Bell Gardens voters will go to the polls in December to decide whether to oust all but one council member.
The City Council set the recall election of council members Robert Cunningham, Letha Viles, Allen Shelby, and Douglas O'Leary for Dec. 10 during a raucous meeting Monday punctuated by jeers, cheers from the audience and a vow from state Sen. Art Torres' office to monitor the election.
Council members unanimously approved the recall election without comment, then sat somberly as council critics repeatedly raised the issue throughout the meeting.
Diane Gonzalez, an aide to Torres (D-Los Angeles), told the council Monday that the senator has been watching the growing furor in Bell Gardens and wants to make sure that the city follows state law.
"It is time to open the doors of City Hall to include all of its citizens," Gonzalez told the council. "This is not an issue of race. It is an issue of justice."
In addition to deciding whether to recall council members, voters will be asked whether they want council members to be replaced by appointment or by special election.
If at least three council members are recalled, however, state law requires that a special election be held, City Manager Claude Booker said. An election to replace the recalled council members must be held by early March, just one month before the regular municipal elections in which the seats held by Viles, Cunningham and Shelby will be on the ballot.
City council critics said they pushed for a special recall election rather than wait for the regular municipal election because they have waited too long for the council to meet the needs of the community, which is almost 90% Latino. The council members targeted for recall are Anglo.
The council has been the target of mounting criticism from some Bell Gardens residents, property owners and business people. Last fall, city officials came under attack when they began overhauling zoning codes to control Bell Gardens' crushing population density and improve its housing.
A group of critics calling itself the No Rezoning Committee formed to fight the zoning changes, saying that the changes would eventually eliminate affordable housing and drive poor residents from the city.
Torres made an appearance at a packed council meeting last year and accused council members of "shattering the American dream."
Council members have accused Torres of political grandstanding. The senator was running for a seat on the County Board of Supervisors when he spoke at last year's council meeting. City officials have since asked state reapportionment leaders to take Bell Gardens out of Torres' district when new political boundaries are approved later this year.
After Torres' appearance last year, the No Rezoning Committee redoubled its effort and filed a lawsuit challenging the zoning map. The suit is still pending in Los Angeles County Superior Court. The No Rezoning Committee also tried to place a referendum opposing the zoning changes on the ballot, but failed.
Earlier this summer the group began gathering signatures to force out all council members except Councilwoman Rosa Hernandez. Hernandez, who was appointed in April, also has been threatened with recall, but so far the committee has taken no action against her.
Last month, the county registrar's office ruled that the committee had gathered enough valid signatures to force a recall election.
"We could have worked together but you guys didn't want to," resident Mario Pena told the council Monday. "You just wanted to stop us. We are not going to stand for this."
Community correspondent Mimi Ko contributed to this story.