A group of citizens has launched a recall effort against Bellflower Mayor Ken Cleveland and Councilman Ray T. Smith, a move that could test the city's recent crackdown on building-code violations.
Recall leaders accuse the two council members of disregarding business interests and selectively enforcing building codes against citizens who have complained about city policies. The recall notices were delivered at a recent City Council meeting.
Cleveland and Smith denied the allegations, saying that stepped-up code enforcement is part of an effort to clean up the city and attract businesses.
"This is a hell of a thing to happen," said Cleveland, who was the target of an unsuccessful recall effort two years ago after he supported a proposed card club. "All (a recall election) does is tear up cities."
Recall leaders said the council majority's heavy-handed action will drive out businesses. They said they agree that the city should be cleaned up--but not with an iron fist.
"Business owners and private citizens are very upset with the way the government is treating business," said recall supporter Jim Krage, who owned a camera store in the city during the 1970s and 1980s.
Krage and others said they were cited or investigated for various violations after speaking out against a controversial council decision to eliminate large metal storage containers in the city. The council majority found the containers unsightly, but opponents said the containers provide ideal, theft-resistant storage spaces that save businesses money.
Krage said that a few days after he complained to the council, he received a parking ticket on a car that extended just inches into the sidewalk from his driveway. A nearby truck extended more than two feet into the sidewalk but was not ticketed, according to Krage, who said he plans to fight the citation.
Lloyd Basham, owner of Lloyd's Crankshaft Grinding on Alondra Avenue, said that two days after complaining to the council he was cited by county building code officers for not having a permit for a garage at the site. He said he has submitted documents showing he has a permit for the building and is awaiting a response.
John Butts, who is leading the recall effort, said his roofing business was targeted by city code inspectors a few days after he spoke out at a council meeting. Butts said he was cited for a business sign that exceeded size limits and has removed the sign.
Councilwoman Ruth A. Gilson, who often votes against the council majority, said the code-enforcement actions are suspicious. "There's no way to prove it 100%," she said. "But the events are awfully coincidental."
Cleveland admitted alerting county officials about Basham's garage and filing a complaint against Butts for having an oversized sign.
But the mayor said the complaints were prompted solely by concerns over unsightly conditions. He insisted that he was not retaliating against critics.
"I run an active business and have a full life," said Cleveland, who operates a real estate agency. "I don't have time to check on who should be (investigated for violations) and who shouldn't."
Community Development Director Judith Arandez, who oversees the code enforcement staff, also scoffed at the allegations of selective code enforcement.
"Very few complaints come from the council, and most often they are relaying complaints from other people," Arandez said. Many complaints are placed anonymously, she added.
In July, at the council's request, the code enforcement office increased its staff from one officer to three and began searching for violations rather than reacting only to complaints, Arandez said.
The response has been mixed, Arandez said.
"I've had people come up to me and say, 'It was about time; this place was going to the dogs and you should do more,' " she said. "Then the other side feels that this is private property and the government has no business telling people what to do."
Recall organizers also said the council approved taxes that should have been put on the ballot, such as a 5% utility users tax to pay for additional law enforcement. Smith and Cleveland also voted against a recent proposal for an advisory ballot measure to gauge public opinion on the tax, which took effect last year.
"We had six public hearings prior to voting on the tax," Cleveland said. "How many times do (critics) want to beat this thing to death?"
Recall organizers must gather signatures of at least 5,178 registered voters in the city within 120 days.