With the passing of former Los Angeles City Councilman Ernani Bernardi on Wednesday, the San Fernando Valley has lost one of its all-time great leaders and local heroes. Bernardi was a populist in the truest sense of the word, a captive of neither ideology nor partisanship, but determined to do the best for those he served. He was a champion of taxpayers as well as the poor, a wonk as well as an artist, the rare politician who took the time to listen to his constituents’ concerns. His life story is vintage Valley. A native of Illinois, Bernardi was forced to drop out of college during the Great Depression. He became a professional musician, playing with the likes of Benny Goodman and Tommy Dorsey, a career that ultimately brought him out to California in 1939, with his family settling in Van Nuys in 1942. AD Quality Auto 360p 720p 1080p Top articles1/5READ MORE After music, he went into contracting and eventually politics. In 1961, he was first elected to the council, where, before the era of term limits, he stayed until 1993. As a councilman, Bernardi refused to go along to get along, becoming famous among his colleagues for his dissenting “no” votes. He opposed wasteful spending in city government and had a special commitment to helping the poor. In one year, he even opened the doors of City Hall to the homeless when local shelters ran out of room. But perhaps his biggest battle and victory came in 1977 when Bernardi went to court to fight city leaders’ plans to use the Community Redevelopment Agency to funnel limitless taxpayer money into building up downtown. The resulting “Bernardi cap,” which limits the tax dollars that can be locked into downtown development, continues to protect other L.A. neighborhoods to this day. In this era of political cynicism, it does us all well to remember leaders like Bernardi, who was actually in public service to serve, and who took seriously his obligations to the people who elected him. Throughout the Valley and all L.A., he will be missed. 160Want local news?Sign up for the Localist and stay informed Something went wrong. Please try again.subscribeCongratulations! You’re all set!