Four years ago, a Redondo Beach faction labeled "pro-growth" swept to a decisive election victory over another group considered "anti-growth." But in the municipal elections Tuesday, the 11 active candidates for three City Council seats and the mayor's post emphatically reject both labels.
"The pro-growth label is simplistic and totally inaccurate," said District 2 Councilwoman Kay Horrell, one of three council members who in 1985 defeated what were routinely described in the media as "anti-growth" candidates. "I'm for controlled, quality growth."
Outgoing Mayor Barbara J. Doerr, who unsuccessfully backed the losing candidates four years ago, is seeking the District 1 council seat held by John W. Chapman.
"I'm definitely not anti-growth," she said in a telephone interview this week. But, she added, she has often fought to restrict certain development projects during her eight years as mayor.
Doerr's stands on those and other issues have led to bitter feuding with a four-member council majority that often overrides her vetoes or ignores her proposals.
In Redondo Beach, the City Council has five members elected in districts and a mayor elected citywide. The mayor presides at council meetings and has veto power but votes only to break ties, which are rare. Four council votes can override a veto.
Under the City Charter, the mayor and council members cannot serve more than two terms in the same post--a rule that applies to both Doerr and Councilman Archie Snow in Tuesday's election.
The polls will be open Tuesday from 7 a.m. to 7 p.m., and a runoff election will be held in May if no candidate receives a majority of the votes for a seat.
There are five candidates for mayor and two active candidates in each of the three council races. Candidates Neil Nathanson in District 2 and Barry W. Ogle in District 4 withdrew from the race for personal reasons, but their names remain on the ballot. Gordon Phillips is running unopposed for his third term as city attorney.
Snow, who, like Horrell and Chapman, was depicted as a pro-growth council victor in 1985, rejects the label both for himself and for the council majority he has often represented vocally in conflicts with Mayor Doerr.
"How can we be labeled pro-growth when we have voted time and again to reduce density?" said Snow, who is running for mayor after a second four-year term in the District 4 seat. "When I came on the council, developers were putting together monstrous condo projects."
Snow said the council has substantially reduced the number of units that can be built on residential property, though critics say the reductions did not go far enough.
The candidates' views on growth are especially significant in this campaign because the council is updating the city's 25-year-old General Plan, a process that is expected to be completed in about 18 months. The plan sets development guidelines and goals for the city.
The candidates differ on why their old labels have become election-year stigmas.
Mayoral candidate Frank Bostrom said four more years of increasing congestion have pushed the pendulum of public sentiment away from the pro-growth position.
"Overdevelopment causes stress that people can't handle," said Bostrom. "So they become active in the political arena as a way of holding down density and preserving quality of life."
'Need Managed Growth'
At the same time, he said, "we need a certain amount of managed growth to prevent the city from stagnating."
Other candidates, such as District 1 incumbent Chapman, suggested that office-seekers and residents have become more sophisticated about the congestion problems that afflict all the beach cities.
"The density issue is a double-edged sword," said Chapman, a county planner. Stringent controls tend to limit congestion, he said, but also drive property values even higher and tend to exclude families with school-age children.
"If, for example, you build two condos on a lot at $200,000 to $300,000 each, some younger families can afford them," he said. "But if you build one home on that lot priced at $600,000 to $750,000, you limit the market to the very affluent."
Actually, Chapman said, growth in Redondo Beach is not as rapid as some perceive. Population has increased only about 8% since 1980, he said, largely because 150 to 160 housing units are torn down for every 200 new units that are built.
Traffic congestion on main thoroughfares is undoubtedly worsening, several candidates said, but growth is not the only factor. A recent city survey showed that about 60% of the motorists are non-residents.
Feuding between Mayor Doerr and the council majority often prolongs meetings past 2 a.m. The candidates deplore the bickering and what mayoral candidate W. Brad Parton calls a "circus-like atmosphere," but they differ on who is at fault.
Meetings proceed at a leisurely pace under Doerr, who insists that all sides of an issue or problem be thoroughly explored before the council takes action. Doerr warmly welcomes the residents who regularly speak at council meetings--many of whom tend to be hostile to the council majority and what they call the City Hall "Establishment"--and she allows them to speak repeatedly and at length.
Members of the council majority say they have come to consider overriding Doerr's frequent vetoes a basic part of the legislative process. Her only ally has been District 3 Councilman Stevan Colin, who was elected a year ago to fill a vacancy. District 5 Councilman Ron Cawdrey makes up the majority with Snow, Chapman and Horrell.
"I call it the tyranny of the majority," Doerr said. "They have four votes, and they get irritated because I represent the other side--the residents." The majority side, she added, "tends to go with the developers."
Bostrom, whom Doerr has endorsed for mayor, credited Doerr with keeping council meetings open and encouraging more citizen participation in local government. In the interview, Doerr said she also backs Michael F. Ford for the District 2 seat and Valerie Dombrowski in District 4.
Doerr's opponents reject her claim to being the champion of residents, saying they also live in Redondo Beach and have the best interests of residents at heart.
"The problem with Barbara is that everything must be her way or no way at all," said District 2 incumbent Horrell. "She has gone through two city councils . . . and she just hasn't been able to get along."
Here is a look at the candidates in each race:
Steve Bopp, 40, a bakery route salesman. Born and reared in Redondo Beach, Bopp said he shares the sentiments of residents who remember the city as a quiet residential community made up largely of single-family homes. "I'm definitely for slower growth," he said. "People are packed in like sardines, and parking is becoming a major problem."
Bopp said updating the General Plan should be given top priority and, in the meantime, variances from current building rules should be refused. He said he favors building single-family homes instead of condos.
Downzoning property to reduce the number of housing units "is not necessarily bad," Bopp said. "I talk to people on the street, and they're fed up with overdevelopment. They'd like to take a step back in time to the old Redondo and the quality of life we had then."
Frank Bostrom, 39, an architect and community planner. A resident for 17 years, Bostrom said he has been active in several organizations concerned with preserving recreational space and restricting growth. "I want to preserve the quality of life in our community and what's left of historical Redondo Beach," he said.
To help ensure quality construction, Bostrom said, the city should establish an architectural committee, similar to those on the Palos Verdes Peninsula, that would review building plans before a project could start.
As it is now, he said, "developers throw up $650,000 townhouses in a slam-bang fashion. Then the owners have to hope its value holds up until they can bail out."
John Dancy, 63, a retired systems engineer and a resident for 33 years. Dancy, a regular at council meetings, often expresses distrust of the City Hall Establishment and insists that important issues--such as revising the General Plan and rebuilding the storm-damaged Redondo Beach Pier--be put to a vote of the people.
Overdevelopment has created a "state of panic" in the community, Dancy said, blaming the problem on alleged developer influence at City Hall. To avoid "financial bias," he said, he has accepted no campaign contributions from developers or King Harbor business interests.
Dancy was on the committee that designed the harbor in 1950, and he ran unsuccessfully for the District 1 council seat in 1965 and for mayor in 1977.
W. Brad Parton, 28, a pension and retirement investment counselor. Portraying himself as an "independent candidate," Parton said he wants to work with all sides in finding creative solutions to the city's growth problems.
One of his proposals is to give property owners financial incentives, such as exempting them from city permit fees, for building fewer housing units on a lot. But he has no specific proposals for replacing the city's loss in revenue.
In an interview, Parton, who ran for the District 3 seat won by Colin last year, said the mayor should set an example in both his public and his private life. "Leaders should get involved personally in helping other people, like counseling a teen-ager on drugs and working as a volunteer in soup kitchens," he said.
Archie Snow, 70, a retired mechanical engineer. A resident for a quarter-century, Snow emerged as a vocal community activist long before his election to the council in 1981. He filed several lawsuits against the city and led two recall campaigns, one of which succeeded.
Snow said many residents are concerned that their property will be downzoned as the city attempts to limit housing density. "Sure, we need controlled, quality growth, but we shouldn't price the world out of the Redondo Beach housing market," he said. "This is fast becoming a community that is excluding children."
Billing himself as an environmental activist, Snow said he has represented the city on groups concerned with such issues as off-shore oil drilling and cleaning up Santa Monica Bay.
Snow suffered what was described as a mild heart attack in January, but after unblocking an artery and implanting a device to regulate his heart beat, his doctors declared him fit to campaign and serve, he said.
John W. Chapman, 47, chief planner in the county's Building Department. Chapman, who generally steers clear of personality clashes at council meetings, said he is running for a second term in the South Redondo district "because I want to lend my expertise in completing these long-range programs" for dealing with growth.
The city's General Plan, he said, is "a mess, straight out of the Dark Ages." After the plan is updated, he said, "we'll have to get into the specifics--the different areas, zoning, uses allowed, height limits and a lot of other factors."
Chapman, a resident for 20 years, said he also would like to see Redondo Beach get involved with other cities in solving regional problems such as transportation and traffic congestion.
Barbara J. Doerr, 45, a former computer programmer who is completing a college course on community planning. A resident for 15 years, Doerr said her eight years as mayor gave her a broad view because she represented the entire community at City Hall.
"But the mayor's role is largely ceremonial," she said. "As a member of the council, I will have a vote and be able to make motions, and that will put more power behind my positions."
Doerr said she wants to continue working for "controlled, quality growth" and open government. She also favors returning to weekly council meetings rather than the biweekly sessions held since 1986.
Michael F. Ford, 38, a real estate appraiser and resident since 1980. Ford, who lives on his boat at Port Royal Marina in King Harbor, said the harbor "was my favorite hangout when I was a kid." In the last two years, he has been openly critical of leasing and other city practices in the harbor, which anchors the council district.
"I'm in favor of prudent and healthy growth," he said. "Otherwise, the town will stagnate and die from within." But special interests, he said, have persuaded the City Hall Establishment to make exceptions to the General Plan, resulting in overdevelopment.
Ford said the city should phase out the master leases that allocate harbor property to private interests and assume direct control. He also favors stronger efforts to preserve historic buildings, a return to weekly council meetings as a means of curbing marathon sessions, and closer council supervision of the city's staff and contractual work.
Kay Horrell, 62, co-owner of a real estate firm and a resident for 25 years. Chairman of the Planning Commission before her election in 1985, Horrell claimed credit for two reductions in the city's utility-user tax and said her priorities include easing traffic congestion and upgrading the harbor area.
"We need to bite the bullet and seek regional solutions to the traffic problem," she said. "One agency should be empowered to take steps that cities can't do alone."
Horrell said she is "pro-quality" on the density issue and described herself as an "independent soul and straight shooter" who sometimes disagrees with the council majority.
Valerie Dombrowski, 53, a resident for 25 years and a member of the Redondo Beach school board. After a decade of helping to guide the city's elementary school district through enrollment and financial problems, Dombrowski said, she wants to put her government experience to work for the community at large. She lost her first bid for the seat in 1985, when Snow won reelection to a second term in the North Redondo district.
Dombrowski said both sides on the building density issue have the same goals--preserving the best of Redondo Beach while permitting reasonable growth. "They just differ in the criteria they use and the way they communicate their ideas," she said.
The council will be more effective when "people stop to listen to each other and focus on the issues, not on personalities," she said. The council might take a lesson from the school board, which usually handles its business in about two hours, she said.
Terry Ward, 51, a data processing consultant. Ward, who moved to the city from Torrance three years ago, said he has maintained a boat in King Harbor for 17 years. He is a former commodore of the yacht club and is on the Harbor Commission.
Ward said he hopes to help end the "appalling infighting" that drags council meetings into the morning hours.
"I'm a friendly person and I can talk sensibly with people, even when we disagree," he said. "We have to be able to work out differences."
Ward, who has been endorsed by Snow, said he also is an advocate of "controlled, quality growth."
THE CANDIDATES Mayor Steve Bopp Frank Bostrom John Dancy W. Brad Parton Archie Snow District 1 John W. Chapman (I) Barbara J. Doerr District 2 Kay Horrell (I) Michael F. Ford District 3 Valerie Dombrowski Terry Ward