Three political newcomers who accused the City Council of allowing Monterey Park to become overrun with ugly condominiums and cluttered mini-malls won election to the council Tuesday, ousting three incumbents.
Defeated were Mayor Rudy Peralta and council members Lily Lee Chen and David R. Almada. Voters replaced them with Chris Houseman, a 27-year-old law student; Barry Hatch, 49, a teacher; and Pat Reichenberger, 40, a sales representative.
Houseman led the field with 4,948 votes, followed by Hatch with 3,990 and Reichenberger with 3,778. Chen finished fourth in the field of seven candidates with 3,125 votes. Chen's vote total was 1,639 below the number she received in 1982 when she was elected to the council in a landslide. Both elections attracted about 39% of the voters.
Hatch said development was the major issue, but voters also were upset at the "arrogance" of the the council, reflected in its refusal last year to place a measure on the ballot that would have declared English the city's official language. Hatch co-sponsored the measure and Reichenberger circulated petitions for it. Although nearly 3,500 people signed the petitions, the City Council refused to submit the measure to voters because of a legal defect, and a Superior Court judge upheld the council's position.
Hatch said the council could have corrected the legal defect and submitted the issue to voters, but chose instead to denounce it as a racially divisive attack on Asian immigrants. Hatch denied that the measure was racially motivated, asserting that it was intended to encourage immigrants to use English and maintain a common language.
Voters resented the fact that they were denied a chance to vote on the issue, Hatch said. But the English-language proposal itself was not a major issue in the campaign, with voters electing one candidate, Houseman, who was opposed to it, as well as the two who had worked for it. In addition, Frank J. Arcuri, who co-sponsored the measure with Hatch and was its most vocal advocate, finished last in the council balloting, with 1,992 votes.
Latino Members Lose
With the defeat of Almada and Peralta, the council loses its only Latino members, and Chen's defeat removes the only council member of Chinese descent. Councilman G. Monty Manibog, who is at the midpoint of a four-year term, was born in the Philippines, and the other council member, Cam Briglio, is of Italian descent. Houseman noted that his election will bring a new minority to the City Council since his mother is a California Indian. The city population of more than 58,000 is estimated at 40% Asian, 37% Latino, 22% Anglo and 1% black.
Houseman said he believes that Monterey Park, which a few years ago could have been considered "a model of racial harmony," now faces serious racial problems. "It's very apparent and very frightening," he said.
Houseman said Monterey Park has coped better with a huge influx of Asian immigrants over the past decade than most cities would have, but that racial fears and resentments exist.
Almada said racial concerns influenced the election results.
"The attack on ethnic communities, especially the Asian community, was very strong," Almada said. He said Asian immigration was linked to overdevelopment of the city.
"Resentment of immigration was tied into concern with crowded streets," he said.
But Chen said she did not believe that race was an issue with voters.
"The issue was incumbents versus non-incumbents," she said. Chen said she intends to remain active politically and said her defeat may leave her more free to speak out and help overcome racial differences in the city.
Hatch noted that the challengers defeated the incumbents in precincts throughout the city. He said he could not have won without substantial support from Latinos and Asians, because they are the two largest voting groups.
Manibog, who will succeed Peralta as mayor next Tuesday under a system that rotates the position among council members, said that although he was sorry to see the incumbents lose, he took satisfaction in the voter rejection of Arcuri, who has regularly denounced the council as the pawn of Chinese developers and has said Monterey Park is becoming "the new West Coast Chinatown."
'I Would Have Resigned'
"If he (Arcuri) would have been elected, I would have resigned," Manibog said. Arcuri said his efforts have been aimed at promoting a dialogue with Asians over the city's problems, but Manibog said Arcuri exploited racial concerns. "He was too extreme," Manibog said.
Hatch said Arcuri, who seems to delight in political confrontations, could have been elected if he had not alienated so many of his former political allies. Both Hatch and Reichenberger divorced themselves from Arcuri politically after working with him on the English-language initiative.
Arcuri said both he and the incumbents were the victims of a "well-oiled political machine," which he identified as the Residents Assn. of Monterey Park (RAMP), a homeowner group that has fought to limit the city's growth. RAMP distributed a mailer assailing the incumbents and endorsing what turned out to be the winning candidates.
Although they had some of the same supporters, the winners did not run as a slate and have differences in political philosophy. Hatch and Reichenberger are Republicans; Houseman has been active in Democratic Party politics.
Arcuri Claims Credit
Although he did not win a seat on the council, Arcuri said he believes his attacks on the incumbents helped bring about their defeat. And, he said, he believes the new council can be counted upon to control the city's development.
But he said he is not so sure the council will produce the kind of sign ordinance he believes the city needs, so he plans to undertake an initiative restricting the use of foreign languages on business signs.
Reichenberger said she found many voters concerned about the proliferation of signs in Chinese. But, she said, neither she nor most voters with whom she has talked favor a ban on foreign-language signs. "People would settle for 50-50," she said, explaining that at least half of every sign should be in English.
Reichenberger said she does not expect the proposal to declare English an official language to come before the City Council again. She noted that there is a petition campaign to put the proposal on the state ballot. It is now a state issue, not a local one, she said.
Not Against Growth
Reichenberger, Hatch and Houseman all said they believe the city needs stronger controls on development, but they are not against business growth. In fact, they said, they hope to bring more large businesses to the city.
"We're all for development," Hatch said, "but no more mini-malls."
He cited one current project that is dividing a closed supermarket into 16 stores as the kind of development the city will no longer permit.
Houseman said Monterey Park has allowed crowded projects that other cities would reject. "We've put the welcome mat out for every rinky-dink development around," he said.
Reichenberger said that Chinese signs and Asian architecture have given the city a foreign appearance that is resented by many residents, including Chinese. But, she said, these objections to the way the city is being developed should not be interpreted as an attack on Asian people. "It's the architecture, not the people," she said.
And all three of the newly elected council members said they believe that the city's ethnic groups can live in harmony.
"We need a period of calm in this city," Houseman said.
Hatch said the absence of Latinos on the council and the presence of only one Asian is irrelevant.
"I feel it's not your ethnic origin but what's in your heart and head that matters," he said.