SAN GABRIEL VALLEY ELECTIONS : S. Pasadena: Leadership Referendum

Times Staff Writer

Two incumbents who lined up on the losing side of a pair of controversial referendums are running for reelection in what is shaping up as a referendum on their leadership at City Hall.

On the firing line in the April 8 municipal election are Mayor Samuel G. Knowles and Councilman David L. Margrave, who approved a businessman's proposal to build a high-rise office building downtown and supported a new civic center.

A third seat is open because Councilman Ted Shaw opted to keep a pledge not to run for a third term.

In all, nine candidates are seeking office. Among them are several opponents of the projects, including longtime council critics Jon A. Fasana and William A. Mann, and political newcomer Christlena Lawton. They already are pressing the incumbents' unpopular positions as an issue in the campaign.

Other Candidates

Also running are Gail V. Anderson, James C. Hodge Jr., Evelyn Fierro Peterson and James S. (Jim) Woollacott Jr. Jay Don Laurence has dropped out of the race.

"People have a chance to vote on new leadership," said Margrave, who is seeking his second four-year term. "Do we want the new leadership or the old? I don't believe they're going to vote on programs."

Knowles, a council member since 1978, and Margrave supported the proposed construction of a new civic center at El Centro and Meridian avenues. Critics contended that the council paid too much for the new site and that remodeling the existing City Hall would be less expensive than building a new structure. Last year, voters rejected the proposal and voted to remodel the existing City Hall, a $2.7-million project now under way.

Knowles and Margrave also supported construction of a 20-story high-rise office building by auto dealer Ted Colliau. In 1983, residents, unhappy with the size of the building and angry that the council had granted Colliau a lenient parking variance, forced the matter to a referendum and killed the project.

Bristol Farms Center

Knowles and Margrave said they do not expect their support for the defeated proposals to hurt their campaigns. They both take some credit for encouraging recent development downtown, such as the new Bristol Farms shopping center.

"I hadn't thought of it hurting me because those subjects are behind me," said Knowles, a 64-year-old engineer.

Margrave said he still believes voters made a mistake on the City Hall issue and that in the long run the city will not save any money. "The opposition wants that to be the point of contention," said Margrave, the 37-year-old owner of a plumbing company. "I don't believe that's what the voters are going to focus on."

But there is some evidence the incumbents might be vulnerable. Former Mayor AlvaLee Arnold, an ally of Knowles and Margrave and a key sponsor of the project, has said the civic center referendum was largely responsible for her defeat in the same election.

Planning Commission Vet

Woollacott, a 68-year-old retired insurance executive and nine-year veteran of the Planning Commission, also supported the high-rise building. Woollacott, who is backed by Colliau in the election, stressed that he is running an independent campaign, saying, "No one pulls my string." Woollacott said the high-rise referendum was good because it gave the city its current 45-foot height limitation for buildings, and added that he does not believe his vote for Colliau's building will affect his campaign.

But Fasana, a two-time candidate, and Lawton, who is running for the first time, say they believe the records of the incumbents and Woollacott will not be acceptable to voters. They are running as a team, and are backed by South Pasadena's Committee for Responsive Government, a small group of City Council critics who ardently opposed Colliau's high-rise building and a new civic center.

"My main concern in getting involved in the City Council race is I firmly believe there is a better way to spend tax dollars than they have been spent in the past," said Lawton, a 57-year-old bank manager.

Mann, a former committee member and frequent council critic who opposed the two projects, also is keying his campaign to the change-in-leadership theme. At a League of Women Voters forum last week, the 44-year-old engineer charged that "a few powerful residents control the direction of City Hall."

Target of Criticism

Margrave also has been the target of criticism for working for the city while he was on the council. From his election in 1982 until March of last year, his company, Morrow & Holman Plumbing Inc., did more than $14,500 in business with the city. Although Margrave denied he had a conflict of interest, the city has stopped using his firm on the advice of the city attorney.

"I certainly don't like David Margrave's conflict and the cavalier attitude some of the people at City Hall have had over the last 8 to 12 years," said Fasana, 39, the chief of the Los Angeles City Paramedics.

Somewhere between these two factions are Hodge, Anderson and Peterson.

Hodge, a 36-year-old dentist, said he voted against the high-rise development, but favored the site selected for the civic center. However, he said the city rushed the property acquisition. Hodge is supported by some members of South Pasadena's Committee for Responsive Government, but he said he is uncomfortable with certain aspects of the committee, which is led by community activist Thomas Biesek.

A Low Profile

"His group likes me, but they are very inflammatory and I would rather keep a low profile," said Hodge, who has been active in civic affairs, but is not a committee member and has never run for office.

"There are two factions," Hodge said. "One group goes for positive change, but sometimes doesn't cross all the t's and dot all the i's. This group (Biesek's) is just critical, counter-punchers who don't do anything constructive unless they're fighting something. I've worked in the community for positive change and I feel this group is piggy-backing on my strength."

At the League of Women Voters forum, the candidates agreed on the need to revitalize the downtown retail district to boost sales-tax revenues, a more immediate problem for the city.

The candidates also denounced the state Department of Transportation's plans to extend the Long Beach Freeway through the middle of town along Meridian Avenue, the so-called Meridian route. The candidates said they favored a path that would loop around the city to the West and said they would support a legal battle to stop Caltrans if residents want to do so.

Anderson, a physician who was a council candidate in 1984, said his primary concern is that South Pasadena seek to balance economic development with the need to "maintain its small-town character." Anderson said later in an interview he believes that the freeway route remains an important issue because it must be resolved before other questions concerning the town's future economic development can be answered. He said the referendums are issues of the past.

TV News Writer

Peterson, a 37-year-old television news writer, stressed her independence and the need for development of the downtown area and joined the opposition to the Meridian route.

"Yes, it's politically safe to say I'm opposed to the Meridian route," said Peterson, a first-time council candidate. "I wasn't here 20 years ago, but I'm here now and I plan to be here to determine when and how that freeway is going to be completed."

Opposition to the Meridian route has been a political rite of spring since the mid-1960s, when Caltrans began working on the project. Caltrans has tentatively approved the Meridian route, but it still is subject to environmental review and must receive approval from the federal government to secure federal funds. Moreover, funding for the project appears to be at least several year away.

This year's rhetorical pummeling of Caltrans was enlivened somewhat by the recent disclosure that the agency has been considering several other routes designed to avoid historical structures. The alternative under most serious study, Route E, would cut through the hilly Altos de Monterey residential area. All nine candidates said they oppose the route, which would spare some historic buildings but wipe out scores of hillside homes.

Woollacott characterized the alternative routes as "alphabet soup."


Proposed routes for completion of the Long Beach Freeway.

A candidate's plumbing work for the city while serving on the council.

Keeping the small-town character while allowing growth.

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