Community activists announced this week that they will seek to recall four City Council members they accused of showing “callous disregard” for residents while considering a controversial redevelopment proposal.
The activists, members of South Montebello Area Residents Together (SMART) and Save Our Community, also said the council members ignored residents and bowed to business interests by approving an expansion of a restaurant and discotheque last year.
“I’m tired of being pushed around,” Shirley Garcia said after she informed the council of the recall drive at its Monday night meeting.
More than 40 supporters clapped loudly after Garcia read the allegations against council members Arnold M. Glasman, Kathy Salazar, William O. Nighswonger and Art Payan. Councilman Edward C. Pizzorno, a strong advocate of citizen participation in the redevelopment debate, was not targeted.
Glasman, the city’s mayor, said in an interview that Garcia represented a position “inconsistent with the mainstream of Montebello. I think (the allegations are) totally ridiculous,” he said.
Nighswonger and Payan declined to comment, but Salazar said the council has listened to residents’ concerns over a proposal to give the city’s Redevelopment Agency the power of eminent domain in two areas of South Montebello.
Hearings on the proposal are scheduled to take place in the next several weeks.
“How can we be unresponsive?” the councilwoman said. “We haven’t even gotten to the public hearing yet.”
The format of the recall petitions must be approved by the city clerk’s office. Proponents must gather signatures from 20% of the city’s 21,932 registered voters to get the recall measure on the ballot, Deputy City Clerk Carolyn Hall said. The recall proponents will have 120 days to gather the signatures. If the measure qualifies, the council must order an election within 125 days, Hall said.
Garcia, a vice chairwoman of Save Our Community, and another officer of the group said they were backing the recall drive as individuals and had not yet sought support from other members. Garcia said the group had not met for months. SMART Chairman William M. Molinari, a former councilman, said the group’s board of directors supported the drive but said SMART may be willing to drop the campaign if the city scraps the eminent domain proposal.
The council sat quietly as Garcia read the allegations. But an angry Nighswonger then lashed out at Garcia and her supporters for making the council chamber “a podium for a political event. Do we have to sit up here and listen to her make these accusations?” said Nighswonger, who asked City Atty. Henry S. Barbosa if Garcia and her supporters could be prevented from speaking. Barbosa said the group had a right to address the council, as do all city residents.
The four council members and city staff have come under intense criticism recently for the eminent domain proposal. City Administrator Joseph M. Goeden maintains that the city’s Redevelopment Agency needs the power of eminent domain in two redevelopment zones in South Montebello to be able to assemble sizable parcels of land to attract new industrial and commercial development. Some new residential development is also projected. As proposed, owner-occupied residences would be exempt from eminent domain.
Members of SMART contend the city has not properly planned to protect area residents from the noise, traffic, air pollution and other effects of increased development.
SMART members have accused the council majority of ignoring those concerns. In response, the council last month formed a citizens advisory committee. But SMART members say the gesture falls short because the committee has no power to stop the proposal. SMART members say they fear that the four targeted council members have already made up their minds in favor of the proposal. Barbosa, the city attorney, has advised the council not to make any decision until after the hearings.
“She is assuming that we have already voted,” Salazar said of Garcia. “You are saying, in essence, this is a conspiracy here.”
SMART member and recall proponent Jill Courtin called for the council to put the eminent domain proposal before city voters.
“Eminent domain affects the people directly,” Courtin said. “We should have the say.”
Glasman said such a vote would be costly and “our job as council members is . . . to make those kinds of decisions.”
Another issue prompting the recall was the council’s vote in August, 1987, to approve an expansion of the Quiet Cannon restaurant and discotheque. At the time, residents said they opposed the project because of the additional traffic, noise and rowdy youth it would bring into their community. The expansion is under way.
Save Our Community lost its lawsuit earlier this year to block the city from building a parking lot to accommodate the expansion. A private firm, Quiet Cannon Montebello Inc., operated the restaurant and dance club in city-owned facilities.
In related business Monday night, the council voted 4 to 1 to approve a budget for the 1988-1989 fiscal year, which started last July 1. The city has been running on a preliminary budget.
City Administrator Goeden defended himself and his staff against allegations that the budget had been manipulated to show a $1.1-million spending shortfall.
Councilman Pizzorno, who voted against the budget, last month accused the staff of underestimating sales tax and property tax revenues to exaggerate the shortfall. They did that, Pizzorno reasoned, to build support for the eminent domain proposal. Goeden has said eminent domain would allow the city to attract new development, which would bring more tax dollars into the city and ease the spending shortfall.
Goeden and Finance Director Ted C. Nix told the council that their income estimates were fiscally prudent given the unpredictability of the economy and sales tax revenues. The city will spend from reserves this year to cover the shortfall.
“In no instance has the budget been used to try to sell eminent domain . . . " Goeden said.
The mayor asked Goeden what would happen if he ever manipulated budgetary forecasts.
“I would be out of a job, and I would expect that to happen,” Goeden said.
Pizzorno said he still expects both sales tax and property tax revenues to be higher than projected. “I see no reason to retract any statement I made,” the councilman said.