Cerritos Council Veterans Hit on Contributions, Towne Center

Times Staff Writer

The Establishment is under attack in this city.

Twelve challengers in the April 8 election are trying to unseat three incumbents who have served on the City Council a total of 32 years and have built powerful political bases.

Mayor Diana S. Needham, 39, and Councilman Alex J. Beanum, 50, are seeking third terms, while Councilman Barry A. Rabbitt, 48, is running for an unprecedented fifth term.

Knocking off any one of the three will be, at best, a tough task for most of the challengers who are long on enthusiasm but short on cash and civic experience. Two exceptions are Ann B. Joynt, 46, a former planning commissioner who passed on a chance to manage Needham's campaign to run herself, and Ravinder Mehta, 26, a deputy district attorney who plans to spend $15,000 in the race, by far the most among the challengers seeking a seat on the five-member council.

Joynt, Mehta and the rest of the crowded field have spent weeks chipping away at the incumbents' theme that Cerritos is safe, sound and on course for a rosy future.

The challengers contend that streets, curbs and sidewalks are crumbling, crime is on the rise, and the needs of the city's elderly are being overlooked. They also say the council has lost touch with its 55,000 residents, devoting more time to big-ticket real estate deals than the city's daily affairs.

Movement to Limit Terms

"We need a council that will listen for a change," Joynt said recently, echoing the feelings of the challengers, some of whom back a movement in the city to limit the number of terms a council member may serve.

Campaign spending also has become an issue, largely because of the record amounts Needham and Beanum have raised and the nature of the contributions.

But as the incumbents see it, there are no real issues in Cerritos.

"Just a lot of candidates who want to share in the leadership of this great city," said Rabbitt, a civil engineer who was first elected to the council in 1970 during a bitter election that wrested political control, once and for all, from the city's founders, the dairymen. "Everybody wants to get on the bandwagon."

The other candidates in the race are:

Paul W. Bowlen, 45, a teacher of government at Cerritos High School; Charles K. Harner, 52, a retired customs agent; Gordon H. Lewis, 63, a commercial real estate broker; Sal L. Malonzo, 56, a development assistant; Enola Stephens, 57, a retired schoolteacher; Angel Soto, 49, an airline employee representative; Richard L. Taylor, 44, a commercial artist; Alan Ulrich, 36, a customer service agent for United Parcel Service; Frank Vallefuoco, 41, a manufacturing engineer, and Alfred S. Wells, 51, a federal police officer.

In a race that will undoubtedly become the most expensive in the city's 30-year history, Beanum and Needham have built the biggest campaign war chests. Besides the incumbents, only seven of the 12 candidates expect to spend more than $500.

The latest campaign finance reports on file say that, as of Feb. 22, Beanum had received nearly $22,000, while Needham had raised $13,044. The same records show Rabbitt had raised only $700, although he said that he expects to spend about $6,000 on mailers and campaign signs by election day.

Beanum, a civil engineer, had spent $12,332, including nearly $10,000 on a fund-raising dinner last September. The dinner, he said, netted about $12,000.

Needham, an urban planner, had spent $9,266, about $7,000 of it for a similar dinner she staged to raise money. Almost all of her campaign funds have come in as a result of the dinner, she said.

In his first run for council, Mehta said he will spend about $15,000, with much of it going to an Orange County political consulting firm he hired to guide his campaign. Nearly two-thirds of his political war chest comes from money he loaned his campaign, he said.

'That Takes Money'

"If one is committed to winning," said Mehta, who works in the Orange County District Attorney's Office, "one has to be organized, and that takes money."

Records show that Joynt raised $4,350, including a $4,000 loan from her husband. Before the race ends, she expects to have spent $6,000. Ulrich raised $2,835, while Soto loaned himself $2,543. Bowlen also loaned himself $1,000 for the race. Lewis and Vallefuoco, who are running as a slate, had raised $1,085.

Harner, Malonzo, Stephens, Taylor and Wells all filed papers indicating that they plan to raise and spend less than $500 during the campaign.

Council members receive a $530 monthly stipend, plus $30 for every redevelopment meeting they attend (a maximum of four a month) and a $200-a-month car allowance.

Beanum and Needham have come under fire from the challengers because they accepted contributions from real estate and development interests. Beanum received $8,150 from contractors and builders, including $500 from each of the two companies chosen by the council a year ago to develop the $225-million Towne Center project. Those firms, Transpacific Development Co. and General Growth of California, also contributed $400 each to Needham's campaign. All told, Needham received $3,375 from real estate and development interests.

Both Beanum and Needham as well as Rabbitt and Joynt also have received $500 each from Amos Krausz, the developer of Best Plaza and much of Restaurant Row on 183rd Street.

Influence of Contributors

While the contributions do not violate any election laws, some challengers contend that accepting money could influence how a council member votes on future projects.

Malonzo, who said he will spend only $60 during the race, said it is "immoral for a public servant to accept money from those he sits in judgment of." Whether elected or not, Malonzo said, he will launch a drive to qualify a ballot initiative to limit campaign spending in future council races to $500 for all candidates.

Beanum said he is "able to separate" the money and his vote. "I have never allowed a contribution to sway me," he said. "Unfortunately, it takes money to run a campaign, and these people are willing to give."

Needham said that what she received from developers "simply does not amount to much . . . . It's not anything that will influence my decisions."

Several challengers want to limit council terms. Margurette M. Nicholson, a business consultant who has run unsuccessfully for council four times since 1976, said she has collected about 1,800 signatures supporting a measure to restrict council members to two terms. "If they serve too long," Nicholson said, "they become unresponsive and begin acting like self-righteous gods."

5 Terms 'Too Much'

Referring to Rabbitt, Ulrich said: "five terms is simply too much." The political newcomer added, "The President of our country doesn't serve more than two terms; why should a council member?"

Rabbitt, the dean of today's council members, labeled the proposal "ridiculous," and said those pushing it are "people who simply can't win on their own credentials."

Passage of such a measure, Beanum said, "would take the ballot out of the voter's hand." He said it should be left to the voters to decide whether a candidate is worthy of serving more than two terms. "If he's doing a lousy job," he said, "vote him out office."

Harner believes that the mayor should be elected by the people and hold the post for four years. Currently, the council fills the position on a rotating basis. "We need to have one person accountable all the time," he said.

Among the incumbents' accomplishments during the last four years was the expansion of the new library, establishment of a Parks and Recreation Commission and construction of a network of bike lanes.

50 Years of Revenue

All three incumbents tout the Towne Center development as one of their major accomplishments. The council approved an agreement with Transpacific to build a series of office buildings, a 400-room hotel and restaurants across from City Hall on Bloomfield Avenue and 183rd Street. The cost is $130 million, and city officials said it will generate $585 million in revenue for Cerritos over the next half century.

"It will be the highest-quality project this side of Century City," Rabbitt said. "It will secure this city's future into the next century."

But Lewis said the scale of the project, which will eventually include a major shopping mall, is too big. As proposed, he said, the project will create serious traffic and pollution problems for the city. "The council is building a monument to itself," he said. "This is a little bedroom community, not a tourist mecca."

Size of Project Questioned

Joynt also questioned the size of the project, particularly the proposed height of the office buildings and the amount of office space, nearly 1 million square feet.

"Does this city really need a project of this magnitude?" said Joynt, who is well known in the city, having taught in the ABC Unified School District for nine years and served on the Planning Commission for 7 1/2 years. She also said the city may be giving Transpacific too much by agreeing to an interest-free, $5-million loan to develop the hotel.

Joynt said she decided to run when it appeared the incumbents might not face a serious challenge. She said the city is moving from "a decade of rapid-fire growth" into a maintenance phase. With the exception of the 125-acre Towne Center site, she said, Cerritos is almost entirely developed.

"It's time we think about fixing our sidewalks, streets and facilities," she said. "We've got to stop pushing growth and spend more time maintaining what we have."

Mehta's main campaign issue is crime. Residential and commercial burglaries, in particular, have increased in recent years, he said. To curb crime, he said, Cerritos must form its own police force or ask the county Sheriff's Department to put a substation in the city.

Currently, the city contracts with the county Sheriff's Department, whose Lakewood station provides 26 deputies at a cost of $3.2 million a year. But Mehta said Cerritos needs at least 55 deputies, one for every thousand residents, which he says would cost an additional $1 million a year.

'Fear on the Streets'

"If the city can spend $8 million to plant trees and build waterfalls around the Towne Center site," Mehta said, "certainly they can spend another $1 million to adequately protect its people."

Taylor, a commercial artist for an aerospace firm, agreed: "When we first moved here 15 years ago, there was no fear on the streets. Now my wife and daughter won't leave the house at night because they are afraid. This has to stop."

Two candidates, Soto and Stephens, believe that the city should start a dial-a-ride bus system with its share of Proposition A transit revenue, the half-cent sales tax money divided among Los Angeles County cities. Cerritos has received nearly $1.7 million. Because Cerritos' population is aging, Soto said a bus system should be launched.

Stephens wants the city to go a step further and initiate a commuter bus line that would link Cerritos with downtown Los Angeles and the huge aerospace employers in the South Bay. Such a system, she said, "would go a long way to ending the traffic jam" on the Artesia Freeway.

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