Covina's Not-So-Happy Birthday

Times Staff Writer

On April 8, 1986, Covina will celebrate a birthday. The city will be either 100 years old or 85, depending on which politician you choose to listen to.

In either case, April 8, 1986, is also Election Day in Covina.

And the two City Council members who are waging a battle over Covina's age are also disputing what effects the celebration might have on their political fortunes, since it coincides with a city election.

Mayor Charles Colver, who favors a full-blown centennial celebration, says he has documents to support his contention that Covina will be 100 years old. He says he can show that Covina became a town site on April 8, 1886, when its name, post office and street plan were registered at the Los Angeles County recorder's office at exactly 3:01 p.m.

However, Councilman Robert G. Low says that the centennial is 15 years early and to celebrate it "is not being accurate and honest." Low says he can document Covina's incorporation as a city on Aug. 14, 1901. "It was established as a city by a vote of the people, and that is what makes a city," he said.

Colver, a member of the city's historical society who maintains that he is the first native of Covina to become mayor, said public discussion of a centennial observance began more than a year ago. He said Low's opposition surfaced for the first time in July, when the council voted to give the Chamber of Commerce $5,000 to launch the festivities.

"Suddenly he started refuting the validity of the date," said Colver, who accused Low of "trying to distort history. It's so stupid. This is the greatest example of a tempest in a teapot in the history of the earth.

"If nothing else, I have historical memory," Colver said. "In 1936 I rode on a flatbed truck in a Covina parade. People aren't dumb--they know that was their 50th anniversary."

But Low's memory is of 1976, when Covina celebrated its 75th anniversary and Colver was a council candidate. As proof, Low shows a "wooden nickel" that Colver distributed during his election campaign. Printed on it is Colver's name and "1901-1976, 75th Anniversary."

In a letter distributed to the press last month, Low said that next year's planned weeklong centennial celebration "is nothing more than an attempt to create a parade to showcase the members of the City Council."

A week after the April 8 election, Colver's two-year term as mayor will end, although he will serve two more years as a councilman. The centennial offers a final opportunity for him to reign in the anniversary parade as the city's top official.

"The timing is coincidental" Colver said. "I hadn't even thought about that."

Linked to Election

But Colver said that Low, who will be up for reelection in April, could be using his attack on the centennial as "a campaign gimmick" to get pre-election publicity. Low denied that the dispute has any connection with his forthcoming candidacy.

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