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LOCAL ELECTIONS L.B. 3RD COUNCIL DISTRICT : Mutual Dislike About All These 2 Agree On

TIMES STAFF WRITER

Third District City Council candidates Jim Serles and Doug Drummond have done everything short of slugging each other.

Drummond branded Serles as corrupt, so Serles slapped him with a $6-million libel suit. Each has accused the other of stealing campaign signs, buying votes, flip-flopping on issues, kowtowing to developers.

Even when they agree, they say it’s because one stole the other’s ideas:

“I hear him using some of my own words and I’m flattered,” Drummond recently said of Serles.

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“I think he’s listening to what I’ve been saying as a candidate,” Serles recently said of Drummond.

But beyond the schoolyard taunts and stumping rhetoric, they are very different candidates who offer a distinct philosophical choice to residents in the district, which straddles Pacific Coast Highway from Atherton Street to the sea, taking in the wealthy areas of Belmont Shore, Naples and the Peninsula.

Serles, 49, is a mild-mannered dentist and the chairman of the powerful Planning Commission, is funded by well-heeled contributors and endorsed by every mainstream political group in the city. He has amassed $178,000 in contributions, the fattest campaign wallet in all the local district races, records filed through May 19 show. Including a loan to himself, he has spent $185,700 on his third bid for the seat being vacated by Jan Hall.

Drummond, 53, is a retired police commander with a quick temper that reveals itself when he is challenged. He’s a political newcomer whose grass-roots campaign forced his favored opponent to a June 5 runoff. His bankroll is paltry in comparison: He had collected $72,000 in contributions through the same time period and spent $65,800 of it.

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Both men refer to themselves as moderate conservatives but have few similarities beyond that political label.

Drummond supports Proposition F, the ballot measure that would double City Council salaries; Serles opposes it as a waste of money in a city wracked by crime.

Drummond says the city’s controversial trash-to-energy incinerator was an environmental and financial mistake; Serles calls it a technological marvel.

Drummond is wary of using city funds to save historic buildings; Serles loves the idea.

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Both candidates do agree that crime is “out of control” in Long Beach, where assaults and murders have taken a marked leap. And they support Proposition E, the ballot initiative that would levy a special property tax to add 75 police officers. After that, the candidates part ways on crime.

Drummond says at least 300 officers must be added to the Long Beach police force over the next five years. And if the city can’t strengthen the department, it should abolish it in favor of contract services by the Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department, he proposes.

“But only as a last resort,” says Drummond, who spent 29 years on the Long Beach force. “We have to rebuild our department and have safe streets. And if we can’t do it and do it right, we should find someone who can.”

“Totally absurd,” Serles says of the notion of abolishing the Long Beach Police Department. He proposes giving limited police authority to 70 marine and harbor security officers, then raising taxes on commercial airlines and increasing airport fees to hire more full-fledged police officers.

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“We have seen an increase in crime that never should have been allowed to happen by our City Council and city manager,” Serles said. Although the candidates are far apart on crime solutions, their gap in philosophy about homelessness recently narrowed thanks to a change of heart by Drummond.

Previously, Drummond had said that the homeless are the responsibility of the state and county, rather than the city. But after visiting a local shelter, he decided that the city should guarantee bonds to provide low-rent apartments that would be run by nonprofit agencies.

Serles, who has always maintained that the city was wrong to “turn its back” on the homeless, accuses Drummond of waffling on the issue. Drummond preferred to call it “a learning experience.”

“I have definitely changed on the homeless issue,” Drummond said. “I would hope as candidates we would have flexibility to move when persuasion indicates that is the proper thing to do.”

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Both candidates said the city should increase support of local charities that feed and shelter the homeless, with Serles adding that he would favor opening some public restrooms--such as those in parks--to homeless people if security guards could be posted.

“I believe in taking care of your fellow man,” Serles said. "(And) it’s better for citizens who complain their private property is being used as a restroom facility.”

Some of the candidates’ more surly exchanges have swirled around developers, with each calling the other beholden to developer interests. But on the real issue of requiring developers to pay for the urban damage their projects cause, the candidates are not too far apart.

Both support the idea of developer fees to pay for parks and to reduce traffic problems that result from building.

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A similar fee to help provide low-cost housing is supported by Serles for certain areas of the city. Drummond is essentially opposed to such a fee, saying it drives housing costs up and out of reach for first-time buyers.

As to the future of Second Street, however, the candidates again divide. Serles says he believes that Belmont Shore’s quaint shopping strip should be spruced up with unique shops and interesting architecture that would serve residents and attract tourism dollars.

Drummond believes the street should cater to residents alone and not be made “a tourist attraction.”

Although their campaign is clearly among the nastiest around, the candidates stand in agreement in a few areas: Both deplore rent control, assault rifles and discrimination against people with AIDS. They endorse campaign spending limits, the death penalty and a woman’s right to have an abortion.

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They have called for curbside recycling in Long Beach and increased environmental protections, with Drummond proposing that neighborhoods join to adopt various species of trees and then plant an “urban forest.”

Both candidates would bar City Council members from voting on projects within one year after receiving a political contribution from a developer involved in that project--although Drummond would do so only for contributions exceeding $1,000; Serles would set the limit at $200.

Within the district, the candidates list traffic as a major problem. They have called for the east-west traffic flow to be diverted off Ocean Boulevard. And both candidates believe in preserving the district’s distinct neighborhoods. They deplore the overbuilding that plopped eight-unit apartment buildings next to single-family homes. Each promises to set strict building limits, with Serles pointing out that in his two years as a planning commissioner, 62% of the city’s neighborhoods have been downzoned.


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