Friendship Makes for a Humdrum Race in Walnut

Times Staff Writer

In a City Council election with few discernible issues, Ray T. Watson conceded, a challenger might feel the temptation to focus on personalities, to sling a little mud in the direction of his entrenched opponents.

But even if their characters presented such an opening, Watson said, he would never stoop to such tactics in his race against incumbent Councilmen Drexel L. Smith and Charles D. Richardson.

"They're both friends of mine. I can't really say anything bad about them," Watson said. "They're both good men. But I think I'm just as good."

In this quiet, close-knit community of 20,000, friends often are pitted against friends in city elections. The campaign for two City Council seats, which will culminate in an April 8 vote, is no different.

Passion for Roses

Watson and Richardson share a passion for growing roses; Watson has organized a 10-K run in which Richardson has participated the last two years. And Smith and Watson sit next to each other at Walnut High School football games. Smith's son is a linebacker on the team; Watson's stepdaughter is a flag girl.

The situation makes for courtly, if slightly humdrum, politics.

Watson, 51, a deputy sheriff who works out of the department's training facility in Pomona, said he prefers it that way.

"In a city as small as ours, you're not going to see the mud-throwing and the deal-making," he said. "It's a friendly campaign. The voters know us all very well. We'll let the voters decide."

Watson, who has organized the city's community fair the past two years and serves as a youth counselor at his church, believes that the major challenge facing the city is the need to woo retail business. He said the city is in the midst of a residential building boom that has generated considerable revenue from the awarding of building permits.

This boom has insulated city officials from the need to attract commercial development to the city, Watson said. But the boom will be short-lived, he warns, forcing city officials to scramble to find ways to fill the void.

Residential Capacity

"Once we've reached our residential capacity, there will be a loss of revenue," he said. "We need the sales tax from retail businesses. Right now, most of our residents go to the City of Industry and West Covina to do their major shopping. We have to keep as much of it at home as we can."

Smith and Richardson, both seeking their second four-year terms, said the council has long been aware of the need to attract retail businesses. When Smith was chairman of the city's Planning Commission in 1981, he established a committee to examine ways to bring large retail businesses to Walnut.

The committee found that because the city has such a small population base, major retailers such as Sears and Gemco were not interested in Walnut.

"With the city's total projected build-out at 30,000, that still isn't enough to attract more commercial development," Smith said.

"To say we should attract more commercial is fine. But the problem is how do you do that, how do you generate commercial interest in a city as small as ours?"

Wants More Restaurants

Smith, a director at Wyle Laboratories, said the city must increase its sales-tax base by drawing more restaurants and small commercial development to the city.

Richardson, 48, a project administrator with Southern California Edison Co., said he is encouraged by talks with the owners of the BKK landfill in West Covina, who own a 471-acre parcel in Walnut that abuts the landfill. Richardson said the land has significant potential for both residential and commercial development.

"It's really the last area in Walnut that is unplanned," Richardson said. "I'm excited about what we could do with that."

All three candidates said they plan to spend $1,200 or less for campaign posters and leaflets. They said they had begun canvassing neighborhoods only in The last few days in an attempt to reach this city's 7,000 registered voters.

Both Smith and Richardson said they were a little miffed that Watson has not been more aggressive in identifying and articulating issues.

"Ray's a nice guy. He's very involved," Smith said. "But I'm kind of surprised that he hasn't gone after an issue or an incumbent."

Watson acknowledged that his campaign was slow to get off the ground. "Everything is moving along very well now," he said. "It looks real promising."

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