay claiming that the new law violated the California Consti
tution, as it is essentially the same law and cannot be presented again for one year.
Last Thursday, Los Angeles Superior Court Judge Dzintra I. Janavs ordered the stay. A hearing has been set for May 11.
“We shouldn’t be stepping into business matters where it isn’t our place,” Smith said, in explanation of his voting decisions on the living wage issue.
Outside city hall, Smith is an active member of the Board of the University of Southern California School of Public Policy Planning and Development.
Smith also currently serves on the Board of the North Valley YMCA and is an LAPD Reserve Police Officer.
Of everything he is working on, only one issue will stand out for him in history, and that is his RENEW L.A. legislation.
“It will be his legacy,” Hogen-Esch said.
Correction It was incorrectly reported that Los Angeles City Councilman Grieg Smith voted no on both the living wage ordinance and the Tennie Pierce settlement. He only voted no on the living wage ordinance.