Challengers Cite Growth, Responsiveness as Issues in La Canada Race
Commercial growth, responsive government and preservation of a pleasant residential area are issues raised by two of four candidates who have filed to run for two La Canada Flintridge City Council seats.
Mayor J. Bixby Smith and Mayor pro tem Jack Hastings will face Ed Phelps, an attorney, and Chris Valente, executive director of the La Canada Youth House-Community Center and president of the Chamber of Commerce, in the April 12 election.
The candidates are seeking four-year terms on the five-member council, which elects the mayor and the mayor pro tem.
The two challengers, both in their first attempts for public office, have criticized the council’s handling of commercial and residential development and contend that council members have lost touch with the community.
“I guess all these people have their hearts in the right place,” said Phelps, 38. “It’s just that they’ve been in office awhile, and they have a preset idea of what the city is forming into.
“In the brief amount of campaigning I’ve done, I’ve gone to people’s homes and met with them, and they said it’s the first time anybody has come out from the city” to hear their views, Phelps said.
Phelps and Valente said the city’s residential quality could erode under the current council.
“I believe in controlled growth,” said Valente, 45. “I feel it’s interesting that there are six or seven mini-malls going up and all at once they are for controlled growth.”
Phelps, who led a neighborhood protest against the council’s plans to move city offices to the historic Lanterman House, said commercial growth must be controlled to preserve the city’s residential charm. The council later abandoned the plans to move the offices.
Smith, a 62-year-old retired Lockheed executive, said the council is not ignoring residents’ concerns. He said the council allows property owners to exercise their rights, including the right to develop their property.
“However, we are very, very, picky about how you develop it,” he said. “That’s why we require natural landscaping. That’s why we don’t have neon lights.
“But we don’t advocate development. We don’t say ‘Hey, we’ll condemn some property here so you can put in a big K mart,’ ” Smith said.
While Phelps’ criticism of the council relates largely to development, Valente, 45, argues that the council does not control money well.
“I disagree with the philosophy of the City Council,” Valente said, referring to $30,000 it spent on consulting fees for a study of the Lanterman House.
Smith and Hastings said the money spent was necessary to determine if the building was structurally sound for public use.
Hastings, a 59-year-old builder and contractor, and Smith said they are looking for ways to finance public-service improvements.
Hastings said he would like to make better use of the city resources, particularly park and recreation services.
“I’d like to increase our programs and do a better job on the maintenance on the fields,” he said.
The two challengers also attacked the council’s plans to beautify Foothill Boulevard, the city’s commercial district. The project is to begin with the removal of 21 melaleuca trees in the street’s median.
“I think they went about it all wrong, without going to the people and asking,” Valente said. “They are taking full-grown trees and replacing them. They have lost touch with what the people want.”
Smith said Valente is wrong.
“We listen very, very carefully to everyone who comes and talks to us, and then I sit back and say, ‘What is best for the city?’ I represent every single person in the city, and, of course, I can’t make every person happy every time.”