LOCAL ELECTIONS / ESCONDIDO CITY COUNCIL : Incumbents Face Test of Slow-Growth Policy : Politics: Mayor and the council members aligned with him could be upset if the voters think that their fervor has hurt the community's economy.


Ah, for the good old days in Escondido city politics, when pro-growthers and slow-growthers duked it out to shape the city's destiny and the battle lines were so easily drawn: the business-steeped old-timers versus the upstart environmentalists.

Now, those upstarts are the old-timers and the question to voters on Tuesday will be whether the city's politicians have slowed growth here too successfully, at the expense of the city's economic viability.

Although that question has surfaced as the basic issue in Escondido these days, it has hardly reached the level of pitched battle.

Consider the fact that incumbent Mayor Jerry Harmon, the champion of slow growth since the mid-1970s, faces only one challenger for the two-year term: a woman who said she's only running because no one else dared to.

"I don't think anyone is invincible, and I'd be damned if he was going to run unopposed," says P. K. (Patricia) Walker, a local bookkeeper who ran for the City Council four years ago and finished in the middle of a jammed, 16-candidate pack.

"I'm going to beat him because he doesn't take me seriously," she said. "He's more worried about getting his own people on the council than he is with his own reelection."

Therein lies perhaps the biggest question on Tuesday: Will Harmon, who in 1988 finally forged a council majority aligned with his slow-growth philosophy, successfully carry his slate back into office?

One on his slate is incumbent Carla DeDemonicis, an attorney who was elected along withHarmon four years ago who has since lost the support of the city's organized mobile home voters, who backed her in 1988.

The other is Rick Foster, who was appointed to the council in 1990 to finish Harmon's two-year council term after Harmon was elected mayor. Foster, a director of field operations for a health testing company, had long been in the Harmon camp, had managed DeDemonicis' campaign for City Council in 1988 and did the same in 1990 for Councilman Sid Hollins.

The third council seat at stake Tuesday has been held by Kris Murphy, who was elected in 1988 as a Harmon protege but has decided he's had enough and wants to bail out of local politics.

If DeDemonicis and Foster survive any sort of anti-incumbency sentiment at the polling booth, and, if Harmon doesn't slip on some banana peel, the race in Escondido on Tuesday will be for the seat being vacated by Murphy.

And true to form, Harmon has his favored candidate--Kevin Thomas, a born-and-bred Escondidan and graphic designer who has been active in the city's business community.

Harmon says Thomas is needed to bridge the gap between slow-growthers and those who wonder if the current City Council has gone overboard in putting a lid on local development. Thomas, 35, has served for three years as president of the Downtown Business Assn. and has been active in the Chamber of Commerce and the Escondido Convention and Visitor's Bureau, but this is his first try for public office.

Thomas says his agenda would be to attract new business into the community. "We need to broaden our economic base--not by building more houses, but bringing in business to provide more jobs," he said.

Raising the same issue is Elmer Cameron, another front-runner whose long ties in the community were established during his 21 years as an administrator in the Escondido Union (elementary) School District.

Cameron, 63, pitches himself as a moderate, somewhere between Harmon's slow-growth campaign and the bigger-is-better philosophy held a decade ago by former council members Jim Rady, Doug Best and Ernie Cowan.

Atop his agenda, Cameron said, is a review of city fees that have dissuaded businesses and home developers from looking to Escondido. "Our developer fees are the second-highest in the county, and we don't even have people coming here who want to build the homes that we need," he said.

Two other candidates with high profiles in the community are Lori Holt Pfeiler, a 34-year-old accountant, and Vivian Doering, a 61-year-old attorney and former trustee of the elementary school district.

Pfeiler has assailed City Hall for being unfriendly to business and for providing inadequate police protection, while Doering--who ran for council in 1982 and 1988--has hit the crime issue and says City Hall is cavalier in spending money--ranging from spending $2.5 million to buy and raze a bank building alongside the civic center complex, to spending $17,000 for gold leafing of City Hall.

Dark-horse candidates, given their previously low community profiles or poor campaign war chests, are Jim Fraker, 37, who says excessive red tape has stifled private enterprise; Richard A. Sardo Jr., 34, a land-surveyor and former city employee who says some municipal functions should be privatized, and Joseph Peterson, a 23-year-old Palomar Community College student.

Because there are only two candidates for mayor, the lines are more easily drawn.

Harmon, who recently retired as an engineer for Pacific Bell, said his reelection is requisite if the voters' 1988 mandate for slowed growth is to be preserved. "The changes that were made in 1988 won't be sustained if my opponent is elected," Harmon said. "If the residents want to reverse that course, they'll vote for her."

For her part, Walker says an improved downtown economy will only occur when City Hall itself becomes more receptive to businessmen.

Copyright © 2019, Los Angeles Times
EDITION: California | U.S. & World