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A RACE TO MEET GOALS BERNSON BUILDING TRANSIT IN FINAL TERM.

Byline: Rick Orlov Staff Writer

The dean of the Los Angeles City Council, Hal Bernson, finds himself in his last year in office in a high-profile role as head of the three agencies overseeing the region's transportation planning.

Wearing a ``triple crown'' - as head of the Metropolitan Transportation Authority, Metrolink and the Southern California Association of Governments - Bernson wants to see greater coordination in planning and managing transportation, mass transit programs and services.

At Metrolink, where Bernson is in the last six months of a two-year term, he said his goal is to expand rail service.

``We have had some problems in the past, but we need to expand it to get more people out of their cars,'' Bernson said.

Among proposals he has made is to add cars to the existing rail lines to boost passenger levels as well as guarantee schedules so people can rely on the trains to get to destinations.

At MTA, where he'd like to see more car-pool lanes and bike racks on every bus, Bernson said the agency is hampered by the federal consent decree with the Bus Riders Union - an agreement he has opposed - but said the agency must live with the deal it made to reduce crowding.

``Even though I think the consent decree was ill-conceived, that being said, we have an obligation to meet,'' Bernson said. ``We have the responsibility to provide the best possible bus service we can to Los Angeles as well as rail and all other forms of transportation.''

In the city, Bernson cited the need to continue ongoing programs of street repairs, DASH services and the like.

During his 24 years in office, Bernson, 71, acknowledges being wary of the media. ``I'm not in this for self-aggrandizement,'' Bernson said. ``I'm here to represent the city and my district.''

Bernson's opportunity to make an impact is strengthened by being a member of the City Council's Transportation Committee, Air Quality Management District and the Local Agency Formation Commission.

``I've been involved with these groups for some time now,'' Bernson said. ``Being chair only takes a little more time, and it doesn't interfere with my duties on council or to my district.''

Bernson became MTA chairman because Mayor James Hahn turned down the post to devote his time to fighting San Fernando Valley and Hollywood secession.

``The city has an important stake in all these issues, and, with a basically new City Council, I think it helps to have someone with experience,'' Bernson said. ``I have thought of giving some of it up to bring someone new in, but the point is, what do you give up? If you've been involved for a number of years, you keep on working.''

City Council President Alex Padilla, who has quarreled with Bernson and stripped him of a key land-use committee chairmanship, said he trusts the Northwest Valley councilman in these key transportation roles.

``It is a lot of levers for one council member to be pushing and pulling,'' Padilla said. ``But I think he will do well in representing the city.''

Bernson has gained unwanted attention at times in the past.

At one point, he had paid the highest fines in history to the city Ethics Commission.

He also was bogged down in controversy over the development of Porter Ranch and Shadow Ranch and his failure to block the reopening of the Sunshine Canyon landfill in Granada Hills.

``Give me a break,'' said Kim Thompson of the North Valley Coalition. ``I just don't believe that the council wouldn't go along with one of their colleagues if he really wanted it. We never were convinced that Hal Bernson really wanted Sunshine Canyon to stay closed.''

Bernson, however, points to his efforts of a decade earlier that resulted in the initial closing of the landfill and his continuing steps to try to keep it closed by denying access to a city street. But, the full City Council overrode him amid warnings of the higher costs to ship trash elsewhere.

Hahn, this year, was able to stall the reopening by calling for further environmental studies.

Walter Prince, a Northridge businessman and community activist who once tried to organize a recall against Bernson, said his problems all have been over land-use issues.

``It just seems he's anti-community when it comes to developments,'' said Prince. ``For the most part, he's done well by the district. It's just when it comes to land-use issues.''

He said his attitudes toward Bernson changed after the recall fizzled and Bernson called him.

``He asked me to serve on some committees, and I said absolutely. Since then, our relationship has evolved,'' Prince said, adding jokingly, ``I don't think Hal bears a grudge for more than four or five years. So, we're friendly now.''

Bernson's political persona is also tied up with San Fernando Valley secession efforts in the 1970s.

He now refuses to state his position on the current movement but said the issues that drove him to become a council member in 1979 remain the same.

``When I first ran, it was to make sure the San Fernando Valley and my district got its fair share from downtown,'' Bernson said. ``That's still the issue.

``It's what I said at my first speech at my first fund-raiser when I announced for council at the Sportsmen's Lodge. I still have a tape of that and take it out to listen to when I need to remember where I came from.''

Born in South Gate, he grew up in the Boyle Heights area and graduated from Roosevelt High School. He served in the Navy, attended Los Angeles City College and moved to the San Fernando Valley in 1958.

He opened a jeans store in the Northridge Fashion Plaza -later changing to sell T-shirts - and became involved in local politics, leading to a successful run to succeed Bob Wilkinson. Since his first race, he was only seriously challenged in 1991 when he narrowly won against school board member Julie Korenstein.

``I didn't want to run this last time, but (the late council president) John Ferraro urged me to,'' Bernson said. ``He said we would go out together. But then he passed on.''

Due to term limits, Bernson cannot run again - and says he wouldn't if he could because it's time to retire.

``My wife is looking forward to it, and so am I,'' Bernson said. ``There's 11 months left, and I'm going to do all I can to make it worthwhile.''

CAPTION(S):

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Photo:

Councilman Hal Bernson says he keeps a tape of his council candidacy announcement: ``I ... take it out to listen to when I need to remember where I came from.''

John Lazar/Staff Photographer
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Publication:Daily News (Los Angeles, CA)
Date:Aug 4, 2002
Words:1113
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