The two City Council members who are facing a recall election June 16 have accused their opponents of fueling racial hatred in Monterey Park, but the opponents say the council members have only themselves to blame for racial tension.
Kevin Smith, a recall leader, said council members Barry L. Hatch and Patricia Reichenberger unleashed racial animosity when they voted for a resolution last year that endorsed English as the nation's official language and urged stricter enforcement of immigration laws.
Smith said the resolution "gave a license to people to vent their frustrations and anger toward the ethnic minorities." As a result, he said, "racism is alive and well in Monterey Park, and it's displayed every day."
A pro-recall campaign office on Atlantic Boulevard has received so much hate mail that it has a special bulletin board to display examples. Smith reproduced one of those examples, which contained slurs against Mexicans, Chinese and Japanese, in one of his recall campaign flyers and identified the source as "a strong supporter of Hatch and Reichenberger," although he conceded that he did not know who wrote it.
This action infuriated the council members. Hatch said that reproducing such slurs inflames racial animosity.
"It's very base and out of line," he said.
In addition, Hatch charged, recall workers have gone door-to-door telling Asian and Latino immigrants that the council members want to deport them.
"They're saying I'm going to send (the Chinese) back to Taiwan and Hong Kong," Hatch said. "They're telling the Hispanics that if their skin is brown, they will be either arrested or checked for identification and, if they don't have identifying documents indicating they are legal or Americans, they will be jailed. A number of people were told that if they spoke Spanish they would be arrested."
Hatch said that none of these claims are true and that using such tactics "could very well create wounds where the scars will be felt for many years."
But Smith said recall workers are just telling voters about the racist actions and statements attributed to Hatch and Reichenberger. And that record, drawn from public files and news stories, he said, gives Asians, who make up 40% of the city's 60,500 residents, and Latinos, who represent 37%, plenty of reason to feel threatened.
Smith said: "The racism is there, and we're using that to educate people. Unfortunately it (racism) won't be removed until we take affirmative action and remove the council members."
Although racism has emerged as the major issue in the election, it is not the only one. There is also a controversy over Police Chief Jon Elder, who has been on paid leave since August for stress and just filed a $500,000 claim against the city for remarks made by Hatch. In addition, Hatch and Reichenberger contend that the racism charge is a smoke screen to distract attention from what they say is the real concern of developers supporting the recall: the tighter development standards imposed by the City Council over their objections.
Hatch, a 50-year-old teacher, and Reichenberger, 42, who is on leave from a sales job, were elected in April, 1986, with another political newcomer, Chris Houseman, sweeping out of office three incumbents. All three winners campaigned on the promise of ending ill-planned growth, which they said had produced ugly, crowded condominiums and cluttered mini-malls, choking the city with traffic.
Although growth and development standards were the overriding issues, last year's election, some have said, also carried racial implications, removing the council's only two Latinos and its only Chinese member.
One of the ousted councilmen, David Almada, said after his defeat that the result was influenced by racial concerns. "The attack on ethnic communities, especially the Asian community, was very strong," he said. Asian immigration was linked to overdevelopment, he said, and "resentment of immigration was tied into concern with crowded streets."
The new council took office in April and on June 3 adopted its controversial Resolution No. 9004, which advocated federal action to "remove aliens who are residing in the United States illegally" and supported legislation "to make English the official language of the United States."
Passage of the resolution brought a storm of protests from groups that called it a racist attack against Latinos and Asians who have immigrated to Monterey Park. The Coalition for Harmony in Monterey Park (CHAMP) was formed to organize protest demonstrations and circulate petitions for repeal of the resolution.
While CHAMP pursued repeal, some of the group's leaders advocated a more drastic step: recall of council members. Smith said CHAMP did not develop a consensus for recall, so he plunged ahead on his own, forming a new group, the Assn. for Better Cityhood.
Smith, 28, works for his family's company, one of the city's leading developers. He formerly owned doughnut shops and a car wash and also has built a small number of houses on his own.
Smith said that although he is Anglo, he is particularly sensitive to racism, having grown up in multiracial Monterey Park, married a woman of Mexican descent and formed a business partnership with a man who is Chinese.
Says Immigrants Blamed
Serving with Smith as co-chairman of the Assn. for Better Cityhood is Stephen Tan, a 37-year-old insurance agent. Tan, who immigrated to Monterey Park from Malaysia in 1979, said Hatch and Reichenberger have been unable to accept the way Monterey Park has been changed by immigrants. Instead, he said, they have blamed immigrants for all of the city's ills.
Hatch and Reichenberger have denied that they have targeted minorities and said that their insistence on better development applies to all developers, not just to those who are Asian.
Originally, the recall effort also was directed at Councilman Cam Briglio, who joined with Hatch and Reichenberger in voting for the disputed resolution a year ago. But in October, Briglio withdrew his support of the resolution, and it was rescinded on a 3-2 vote. Smith said Briglio's reversal and personal popularity in the Chinese community made it impossible to collect enough recall signatures against him.
A total of 4,536 signatures of registered voters was required to force a recall election. City Clerk Pauline Lemire said petition circulators gathered 4,580 valid signatures against Reichenberger and 4,719 against Hatch.
Both Briglio and Councilman G. Monty Manibog have been at odds with Hatch and Reichenberger and attended a dinner to raise funds for the recall effort. But both insisted that they are not involved in the recall campaign. Briglio said he was invited to the dinner and did not know it was a fund-raiser for the recall until he got there. Manibog said he did not buy his own ticket to the dinner and therefore did not contribute to the recall campaign.
When the recall petition was first initiated, Manibog opposed it, saying that council members "ought to finish out their terms unless there is some indictment or charge against them." But now, although saying he will not campaign for or against Hatch and Reichenberger, Manibog strongly rebutted their contention that they are under attack for raising development standards.
"The big false issue is development," Manibog said. "When they speak of overdevelopment, they are talking about the Chinese."
What was once a city known for its racial harmony, he said, has "deteriorated to a city of hate."
In addition, Manibog accused Hatch and Reichenberger of pressuring both the city manager and police chief out of office. City Manager Lloyd de Llamas has resigned as full-time city manager to become a partner in a private business, but is continuing to work for the city on a part-time basis. He has denied that his decision to leave is tied to politics.
Difficulties With Chief
Hatch and Reichenberger said they applied no pressure to De Llamas but admitted having difficulties with Chief Elder, who has been off work since August. Both said that they had concerns about the Police Department but that Elder left his job, claiming stress, before they had a chance for face-to-face discussions.
Hatch acknowledged that there were rumors after the April election that he and Reichenberger were harassing the chief and seeking his retirement. Hatch said Elder should have come to them to clear the air.
"If he had come to us and talked, presented his views and asked us if what he had heard is true regarding our comments and feelings, I would have supported the man. . . . I wouldn't support him at all now in any position in the Police Department. He has indicated to me that he can't handle it."
Elder last week filed a $500,000 claim against the city, charging that Hatch released confidential information about him. Constance Wiggins, risk manager for the city, said that the claim is not a matter of public record until it goes to the City Council later this month and that she could not release details about its contents. Elder declined to comment on his claim or the recall election.
But Hatch said the claim apparently refers to a statement he made at a public forum disclosing that Elder had not turned in his city car, gas credit card or weapon since being placed on injured-on-duty status Aug. 5. Hatch said the credit card was recently canceled by the city, but Elder still has a city car and remains on full salary.
Hatch and Reichenberger both said they believe Elder has been helping the recall effort.
But Smith said Elder has not aided the recall. He said Elder, who has been on the police force 28 years, is highly popular and has worked hard to build good relations with all racial and ethnic groups.
"What has happened to him is proof that the council is irresponsible," he said.
In one campaign flyer attacking Hatch and Reichenberger, Smith's Assn. for Better Cityhood accused the two council members of attacking Elder for defending Latinos and Asians.
The flyer also reprinted a quote from the Los Angeles Herald-Examiner in which Reichenberger refers in a disparaging way to "little Mexicans." Reichenberger denied that she ever used that phrase.
Reichenberger said racial problems in Monterey Park existed "many years before we got into office." She said that when the city received an All-American City award in 1985 for its efforts to assimilate immigrants, "there was so much hostility" in the city that the award was taken as "a big joke."
Cites Statewide Vote
Reichenberger said the disputed resolution that the council adopted in July was not racist. If advocating the adoption of English as the official language is racist, she said, then 73% of the voters of the state are racist because they voted for such a measure last November.
Hatch said the real issues in this election are "sour grapes" coming from those, such as Councilman Almada, who lost power in last year's city election and from developers who want to regain control of the city.
Smith said the issues are racism and accountability, and charged that Hatch and Reichenberger are the tools of the Residents Assn. of Monterey Park (RAMP), a group that has fought to limit growth.
Voters June 16 will decide not only whether to recall Hatch and Reichenberger but also how to replace them if they are recalled. The ballot will give voters the option of insisting on a special election or allowing the other council members to make appointments.
TEXT OF RESOLUTION PASSED, LATER RESCINDED NOW, THEREFORE, THE CITY COUNCIL OF THE CITY OF MONTEREY PARK, CALIFORNIA, DOES RESOLVE AS FOLLOWS:
1. That it opposes the so-called Sanctuary Movement as a violation of United States immigration law, and denounces, as creating poor role models for this nation's political leadership, those city councils that have declared their cities as "sanctuaries" for illegal aliens;
2. That the City of Monterey Park will never become nor support any city that does become a "sanctuary" city;
3. That the Monterey Park Police Department will cooperate with the INS in regards to illegal aliens;
4. That the City of Monterey Park urgently requests that the United States Congress pass legislation to control United States borders and to remove aliens who are residing in the United States illegally;
5. That the City of Monterey Park supports legislation to make English the Official Language of the United States.