In this city of 1,052, generations of kinfolk raise their children in the same neighborhoods in which they grew up. Family ties carry over into city government; many city employees, councilmen and police officers share the same surnames. And with only 484 registered voters, large family voting blocs can make the difference in an election.
“We do have strong family ties,” said Fred Herrera, assistant city manager, “and most of the people are very loyal to each other familywise.”
Some of the nine candidates for three seats in Tuesday’s City Council election are trying to change that tradition and contend that new people with new ideas are needed to deal with issues such as waste-to-energy plants and a housing shortage.
“We cannot run it as a mom-and-pop store anymore,” said candidate Richard Acosta, 35. “It’s a big business.”
But even Acosta is related to a city employee. Acosta’s wife, Carol, is the city’s senior recreation leader and coordinator for senior citizen activities. She also is the niece of Henry Barbosa, a former councilman who lost a reelection bid in 1984.
Acosta, a shipping clerk and inventory coordinator with an envelope company, believes that the long history of family control of city government is changing. He says even though he has family ties with the city, things would be different if he were elected because he would separate family from politics.
“I look at the city as a business and not a family holding,” Acosta said.
Candidates Gaston Hernandez, 24, an operations manager for a company that manufactures body-building equipment, and Mauro Martinez, 70, a retired real estate broker and currently a member of the Planning Commission, say it is time for “new blood.”
Hernandez and Martinez say too many family relations cloud a councilman’s vision and result in bad policy.
“It keeps these particular councilmen tied down and from voting truthfully,” Martinez said. A council member with relatives on the city payroll “has special interests for his own people, and he doesn’t try to listen to others.”
Incumbent candidates Pat S. Miranda, who is the mayor, and Councilman Joe Breceda both belong to families that have been entrenched in city politics for many of the city’s 29 years, but they say that in a small city, family members are bound to work side by side. The history of family control is not an election issue, they said.
Miranda, 60, who has been a councilman 24 years, owns a lunch stand and is running for his seventh term. He is the uncle of Councilman Michael Miranda, who is not seeking reelection. The newly elected council will select the next mayor from among themselves. Pat Miranda has a brother who is the chief of police and a daughter who is a dispatcher for the Police Department. Another brother is a parks and recreation commissioner.
Breceda, 60, a retired welder who has been on the council 12 years, has a brother who is a sergeant in the Police Department. Another brother is a former city councilman. Breceda also is a cousin of council candidate Jacquelyn Breceda.
“We all have relatives that work in the city,” Pat Miranda said. “We are all interrelated. Almost anyone you hire locally is related to someone.”
Four challengers do not see family connections as a problem for the city. The question of family relationships is not important, according to candidates Jacquelyn Breceda, 27, a savings application specialist in computer software for a data processing center; Margaret Barbosa, 58, the city’s clerk-treasurer; Robert Diaz, 35, an elementary school teacher; and Salvador (Sal) Hernandez, 47, owner of a refuse company.
Salvador Hernandez is not related to candidate Gaston Hernandez. Diaz says he has no relatives in city government. Jacquelyn Breceda is a cousin of Joe Breceda and daughter of former councilman Richard Breceda. Barbosa is married to former councilman Henry Barbosa.
“I don’t see that it has anything to do with my running for office,” said Margaret Barbosa, who would give up her appointed clerk-treasurer post if she wins a council seat.
“I receive words of wisdom from anyone, I don’t care which family it comes from,” Jacquelyn Breceda said. “I think everyone has their own ideas. I’m not my father.”
The incumbents point to the progress the city has made under their tenures as proof that they are doing a good job.
Pat Miranda and Joe Breceda said that with their help, the City Council has been responsible for luring big industry to the city. They point to the Miller Brewing Co., as well as a Toys R Us distribution center, and the Home Savings of America corporate headquarters as developments their councils brought into the city. They also cite a new senior citizens center and an expanded City Hall as accomplishments.
Martinez is the only candidate who strongly opposes a new industry proposed for the city, a waste-to-energy plant that would be built in a quarry at Irwindale Avenue and the Foothill Freeway. The plant by Pacific Waste Management Corp. would burn 3,000 tons of trash a day.
The proposal has drawn fire from a number of civic organizations and neighboring cities, including Duarte, Azusa, Monrovia and West Covina. Officials in the neighbor cities contend that the plant would produce excessive pollution.
Most Are Uncommitted
Most of the candidates are waiting for more information on the safety and pollution aspects of the plant, which is being reviewed by the state Energy Commission, before making their positions known.
But Martinez said that the plant “won’t do us any good. It will produce these harmful gases and truck traffic. We were trying to build this small quiet community, and this is like a monster. It’s not for us.”
A housing shortage is a common concern of some of the candidates. According to Herrera, the assistant city manager, there are approximately 330 single-family homes in the city, and no apartments or condominiums. The homes are concentrated in three main neighborhoods within the 9 1/2-square-mile city.
Acosta, Jacquelyn Breceda, Diaz, Gaston Hernandez and Salvador Hernandez all say more low-cost housing is needed.
“Many of the young people in Irwindale plan to marry and live in Irwindale, but they have to live with their parents now because there is little housing in the city,” Jacquelyn Breceda said.
“I would like to see more housing come in,” Salvador Hernandez said. “The kids are growing up now and coming in with their families. Where are they going to go?”
Joe Breceda said that more housing already is in the works and that the council has met with developers in preliminary talks. “The young people want homes and we are trying very hard to get them,” Breceda said. “By next year or the year after, we’ll have something going on as far as housing is concerned.”
But Acosta suggested that the current council may be afraid to bring more housing into the city because it would change voting patterns.
“Some of our past councilmen don’t want to see our population increase,” Acosta said. “It doesn’t really take (many votes) for a councilman to get in. Another 100 or so homes could change the voting, and they’re afraid of that.”
Joe Breceda said, however, “That’s not true. I haven’t heard anything like that.”
The challengers have other concerns as well.
Gaston Hernandez and Salvador Hernandez both said that more money should be spent on senior citizens and youths.
Jacquelyn Breceda and Diaz would like to start transportation programs; Diaz proposed a dial-a-ride for senior citizens and the handicapped and Breceda suggested a busing program for seniors.
Diaz, who was appointed to the Planning Commission six months ago, also said he would propose a special tutoring program for students, would work with private industry to develop a list of job openings in the city, and try to give priority for jobs to Irwindale residents.
As a city employee for 25 years, Margaret Barbosa said she “knows the ropes” of how a city operates and could help the city with her years of experience. “I know the city’s financial condition,” she said.
Acosta and Diaz both think there is a need for better long-range city planning.
“The city doesn’t really have a format” for planning, Acosta said.
Jacquelyn Breceda also said she would like to see a shopping center developed in the city.
Incumbent Joe Breceda said that a shopping center was approved in concept by the council two meetings ago. “There’s a plan for a shopping center. We’ve been talking about it,” he said.