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SAN GABRIEL VALLEY MUNICIPAL ELECTIONS : Races Spark Fireworks--and a Plan to Ban Them

TIMES STAFF WRITER

Voters in three San Gabriel Valley cities will elect council members Tuesday, while ballot measures on fireworks and public housing will be decided in two cities.

Voters in Walnut will decide whether to ban fireworks sales in the city. In Rosemead the City Council is asking voters to approve the use of redevelopment funds to build low-income housing.

The liveliest council race has emerged in the valley’s newest city, Diamond Bar, which was incorporated in 1989. There five challengers--one a former council member who gave up his seat in an unsuccessful bid for state office--are vying for two seats against two incumbents.

Three of the five challengers are disparaging the two incumbents as allowing too much development. One of the challengers has passed out flyers implying that the City Council may allow a golf course to be developed as a shopping mall or civic center. The incumbents accuse the challengers of distorting their policies.

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Campaigning has been low key in the other council races. Only one challenger in each has joined the field against incumbents seeking reelection in Walnut and Duarte.

Diamond Bar

A proposal in an early draft of the first General Plan of the city, suggesting that a county-owned golf course be examined as a site for a shopping center or city administrative quarters, has aroused contention.

A flyer circulated by one challenger, retired real estate agent Lavinia Rowland, protests: “Our present Diamond Bar Country Club and Golf Course should NOT be developed into a Mall, Civic Center or any other asphalt or concrete structure.” Challenger Clair W. Harmony, in an interview, has protested in the same vein.

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Council member Phyllis Papen accused the two challengers of making up stories.

“The General Plan is in a very rough-draft stage right now,” she said, “and (Rowland) is trying to make it look like a done deal. She’s using this tactic simply to gain votes. We have discussed such a proposal, but I certainly never supported it.”

The other incumbent, Don Nardella, has issued a one-page response--in all-capital letters--stating that he did not support changing the golf course into a shopping center.

Both Rowland and Harmony said they received their information from copies of the proposed General Plan released to the public.

Since then, the council has sent the plan back to the General Plan Advisory Committee for reconsideration. Papen said it will be four to six months before the council will vote on the final version.

“I just feel like they got their hands caught in the cookie jar, and now they’re trying to get back out of it,” Rowland said. “I got my information directly from the city, and if it’s wrong, then it’s the city’s fault, not mine. I just brought it out into the open.”

A third challenger, Jim Paul, siding with Rowland and Harmony, is issuing his own criticisms against Papen and Nardella.

Candidate Thomas F. Ortiz has steered clear of the controversy and said he prefers to promote issues, such as fighting crime, that unite the city rather than tear it apart.

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Meanwhile, Gary G. Miller, the former council member who gave up his seat in an unsuccessful 1990 bid for the state Senate, said he opposes development of the golf course, but faulted Rowland for launching an attack that he thought implicated everyone who has been involved in drafting the plan.

“If you’re going to throw dirt, you better be sure you’re hitting the right target,” Miller said.

Aside from the development controversy, all of the candidates are basing their appeal to the voters on their community service records.

Papen, 46, the city’s first mayor and a pro-cityhood activist before incorporation, has served as president of the Improvement Assn. and as project director of the city’s Curbside Recycling Program.

She works as a local real estate agent and is a single parent, with two children in college.

Nardella, 42, is a real estate attorney. He was appointed to the council a year ago after a position was left vacant by Paul V. Horcher, who won a seat in the state Assembly.

Nardella has been endorsed by every past president of the Chamber of Commerce. He maintains that his legal experience gives him an edge over the other candidates. He is married and has lived in Diamond Bar since 1985.

Miller, 42, has his own real estate investment company and served on the first City Council. After his unsuccessful campaign last year against state Sen. Frank Hill (R-Whittier), he has pledged that he will seek no higher office.

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“I’ve been approached to run for supervisor and for the Assembly,” he said. “But I’m not interested. There’s too much work to be done in Diamond Bar.”

Rowland, 69, said she originally opposed cityhood, but “the voters wanted it, so that’s what counts.” Since her retirement, Rowland has volunteered for numerous city and civic organizations, including the Meals on Wheels program, which delivers food to disabled persons who cannot leave their homes.

Harmony, 50, has been city manager of the City of Commerce and a consultant on urban and suburban issues. He publishes a national newsletter for city managers. During the Vietnam War, he served as an Army sergeant and worked as a correspondent for Stars & Stripes. Harmony was also one of the chief petitioners for cityhood.

Jim Paul, 51, is a retired Los Angeles County firefighter and paramedic. This is his second attempt at a City Council seat, and he feels that his retirement will allow him to make the City Council his “full-time job.”

Paul is president of the city’s Majority of One Singles group, and has two grown children. He has lived in Diamond Bar for 25 years.

Thomas F. Ortiz, 57, is making his third run at a council seat and is now head of the Traffic and Transportation Committee. A retired Santa Ana police officer, he raises and trains German shepherds as search animals.

Ortiz has lived in Diamond Bar for 13 years and is a member of the Optimist Club, the Rotary Club and the Chamber of Commerce. He is married, with four children and six grandchildren.

Walnut

A ballot initiative to ban fireworks has overshadowed an uncontentious council race in which only one challenger is taking on three incumbents.

The challenger, Greg Arakelian, has taken a strong stand on the initiative, Proposition L. He has circulated flyers asking residents to vote for him and the ban.

The three incumbents, Bertha (Bert) Ashley, Thomas Sykes and Ray T. Watson, have agreed not to lend their names to either side, but both Sykes and Watson expressed their private support for the initiative. Ashley has refused to state a position.

The battle over the ban has mostly taken place between the sponsoring organization, “Walnut Citizens to Ban Fireworks,” and “Citizens for a Safer Walnut,” a coalition of service groups that stands to lose thousands of dollars in revenues if the measure passes.

The coalition consists of the Lions Club, Diamond High Club, Quarterback Club and local Veterans of Foreign Wars post. They are being sponsored by American West Marketing Inc., a Santa Ana-based wholesale distributor of state-approved fireworks.

“Selling fireworks is our only fund-raiser,” said Gerald Herrern, president of the Lions Club.

Herrern said that without the $5,000 to $10,000 a year brought in by the sale, the Lions Club would have to shut down its sight-and-hearing test van that visits local schools.

But ban supporters say safety should be the overriding concern. City Councilman William Choctaw, chairman of the committee to ban fireworks, compared the dry hills and shingle-roof homes of Walnut to the areas of Berkeley and Oakland where more than 3,000 homes burned this month.

“There’s no difference between us and them,” said Choctaw, who is not running for reelection. “It could happen here next.”

Proponents argue that other cities that have taken such action have seen a decrease in fireworks-related fires. Opponents, however, argue that Walnut has not experienced a fireworks-related fire or injury in the last 10 years.

Along with the fireworks initiative, Arakelian, the 37-year-old challenger, has also tried to make an issue of age.

The 13-year Walnut resident is the youngest candidate in the race and says he represents a new wave of professionals who have moved into the city.

“Very often in cities that have grown rapidly like Walnut, the town changes dramatically, and you need some fresh ideas and new people to lead,” Arakelian said. “One person on the council for 12 years is just too long.”

Ashley, a 12-year veteran of the council chambers who has declined to state her age and did not report it on her voter and driving records, took issue with Arakelian’s statement.

“I don’t think anyone can be in public office too long, because the people have a chance to vote you out every four years,” she replied. “My age ain’t the issue.”

Ashley, a retired accountant, has served twice as mayor of Walnut and has lived in the area with her husband for 28 years.

Watson, 57, the current mayor, is a retired Los Angeles County sheriff’s deputy and has lived in the city since 1978. He is married with seven children and two grandchildren.

Watson suffered a heart attack in February, but, he said, “according to my cardiologist, I am in good health and recovering well.”

He said he believes in an open-door approach to city government and welcomes citizens to call him at home.

Sykes, 42, the current mayor pro tem, works as an assistant director of human resources for the City of Commerce. He is finishing his first term on the council, and has also served on the Planning Commission and the Los Angeles County Water Advisory Commission. A 14-year Walnut resident, he is married with three children.

Sykes said the three incumbents are pulling for one another in the race.

“We have one of the smoothest-running cities around here, and the incumbents really get along well,” he said.

Duarte

Two incumbents are facing a lone challenger, 45-year-old corporate treasurer Lino S. Paras.

Paras is making his third attempt at election to the council. He was also unsuccessful this year in a lawsuit he filed against the city after failing to win appointment to the council.

Paras filed a Superior Court suit Jan. 11 contending that the council should have considered other candidates when it appointed Margaret Finlay to a vacancy left by the resignation of Councilman John E. Hitt.

A judge dismissed the suit Oct. 4, saying the case was “without merit as to fact and law.”

Paras, a corporate treasurer with a local manufacturing company, said he feels the council lacks minority representation.

“Above all, I stand for fair and equitable representation on the council,” Paras said. “That is not happening now.”

The incumbents--Mayor Jinny Joyce and Councilman John R. Fasana--dismissed the criticism. Joyce emphasized that she is the first female mayor of the city and added that there are several minorities on appointed commissions.

“I think it’s important to have minority representation on the council,” Fasana said. “But it’s also up to the people to elect the highest-caliber candidates. I’m sure there are many high-caliber minority candidates out there, and they may be running for the council in the next few years.”

Joyce and Fasana have both served one term on the council. They are advertising together; one of their flyers states, “Ginny and John are meeting the challenges of the ‘90s.”

Joyce, 53, recently sold her real estate company and now works part time as a real estate agent. Fasana, 36, is a strategic planning supervisor for Southern California Edison.

Rosemead

The City Council has placed an advisory measure, Proposition D, on the ballot, which seeks permission to use Redevelopment Agency funds for construction of low- and moderate-income housing for senior citizens and disabled people.

The city has purchased land, at 9108-9130 Garvey Ave. and 2417-2449 Angelus Ave. The first site could accommodate up to 150 units on three acres, and the second up to 50 units on one acre.

City Manager Frank Tripepi said detailed architectural surveys would have to be commissioned before he could estimate the cost. He said the measure needs to receive a majority vote for the council to proceed with the project.

Mayor Jay T. Imperial, as well as three other council members, are supporting the initiative. Councilman Gary A. Taylor, who believes the project would cost the city $500,000 a year, opposes the initiative. He said he would rather the money went toward improving existing structures rather than creating new ones.

The proposed ordinance was introduced as part of a state requirement that cities put 20% of their tax increment toward affordable housing projects.


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