For voters in this community, Tuesday’s long-awaited vote on whether Diamond Bar should become a city may be the easiest decision they must make at the polls, requiring either a yes or no response.
More perplexing will be the task of choosing the new city’s elected officials from a pool of 20 candidates. If the cityhood measure passes, the top five vote-getters will become Diamond Bar’s first city council.
There are no hotly debated issues to make the decision easier. The candidates, not surprisingly, all support Diamond Bar’s bid for cityhood. They all cite traffic as being the community’s most pressing issue, particularly the planned extension of Grand Avenue from Chino Hills, which residents fear will create near-gridlock conditions in Diamond Bar.
Candidates agree that the Grand Avenue extension is inevitable, but that the new council should seek to delay its opening until San Bernardino County officials make road improvements in Chino Hills to stem the influx of traffic into Diamond Bar.
For candidates seeking to distinguish themselves in this crowd, name recognition is clearly important.
Perhaps the best-known of the group are members of the Diamond Bar Municipal Advisory Council (MAC), an elected board that advises county Supervisor Pete Schabarum. Except for Lavinia Rowland, all members of the five-member committee have entered the race.
All four ran in the November MAC election, with Paul Virgil Horcher, Cleve Holifield and Gary L. Neely winning the three open seats. Gary G. Miller, who placed fourth in the seven-candidate field, was later appointed to a vacant MAC seat by Schabarum.
Horcher was easily the top vote-getter in the November race, out-polling his nearest competitor by more than 1,800 votes. A resident of Diamond Bar since his teens, Horcher, a 37-year-old attorney, said he is confident voters will elect him to the council because of his voting record.
“I’ve opposed every new apartment project or condominium project, not because I’m an elitist but because I think we have more than our share,” Horcher said.
Holifield, a two-term MAC member who finished second in the November race, also cited his eight years on the advisory council as his major qualification. Holifield, 55, a quality assurance manager at General Dynamics in Pomona, raised doubts about candidates who were drawn into Diamond Bar politics only recently because of the Grand Avenue controversy.
“It’s hard to read their motives, but it does seem a little suspicious that they didn’t come forward to serve the community on the MAC,” he said.
Neely, a 39-year-old marketing executive, has been a MAC member since the November election. He helped lead a successful anti-cityhood campaign in 1983, but has since changed his position because of what he perceived as the county’s unresponsiveness to community concerns about traffic problems.
Neely also criticized politicians who have sought to capitalize on the Grand Avenue issue, including Schabarum, who last week ordered the construction of a fence to block the road’s opening until San Bernardino County officials complete road improvements to mitigate the influx of traffic into Diamond Bar.
“I’m seriously considering a motion that we change the name of Grand Avenue to Grandstanding Expressway,” Neely said. “Erecting barriers is a testament to the (county’s) lack of long-range planning.”
Miller, who formed Concerned Citizens for Diamond Bar Traffic Control, a group seeking to delay the Grand Avenue extension’s opening, rejected the assertion made by Neely and other opponents that he is a single-issue candidate.
“I consider myself a well-qualified candidate who tackled a very difficult issue,” said Miller, 40, owner of G. Miller Development Co. “I would rather be considered a one-issue candidate than a no-issue candidate.”
Miller said his 18 years of dealing with community planning issues has given him needed expertise. But while campaigning on his qualifications, Miller has also had to fend off some other candidates’ criticisms that he is a wealthy developer who is trying to “buy” the election by outspending his opponents.
Miller has spent $6,497 on his campaign, about $2,700 more than any other candidate, according to disclosure statements filed with the county registrar-recorder. However, Miller said it is inaccurate for opponents to suggest that he is campaigning solely through buying more signs and other campaign materials that the others.
“If someone says I’m trying to buy an election, I’ve got some very thick callouses on my feet that say I’m not trying to buy anything,” he said, referring to the door-to-door canvassing he has done in the community. Miller also disputed opponents’ claim that he is a developer. “The last (large) development I did was in 1981. I build a couple houses a year.”
Although MAC members have the advantage of having been elected to local office, candidate Phyllis Papen argued that that does not necessarily mean they are the best qualified.
Papen, a 44-year-old real estate agent who has been president of the Diamond Bar Improvement Assn. for the past three years, said she has done more to represent the community at other levels of government. She cited her testimony before the Board of Supervisors on issues such as traffic and cityhood and her work in securing a state grant to create a curb-side recycling program in Diamond Bar.
“I have testified at more hearings at the county than all 19 other candidates put together,” Papen said. “I wouldn’t say they’re qualified just because they’ve been on the MAC.”
In one of two slates created among candidates, Papen and Walnut Valley school board President John A. Forbing are supporting each other.
Forbing, 45, has served for seven years on the school board, which serves the southern half of Diamond Bar, and was recently elected to his second term as board president.
An insurance agent in Pomona, Forbing said the main issue confronting Diamond Bar is the need for local control over zoning, density, traffic and police protection. He wants controlled growth and says that Diamond Bar probably is not in a position to accommodate more multiple housing.
Forbing noted that the school board, unlike the MAC, determines the allocation of a $43-million annual budget and makes personnel decisions.
“Being president of the school board would be like being mayor of the city,” he said. “They’re very comparable positions.”
In listing his qualifications, candidate Gary H. Werner said he is largely responsible for there being a city council election at all. Werner, 45, served as chairman of Diamond Bar’s incorporation committee from its inception in 1986 until he resigned in December to run for office.
“I’d like to think that my participation (in the cityhood movement) resulted in us getting to this point in time,” Werner said. “It was not an easy job.”
Werner, a community planner who has lived in Diamond Bar for eight years, works as a consultant to cities. He said his work for newly formed cities such as La Canada Flintridge and Big Bear Lake has given him a background in the issues faced by communities when they first incorporate.
Target of Attacks
Gary W. Lawson is the other candidate besides Miller to gain prominence in the community through his activism on the Grand Avenue extension. Lawson formed the Stop Grand Avenue Expressway Committee, which last month sued San Bernardino County seeking an injunction to stop the road’s construction.
Like Miller, Lawson also has been the target of attacks that he has based his campaign entirely on the Grand Avenue issue. The lawsuit filed by Lawson’s group has been called “phony” by San Bernardino County Supervisor Larry Walker because the group has yet to follow through on its threat of seeking an injunction to stop the project until the case is settled in court. Neely derided the suit as “cheap publicity.”
Opponents have also criticized Lawson for seeking publicity last fall with a campaign to disband the MAC, which he acknowledged at the time was designed to improve his name-recognition in the community. Lawson countered that he is the best qualified candidate for the council, regardless of the Grand Avenue issue.
Of the seven candidates with campaign budgets over $1,000, all either hold elected office or have led locally prominent groups.
According to disclosure statements filed Feb. 18, Forbing had spent the most of any candidate besides Miller--$3,775, with more than $2,800 remaining in his campaign reserves. The other top spenders are Werner, $3,272; Horcher, $2,916; Lawson, $1,759, and Neely, $1,352. Papen, who did not file a disclosure statement with the county by the Feb. 18 deadline, said she will spend $3,412.
All other candidates have filed “short-form” disclosure statements, saying they intend to spend less than $1,000 on their campaigns.
Among the remaining 12 candidates, two have teamed with Lawson as a slate. Benjamin T. Quan and Donna Ann Rhode are both members of the Stop Grand Avenue Expressway and are plaintiffs in the lawsuit against San Bernardino County.
Quan, 56 an engineering draftsman with the Los Angeles Department of Water and Power, said he decided to run because of the inability of the MAC to resolve the Grand Avenue issue.
“I feel that these persons should not be on the city council because we’d have the same problems we’ve had for the last four months,” Quan said. “To be on the city council, you have to be aggressive.”
Rhode, a 40-year-old owner of a bookkeeping service, echoed Quan’s sentiments. She noted that she is running a low-budget campaign in contrast to more prominent candidates.
“Most of the people who have the great big signs are the ones who are buying their seat,” she said. “Most of those people are not concerned with the new city. I do feel that by being a resident of Diamond Bar for the past 13 years, I have great insight into how the residents feel.”
Bill White, who placed fifth among seven candidates in the MAC race, said he is hoping to expand on the voter support he received in November without engaging in an expensive campaign.
White said he opposes any additional housing construction in Diamond Bar and believes the first task of the new council should be to hire “a strong city administrator . . . to solve the problems of the community without getting into the pockets of the taxpayers.”
Pat McGinn, 40, a financial executive officer, has lived in Diamond Bar for 18 months. He entered the race because of his concern over Grand Avenue, charging the MAC with being unwilling to do anything about the project until it was too late. McGinn said he would like a moratorium on new development for one year so the city could develop a general plan.
Thomas F. Ortiz, 54, is a law enforcement consultant who retired last year from the Santa Ana Police Department. Ortiz said Diamond Bar has the potential to grow and he would like to see an increase in population as well as light industry to create more jobs. He said he would like Diamond Bar to have its own police department.
Steve Webb, a sergeant in the Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department, is 36 and a Diamond Bar resident for two years. He has served as a liaison with cities that contract with the county for police protection and was a city commissioner in Lomita for six years. Webb said he would review any future growth and is against multifamily developments, although he said Diamond Bar needs business growth.
Daniel R. Bush, 45, a general contractor who has lived in Diamond Bar for 17 years, is a no-growth advocate who does not want any more residential or business development. He is also concerned about crime and would like Diamond Bar to have its own police department.
Ron Phelps, 46, is a detective with the Los Angeles Police Department who has testified before the Highway Safety Commission on traffic problems in Diamond Bar. Phelps said he wants residential growth controlled to reduce the impact of additional traffic. He said state or federal funding could be found for an intracity public transportation system that would further alleviate traffic.
John F. Andrews, 41, is a sergeant with the Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department who has lived in Diamond Bar for nine years. He said his professional background has given him experience in budgeting, planning and staffing. Andrews said he favors small businesses coming into the community but not high-density residential projects.
Gregory H. Gaffney, 26, a computer consultant, has lived in Diamond Bar for two years. He said he favors responsible growth and said that developers have taken advantage of the community’s lack of local control.
Ron Downing, 42, who serves as city administrator of Hawaiian Gardens, said he is the only candidate with “hands-on” background in municipal government. Downing said the top priorities for the new council should be transportation issues, improved public safety and the construction of a second high school in Diamond Bar.
Candidate Robert G. (Hutch) Hutchinson, a substation operator for Southern California Edison, could not be reached for comment.