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Azusa Recall Election Hinges on Double Count

Times Staff Writer

Opponents targeting City Councilmen Harry L. Stemrich and Tony D. Naranjo have submitted what they say are more than enough signatures to force a recall election.

But before any counting begins, officials say they will first subtract the names of an undetermined number of voters who signed the recall petitions but now want their names removed.

The sum of all the calculations may be a few nervous weeks around City Hall, while the embattled councilmen and their foes await word from the county registrar-recorder on whether there will be a vote.

Last week, a recall group headed by resident Art West filed a pair of petitions that it says bear the names of 3,600 voters seeking the recall of Stemrich and Naranjo. The signatures, which were given to the county on Monday, must be verified to determine if at least 2,806 citizens, or 20% of the city’s registered voters, favor a recall election.

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A Week Early

“I would not have turned them in a week early if I didn’t think we won,” said West, adding that he may seek one of the council seats that would be created by a successful recall. The petitions had to be turned in by April 4 to ensure that an election could be held by this fall.

In an attempt to head off the recall, a newly formed citizens group, the Azusa Taxpayers Assn., mounted a campaign asking petition signers to reconsider and request that their names be removed. The association mailed post cards to each of Azusa’s 14,031 voters.

The association is independent, fighting against the recall but not necessarily supporting Stemrich or Naranjo, said Louis Zamora, the organization’s leader. The group opposes the potentially rancorous recall effort because it will damage the city’s image, exacerbate infighting on the council and waste up to $40,000 for a special election, he said.

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Zamora said he was unable to estimate the number of cards turned in to the city, but Stemrich and Naranjo said they have been told 1,000 cards were returned. City Clerk Adolph A. Solis said he did not count the cards, but he received “a stack nine inches high.”

Signature Cross-Check

Solis forwarded the cards to the registrar, who will remove the names of any voter whose valid signature appears on both the recall petitions and the post cards.

The cards could prove decisive if enough of the recall petition signatures are invalidated, Solis said.

If an election is held, it would be the second recall ballot in Azusa in the past six years. In 1983, Mayor Eugene F. Moses and then-ally Councilman Bruce Latta were pitted against June Hart and Willard Decker, who were council members at the time. All four appeared on the recall ballot; Hart and Decker were ousted.

The current recall effort has deepened tensions at City Hall, with Stemrich and Naranjo accusing Moses of trying to engineer their ouster because of their opposition to his positions. The three ran as a “unity slate” in last April’s election, which saw Moses fend off a second challenge from Latta for mayor. Latta did not have to give up his council seat to run for mayor.

A Falling-Out

“I’m sure in the back rooms, he’s encouraging it,” Naranjo has said. “The falling-out with the mayor has been the key problem here.”

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But Moses said he was not involved with the effort.

“I have friends who are for the recall, and I have friends who are against the recall,” Moses said. “For me to go out in the street and actively campaign against them . . . I would never do that.”

The mayor said that he would like to see the two ousted from office and indicated that he would support West and Stephen J. Alexander, a prospective candidate who has been Moses’ attorney, for election to the council.

No Dupe

In defending the effort, West balked at the suggestion by the targeted councilmen that the recall proponents were Moses’ dupes.

“I am my own man,” said West, who supported Latta’s April bid to unseat Moses. “Nobody tells me what to say, what to do and when to do it. Moses does not tell me what to say, and Moses should not tell me what to say or I’ll tell him where to go.

“I’m in this recall because I think two incompetent council members should be removed,” West said.

Although the recall notice filed in October listed disunity on the council as the prime reason for the recall, West said the controversy over the council’s decision not to close the Azusa Rock Co. quarry last year was foremost in the minds of petition signers.

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Despite a unanimous recommendation by the Azusa Planning Committee to revoke the quarry’s 33-year-old permit, the council renewed the approval while adding conditions designed to mitigate its harmful environmental effects. Naranjo, Stemrich and Councilwoman Jennie Avila voted for the permit renewal, while Moses and Latta opposed the quarry.

West is a member of the Committee to Save the Foothills, an Azusa environmental group that fought for the quarry’s closure and has sued the city over the decision. About half of the petition signers indicated they opposed Stemrich and Naranjo because of that decision, West said.

Quarry Issue

Stemrich and Naranjo have staunchly defended their votes on the quarry issue, saying Azusa would have entered protracted litigation if the quarry had been closed, and the city would have eventually lost the case.

“We made the right decision on that hill,” Stemrich said. “If we were guilty of stealing from the city or using our powers to further our own monetary gain, then fine, throw us out of office. But we only did what was right.”

Stemrich said the recall proponents seized on the quarry issue because the original complaints on the recall notice--which included charges that the two made unwarranted attacks on Moses, broke campaign promises to oppose apartment construction and embarrassed the city--were either weak or untrue.

“They’re using the hill because the other 10 factors on the recall petition couldn’t hold water,” he said.

Stemrich and Naranjo accused recall proponents of lying to citizens to induce them to sign, saying some petition signers have been told the councilmen were taking payoffs from the rock quarry.

“They have misused the democratic way of doing things,” Stemrich said.

West countered that it was the councilmen who mislead citizens.

“We have not lied, we will not lie and we will conduct ourselves open and aboveboard,” he said. “We will not stoop to their level of making accusations that are untrue.”


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