El Segundo Race a Test of Limits

Times Staff Writer

Voters will determine the fate of the city manager and, ultimately, the pace and character of commercial growth here when they choose two City Council members on April 8.

Incumbents Charles Armstrong and Le Synadinos are being challenged by Harry Robert Anderson, Robert H. Stull and Alan West in an increasingly bitter campaign that has become a referendum on City Manager Nicholas Romaniello and his controlled-growth recommendations.

The majority faction on the five-member council, including Armstrong and Synadinos, has backed Romaniello and nearly all of the zoning and hiring recommendations he has made since his appointment as city manager last May.

But Anderson and West agree with the other two council members that Romaniello should be fired. Stull has declined to give his views on the manager, but said he favors limiting commercial and industrial growth in the city.

Armstrong and Synadinos say the council hired Romaniello on the basis of his experience as a city planner in El Segundo, Seal Beach and Beverly Hills. "In a city like ours, it helps to have someone who understands complicated planning issues," Synadinos said in an interview this week. The incumbents praise him for proposing zoning changes--adopted by the council--that restrict commercial and industrial land uses.

Anderson and West accuse Romaniello of trying to create a "political machine" by firing employees who disagree with his management style and slow-growth philosophy. They say his zoning recommendations have led to an anti-business environment.

Candidate West, who owns the El Segundo Brake and Wheel Shop, said the incumbents have imposed excessive service fees, employee taxes and what he called surplus building requirements that make it difficult to build or operate a profitable business in El Segundo.

Anderson agreed. "Business should have to pay its share, but not more than what is required," he said. "Business is El Segundo's lifeblood. We can't afford to make an enemy out of industry."

El Segundo does, indeed, depend upon industry. Only 20% of the city's approximately five square miles is zoned for residences. The rest is dominated by industrial giants such as Hughes Aircraft Co., TRW and Chevron USA, and business and employee taxes from those firms are the city's main source of revenue.

Pay for Services

Incumbents Armstrong and Synadinos maintain that the businesses that dominate El Segundo should pay some of the cost of the fire, paramedic, sewage and traffic management services that the city provides.

"The city's population is actually shrinking," Synadinos said. "Yet there is an increasing demand for city services. It's obvious that this increased demand is caused by business and not residents, so residents shouldn't have to pay for it."

Synadinos and Armstrong also support limited commercial growth in and adjacent to the city's residential neighborhoods, all of which are west of Sepulveda Boulevard. Their votes in favor of an ordinance restricting heights of new buildings west of Sepulveda Boulevard to 45 feet--about four stories--drew criticism from the pro-business candidates and councilmen who say the ordinance could scare away potential developers.

Anderson says that the council should have "added a grandfather clause to the ordinance that would allow existing businesses to rebuild in case of a fire or earthquake or some other kind of unforeseen disaster."

The candidates appear to be less divided on other issues, including the need to work with industry and surrounding communities to improve traffic flow, and the need to attract more retail business to balance the city's revenue sources and reduce its dependence on the giant companies.

Four-Year Terms

Council members, who are paid $327 a month for the part-time position, serve four-year terms. The mayor, who receives the same salary, sits on the council and is elected to a two-year term by fellow council members two weeks after the council election.

Following are the candidates' backgrounds and some of their views:

- Anderson, 62, a retired maintenance division superintendent for Standard Oil Co., now known as Chevron USA, is married with 3 children.

A native of Vallejo, Anderson has lived in El Segundo for 11 years. As a council member, he said, his goals would be to establish a healthy business climate and to "close the gap between residents' and business concerns."

"We're actually two communities," Anderson said. "On one side we have business and on the other we have residents and the two have to look out for one another. Being a friend to business doesn't mean I'm a foe to residents. The city must promote a positive business environment and, in turn, the businesses must protect the residents from traffic, noise and other things."

- Armstrong, 63, who goes by the nickname "Chip," has served 5 1/2 years on the council. He was first appointed to a council seat in November, 1980, when Councilman Dexter Benson died. Armstrong was elected to a full term in April, 1982, and later that month was elected mayor, a position he still holds.

Married with three children, Armstrong is a retired athletics coach with the Los Angeles Community College system. He has lived in El Segundo for 13 years.

Armstrong said the council must continue to support zoning policies that require developers to assist the city in managing some of the traffic, sewer and police, paramedic and fire services that their projects require.

"No longer will someone be able to come in build a high-rise tower without paying for some of the street and sewer improvements necessary to accommodate the development," Armstrong said.

Armstrong said he would also like to enact a city policy aimed at reducing airport noise as Los Angeles International Airport on the city's northern border continues to expand.

- Stull, 53, a retired Chevron USA employee, has lived in El Segundo for 27 years.

Stull said he is aiming his campaign at "low-income residents and child-abuse victims, who are often overlooked."

"I want to see programs to teach children and adults how to deal with the sensitive and very unfortunate subject of child abuse," Stull said.

"Very young and very old people sometimes get lost in the (political) process," he said. "I would like to persuade the city to provide more low-income housing so senior citizens are not struggling just to survive."

As for development, Stull said he favors limited commercial and apartment growth west of Sepulveda Boulevard. "If they don't freeze everything now, eventually there will be nothing but condos and high-rise apartments. We will lose our lovely small-town flavor."

Stull said he would also like to see more people who work in El Segundo businesses live within the city, and said housing projects should be favored over commercial developments.

- Synadinos, 46, is running for her second council term. Married with two stepchildren, she has lived in El Segundo for 19 years.

Synadinos calls herself "the residents' candidate" because of her support of zoning restrictions and traffic and noise ordinances designed to protect homeowners and apartment and condominium residents.

She plans to continue to support zoning standards that will make commercial projects pay for city services and protect homeowners from "aggressive developments in their backyards."

Synadinos said she would also like to implement a plan to improve the downtown shopping district along Main Street by adding more trees, benches an off-street parking.

- West, 57, is president of the El Segundo Unified School District board and has been a school board member for 15 years. If elected to the council, he would resign the school post.

Married with three children, he has lived in El Segundo for 25 years. West said he decided to run for a council position to "protect businesses' and homeowners' property rights."

"The city needs to look realistically at the cost of capping development," West said. "If we keep infringing on business and industry's property rights they are going to pick up and leave. Business is the backbone and the very lifeblood of this town. I think we need to cut business a little slack in terms of zoning so they can stay here and prosper."

West said zoning standards governing residential property should also be eased.

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