In this city of narrow streets, the main issue in the April 8 City Council election is not control of the council, not the plight of the homeless, not the pace of development, not ballot measures, not the sway of special interests.
It is parking.
To be sure, those other subjects have come up in one campaign or another as three candidates vie for the mayor's post and four seek one spot on the council. But parking is the common denominator in all the campaigns, the candidates report and residents confirm.
"The issues are basically parking and what the city is doing to alleviate the lack of off-street parking," said Mayor Sarann Kruse in a comment echoed by others.
Campaign Heats Up
The campaign has heated up as the election nears, and candidates are verbally attacking each other with an abandon rarely seen at council meetings.
"Opportunist" is what council candidate Virginia Rhodes called Kruse, who as mayor sits on the council.
"A very destructive woman," the mayor said of Rhodes.
"Abrasive" was Kruse's word for her principal opponent, Councilman Jim Ramsey.
Retorted Ramsey: "I don't tell one person one thing and another person another," implying that Kruse does.
Two candidate factions have emerged, almost mirroring the political alignment on the council, which frequently splits 3 to 2 with Kruse, Harold E. Hoffman and Dan McKenzie voting one way and Ramsey and Terry Birdsall voting the other.
Most attention is focused on the shoot-out in the mayor's race, with Ramsey forsaking the safer task of seeking reelection to his own council seat for the riskier enterprise of taking on, for a second time, incumbent Kruse.
In the election as a whole, Ramsey, Rhodes and council candidate Anthony Smith all voice criticism of the way Kruse and her council allies have managed things. In particular, they allege that development interests have gotten special favors from City Hall.
On the other side are Kruse and council candidates Louise Jones and Larry Rudolph, who generally approve of the way matters have been handled. Kruse dismisses complaints raised by opponents as "non-issues."
In the mayoral race for a two-year term, the candidates are, in alphabetical order:
- Kruse, 46, an executive assistant for Northrop Corp. A 10-year veteran of the council, she was appointed mayor in 1980. When the city switched to an elected mayor, she won election in 1982 and again in 1984.
- Ramsey, 48, an agent for the Farmers Insurance Group. Ramsey was first elected to the council in 1974 and reelected in 1978 and 1982. In 1984, when his own seat was not up for election, he ran against Kruse and came in second, 889 to 542, in a three-way race.
- Edward C. Roberts, 74, a former mayor and retired Lawndale schools maintenance worker. Roberts, who is running a low-budget, write-in campaign, was on the City Council from 1970 to 1982. He was mayor three times: 1972-73, 1978-79 and 1981-82. He belatedly decided to enter the race to support the House of Yahweh, a soup kitchen that he felt the city administration was hostile to.
The candidates in the council race for a four-year term are, in alphabetical order:
- Jones, 75, an escrow officer for Elite Escrow Service, who has never run for public office before. Jones cites numerous civic activities and honors in her background, including the 1985 Lawndale Chamber of Commerce Hall of Fame award. She supports Kruse for mayor.
- Rhodes, 50, office manager for Advance Aluminum and Brass Co. Inc. Rhodes, who has never held public office, narrowly lost a race for the Centinela Valley Union High School District board four years ago. She has a suit pending against the city, alleging that Councilman Harold E. Hoffman had a conflict of interest when he voted to make his term four years instead of two.
- Rudolph, 48, a production control employee at Farr Manufacturing Inc. Rudolph, another political newcomer, plans the most expensive campaign of the four council candidates. He plans to spend about $3,500--about $1,500 more than any of the other candidates--and says most of it is for mailers.
- Smith, 37, a truck driver for Warren Trucking Co. Smith, who has never run for political office before, said he wants the council to put major issues affecting property values on the ballot.
The parking issue that has attracted so much attention is not new.
"When the city was laid out, way back when, they just made the streets too narrow," said Rudolph.
While the city code now requires a minimum width of 36 feet for new residential streets, many existing streets in the city are as narrow as 26 feet.
Kruse said that the city has been working on the problem but that its efforts toward a solution are not well known.
"Most of the people don't realize that we have a committee that is looking at some of the alternatives to the problem," she said, conceding that "we don't have any solutions before us."
Asked why not, she replied: "That is a good question. I know we have had studies in the past, but we have never had a council that has taken action on those studies. I think you have a council now that is willing to take some action."
Rhodes said the city has studied the problem enough.
"It seems as though there are continuous studies being done and then these studies sit on the shelf and collect moss," she said.
Kruse said possible solutions include so-called roll-back curbs, one-way streets and marked parking spaces in residential areas.
Roll-back curbs would eliminate trees and grass traditionally set between the sidewalk and the street, using the space instead for parking on a gradually sloped incline. Making narrow two-way streets, on which parking is banned on one side, into one-way streets would permit parking on both sides. Marking parking spaces would discourage drivers from trying to jam their cars into spaces that are not big enough.
Jones said that lawn parking, which the city banned as unsightly in 1984, is the answer to the parking problem, providing it is closely regulated. She proposed that residents be permitted to park one car per lawn between 7:30 p.m. and 7:30 a.m. "It would be enforced by a special sticker," she said.
Rudolph and Rhodes said parking is banned needlessly along too many curbs. "Somebody went happy with the red paintbrush," Rhodes said.
Smith says that the city approval required to park on a concrete slab in the front of a house is unconstitutional and contributes to the parking problem. He also says development permitted by city government has caused parking problems. "Every apartment (and) condo that has gone up, people were assured that parking would be sufficient, and in every case there has been a parking problem," he said.
Smith and Rhodes proposed common driveways for town home development as a way of saving curb space.
Mayoral candidates Kruse and Ramsey both stress the differences in their personalities as well as other issues.
Ramsey, who once called Kruse a "Queen Bee" in council meetings, now describes her as autocratic, citing her "firing" of city board commissioners after she was elected in 1984. "We want independent thinkers. Otherwise, you have rubber stamps," he said.
He chuckled when told that Kruse said he was abrasive. "As far as the lady thinking that I am abrasive to her, perhaps it is because of the way she is treating the citizens," he said.
Kruse said she does not consider herself autocratic. "My policy is a belief in the democratic system," she said, adding that her 1984 replacement of city board commissioners "is no different from (the action of) the governor or the President of the United States. They review their cabinet." She said her nominees were supported by a majority of the council.
"I don't think I tell one person one thing and another, another," she said, responding to Ramsey's gibe. "If he is referring to the fact that I can change, that is one difference. . . . If you don't have a person who is flexible . . . then you are sitting in a no-growth community. I don't think that is what we want."
Ramsey also criticized Kruse for catering to development interests.
"The builders have had almost a free rein," he said. In 1984, when the city toughened its parking requirements for apartment buildings, "the mayor pushed through a deal that would give (builders) a 12-week grandfather clause that would allow certain individuals to get in under the deadline," he said.
Kruse seconded a motion by Hoffman to permit the grace period. It passed 3 to 2 with Kruse, Hoffman and Councilman Dan McKenzie in favor and Ramsey and Birdsall opposed. City records show that apartments with a total of 105 units were approved during the grace period, which ended Sept. 27, 1984.
"I didn't push it through, it went with a vote of the majority of the council. I was supportive of it," Kruse said. She contends that it was only fair to permit developers who had already drawn up plans to submit them under the old rules.
Ramsey also pointed out that Kruse's campaign finance reports show a $1,000 contribution from WATT-PAC, a political action group controlled by Watt Industries, one of the area's largest development firms. The group makes contributions to "further the goals of real estate development," according to its official report.
Kruse, who described the contribution as "a very nice surprise," said: "Maybe it is because I support growth and good development in communities. . . . I don't see anything wrong with being viewed as a supporter."
Council candidate Rhodes questioned Kruse's influence on two of his fellow candidates.
"I feel that Louise Jones and Larry Rudolph are controlled by the mayor. You see many of the same names on the nominating papers of all three," she said.
Jones, when told of Rhodes' comment, responded: "Nobody controls me. Sarann Kruse signed my nominating papers because when she came to me for help in her first campaign, I told her that I knew nothing of politics but that I would support her in any way that I could. I still feel that way about her. . . . I believe she's been the most outstanding mayor the city has ever had."
As for Rhodes, Jones called her "a trouble-maker from the very beginning."
"Every time she gets into a group, she is looking for some trouble that she can cause someone," she said.
Rudolph also denied being controlled by Kruse. "If anybody is going around saying that, they better know what they are talking about or I'll slap a lawsuit on them," he said.
Kruse said, "I don't control anyone," adding that she supports both Jones and Rudolph as good choices for the City Council.
The mayor and council members are paid $150 a month each.