In a special election watched closely by cities elsewhere in Southern California, the entire Covina City Council was recalled Tuesday because of the city's controversial utility tax.
Voters ousted all five council members by wide margins, signaling their displeasure with the 6% tax imposed by the council last year when the city was struggling with a $2.3-million budget deficit.
"This is Proposition 13 revisited," said Earl P. Purkhiser, a leader of the recall movement. "Political leaders throughout the (San Gabriel) Valley and beyond will see what happened here and conduct themselves with the will of the people (in mind). . . . We can put them in and we can take them out."
Mayor Henry Morgan said, "The people have spoken, but we're looking at chaos for six or seven years." He alluded to the complete turnover in elected officials triggered by the recall vote. Morgan said recall proponents were more interested in their own political ambitions than in the utility tax itself.
The recall ballot included Morgan and council members John King, Chris Lancaster, Chris Richardson and Robert Biancardi, who resigned in April. Richard Gratton, who was appointed by the council to replace Biancardi, was also subject to the recall. The members will remain on the council until a special election to replace them is held in October.
Covina's tax shows up on gas, electricity, water and telephone bills. The average household pays about $12.60 a month. Opponents said the tax would not have been needed if the council had kept a tight rein on finances.
Council members say the utility tax was necessary to preserve police, fire and library services in the wake of a slump in sales tax revenue and the loss of property tax funds to the state. Changing the faces on the council, they said, will not make the city's financial problems disappear.
City officials said 32% of the voters cast ballots, a record for recent municipal elections. A simple majority of votes was needed to recall any council member. There are about 20,000 registered voters among Covina's 43,000 residents.
EDITION-TIME ELECTION RETURNS
Counting of late and absentee ballots could alter the outcome in some races.
City Council Recall
21 of 21 Precincts Reporting
Shall the following City Council members be recalled:
COUNCIL MEMBER YES NO Robert Biancardi* 4,064 2,295 John C. King 4,109 2,305 Christopher W. Lancaster 4,060 2,362 Henry M. Morgan 4,322 2,102 Frieda C. Richardson 4,059 2,351
* Biancardi resigned but his name remained on the ballot. The seat is now occupied by Richard Gratton, who is recalled by virtue of the vote.