ELECTION ’88 : ORANGE COUNTY : Seven Candidates at Odds Over Vision of Future for La Habra

Times Staff Writer

When 8-year City Council member Dorothy Wedel decided not to run for another term, the flavor of the La Habra election race turned from spicy to bland.

Three seats are up for grabs Nov. 8, with two incumbents and five challengers battling for the 4-year jobs that pay $300 a month.

Although the often-controversial Wedel has bowed out, saying two terms is enough for anyone to serve, the issues she championed on the council remain. At stake is a vision of the kind of city La Habra wants to be, or can be.


Wedel favors more single-family housing in the city and wants to attract exclusive businesses and restaurants to the area.

Her opponents on the council, a majority of three, argue that the city needs a mix of housing. Fancy department stores are fine, they say, but the city also needs shops that are not so pricey.

“We’re not Irvine and we’re not Palm Springs,” said Beth Graham, a former council member and the city’s first female mayor. Graham, who describes herself as “very pro-business,” said she was asked by Wedel’s council opponents to run again when it seemed Wedel might try to keep her seat.

La Habra, like many north county cities, has seen much of its business siphoned southward where newcomers with more money are settling. The city, with a balanced budget this year of $31 million, is projecting a revenue shortfall of $1 million within the next 3 years.

One way to make up that difference is to expand the city’s sales tax base, which now raises about $5 million a year, by attracting new businesses. The question remains what kind of businesses would be best for this bedroom community of about 50,000 people.

Graham, along with incumbents John C. Holmberg and Mayor James H. Flora, are backed by the city’s Chamber of Commerce. For the first time in its history, the chamber formed a political action committee and is supporting its candidates with $250 each in campaign contributions.

Flora, Holmberg and Councilman William D. Mahoney tend to vote as a bloc, generally opposing Wedel on issues of housing and business development. Graham, if elected, is expected to join the majority.

Mahoney’s term expires in 1990. Douglas Bystry, who often sides with Wedel on council votes, also won’t be up for reelection until 1990.

With the incumbents looking pretty safe, according to city observers, the race is mostly shaping up as a contest for the one open seat. That may be a match-up between Graham and Steven D. Wilder, a financial management administrator with Rockwell International.

Wilder, making his second bid for the council, lost by 99 votes in the 1986 election when he finished fourth.

He is rekindling conflict-of-interest charges against the council majority that Bystry used effectively in his 1986 election. Wilder argues that council members should be careful in accepting campaign money from groups and businesses with matters pending before them.

Here are the candidates:

* Norman P. Eneim, 34, a machinist, has close ties to his church, Our Lady of Guadalupe, where he has taught religion classes for the past 4 years. Although this is Eneim’s first bid for a council seat, the Chamber of Commerce has backed him. He decided to run after the city tore down a $250,000 fountain built with city money at the intersection of Harbor and Whittier boulevards. He called the street-widening project “the fountain fiasco.” Eneim said he wants to attract more affordable stores, such as J C Penney, “that are geared toward a family budget.” He supports single-family homes and says he would like to build a youth center in the city.

* Incumbent Flora, 62, was elected to the council in 1984. He is a retired utility company executive. Flora sees “no big issues this year” and says the city is on the right track with development and redevelopment in attracting new revenue from sales taxes. The city needs to “rebuild and rejuvenate, particularly in commercial areas, and we’ve had tremendous success at that.” He hopes the election will seat a more harmonious council “that will increase the positive approach to the vitality of the city.”

* Beth Graham, 58, a nurse, was on the council from 1972 through 1980, serving two terms as mayor. “I’m rejuvenated,” she said. “We used to have a very cooperative council. We got along even if we didn’t agree.” Graham said she is a strong supporter of the city’s redevelopment plans and wants to see more businesses in La Habra to expand the tax base.

* Stephen T. Garcia, 33, is an architectural draftsman who says he wants to bring his work experience to the council. “I have something to offer the city from my architectural experience, especially in planning and development,” he said. He said he will also emphasize helping senior citizens and being a voice in city government for the Latino community.

* Incumbent Holmberg, 32, has served 8 years on the council, including two terms as mayor. “I’m running on my record,” said Holmberg, owner of a financial advisory service. He said the city has consistently balanced its budgets during his service, has added eight police officers and is on the road to redeveloping Fashion Square, the city’s dying mall. He dismisses high-density housing concerns as a “non-issue” because little land remains in the city to be developed. The condominiums and apartments being built are not “big developments,” he said. Under a new owner’s plan for Fashion Square to bring in more affordable stores, the city should increase its sales tax revenue by half a million dollars a year, Holmberg and city staff say.

* Marian Lemus, 41, could not be reached for comment. In a campaign statement filed with the city, Lemus listed her occupation as paralegal. She described herself as a 35-year resident of the city who has been active in Little League and the city’s community development block grant program. “I will protect the integrity of single-family neighborhoods,” she said.

* Steven D. Wilder, 30, narrowly lost a bid for the council in 1986. He said he declined to be considered for an endorsement by the Chamber of Commerce because the group has a $15,000-a-year contract with the city for secretarial services. “I am stressing ethics,” he said. He opposes high-density housing, saying the city is lagging on street repairs and sewer maintenance that cannot easily accommodate more people. He said there is a lack of long-term city planning. And he supports bringing discount stores and other businesses to the city to expand the tax base.

Candidates are elected citywide. Seven people, including two incumbents, are running for three seats. Council members serve four years and earn $300 a month. Candidate Marian Lemus is not pictured.