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Schabarum--End of an Era : Politics: The controversial member of the Board of Supervisors leaves the county panel the way he arrived--combative and at odds with his colleagues.

TIMES STAFF WRITER

In 1972, Pete Schabarum took his seat as a Los Angeles County supervisor--a conservative appointee to a board dominated by liberals. On Friday, Schabarum leaves the board, still a political maverick at odds with fellow supervisors.

His departure from the board, however, does not end his crusading. At a retirement party last week, the supervisor told hundreds of supporters that he is still “going to be around. I’m simply shifting gears.”

Aides say Schabarum will expand his drive to limit the terms of public officials and will raise money to fight legal challenges to Proposition 140, which restricts the length of service by state office holders.

Over nearly two decades, the acerbic supervisor has left his imprint on the nation’s most populous county and on the state of California, say critics and supporters.

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Schabarum orchestrated a conservative takeover of the board, then pursued an agenda that altered the course of county government.

He helped promote and shape land development, especially in his San Gabriel Valley district.

He attacked the size and cost of county government by hiring private companies to perform many tasks previously done by government employees.

He led the unsuccessful fight against a court-ordered redistricting that recently resulted in the election of his successor, Gloria Molina, and the end of conservative control of the board.

Schabarum also took his message beyond the county line to Sacramento and to the state’s voters--using his fund-raising prowess to help like-minded candidates and conservative causes. He was an important fund raiser for the campaign that ousted liberal Chief Justice Rose Bird from the state Supreme Court. And his sponsorship last year of Proposition 140 assured him a spot alongside Proposition 13 author Howard Jarvis as a fighter of big government.

Schabarum said last March that he would not seek reelection to his 1st District seat because the job is not “as much fun as other things these days.”

Schabarum, 62, will receive a county pension of about $40,000 a year and plans to return to the land development business.

Press aide Judy Hammond said that Schabarum will push for limits on the number of terms that county supervisors and members of Congress can serve. She said Schabarum also is seeking a gubernatorial appointment, which she would not identify.

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The supervisor’s style and agenda evoked strong emotions and, his critics say, divisiveness. None of his board colleagues attended Schabarum’s retirement party last week.

Some critics hail Schabarum’s retirement as a blessing for environmentalists, AIDS activists, labor unions, advocates for the poor and others who clashed with him over his abrasive style and his tight-fisted policies.

But his supporters say taxpayers will lose the chief protector of the county’s purse-strings, a self-made millionaire land developer who applied sound business principles when deciding how to spend the public’s money.

His legacy, Schabarum has said, is that he tried “to operate this county budget like your own household budget--mainly that you don’t spend more than you collect.”

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Schabarum declined to be interviewed for this story. But Mike Lewis, his former chief deputy, said that the supervisor has taken special pride in his sponsorship of a 1978 voter-approved Charter amendment that allows the county to contract with the private sector for services.

Schabarum, a former San Francisco 49ers halfback, carried his competitive style into politics and practically everything else. In a county-league softball game several years ago, Schabarum bowled over a 135-pound grandmother as he scored a run for his team, “Pete’s Posse.”

“That’s baseball,” Schabarum said, dusting himself off.

A supporter of Proposition 13, Schabarum helped steer the county through rocky financial times. The result, critics say, was a reduction in essential services, especially to the poor.

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“I’ve never seen you once vote for poor people,” liberal Supervisor Kenneth Hahn told Schabarum at a 1988 board meeting.

When asked if he could say anything nice about Schabarum, county labor leader William Robertson borrowed a line from President Dwight D. Eisenhower: “Gimme a week, and I might think of something.”

Joel Fox, president of the Howard Jarvis Taxpayers Assn., said that Schabarum “helped lead the Board of Supervisors on privatization of county functions. That has been saving millions of dollars for taxpayers. . . . That was an important achievement.”

Part of Schabarum’s legacy are the dozens of public buildings and parks in his San Gabriel Valley district, including Schabarum Regional Park.

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A community building at the park houses such Schabarum memorabilia as a 1950 newspaper picturing him throwing a block in a football game that put UC Berkeley in the Rose Bowl, a 1972 car license plate “A-49" from Schabarum’s days as the 49th District assemblyman, and a bus stop sign for the Foothill Transit Zone, a public-private transportation system that he helped create.

Schabarum’s politics were molded from up-by-the-bootstraps Republican values. If the son of a middle-class Covina stockbroker could make himself a multimillionaire, Schabarum believed, then so could anyone else, with hard work.

His political career began in 1965. At age 36, he became the youngest foreman of the county grand jury.

A year later, he was elected to the Assembly. In 1972, he decided not to seek reelection because he “was not making enough headway” in the Democratic-controlled body.

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In March, 1972, he was appointed by then-Gov. Ronald Reagan to a Board of Supervisors vacancy created by the death of Frank Bonelli.

Schabarum spent his early years on the board as a frustrated lone conservative, constantly bickering with other supervisors, particularly muckraking Supervisor Baxter Ward. During the eight years he served with Ward, Schabarum never visited Ward’s office.

As a supervisor, Schabarum won a reputation as a hard worker who prepared himself for board meetings. “He may have been an ornery rascal, but he sure did his homework,” said Bill Gilson, Schabarum’s press deputy in the ‘70s.

In 1980, Schabarum tapped his campaign fund and political organization to help elect fellow conservatives Mike Antonovich and Deane Dana to the board.

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The conservatives voted together so consistently that the public employee unions--upset by their actions--wrote a jingle for them: “Three-to-Two, Three-to-two, we always know just what they’ll do.”

They steered money away from health, welfare and social services and into law enforcement. They phased out rent controls and farmed out county business to private firms, and they often sided with developers. “I think every man is entitled to the reasonable use of his property,” Schabarum once said, “and as long as I’m supervisor, no reasonable zoning request is going to be denied.”

County funding for health care declined from 17% of the budget in 1980-81 to 11% in the current fiscal year, while expenditures for the Sheriff’s Department increased from 18% to 25%, officials said.

Contracting has saved the county $246 million since it was authorized in 1978 by a Schabarum-sponsored Charter amendment, said Chris Goodman, the county’s contracting coordinator. Last year, the county issued 428 contracts for services previously provided by county employees, such as building maintenance, security, debt collection and vehicle repair.

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The new liberal bloc of Hahn, Molina and Ed Edelman have pledged to cut back private contracting, disputing the savings. They also contend that privatization results in a lower quality of services to the public.

In recent years, Schabarum increasingly found himself isolated from his conservative colleagues to the point where he and his fellow board members rarely talked outside of board meetings.

When asked to sum up Schabarum’s legacy, Antonovich said: “Pete will be remembered for turning over control of the Board of Supervisors to a liberal majority.” Antonovich contended that had Schabarum resigned earlier instead of retiring, the governor could have appointed a Republican, giving the appointee the advantage of incumbency for the 1st District election.

Dana said that “Pete was the leader of the conservative majority” but “grew tired of the job.”

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Schabarum, in recent years, contended that his fellow Republicans strayed from their conservative ideology.

During a meeting last year, he was on the short end of a 3-1 roll call to require gas stations to obtain permits to sell alcoholic beverages. Noting that Antonovich and Dana joined the liberal Edelman in voting for the measure, Schabarum grumbled, “Two alleged conservatives and a liberal just invoked another piece of government nonsense.”

SCHABARUM’S LEGACY

From streets to a hiking and equestrian trail--things that bear imprint of Supervisor Pete Schabarum:

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* The Schabarum Trail, a 28-mile hiking and equestrian trail stretching from Whittier Narrows Park in Rosemead through Schabarum Regional Park in Rowland Heights and ending in Walnut Creek Park in San Dimas. Dedicated on June 4, 1989.

* Schabarum Regional Park, Rowland Heights near Colima Road and Azusa Avenue. Dedicated June 4, 1989.

Compiled by Times editorial researcher Cecilia Rasmussen

* Schabarum Ave. in Irwindale. Dedicated in late 1986.

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* Peter F. Schabarum Senior Center, 1556 Central Avenue, South El Monte. Dedicated May,1982.

* Laura Avenue in La Puente was named by Pete Schabarum for his daughter Laura Vandivort around 1960.

QUOTES FROM SCHABARUM

During his 19 years on the Board of Supervisors, Pete Schabarum gained a reputation for direct and sometimes caustic comments on Los Angeles County government, his colleagues and critics:

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* On what drives him, 1981: “I’m a competitor. I always have been. I don’t like to lose. I hate losing. I think you have to be that way, to play pro football. . . .”

* On environmentalists, 1981: “A lot of them are living out there, in nice rural areas, and they don’t want to be disturbed. I don’t blame them. Why should they give a damn about the guy next door, sitting on acres of undeveloped property that’s doing nothing for him? They don’t care what’s fair. But I do.”

* On liberal Supervisor Kenneth Hahn, 1978: “He’s been on the board for over 25 years and he fancies himself as our elder statesman. As a result, the board members get a weekly lesson on the history of the county, which is interesting or amusing to visitors, but tiring to those who must endure his homilies on a regular basis.”

* On immigration, refugees and illegal immigrants, 1985: “My own grandparents were examples of the American immigrant dream. My grandfather, a German engineer, migrated to Mexico where he met and married my Mexican grandmother. They eventually emigrated legally to California with their children and became U.S. citizens. There were no welfare programs then, and they and all the other immigrants worked hard to pay for food, clothing and shelter.”

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* After flattening a 135-pound, 50-year old grandmother playing catcher during a softball game, 1986: “That’s baseball.”

* After a noisy demonstration in the board chamber by AIDS activists demanding more money to fight the disease, 1989: “If you were to poll the man in the street, I think you would find the vast majority of the public really has no interest in the subject of AIDS and certainly could care less about the public financing the needed programs that you have articulated.”

* Running in a predominantly Latino district would pose no problem “being Hispanic such as I am,” Schabarum said in 1990, noting that his grandmother was Mexican.

* On the election of Gloria Molina to the new 1st District created by a judge, 1991: “The election results notwithstanding, the real story is the preposterous gerrymander . . . which is the worst desecration of one-man one-vote in the history of American politics.”

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* On whether his 11th hour decision not to seek reelection made it tougher for a Democrat to run for his seat, 1990: “Shucks.”

* On his term-limitation initiative Proposition 140, 1990: “This is my swan song.”


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