Industry Voters Get to Decide Rare Challenge

Times Staff Writer

For only the third time in the city's 29-year history, incumbents are facing a challenge in their bids for reelection to the City Council.

But it appears that Lydia A. Nash, the soft-spoken elementary school teacher who is taking on the city's political Establishment, will find it difficult to stimulate any kind of public debate. "I'll tell you what, I'm not going to answer nothing, so just forget it," Councilman Manuel A. Garcia, 75, one of the incumbents seeking reelection, told a reporter who sought an interview last week.

Councilman John Paul Ferrero, also seeking reelection, had a similar response. "I'm not going to waste my time talking to you," he told a Times reporter.

City Clerk Philip L. Iriarte said that he does not believe Ferrero and Garcia will actively campaign.

Undecided on Campaign

And the third incumbent, Councilman Patrick Perez, said he has not decided whether to actively campaign.

Nash is the sole challenger in the election in which the top three vote-getters will win.

The 60-year-old Nash, on the other hand, said she will campaign door-to-door in seeking support from the city's 232 registered voters. Nash said she wants to lower property taxes, increase citizen participation in city government and increase competitive bidding for city contracts.

She said she will also seek ways to speed up the construction of a sewer line in her neighborhood along Rowland Avenue east of Azusa Avenue. Without the sewer, she and her neighbors cannot secure the city building permits that they say are essential to develop their land to its full economic potential.

Nash and the residents have attempted to apply for building permits, but they say city officials told them they cannot get permits permit until a sewer is built.

May Win Fight

Nash may be about to win that fight, however. City Engineer John Radecki said the city has agreed to form the assessment district she has been seeking and pay the engineering costs of designing the sewer line. It may take another month, he said, before the city puts the engineering contract out to bid.

But Nash isn't convinced yet. "They've been making promises for a long time," she said.

Should Nash win, she would become the city's first councilwoman and the first challenger of either sex to unseat an incumbent since the city was founded in 1957.

Ferrero, 32, who was 19 when first appointed, is seeking his 4th term. Perez, 46, is seeking his first full term after being appointed in 1984 to fill a vacancy left by the death of Councilman Charles J. Rowland. Garcia, 75, was appointed to the council in 1981 after the death of Councilman Darius Johnson. He is seeking his first full term.

Leading Role

Despite its leading role as the San Gabriel Valley's industrial and commercial center, the city of 660 residents retains a small-town atmosphere left over from the days when most of its 10 square miles were devoted to farming. Today, the city's residents live in several pockets of working-class homes scattered throughout the city.

Because of the city's small population, government is often a tight-knit, family affair where voters sometimes elect candidates who also their are relatives, employers or long-time business associates.

John Paul Ferrero, for example, is the son of Mayor John Ferrero. The mayor's sister, Phyllis Tucker, serves as city treasurer. City Clerk Iriarte is the son of Philip Iriarte, who serves as a director of the Industry Urban Development Agency (IUDA), Industry's chief redevelopment panel. Kevin Radecki, who works for the city as an administrative assistant, is the son of City Engineer John Radecki.

"We only have a small number of people, so there's a certain amount of meeting yourself around the corner," City Atty. Graham Ritchie once said about Industry. "There is that small-town effect to a lot of the formal operations of the city. We have a limited pool from which to draw.

"There is a philosophical problem when you have two relatives in the same organization," he continued. "You dilute the checks and balances, but I don't believe that we have that situation here."

Less Reluctance

Nash, who has no relatives in city government, is not as reluctant as the incumbents to talk about the campaign.

"I'm going to present the voters with a choice that hasn't been available in recent years," she said. The fifth-grade teacher at Bixby Elementary School in Hacienda Heights says she is not intimidated by the failure of past candidates to successfully challenge the city's political Establishment.

"I'm not concerned about my chances for winning. All I can do is make myself available to the voters. We have all read the articles in the newspapers, and there needs to be some change," she said, as she referred to the federal indictments of Industry founder James M. Stafford. Stafford pleaded guilty in 1984 to orchestrating a kickback scheme that defrauded the city of $1.35 million in redevelopment contracts. He is serving an eight-year sentence.

No Elective Office

(Stafford, who never held elective office in Industry, was the only person jailed in the scandal. No city officials were involved.

Stafford, a contractor and four businessmen, pleaded guilty to conspiring to ensure that certain contractors were awarded inflated contracts for which Stafford and two others received kickbacks.)

Nash admits that she has little experience in city government. "I'm willing to learn," she said. "I have taught city government and how it's supposed to run. They (her opponents) had no experience when they started."

She said she will campaign to change the twice-a-month early morning meetings of the City Council to evening hours so that more citizens can take part. Nash also wants to lower the city's property tax rate. At $2.09 per $100 of assessed property value, Industry has the highest property tax rate of the 44 cities in the county with property taxes, according to county officials. About 43%, or 90 cents, of the property tax rate, goes to pay the city's bond debt, county officials said.

A Special Burden

Nash contends that the tax rate is a special burden for small property owners like her who wish to develop their own land. She owns about two acres of land and hopes to sell it, she said.

Wilfred W. Steiner, the executive director of the Industry Manufacturers Council, a city-funded chamber of commerce-type organization, said that although the tax rate is high, it has not been a deterrent to development.

"We're growing by leaps and bounds, even with all the adverse publicity we've had," said Steiner, whose group has not taken a stand in the election.

He said the latest examples of growth in the city have been Volkswagen of America Inc.'s move to invest more than $5 million to establish a parts distribution center, and the decision by Circuit Cities Stores Inc., a Virginia-based electric appliance chain, to build a $10-million office-warehouse complex.

"Considering we're a new city and have an awful lot of infrastructure development, they get a hell of a lot for their money," he said.

Competitive Bidding

Nash said she hopes to find ways to increase competitive bidding for city contracts. "I want to make sure," she said, "we get the bids to get the cheapest and best job done."

Such stands won her the endorsement of the Industry Civic Planning Assn., a 100-member business organization that has been highly critical of the city's contracting methods.

Some of the association's stiffest criticism has been directed at the Civic-Recreational-Industrial Authority (CRIA), the city agency that administers the Industry Hills Exhibit-Conference Center. The agency is considering renewing the renewal of a maintenance and groundskeeping contract at the center's two 18-hole golf courses without seeking competitive proposals.

Long Beach-based Satsuma Landscape and Maintenance Co. is being paid $1.04 million a year for maintaining the courses, city records show. The contract, which was to expire last July, has been extended pending the agency's review of a proposal to increase Satsuma's contract to $1.46 million a year.

Dan Peterson, the civic association's executive director, thinks the authority could save hundreds of thousands of dollars annually by awarding the contract through bids.

'No Response, Nothing'

Peterson, who also sits on the state Uniform Construction Cost Accounting Commission, said about his past efforts to persuade the authority to accept competitive bids: "The point I was trying to make is, go out for competitive proposals, see what you get. There was no response, nothing. They just sat on their hands."

Neither Chris Rope, who serves as the authority's executive director and city manager, or Peter J. Pino, manager of the conference center, returned repeated calls from The Times.

The city's contracting practices were criticized in a report commissioned by the Los Angeles County Grand Jury and issued last July after an audit of redevelopment projects.

John Radecki, the IUDA's executive director, said last week that the city has begun to increase the number of contracts awarded on a competitive basis. A recent example, he said, was the agency's agreement with Majestic Realty Co. and Banker's Life Co. for the development of the 189-acre Fairway Business Center. The $27.8-million bid by Majestic and Banker's Life was the highest offered among the eight firms that submitted proposals for developing and purchasing the property, he said.

'Unduly Favorable'

The grand jury report also criticized the city for awarding contracts "which appeared to be unduly favorable to certain individuals and companies."

For example, it cited the IUDA's lease of 600 acres of grazing land to Mayor Ferrero free of charge.

The report recommended that "future contracts with relatives to city staff, City Council members, or IUDA board members should be discouraged."

City officials have said that Ferrero is providing a weed abatement service by grazing cattle on IUDA property. Moreover, they say, the arrangement has been investigated by federal and local authorities and its legality has not been challenged.

Nash said her interest in city government was sparked two years ago when she circulated a petition among her neighbors on Rowland Avenue.

Assessment District Sought

The petition requested that the city form an assessment district so that property owners could pay for building a sewer and other capital improvements to their property, which is zoned for manufacturing. The area is composed of residences and small businesses.

Without a sewer, the city will not issue Nash and her neighbors building permits, which they say prevent them from selling or developing their property at its optimum value.

In letters to city officials, Nash wrote that John Radecki, the city engineer, had informed her in September, 1983, that she and her neighbors could build the sewer if they would agree to pay for it, an account with which Radecki agrees. Soon after, Nash said, she obtained the consent of 98% of the property owners in her area for the project.

City officials would not say why it has taken so long to provide what the residents requested.

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