Enough Politics : 2 of La Habra Heights' Original Council Members Decide to Bow Out


Two of the original City Council members of La Habra Heights have decided not to run for reelection in April.

After 12 years on the rural community's five-member council, Mayor Jean G. Good and Councilman Gene W. Beckman said they have had enough of politics.

"It's been fun. I wouldn't have missed it. But I've had enough," Good said.

Beckman made light of his decision, saying: "It's time to give someone else a chance" to earn the $1-a-month council salary. "We really get only 93 cents after taxes," he quipped.

But he admitted being stung by a campaign in 1988 to limit council members to two terms in office. The limit was approved by voters, but the City Council has decided to ignore it because it appears to be invalid under state law. Beckman said the "vilification" that opponents heaped on him during the campaign helped him make up his mind not to run this year.

"They called us dishonest, crooks, liars. And some of those people were friends of mine," Beckman said.

The issue that led to the referendum on council terms is the same that propelled La Habra Heights to cityhood and Good and Beckman to office: development. Ironically, while Good and Beckman came to office and spent most of their tenure fighting to preserve the rural character of this bedroom community, it was the council's plan to widen a road that drew the wrath of constituents.

Usually, the city has been characterized by people pulling together for a common goal, Good said.

"People moved here to this city, which has been described as 'a land of a thousand views,' to build their dream homes," she said.

Within its 6.2 square miles, the hilly city houses 5,400 residents. There are no shopping centers or schools. Many old avocado trees remain, a reminder of the time when the fruit was grown commercially in the area.

It is a place with room to spread out: by city ordinance, there is only one house to an acre. Many people have horses.

In fact, when Good moved here in 1968 with her husband and three children, they brought along five horses. Horses were her business, too: For 25 years, she ran a family retail store in Pico Rivera that sold riding equipment.

Beckman, a lawyer, and his wife, Billie, were looking for a large enough place to raise their six children when they moved to their two-story home in 1967.

Soon after moving to the area, Beckman and Good said they found themselves battling developers and Los Angeles County to preserve the rural life style of the area and to maintain low-density housing.

"We didn't want the developers coming in and scraping off the hills and putting houses side by side," Beckman said.

Good said a developer's plan to build 50 homes on 16 acres propelled her to activism in 1968.

She said the La Habra Heights Improvement Assn., a homeowners' group in which both she and Beckman were active, was successful in stopping that development and many more during the years before incorporation.

"We wanted to stop wall-to-wall houses," she said.

Whenever a development issue came up, Good and Beckman would travel in rented school buses with hundreds of La Habra Heights residents to the Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors to protest.

During one fight in 1974, "Supervisor (Kenneth) Hahn looked at the crowd and said he thought our entire community was there. We did have about 700," Beckman said.

In 1978, La Habra Heights residents voted to form their own city, primarily to gain more control over development. Good and Beckman were both elected to the City Council. Good's fellow council members selected her as their first mayor, a position she has filled four times in a dozen years.

"She enjoys it. Her license plate reads: MAYOR 4X," said Beckman, who has been mayor two times.

Both are leaving office believing they were successful in their efforts to preserve La Habra Heights as a rural oasis.

The city has been able to maintain its tough zoning law that permits only one home to an acre, Good said.

The council also has established an efficient volunteer fire department and has provided good law enforcement services contracted from the Los Angeles County Sheriff's Department, Beckman said.

They found during their tenure that council battles were not always with outsiders.

In 1988, a group of residents known as MORL (Maintain Our Rural Lifestyle) fought to stop the widening to four lanes of Hacienda Boulevard, a winding two-lane road that cuts through the city. The council-backed road-widening project passed during a special election but the group opposed to road widening was able to win approval on the same ballot for a measure limiting council members to two four-year terms.

However, Assistant City Atty. Carol Lynch said the law is invalid because La Habra Heights is a general law city governed by state regulations that do not set any restrictions on the number of terms.

Lynch said that a state Appeal Court ruled against restricting the terms of elected officials in South San Francisco in a similar case in 1989. On her advice, the City Council decided not to enforce a limit on terms of office. So far, MORL has not appealed.

Lynch said Beckman and Good could run for reelection if they so choose.

Instead, Good, 61, said she plans to travel extensively in Hawaii and Europe. Divorced, she will remarry in August.

Beckman, 62, said he will continue his career as a business and commercial lawyer.

Good said she will endorse two of the three candidates who are running in the April 10 election. She said she will back Richard Newbre, 55, who is a real estate lawyer, and Diane Kane, 42, an environmental planner for the state Department of Transportation. Good said she is backing Newbre and Kane, who are city planning commissioners, because they intend to maintain the city's rural atmosphere.

The third candidate, Paul Tomko, 50, also wants to keep the community rural, but Good says she knows less about him. Tomko, the founder and president of the Bank of Westminster, ran for City Council in 1980.

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