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COVER STORY : The Year of the Dollar : Across the South Bay, candidates will bicker about usual Election Day issues. But underlying it all is a cash crunch that threatens the good life.

<i> This story was reported by Times staff writers Ted Johnson and Scott Sandell, and community correspondents James Benning, Mary Guthrie, Susan Woodward and Iris Yokoi. It was written by Johnson</i>

In Lomita, the city may take over the county-owned library. Manhattan Beach may have to pay the county to provide lifeguard service. The tiny city of Avalon may have to find its own paramedic service because county service has gone up to $25,000 a month.

Across the South Bay, cities are strapped for money. And in the nine cities holding elections April 12, the cash crunch is one of the top issues. The candidates may bicker among themselves about building permits and unkempt sidewalks, but they have a common target when it comes to their city’s recent bare-bones budgets: federal, state and county governments.

“Everyone wants first-class services . . . they want the city to look like Disneyland,” said outgoing Avalon Mayor Hugh T. (Bud) Smith. “But the federal government is not giving any money to the states, the states aren’t giving any money to the counties and the counties aren’t giving any money to the cities.”

And city governments, many candidates say, are stuck with the bill.

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“It’s a legitimate complaint,” said Fernando J. Guerra, political science professor at Loyola Marymount University. “These cities don’t have the ability to raise money like other levels of government.”

But not all the races are dominated only by worries over fiscal red ink. As the South Bay’s population becomes ever more diverse, racial tensions have come to the fore in the Carson and Gardena elections. In both cities, some groups say city government does not represent all major ethnic groups.

As officials tackle these weighty issues, trends show that only about one-third of the registered voters have been going to the polls in many of these cities’ recent municipal elections.

AVALON

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Tourists see only Catalina Island’s quaint life of hotels, glass-bottom-boat tours and mom-and-pop restaurants. Behind it all is the often raucous world of Avalon city politics.

Four candidates are on the ballot in the mayoral race to succeed Smith, who decided not to seek reelection: Avalon Casino Director Billy Delbert, 47; City Councilwoman Barbara J. Doutt, 46; Councilman Ralph J. Morrow Jr., 56, and businessman George Scott, who declined to give his age. Accountant David J. Keith, 38, is running as a write-in candidate.

In addition, seven candidates are running for two open spots on the City Council: businessman Dan O’Connor, 45; businessman and taxi driver Duane Stout, 48; journalist Norma Carlyon, 55; retail store owner Norbert Reyes, 22; business owner Scott Nelson, 40; businessman Tim Winslow, 53; and public utility manager Keith LeFever, 47. Incumbent Hal Host decided not to seek another term, and Doutt is giving up her seat to seek the mayor’s post.

Many of the candidates say that the City Council has approved too much development without consulting the public.

“Decisions are being made that the people in the community don’t understand,” Stout said.

Like many mainland cities, Avalon is strapped for funds. The County Department of Beaches and Harbors told the city that it would continue to provide paramedic service to the island in the 1994-95 fiscal year for $25,000 a month. The city already is paying $520,000 this fiscal year to subsidize the island’s only hospital, which has 12 beds, after a private operator declined to renew its contract.

To make up for the added costs, some candidates say the City Council can do more to increase sales-tax revenue generated by hotels and other tourist businesses.

Faced with the high cost of medical services, city officials have placed three advisory measures on the ballot that ask voters if they want to keep the hospital open, if the hospital should be converted to an outpatient clinic with an emergency room, and if the city should provide paramedic service.

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CARSON

The city’s first directly elected mayor may not have any greater power than other council members, but the campaign has been energized after a break-in at a candidate’s election headquarters.

James Peoples, 60, a retired economist and business executive, said the burglary at his offices was politically motivated. His opponent, business consultant Michael I. Mitoma, 50, now the city’s appointed mayor, says that he knows “absolutely nothing about the break-in.”

The race for a single City Council seat is a little more sedate. Incumbent Lorelie S. Olaes, 31, a former scholarship administrator at UCLA, will face bookkeeper Coni Hathaway, 53; clerical worker Gayle L. Konig, 42, and financial analyst Keith McDonald, 30, son of former Councilwoman Juanita M. McDonald. Olaes was elected last year to complete the unexpired term of the elder McDonald, who was elected to the state Assembly in 1992.

Candidates have spent much of their time pledging to bring more jobs to the city and combat crime, but the city’s racial diversity has underscored some of the campaigns. According to the 1990 U.S. Census, the city’s population is almost equally divided among African Americans, Asian and Pacific Islanders, Latinos and whites.

When Olaes, a Filipina, replaced McDonald, it left the council with no African American member for the first time in the city’s 25-year history. When the grass-roots organization United Voice endorsed Peoples, Keith McDonald and City Treasurer candidate Phyllis Y. Tucker this year, Mitoma charged that the group based its selection on race.

“They selected a black slate . . . That is not healthy,” Mitoma said. “The message is that if you are black you should only vote for a black person . . . I’m very concerned about that.”

But the three candidates deny that they are running as a ticket. Rather, they hope that the endorsement will result in more African American representation in the city’s elected offices.

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The current elected officials “do not reflect the cultural and geographical diversity of our city,” Peoples said.

In the race for city clerk, incumbent Helen Kawagoe, 67, faces Samson C. Labasan, 63, a retired Gardena employee. City Treasurer Mary Louise Custer is running against businessman Cenon Nunag, 65, and Tucker, a certified public accountant.

EL SEGUNDO

In a city hit hard by the decline in the aerospace industry, the six candidates running for two council seats vow to fill empty buildings and help struggling retail businesses.

But they do not agree on whether the city should grant incentives to rebuild its economy.

Earlier this year, the City Council voted to give a tax break to Summerfield Suites, a hotel chain that plans to build in the city. Incumbents Alan West, 65, a retired auto shop owner, and J.B. Wise, 49, an electrical contractor, supported the plan. Their challengers in the race--retired civil engineer Gerhardt Van Drie, 68; U.S. Census surveyor Jane Waag Friedkin; retired Chevron worker Thomas Dickten, 54, and legislative analyst Liam B. Weston--opposed it.

“If we’ve got a chance to get some growth, we’ve got to do it,” Wise said. “In the 1990s, there’s no major business movement without some city involvement.”

Van Drie said that the council should have allowed Summerfield to only postpone paying taxes. Other candidates said it was not the council’s place to grant a tax break.

“The government can’t create jobs,” Dickten said. “They have to be created in the private sector.”

GARDENA

Three longtime City Council veterans are seeking reelection.

In his bid for a seventh term, Mayor Donald L. Dear will face aerospace worker Rafael Garcia, 45, and insurance-benefits executive Philip Johnson, 33.

In the race for two City Council seats, Steven Bradford, 34, a recycling director for the Los Angeles Conservation Corps, will challenge Mas Fukai, 67, who has been on the council 20 years, and Gwen Duffy, 71, a councilwoman for 12 years.

“If you’re a challenger in this city, you’re considered a criminal,” Bradford said. “Gardena has to be open . . . to all its citizens.”

Bradford has long criticized city leaders for neglecting crime and gang problems in the predominantly black and Latino neighborhoods of north Gardena.

The police administration, he said, needs to be overhauled to provide better deployment of officers in the city’s northern neighborhoods.

Johnson, who lives in the Holly Park neighborhood in north Gardena, said that police officers should be assigned to specific neighborhoods to improve relationships with residents.

Incumbents call their challengers’ charges groundless. Fukai said he often meets with north Gardena citizens groups, including the Holly Park Homeowners Assn.

“If you’re going to criticize, criticize (us) for something we don’t do . . . and tell us how to do it, because we’re not mind readers,” Fukai said.

In his campaign, Garcia has targeted another area he says the city neglects: streets and sidewalks.

“They’re filthy,” he said. His proposal is to plant more trees and to steam-clean sidewalks. To pay for it, residents could be charged a small tax, he said.

LAWNDALE

The names on the ballot will be the fewest in years: Only three candidates are running for two council seats, and Mayor Harold E. Hofmann has only a write-in candidate opposing his bid for reelection.

In the council race, incumbent Larry Rudolph, 56, will face refinery shift-coordinator Bruce R. McKee, 45, and retired office manager Virginia M. Rhodes, 58. Both challengers serve on the Planning Commission. In the city clerk’s race, electronics technician Uffe Moller, 51, will challenge incumbent Neil Roth, 51, an aerospace production control coordinator.

Some city officials say that potential candidates may have considered running, but decided not to because the faltering economy has them spending more time at their own jobs and businesses.

The recession also has made the job tougher for current council members. City officials projected a $645,000 shortfall in this fiscal year because of lower-than-expected income from sales taxes, permits and investments.

All three candidates back a plan to use city reserve funds for loans to attract small businesses. That would eventually expand the city’s tax base, they say.

In the interim, McKee supports a tax on residents’ utility bills. Rhodes backs a special assessment fee that would pay for specific projects, such as street improvements and the upkeep of public parks.

“A utility tax is probably more equal because everybody pays that,” McKee said. “An assessment district, however, would affect only property owners in one area.”

But Rhodes said the utility tax will be another burden on low-income families. Rudolph, an estimator for an engineering firm, said he is undecided on the issue.

Hofmann, 61, a self-employed contractor, sees a compromise: a combination of a utility tax and an assessment district.

Mayor Pro Tem Nancy Marthens, 50, declared her candidacy for mayor this week as a write-in. She said the city should not institute a utility tax or assessment districts if it can raise revenue through the formation of its own water company.

Residents also will vote on a measure that would prohibit the city’s redevelopment agency from acquiring residential properties by eminent domain if it does not get the consent of the property owner.

LOMITA

The City Council has little control over the county-run library or Lomita’s schools, but some candidates say the city should intervene on both fronts.

Incumbents Robert Hargrave, 56, Peter J. Rossick, 70, and Chuck Taylor, 58, will compete with manufacturing executive David Albert, 40, property manager Lawson Pedigo, 58, and aerospace contract manager Ben Traina, 40. The candidates are running for three at-large seats.

Last year, the county-run library had to cut its hours, and library officials worry that further county cuts will force the branch to close after June 30.

Pedigo proposed that the city take over management of the library and apply for grants from the county to fund its operation. Traina said he would use city money, if available, to fund the library and might consider designating a city employee to work there part time. Rossick and Hargrave said they would support a city-run or city-funded library district, if money can be found.

Albert pledged to “raise hell” with county officials in an effort to keep the library open, but said the city cannot afford to operate the branch itself.

All of the candidates support a petition drive to secede from the Los Angeles Unified School District and form an independent Lomita district or merge with a nearby district, such as Torrance Unified. Such a move could also save the library, Taylor said. State education money could be used to operate a city-run library as part of the district, he said.

MANHATTAN BEACH

When the county cut funding for the Manhattan Heights Library, it closed. More recently, the City Council balked at a county request for more money for lifeguard and beach grooming services.

“The county is playing lifeguard chicken with us,” said lawyer James A. Shalvoy, 42, one of four candidates seeking two council seats.

He is running against incumbent Connie Sieber, 50, a flight attendant; retired businessman Jack Cunningham, 72, and lawyer Joan Jones, 38. Councilman Dan Stern decided not to seek another term.

Shalvoy and Sieber also say the city needs more police officers. Their proposals come in the wake of the Dec. 27 slaying of Manhattan Beach Police Officer Martin Ganz, who was shot during a routine traffic stop.

PALOS VERDES ESTATES

Incumbents Michael Moody and Rosemary Humphrey are running as a team with attorney William A. Finer in their bid for three City Council seats. Councilwoman Ruth Gralow decided not to seek another term.

To the trio, it’s a race with few issues. To the only other candidate, businessman Massoud JavaDiZadeh, 46, they’re dead wrong.

With Palos Verdes Estates’ tight budget, he says the city could save money by forming a police department with the three other peninsula cities. The city has its own Police Department, and the rest of the peninsula contracts with the Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department.

But many residents are satisfied with the way things work, and do not want to do anything to jeopardize that, Moody said.

“People work extremely hard to keep the calmness of this city,” he said. “I can guarantee you that underneath, it’s like an ant hill of activity to keep it that way.”

Moody, 63, Finer, 51, and Humphrey, who declined to give her age, say JavaDiZadeh has an ax to grind over a recent dispute with city officials. In 1992, he planted five magnolia trees and placed boulders on the public right of way in front of his Via Visalia home without City Council approval. JavaDiZadeh said he applied for a permit, and when the city didn’t act on his request after four months, he went ahead with the project.

The issue is still unresolved, but JavaDiZadeh said his campaign has nothing to do with spite.

The other candidates “basically want to support the status quo--don’t rock the boat, don’t step on anyone’s toes and just let things happen,” JavaDiZadeh said. “When you do that, you create a bureaucracy, and that’s exactly what we’ve got.”

ROLLING HILLS

Most campaigns in this city center on keeping its quasi-rural atmosphere. Nothing more, nothing less.

So the big concern this year is that county cuts will threaten the city’s lifestyle. With no business tax revenue, the city depends on a portion of the county’s property tax dollars.

“We’re doing OK now, but we don’t know for how long,” said Councilwoman Gordana Swanson, who declined to give her age. Along with Swanson, who is seeking reelection, candidates for three council seats are incumbent Jody Murdock, who declined to give her age; venture capital investor B. Allen Lay, 59, and businessman Frank Hill, 58. Councilwoman Ginny Leeuwenburgh is not running.

Election Indifference In most of the South Bay cities holding municipal elections on April 12, fewer than one-third of all registered voters have cast ballots in recent races. Only the smallest cities, such as Avalon and Rolling Hills, have high turnout rates.

1990 1986 1988 1990 1992 City Population Turnout Turnout Turnout Turnout Avalon 2,918 57.0% 69.0% 58.0% 64.0% Carson 83,995 23.5% 23.5% 22.3% 21.4% El Segundo 15,223 43.0% 29.7% 44.4% Gardena 49,847 28.9% 27.1% 21.5% 34.1% Lawndale 27,331 22.0% 23.1% 21.0% 23.0% Lomita 19,382 13.0% * 17.0% 14.0% Manhattan Beach 32,063 28.0% 32.95 20.8% 27.4% Palos Verdes Estates 13,512 23.0% 39.0 26.0% 19.0% Rolling Hills 1,871 * * 40.0% 56.0%

* No election held because not enough candidates filed for race.

Source: 1990 Census, city clerks


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