Local Elections : City on Verge of Turnaround : Revitalization Stressed by 7 in Race for Bell Council

Times Staff Writer

After almost two decades of economic decline, this city may be on the verge of a turnabout.

Plans to revitalize commercial areas are being studied. The future site of the city's first community center--which took four years to come to fruition--was dedicated last week at Treder Park.

And for the first time in five years, the city is not dependent upon the California Bell Club as its major source of income. Sales tax revenue this fiscal year amounted to 13% of the city's $9.8-million budget, while revenue from the Bell Club generated 9.5%.

These signs of change in the city are proving to be the bases for platforms for most of the seven candidates--including incumbent Jay Price--vying for three council seats in the April 8 election.

They call for redevelopment efforts in the city, increasing housing for senior citizens and relieving overcrowding in Bell schools.

"Bell at one time was a garden city," said Michael McCabe, 32, a quality-control supervisor for a Commerce drilling company. "Then it got stagnant. I'd like to get it back to the way it was before."

He said he plans to spend $750 on the campaign.

Larger Sales Tax Base

McCabe, a part-time law student, said it is necessary for the city to encourage the bigger stores and businesses to locate there to help build a larger sales tax base.

Most of the other candidates also said Bell needs a large department store or "anchor" store to restore neighborhood shopping and push redevelopment efforts further.

The city of almost 26,000 residents is in the process of enlarging a redevelopment project area to revitalize inner-city commercial areas fronting on major streets such as Atlantic, Gage and Florence avenues. Two other project areas near the old Cheli Air Force Depot near Bandini Boulevard have partially been developed into commercial and industrial businesses.

"We used to have a nice main street," said George Mirabal, one of three candidates running on the slate known as Citizens for a Better Bell.

"Now it's time to work on (improving) it again," he said. The three candidates--Mirabal, Price and Rolf Janssen--have pooled resources for their campaign and expect to spend about $3,000 to $5,000.

Mirabal, 36, funeral director for Mirabal Sampson Mortuary in Bell, said he wants to work toward beautifying Atlantic Avenue, one of the city's main thoroughfares and a largely commercial area. "(Small) towns like ours need revenue. The best way to get it is through sales tax. That comes with stronger commercial redevelopment."

Redevelopment Successes

Many candidates point to the recent redevelopment successes in Maywood and Bell Gardens--which brought bigger stores to the cities as well as upcoming plans in Cudahy as examples for Bell.

The $7-million Maywood Towne Center, which contains a Boy's Market and Thrifty Drug & Discount Store, opened last August. The opening of the Bell Gardens Plaza, a shopping center anchored by Toys-R-Us, took place in November.

"We're competing with other cities" for redevelopment dollars, said Mirabal, who added that he would like to propose similar commercial ventures for Bell. Mirabal is a member of the Bell-Maywood-Cudahy Kiwanis Club and past president of the Bell Chamber of Commerce.

Price, seeking his eighth four-year term on the council, stressed his role in past city redevelopment. The city annexed 500 acres of the Cheli depot in 1960 and developed a portion of the property east of Eastern Avenue into commercial and industrial businesses.

"I had a hand in a great deal of redevelopment," said Price, 70, who retired in 1977 after working for the U.S. Treasury. He said the city has several prime pieces of property as well as a $7-million bond issue ready for redevelopment plans. "The new council will have to carry on" plans that have already been started, he said.

Clarence Knechtel, who has been on the council since 1970, and Mayor George Simmons, who has served since 1962, did not run for reelection. The terms of Councilmen George Cole and Ray Johnson won't be up until 1988. The largely ceremonial post of mayor--all councilmen receive $323 a month--will be filled by one of the council members.

School Overcrowding

Besides redevelopment and more housing for senior citizens and additional police officers, the three-candidate slate also wants to work toward easing overcrowding in Bell schools.

"We need to work with the school district and get more classrooms built," said Janssen, 30, a mentor teacher at Gage Junior High School in Huntington Park.

Janssen said that the city should also take a stand against the storage of toxic waste, especially since a hazardous-waste incineration plant has been proposed in the nearby city of Vernon.

Donna L. Caddy, 44, who works in customer service for a Los Angeles glass company, said she will make acquiring land and money to build new schools a top priority in Bell, where two elementary schools and a high school are on year-round schedules because of overcrowding.

Caddy, a former councilwoman from 1980 to 1984, said she has been "pushing for new schools for some time."

"We need more schools in the area. We need to push Sacramento" for funds and get schools built, said Caddy, a member of the Bell High School advisory council.

Official's Legal Woes

Caddy lost a bid for reelection in 1984. She and another former council member had voted to keep former city administrator John Pitts on the city payroll until after his felony trial in 1984. Pitts pleaded guilty to two counts of mail fraud in September, 1984, for concealing an interest in the California Bell Club. He was sentenced to six months in prison last June.

"I think anyone up for reelection would have lost it (then)," said Caddy, referring to the politically troubled period when a federal investigation also led to the conviction of another former city official and several club partners in a racketeering scheme.

Caddy said she plans to spend less than $500 from her own funds and contributions for her campaign.

James J. Jordan, 41, is making another bid for the council after losing in 1972 and 1974.

Jordan, a union official with the United Steel Workers and as a union unit chairman in a Vernon manufacturing plant, said he wants to help ease overcrowding in Bell schools by purchasing land near the Cheli depot to build a school. Jordan, who expects to spend about $350 for his campaign, said he also wants to work for more housing for senior citizens and low-income families.

'Burning Issue'

"This is a burning issue. People just starting out can't get low-cost, affordable housing," he said.

Candidate George Francis Bass, 55, the Vernon fire chief, said he hopes his experience in municipal government will help bring a level of "professional management" to the city.

"I know what it takes to make a city work," said Bass, who expects to spend about $3,000 on his campaign.

In addition to working toward building a strong commercial area in the city, he would like to expand programs for senior citizens, such as Meals on Wheels and the dial-a-ride bus service. Bass said he also would like to start more recreational programs for teen-agers.

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