When veteran Rolling Hills Estates City Councilman Jerome Belsky was recalled in a bitter election last November, opinions differed about what the vote really meant.
Some contended that it was not discontent with city government so much as Belsky’s blunt style that cost him the seat he had held since 1976. “He had 12 years to make enemies,” said one observer.
But others said the recall was a signal that residents are tired of an entrenched City Council of longtime incumbents who no longer hear the voice of the people. The four remaining members of the council have shared the dais for more than 10 years.
“They feel they own the city,” said recall leader Paul E. Bradley Sr. during that campaign.
In a special election Tuesday, voters will be able to demonstrate their true feelings about city government when they select someone to serve the remaining eight months of Belsky’s term.
The three candidates include an ally of the council majority, a sharp critic of the council who believes that the citizens have been “disenfranchised,” and one who describes himself as an independent new face.
In the running are William Ailor, 44, an engineer with Aerospace Corp. in El Segundo and a city planning commissioner; Jacqueline McGuire, 42, a special education teacher in the Palos Verdes Peninsula Unified School District, and attorney Robert Schachter, 38, a partner in a Torrance law firm. The top vote-getter will win the seat, whether or not he receives a majority of the votes cast.
Saying he has “no problem” with the current council, Ailor brings a resume of community service to the race. In an unsuccessful bid for the council in 1987 as a write-in candidate, he was backed by Belsky and three present council members: Mayor Nell Mirels and Councilmen Hugh Muller and Warren Schwarzmann.
“I’ve worked with the city, I understand the city well, and I work within the system,” said Ailor, who campaigned for Belsky in the recall battle.
McGuire burst into prominence in 1987 as leader of a citizens movement to get the city to purchase the closed Dapplegray Intermediate School site after the school district decided to sell it for development. The council said the city could not afford the land, but McGuire is still upset over what she calls the council’s refusal to look aggressively for ways to buy the property, valued at $5 million.
Ultimately, the council approved an agreement with the school district to acquire 12.8 acres of the 43-acre site, but the district is now considering leasing the site rather than selling it.
McGuire said she signed the petition that led to the recall election but did not participate in the campaign. One of several charges in the petition against Belsky--all of which he denied-- was that he “led the council in attacking” resident-proposed alternatives to the sale of the school to developers.
“I am the candidate that can make a difference, the people’s advocate,” said McGuire, who has been endorsed by recall leader Bradley. “The present council behavior is not representative of what the citizens want.”
An acknowledged dark horse among better-known names, Schachter said he is running because “people who live in a community should be willing to participate and be part of the decision-making process.”
‘Could Be Advantage’
He said he might even benefit by not dragging past issues into the race. “It could be an advantage if the others are seen as extremists,” he said.
Schachter criticized the recall as unnecessary and expensive to the city, which paid $10,000 to hold the election and expects to spend the same amount on Tuesday’s special election to replace Belsky. “If they wanted him out, the time and place to do it was the (next) November election,” Schachter said.
All three candidates say that if elected, they will run for the full four-year term in November.
“There’s no question that I’m the most experienced,” Ailor said. In addition to serving on the Planning Commission since 1982, Ailor is founder and chairman of the Four Cities Planning Group, in which planning commissioners and staff of the peninsula cities help each other tackle such common problems as traffic and development.
Formed Nonprofit Group
He also is founder and president of the Palos Verdes Peninsula Land Conservancy, a nonprofit group established to acquire undeveloped peninsula land through donations and purchases. Ailor, who lives in the Seaview area, said concern about decreasing open space led him to form the group. As a councilman, he said, he will advocate a “citizens committee to address how we can preserve undeveloped land in our city.”
Clearly the candidate of discontent, McGuire asserts that communication between the council and residents is poor and that “it is an adventure to elicit information from City Hall.” She advocates forming a council of homeowners’ associations and demanding weekly reports from City Hall to the presidents of all those groups.
McGuire, who is president of the homeowners’ association in the Rolling Meadows area, contends that developers receive better treatment from the council than residents who want to put additions to their homes. She says tremendous pressures to develop land are threatening the city’s rural character, and she urges saving closed school sites for public use.
Schachter is past president of the homeowners’ association in his Ranchview neighborhood, is active in the South Bay YMCA and sometimes serves on assignment as a judge pro tem in Torrance Municipal Court. While acknowledging that his involvement in city issues has been limited, he said he has “the experience and ability to make decisions on tough issues,” adding: “The other candidates are more aligned with certain groups and might be less inclined to listen to others.”
He said voters have told him of their concern that traffic and development are impinging on the city’s rural environment. “They don’t want more problems; they want to limit growth,” he said.
The candidates differ over how much unhappiness there is with the present council. Ailor said his talks with voters have shown that “people are not wanting a new City Council.”
McGuire, however, said “80% to 90%" of the people she has talked to say the current council has been in office too long. She is calling for a two-term limit on council service, attributing many city problems to “too slow a turnover” on the council.
Schachter, too, said a “significant number” of people want new faces. He said he would not serve for more than two terms if elected.
The longevity issue may be settling itself. Mayor Mirels, who has been on the council since 1972, has said she will not run again when her term ends in November. Councilman Peter Weber, in office since 1974, has said he will step down in 1991, as has Councilman Muller, who has held office since 1978.
Polls will be open Tuesday from 7 a.m. to 8 p.m.
A LOOK AT THE CITY COUNCIL CANDIDATES
William Ailor, 44
Occupation: Engineer, Aerospace Corp.
Platform: “I’ve worked with the city, I understand the city well, and I work within the system.” A city planning commissioner, founder and chairman of the Four Cities Planning Group, and ally of the council majority, he says he has “no problem” with the current council.
Jacqueline McGuire, 42
Occupation: Special education teacher
Platform: “I am the candidate that can make a difference, the people’s advocate.” To improve communications between the council and residents, she supports formation of a council of homeowners associations and weekly reports from City Hall to homeowners presidents.
Robert Schachter, 38
Platform: Past president of his homeowner association, he acknowledges that his involvement in city issues has been limited, but he says he has “the experience and ability to make decision on tough issues. The other candidates are more aligned with certain groups and might be less inclined to listen to others.”