Local Elections : L. B. Incumbents Hall, Sato Await Voters’ Judgment
In an election significant beyond individual council districts, voters will decide Tuesday who will replace retiring Councilman Marc A. Wilder and whether veteran Councilwomen Jan Hall and Eunice Sato will serve another term.
By July 15, when the new council is sworn in, at least one first-term member, and possibly three, will hold a seat. An Aug. 26 special election in the 6th District will add another new member to the council.
That shift of up to four members on the nine-member council could be the most far-reaching in decades and comes as the city is planning for the next century--and while it is trying to decide if it wants a full-time mayor and more flights at its airport.
District Issues Dominate
However, the issues of full-time mayor and airport expansion, and other citywide considerations, have taken a back seat to district concerns and to matters of style and personality in all three races to be decided in runoff elections this week.
In District 1, attorneys Evan Anderson Braude, a 38-year-old Democrat, and Ron Batson, a 46-year-old Republican, are waging an increasingly partisan and hostile campaign to see who will replace Wilder. Batson led by 11 votes in the April 8 primary.
In the city’s southeast, two-term District 3 incumbent Hall, 43, is fighting to survive another challenge from dentist Jim Serles, 45, whom she narrowly defeated in 1982. Hall led by 108 votes in April.
And in District 7, Sato, 64, is trying to overcome the aggressive 14-month campaign of delicatessen owner Ray Grabinski, 42, who shocked the three-term incumbent in the primary by forcing her into a runoff. Sato had said she expected to win by 2,000 votes in the primary, but led by 127.
The incumbents have been criticized for lack of leadership and have responded by citing their records. All three campaigns have been bitter.
Full-Time Mayor Urged
In what have amounted to campaign asides, five of the six candidates have said they want a full-time mayor and some additional restructuring of city government, with only Sato favoring the present ceremonial mayoralty. In recent weeks even Sato, who initially called the restructuring a waste of taxpayers’ money, has allowed that the matter should be placed on the November ballot.
The airport issue, though hardly foremost in any race, has taken on some immediacy in two campaigns because parts of the 3rd and 7th Districts are affected by commercial air traffic. All four candidates in those districts oppose more flights.
Grabinski has stressed the issue more than any other candidate, criticizing Sato for a change of position. Sato says she wants to maintain the current schedule of 18 flights a day if it is legally defensible in the face of federal pressure to increase flights.
But in a March campaign questionnaire, Sato said that “as long as the noise impact inside the perimeter of the airport is contained, the flights possibly can be increased to 21 or 26 or 41.”
Grabinski, a resident of California Heights, in the flight path, has cited noise and safety concerns in opposing any more flights.
In District 3, Hall has mentioned that Serles, as president of the Chamber of Commerce in 1979, favored increasing flights. Serles says he argued for a jump from 12 to 15 flights seven years ago but now believes the number should remain at 18.
In District 1, a downtown area far from the airport, Braude and Batson say more flights seem inevitable, considering federal insistence on expansion. “We probably need some expansion,” Braude said. Batson said a City Council-appointed task force’s recommendation of 41 flights if noise can be controlled with quieter aircraft seems reasonable “considering the threat of federal government takeover.”
Another issue that must be handled on a citywide basis is campaign contribution reform. With reform stuck in a council committee for 18 months, it may now be revived because campaign expenses this spring have bothered all six candidates.
Batson, who has personally financed about half of his $50,000 campaign, says solicitation of contributions tends to make council members beholden to individuals and special interests. Braude, who expects to match Batson’s expenditures, said he hates “always having to ask for more money” and wants to see limits on contributions.
Record Campaign Costs
By May 22, with Hall and Serles each spending at least $75,000, the total cost of the campaign will easily be a record for a Long Beach council race. The Braude-Batson race will cost $100,000, the candidates say, while Sato, who has spent a total of $20,000 in three previous campaigns, says she will spend at least $40,000 this time. Grabinski had spent $17,000 by May 22, but costs will eventually total at least $25,000, he said.
Council members are paid $12,600 a year.
Crime is one citywide issue that has received much attention in each race, despite assertions by police officials that there isn’t much a council member can do to control it except provide the Police Department with sufficient manpower. The Police Department budget has increased sharply each of the last four years, and 41 more officers are in the city’s proposed 1986-87 spending plan.
Though citywide in scope, the candidates have looked at law enforcement as a district concern.
Batson and Braude say crime is the No. 1 problem in the downtown area, which has had more reported offenses than any other for at least a decade.
In flyers and brochures, a stern-faced Batson peers out at voters and says: “Crime! If we fight it we stop it.” He says vagrancy laws and health codes should be enforced to keep transients off city streets.
Foot Patrol Urged
Braude suggests a foot patrol for downtown and brandishes his Police Officers Assn. endorsement, but he said Batson has suggested that “the homeless be thrown in jail,” which shows a stunning lack of compassion.
“My basic philosophy is to try to include people in the government process and deal with them in a compassionate manner,” Braude said. Batson, in turn, said that past Braude comments have indicated that he “doesn’t see crime as as grave a problem as I do.”
Both Sato and Grabinski have embraced the crime issue. Sato cites 1985 statistics that show crime is down in District 7 and cites her record as an early organizer of Neighborhood Watch groups. Grabinski, in turn, has trumpeted in flyers a sharp increase in crime for the first quarter of 1986, compared with same period in 1985.
Police Department records show that while reported crime was up in the 7th District this year, major offenses were down 6.5% in 1985, with a 13.2% reduction in home burglaries accounting for most of the decrease. Violent offenses--those against people--were up,
from 406 to 416. Since 1982, when Sato was last elected, serious crimes against both people and property have declined from 3,144 to 2,977, police records show.
The severity of crime cannot be measured only by statistics, Grabinski maintains. “People I’ve talked to have been robbed and mugged. On Pacific Avenue, what they’re up against is just horrendous. People ask Mrs. Sato what she’s done in the last 12 years about gangs and drugs,” he said.
Drugs were flagrantly hawked for a year by youths from sidewalks at one West Side condominium development, Grabinski says. Sato was alerted to the situation but did not effectively respond until recently, he said. He also said that Police Department drug and gang units are badly understaffed.
“Crime is a continual problem. It can’t be forgotten, but it’s not new,” Sato said. A recent crackdown on drug dealers both at the condo complex cited by Grabinski and at nearby Silverado Park are the results of her complaints to the police chief, she said.
Even as crimes have increased this year, home burglaries have decreased, which shows that her Neighborhood Watch efforts are still paying off, Sato said.
The councilwoman said she did not know how many officers are assigned to gang and drug details. (The department has two officers assigned full-time to gang problems, but patrol and other units also respond to such calls. The department has a small, special drug task force that concentrates on the city’s most serious problems, police officials said.)
Police Pay at Issue
“I’m not saying we have enough officers,” Sato said. “We always need more of everything. But I’ve tried everything to work with the gang problem. I’ve called church meetings and the churches don’t even respond.”
The Police Officers Assn. has endorsed Grabinski and given $3,250 into his campaign. Sato says that is because she, unlike Grabinski, refused to agree to a $2,840 annual raise for officers before contract negotiations. Union officials say they only asked that Sato endorse in concept a wage increase
that would bring police salaries in line with firefighters’ wages. Grabinski says he supports the POA position but never committed to it, even in concept.
The crime issue in affluent, oceanfront District 3 is not so much muggings as property crime. Serles insists that “crime is out of control. It’s continued to be on the rise the last several years.”
He says that, if elected, he will push to give arrest powers to the 39 Marine Security Patrol officers assigned to beach areas of the 3rd District. That would beef up enforcement at no extra cost, he said.
Hall, who has the police union’s endorsement and $1,700 in contributions from it, claims responsibility for bringing foot patrols to trendy Belmont Shore as well as more foot and bike patrols to beach areas. She has emphasized her efforts to organize Neighborhood Watch units after 1981 statistics showed that beach neighborhoods, especially Naples, had among the highest burglary and property crime rates in the city.
Reports of major crime in District 3, though up from 3,045 in 1984 to 3,129 last year, have decreased from 3,447 in 1981, police report. Similarly, property crime was up from 1984 to 1985, but well down during the last four years. For example, home burglaries jumped from 579 to 654 in 1985, but were still 234 offenses less than the 1981 level.