San Gabriel's Quiet Style an Election Issue : Local Elections

Times Staff Writer

A typical city council meeting in the San Gabriel Valley lasts three or four hours as council members and staff work their way through an agenda of public hearings, contract awards and citizen complaints.

But in San Gabriel, the council often zips through its twice-monthly meetings in half an hour.

"Our meetings last about 20 or 30 minutes," said Councilman Sabino Cici. "We don't bicker. We get things done." Only six to eight times a year, he said, do meetings stretch as long as two or three hours.

Councilwoman Janis Cohen said San Gabriel meetings proceed quickly because "we do our homework." Council members study issues before the meetings and arrive ready to act, she said. And they work well together.

Challenge for Incumbents

But James Castaneda, an engineer who is challenging Cici and Cohen in the April 8 municipal election, said the short meetings reflect lethargy and timidity rather than efficiency.

"The council shies away from anything controversial," Castaneda said. The council should be aggressively tackling waste disposal, ground water contamination and other regional concerns instead of leaving these matters to higher levels of government, he said.

Castaneda said public participation in city government is low in San Gabriel because residents do not know what the city is doing. The city has failed to communicate effectively, he said.

Castaneda has made improved communication and attention to environmental concerns his major issues as he takes his council campaign to the city's 13,903 registered voters.

Two Seats Are Open

To win election, Castaneda must oust either Cohen or Cici, the only other candidates for the two available seats on the five-member council.

Cici, 46, who owns and operates a locksmith shop, is seeking his third term. Cohen, 42, was appointed to the council three years ago and is running in an election for the first time. She is the employee relations manager of a carpet padding manufacturer.

Castaneda, 28, has lived in San Gabriel seven years and works for the Northrop Corp.'s electromechanical division in Anaheim.

He believes his lack of experience in San Gabriel civic affairs is an asset, not a drawback. "I don't belong to any group. I'm totally independent," he said.

Beyond Local Control

Cici said some of the issues that Castaneda is raising, such as air and water pollution, are regional problems that cannot be solved by the city of San Gabriel. Perhaps, he suggested, Castaneda should be running for the Legislature, not the City Council.

Cici said he is proud of the city's achievements during his term of office; he cited establishment of a dial-a-ride program for the elderly, reconstruction of the swimming pool at Smith Park and repaving of 60 of the city's 70 miles of streets.

All this has been accomplished, he said, without resorting to a utility tax, landscape tax or other special revenue-raising device. "We've kept a good, conservative government," he said.

Cohen said San Gabriel is "a well-run city," and she, too, is running on a record of accomplishments, such as creation of a park-and-ride lot for commuters, the repaving of Las Tunas Drive and the acquisition of funds to renovate the city's adult center.

'We're Very Aware'

Cohen said the fact that the city has not taken a position on such regional issues as the proposed construction of waste-to-energy plants does not mean the City Council is ignoring those problems.

"We're in touch with Sacramento," she said. "We're very aware."

Cohen said San Gabriel is one of the few cities in the county that operates without a redevelopment agency. Residents years ago made it clear that they did not want the city to undertake redevelopment, she said, and as a result San Gabriel has lost businesses it might have attracted. But the gain, she said, has been an absence of the sort of controversy that has enveloped other cities that have brought in new developers and forced existing businesses and property owners to move.

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