In S. F. Springs Race, Most Ride on Prosperity's Coattails : Local Elections

Times Staff Writer

For the past two years, this city has experienced the largest building boom in its history. Industrial development has broadened the tax base and pumped up sales tax revenues, spelling prosperity for municipal government in this largely Latino city of 15,000.

As a result, the city has increased police services, improved recreation programs and doled out money for day care, job placement, social work and mental health care.

Also, the city in January lifted a utility users tax that was to have been in place until September.

So it is perhaps not surprising that most candidates in the April 8 City Council election are campaigning on an upbeat note, saying in interviews that they just want to build on what is already in place. One incumbent and six challengers have lined up for the two council seats that will be on the ballot.

Most said their highest priorities were programs for senior citizens and young adults. They agreed that they want to increase social services the city already provides to residents. Social services make up 3% of the city's $18-million budget.

But two candidates--cautioning against possible runaway spending by the city--warned that if the city does not tighten reins on spending, it could be forced to raise taxes again.

Deficit Projected

Almost three years ago, the city projected a $1.3-million deficit as a result of a sluggish economy and the reorganization under the bankruptcy law of one of its biggest revenue sources, Powerine Oil Co., which had provided more than $2 million in taxes annually.

A 1% utility users tax was imposed to erase the shortfall. Although it was not due to expire until September, 1986, increased sales tax and development-related revenues allowed the City CounCil to rescind the tax as of Jan. 1.

Dean Dirksen, a planning commissioner who ran in 1984, said he "wasn't impressed" with the early demise of the tax. "They're the ones that put it on" in the first place, said Dirksen, who previously worked in the city's Finance Department for 10 years.

He said he is running again because "I still think the city is having the same problems we had before."

"The revenue of the city isn't going to continue forever. You have to look down the road and be more prudent and frugal," said Dirksen, 53, who is a self-employed business consultant. Although he said he does not want to do away with any services, he would like to take a closer look at the cost of maintaining programs and long-range expenses, such as the hiring of additional staff for projects.

Dirksen said he will spend about $2,000 on the campaign.

Candidate Ruben Elizalde, 31, who teaches mathematics at Richard Gahr High School in Cerritos, said the utility tax came about because of "poor management on the part of the city. Had (city council members) not overspent, they would not have had to burden" residents with the tax.

Only Incumbent in Race

But Councilman Ron Kernes, the only incumbent in the election, scoffs at the idea that the city is not careful about its expenditures.

"Any spending that goes on in the city is put back into the community. We're spending to do things to make the city a better place to live," said Kernes, 47, who owns a plastics manufacturing company in Whittier.

Kernes, seeking a third four-year term, introduced the motion to repeal the tax because the budget was balanced. "The city is prospering through good planning and good staff," he said.

"I like what we started. I would like to see those policies continued," Kernes said. He said he expects to raise $7,000 for his campaign.

Elizalde, who sits on the city's Historical Committee, ran unsuccessfully in 1982 and 1984 for the City Council, which pays $332.64 a month .

"They say the third time is a charm," he said. "That shows my commitment to the community." He said he hopes to raise $3,000 for the campaign.

Elizalde said that, besides management of city dollars, his main goals would be to investigate toxic waste in the environment, drum up support among the city's industries to hire residents and augment programs for senior citizens and youth.

Accusations in Mailers

A third challenger who has sought a council post before is Al Fuentes, 57, a city planning commissioner.

When he ran in the 1982 election, Fuentes sent out a series of mailers accusing Councilman Luis Escontrias of "leading a band of radicals who invaded . . . Sacramento" and for "jet-setting" around the country at city expense. Escontrias had been a member of a group protesting a reapportionment issue before the legislature. (Escontrias, who won the 1982 election, did not run for reelection this year.)

But Fuentes said he hopes his loss in that campaign is behind him. If he is elected, Fuentes said, he will concentrate on continuing "progress" in the city by encouraging more industry to relocate here.

Fuentes, a member of numerous city committees and organizations, such as the Santa Fe Springs Community Playhouse, said he would like to expand the beautification program in the city. "There's always room for improvement in everything we have in the city," he said.

Fuentes, who works for the Philadelphia Carpet Co. in Santa Fe Springs, said he hopes to raise between $4,000 and $5,000 for his campaign.

Husband-and-Wife Slate

The council race features an unusual twist: a husband and wife running as a slate, saying their team approach will serve as a model to families in the community.

"We feel it will add a new dimension," said Edward Perez, 31, who works as an engineering consultant.

His wife, Susan, 30, said that together they "can represent a broad spectrum" of the community.

"We are a team. But that doesn't mean we agree on everything," said Susan Perez, who works as an office manager for her husband's business, which is run out of their home. "The sum of us makes a great whole. We're not each other's clone."

Both of them stressed that they are not running against each other. "We feel there are two seats open," Susan Perez said.

Edward Perez said he is researching crime statistics in the city that he will use to implement a crime reduction program if elected. He would not elaborate on what the program would be.

'We See Good Things Going On'

Susan Perez said they would also like to establish an incentive program to help potential high school dropouts stay in school, and also work with senior citizens.

"We're running because we see good things going on in the city. We don't want to dig up the foundation. We want to build upon it," said Susan Perez, noting that she didn't know how much money they expect to raise or spend for their campaign.

The final candidate in the race is George Minnehan, a truck driver and city resident for 21 years. Minnehan said his experience as a business representative for Teamsters Local 208 would help him deal with people and negotiate city spending.

"I want to build upon what's there," said Minnehan, 48, adding that he will make sure the "city stays within budget."

So far, he has raised $1,700 for his campaign. He said he will campaign door-to-door.

"I'm older now and I want to stay involved with the city," said Minnehan, who has been active with the Santa Fe Springs Baseball Assn. for 15 years. He said he wants to encourage more recreation programs for young adults.

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