Local Elections : Vista, San Marcos Voters to Judge Council Members on Growth

Times Staff Writer

In two neighboring cities in North County, the question for voters next month is whether city council members are appropriately addressing the issue of growth--and, in the case of the Vista Unified School District, whether property taxes should be raised to pay for that growth.

Voters in San Marcos and Vista have uncrowded council races to resolve, although the potential exists for voters in each city to remove a relatively well-entrenched trio of incumbents in exchange for new council majorities.

In San Marcos, Mayor Lee Thibadeau is opposed for reelection by two candidates, and Council Members Mike Preston and F. H. (Corky) Smith together face only two challengers.

Salaries at Issue


San Marcos voters will also decide two municipal propositions--one that would raise council members’ salaries from $300 a month to $600 a month, and another that would prohibit the council from doing away with repealing the city’s commission on mobile-home rent review without a citywide vote.

In Vista, Mayor Gloria McClellan faces a sole opponent, and the two other council members seeking a return to office--Nancy Wade and Bernard Rappaport--face a total of two.

Vista voters also have a municipal proposition on the ballot: whether the mayor should serve four years rather than two.

Perhaps the most far-reaching ballot measure in the two cities is a $63-million bond issue in the Vista Unified School District. The money would renovate aging schools and build sorely needed new ones in a district that already relies on relocatable classrooms to serve more than a third of its students.


Vista school officials say they need $36.1 million immediately for renovation of some of the district’s oldest schools and to build three elementary schools and a middle school to relieve crowding. Some of the money would also a new central kitchen.

The balance of $26.9 million to be generated by the bond issue would help finance 10 more elementary schools, two middle schools and a new high school that will be needed in the district by 2000. That amount would meet only about half the eventual construction costs, and the district would still need more funding sources--from Sacramento, it is hoped--to pay the full construction bill, officials say.

Up 83 Students Last Week

The district, which serves all of Vista, the eastern edge of Oceanside and a small, western portion of San Marcos, has an enrollment of 15,900, and has been growing by about 10% annually in recent years. Last week alone, the district’s enrollment increased by another 83 students--the equivalent of three elementary school classrooms, noted Supt. Rene Townsend. About 6,000 students are housed in relocatable classrooms situated on playgrounds.

Property tax assessments to cover the bond would be spread over the 30-year period and vary from year to year. The peak assessment year--1993--would find the owner of a home with an assessed value of $100,000 paying about $80 that year toward the bonds’ repayment.

Among those opposed to the bond issue is Lloyd Von Haden, a former Vista City Council member.

“I recognize there’s a crisis, but bonds are a bad way of solving the problem,” he said. “Bonds are favored by developers because they make everybody pay.”

Von Haden said he endorses the use of bonds to raise the $36.1 million needed immediately, but he argues that the balance of the money for future growth should be raised through taxes assessed specifically on parcels as they are developed.


An advisory committee opted against parcel taxes, Townsend said, because it would take too long to generate funds needed now.

The Vista growth issue also laps over into the City Council election, with the incumbents pointing to a 500-home-per-year building cap they adopted two years ago as an effective way to slow growth, and the challengers claiming there are too many loopholes in the building restriction ordinance to make it effective.

McClellan, who has served on the council continuously since 1972 and was elected directly as mayor in 1986, points to the council’s adoption of the building cap as evidence of its concern about growth. She says that continued growth in recent years is the result of development plans that entered the approval pipeline before the building cap and that several other residential developments were approved because the developer built public facilities to offset the impact of their projects.

The mayor’s race is a rematch of sorts. McClellan’s sole opponent is Roy Allen, 53, a Vista businessman and newspaper distributor who ran against her two years ago. He placed second, ahead of then-Councilman Von Haden in the three-candidate contest. Allen also ran for mayor in 1984--his first try for public office--and showed poorly.

Allen has served on several citizens advisory groups, and has specifically campaigned in favor of establishing a police department for Vista, which now contracts with the county Sheriff’s Department for law enforcement.

The two Vista council members who face reelection face a total of two challengers.

Nancy Wade, 70, was first elected to the council in 1980 and was reelected in 1984. She characterizes Vista as “on the brink” of good fortunes because of planned redevelopment projects, and said she is counting on her integrity and accessibility to win a third term.

Before moving to Vista, Wade served on the Riverside City Council for 10 years.


The third incumbent up for election, Bernard Rappaport, 66, served on the council from 1980 to 1984, when he lost an election bid to become mayor. In 1986 he was appointed to the council to fill McClellan’s vacancy when she was elected mayor, and he is now seeking election for another four years.

Rappaport has campaigned on the city’s political stability and fiscal strength, and takes credit for co-authoring the building cap adopted two years ago and for encouraging industrial growth in the city as a source of new revenue to finance public works projects.

Challenger Chuck Hale, 46, was an assistant city manager in Vista for 10 years, leaving City Hall last year in an administrative shake-up.

Hale said he is running for election as a “natural continuum of my involvement in this community” and because the council needs new ideas and energy. Among his campaign issues is “rampant growth” that has gone unchecked despite the building cap, which he said is “riddled” with loopholes. He also is stressing a reduction in the city’s crime rate and more facilities to serve youth and senior citizens.

Candidate Douglas Spencer, a 74-year-old mobile home park activist, said he was prompted to run for election because of the council’s insensitivity on mobile home park issues.

Spencer, running for office for the first time, said: “I am a one-issue candidate. I want to remove Nancy Wade, who has been very dogmatic in refusing to address our problems and in blocking us” for effective mobile home rent-control legislation.

Meanwhile, the debate over the length of the mayor’s term--Proposition KK--has focused on whether the mayor should be forced to stand election every two years, in order to give voters more control over the post, or whether four years is more appropriate in order for the mayor to develop and implement a leadership role.

In San Marcos, the mayor’s race is focused as much on the man as it is the post. The incumbent is Lee Thibadeau, 43, who first ran for council election--and lost--in 1978. He ran two years later and won, and was directly elected as mayor in 1986.

Thibadeau cites the city’s advances in recent years as reasons he should be reelected: planned improvements to California 78, an influx of commercial and industrial growth, street improvements and plans for the construction of a four-year university in San Marcos.

He acknowledges that he is vulnerable to critics who say he is an arrogant and aggressive politician.

“If you do things, you make enemies,” he said. “If you don’t do anything, you can always win the popularity vote. One day, I may have created enough pockets of opposition that I won’t be reelected.”

Among those critics is Barbara Krywko, 43, who spent four years on the city’s Planning Commission and says she wants to “dethrone the emperor.”

‘Abrasive and Abusive’

She said Thibadeau is “rude, abrasive and abusive” to residents who confront him at council meetings, and she accused him of “talking in riddles” by suggesting that San Marcos is addressing growth issues while, at the same time, failing to help establish a citywide public-facilities plan to accommodate future development.

The other mayoral candidate is Pete Powell, 80, a retired high school teacher from Central California who sought the Democratic nomination for Congress in 1982--a contest won by Pat Archer, who eventually lost to Ron Packard.

Powell criticized the current council for allowing too many variances to land-use guidelines in San Marcos, and criticized the council’s approval of a controversial trash-to-energy plant as “the craziest thing I know.”

Incumbent Mike Preston, 35, is a former San Marcos school board member who was appointed to the council in 1987 after having sought election in 1986, placing third in a contest for two seats.

“I’m doing a darn good job. The city is doing an excellent job. We’re recognized as one of the best-run and most progressive cities in the county. I’m a part of that team and I want to continue,” he said.

The other incumbent is Corky Smith, 58, who served on the Planning Commission for four years, was elected to the council in 1980 and reelected in 1984.

He points to “the beautiful streets and the city’s financial capabilities” as among his accomplishments over the past eight years, and said: “We’re using the proper tools to control growth, and not stop it. That way, we get the quality we want in San Marcos.”

Challenger Tanis Brown, 40, is president of the San Marcos Historical Society and a student at Palomar Community College who also has served for six years on the city’s community services commission.

Brown said she decided to run for council because “we’re at a critical point in time in San Marcos. If we don’t maintain our open space, we won’t have any left.” Among her concerns, she said, is the establishment of more parkland in the city and more cultural opportunities.

The other council hopeful is John Repecko, a 55-year-old retired police sergeant from Long Beach who said he filed for election because he feared there would be no other candidates.

“My slogan is to serve, not rule; to find out what the people want and to give it to them. That’s what we need to build a community. I feel a lack of interest in this city for the individual. It’s OK to want the (large retail businesses) in town and to bend over backward for what they’ll bring you, but if you eliminate the small guy in favor of the big boys, you make a big mistake.”