Backers Vow to Try Again If Recall Fails

Times Staff Writer

Supporters of a recall campaign against Mayor Jack B. White and Councilman Leo W. King say they will continue their fight against the councilmen if the recall election fails Tuesday.

Proponents targeted the two councilmen, along with a third, Robert McNeill, who has since died, because they were regarded as leaders of a city-imposed utility tax and a controversial redevelopment project. The utility tax will be eliminated by late next year.

"Six months down the line, we'll do it again," said Herschel Keyser, a member of Concerned Citizens for Better Government and leader of the recall campaign. Under state election law, a person who defeats an attempted recall cannot be a target of a subsequent recall campaign for six months.

"We know that these things (the utility tax) can be reimposed and other things can be done to us and that council is the one to do it," Keyser said.

Under state law, McNeill's name must appear on the ballot despite his death in December. A special election has been set in July to replace him. If King and White are recalled, their replacements also will be elected then.

This is Keyser's second attempt to oust City Council members. He initiated a recall campaign in 1985 against King and Councilman Rick Gibson, but did not collect enough signatures to force an election, according to City Clerk Linda L. Gair.

Both King and White are confident that they will survive the recall attempt.

"Put in big, bold headlines that the recall fails," said White, who has served on the council since 1978. "I really feel that the people are behind us."

Argument Deflated

King, a member of the council for 15 years, pointed out that the council has already moved to phase out the utility tax, deflating some of the arguments against the councilmen.

And he added that those who oppose community redevelopment should take their opposition to the state Legislature, not the City Council.

"If we stop (community redevelopment agency projects) in our city, that does not stop it in every city around us," King said. "Therefore, all the cities around us could siphon off all the good developments through their community redevelopment agencies.

"I told them to go to the Legislature and stop it throughout the state," King said of the advice he gave to the Baldwin Park Homeowners Group. "Then (cities) would all be on equal footing."

Supporters of the councilmen say they are concerned about the effect of the recall on the community's image.

"A recall, regardless of how justified it is--and this one isn't--tarnishes the image of any community," said Frank Fitzgerald, president of the Baldwin Park Homeowners Assn., not to be confused with the Baldwin Park Homeowners Group, which supports the recall campaign.

Fitzgerald said new businesses that might otherwise be interested in moving into Baldwin Park would "not like to go into a city that has any kind of turmoil and I don't think you can call a recall anything but turmoil."

"If you've got a bad element there, if you've got a political climate that is unstable, you'd probably go next door where there's a more politically stable climate," Fitzgerald said.

$7,000 Raised

The homeowners association, formed last year to support the Sierra Vista Redevelopment Project, has raised about $7,000 to help the councilmen retain their seats.

The recall campaign began last year when members of Concerned Citizens for Better Government and the Baldwin Park Homeowners Group combined petition efforts demanding a recall vote and a referendum on the Sierra Vista project.

Members of the Concerned Citizens group were upset by the utility tax that the City Council imposed in August, 1985. City officials contended that the 5% tax on electricity, gas, water and telephone bills was needed to replace $655,000 in lost federal revenue-sharing funds that had been used to help fund the city's Police Department.

Since it began collecting the tax, the city has raised about $1.4 million and used it to hire six new police officers and raise salaries in the department.

To End in 1988

The City Council reduced the tax to 4% in 1986. And last month, the council voted to phase out the tax beginning in April, when the tax will be decreased to 3%. It will drop to 2% in January, and be eliminated in November, 1988.

The action, however, brought accusations from recall supporters that the council was merely trying to keep voters from ousting the two councilmen and was not concerned about the tax burden on residents.

Both sides pointed out the council would have had to either eliminate the tax or submit it to voters by November, 1988, under Proposition 62, a measure approved by voters last year.

Homeowners who circulated petitions were also upset by the city's Sierra Vista Redevelopment Project, which calls for the Community Redevelopment Agency to spend up to $200 million to help finance commercial and industrial development along the San Bernardino Freeway.

Fear for Homes

Residents feared that their homes would be taken to make room for office buildings and retail stores.

But voters approved the Sierra Vista project in a referendum last November, 52% to 40% of those voting. The remaining 8% did not vote on that particular issue.

The homeowners group has since filed a lawsuit against the city's redevelopment agency seeking to stop the project, according to Loren Lovejoy, secretary of the Baldwin Park Homeowners Group. No trial date has been set in the case.

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