SAN GABRIEL VALLEY / COVER STORY : TOTAL RECALL : EFFORTS BY DISGRUNTLED CITIZENS TO UNSEAT OFFICEHOLDERS ARE INCREASINGLY COMMONPLACE

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Just a few months ago, Patricia Bolton was a volunteer in the 60th Assembly District Republican office, using her nimble fingers to stuff envelopes with campaign mailers touting the reelection of Paul Horcher.

Today, Bolton spends practically every spare moment making phone calls and walking precincts to recall Horcher for renouncing his GOP membership and voting to extend the reign of Democratic Assembly Speaker Willie Brown of San Francisco. The recall vote on Horcher, who is now a registered independent, is set for May 16.

As Bolton sat recently in the GOP office, eagerly answering the phones with the refrain, "recall Horcher headquarters," she could find no polite words for the Diamond Bar assemblyman. "He double-crossed everyone," she remarked.

That's a common feeling about elected representatives right now in the San Gabriel Valley, where eight recall drives seek to unseat 20 officeholders.

The recall movement gained momentum in 1993 when Covina voters, angered by a 6% utility tax, removed the entire City Council. Now two leaders of that recall drive who were voted onto the council on a no-tax pledge--plus a third current council member--find the same tactic being used against them in response to their vote for an even bigger utility tax of 8.25%.

Elsewhere:

* Outraged parents are gathering signatures to force a recall of all five members of the Hacienda La Puente Board of Education.

* Community activists are intent on throwing out three Bassett school board members.

* A group of Duarte taxpayers want to replace three council members for imposing a utility tax.

* Some South El Monte residents want to oust a council trio who put a card club proposal on the ballot, an idea that voters rejected.

* Diamond Bar activists are targeting a councilman for alleged abuses, including physically assaulting fellow members.

* And residents in Walnut last week launched a recall campaign against Councilwoman June Wentworth, partly over racial issues.

These are all examples of how recalls are becoming more common in increasingly urbanized suburbs--especially on hot-button issues such as taxes, experts say. "The San Gabriel Valley was the site of the most dramatic and successful recall of modern times in Covina," said Alan Heslop, professor of government at Claremont McKenna College. "And now it's a contagious political disease that's spreading here."

As divisive as recalls might seem, Heslop said, they also can serve as a way to unite disparate groups in areas that often seem to lack a cohesive sense of community.

But, he said, for all the furor they generate, many recalls ultimately fail at the ballot box. "To succeed, you need a scandal or a notorious action such as Covina's breakfast-time vote for a utility tax or Horcher's vote for Brown."

Horcher is the fifth state lawmaker in California history to face a recall election. His opponents swiftly gathered 19,012 signatures of registered voters, 251 more than needed to qualify the recall for the ballot in his district. Recall advocates had until June to gather the needed signatures, but they had the signatures in place and approved by March 2.

Horcher, first elected in 1990, said he is ready for an all-out campaign to keep his seat and that he expects Brown and other Democrats, and some moderate Republicans, to help him.

"The issue will be reform," Horcher said. "Their goal will be to replace me with some right-wing robot who represents party bosses and not the district."

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Last December, with Horcher's support, Democrat Brown had 40 Assembly votes for speaker, the same number as Republican Leader Jim Brulte of Rancho Cucamonga. Horcher later voted to remove Assemblyman Richard Mountjoy (R-Arcadia), who had also won a Senate seat, to give Brown a majority and the Democrats continued control of the Assembly.

"People are disgusted," said Kathryn Howard, a former Horcher friend who coordinates the recall effort. "Especially now they're learning he knew before the last election, when he won as a Republican, he was going to do this."

Yes, Horcher said, he resolved to become an independent before his last election and described himself as one in a mailer during the election. But he did not decide on the speaker's vote until he found there would be no moderate Republicans running for the seat.

Horcher, who represents a district extending from Walnut to Whittier, said he voted against Brulte because he finds the right wing that controls the Assembly Republican Caucus "immature" and not reflective of his half-Democrat/half-Republican district.

A feeling of having been deceived also prompted the newest recall in Covina, where resident Hank Vagt, who organized the original recall, is at it again four months after council members Thomas M. O'Leary, Linda Sarver and Thomas C. Falls surprised their constituents by voting for a new 8.25% utility tax. Sarver and O'Leary had worked side-by-side with Vagt on the original recall.

"They ran promising no new taxes without a public vote and then betrayed us," Vagt said.

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The targeted council members say they had assumed before they took office that there would be a roll of fat under City Hall's skin, but it simply didn't exist. With a $2.3-million deficit looming, they say, there was no other way to balance the city's budget--short of closing the city library, abolishing the parks and recreation department, and laying off 33 of 213 full-time employees.

"I think we all acknowledge we were wrong about the need for the tax," O'Leary said. "But at least we were brave enough to admit we needed it and vote for what's best for Covina."

The sentiments expressed by O'Leary are more common than people might think, Heslop said. Many recall proponents, he said, are unaware of just how tight things are in government funding and how high the expectations are for maintaining current levels of government services.

"Citizens' dissatisfaction with life has grown to the point where recalls are seen as a solution to all the problems," Heslop said. "But, as Covina shows, the citizenry doesn't always get a change of policy with a change of faces."

The new recall movement has half of the 4,134 signatures needed by a May 4 deadline for the trio to face an election. But Sarver predicts that the removal bid ultimately will fail because, unlike the recalled council, the current council held extensive hearings before approving the tax.

"The difference this time is much of the community understands the need for the tax and only a small minority led by unsuccessful candidates is in opposition," she said.

In Duarte, the imposition of a 3% utility tax in November at an annual cost of about $84 per household is the driving force behind a recall effort against council members John R. Fasana, James D. Kirchner and Phillip R. Reyes. Voting as a bloc on the five-member council, the trio took an advisory election on the tax off last November's ballot and decided to impose it on city residents.

"They denied the people of Duarte the right to decide whether they want this tax," said Lino S. Paras, a recall organizer. "Now we're going to let the residents decide their fate."

The council members say there was no other way to make up a budget shortage except by such drastic measures as slashing the city's budget for law enforcement services by the Sheriff's Department or closing the senior center.

"We're not going to get half-a-million (dollars) without axing the big programs," Kirchner said.

Signature-gathering for the recall began in late February; 2,200 signatures are needed for each targeted council member by May 17 to force a vote.

Even putting a controversial measure before voters can lead to a recall drive. Witness the situation in South El Monte, where Mayor Vera Valdiviez, Councilman Arthur Olmos and Vice Mayor Albert G. Perez put a proposal on the ballot last August that, if passed by voters, would have allowed a card club. Not only was the measure rejected by a 3-1 margin, but the three are facing a recall drive by the measure's opponents.

"(The council) aided and abetted the proponents' objective of establishing a card casino in our city," said former Councilman John D. Gonzales, the recall drive's organizer, who led a successful 1991 recall of another council member.

But council members say the recallers are motivated by their own desire to control the council and are misrepresenting information.

"All we did was put it to a vote of the people. That is not grounds for a recall," said Olmos, who would like to make it harder to pull elected officials out of office in midterm.

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Recall proponents acknowledge that more than just the card club issue is fueling their efforts. They also criticize Valdiviez, Olmos and Perez for backing a move to have the city contract with a single trash hauler for residents, which some residents say takes away their choice and may lead to higher prices.

Gonzales and the three targeted council members are old foes who represent the city's two distinct camps. Gonzales' camp includes the two councilmen not facing recall, his son Joseph J. Gonzales and Jerry Salas. Both opposed placing the card club on the ballot.

The recall petition is awaiting certification by the city clerk and is expected to begin circulating later this month. It will require about 1,300 signatures for each official.

In the San Gabriel Valley's youngest city, activists can rattle off the number of signatures needed for a recall election as easily as they can their telephone number.

Diamond Bar isn't yet 6 years old, but it already has a reputation as one of the valley's capitals of recall drives. Four of the five current council members have faced recall efforts in the city's ongoing struggle over how much development to allow in its scenic hills and canyons. "We've had everything: recalls, lawsuits and even brawls," City Clerk Lynda Burgess said.

In the latest duel, Councilman Clair W. Harmony is facing the second recall effort against him; the current effort stems in part from the allegation that he physically assaulted council members Gary G. Miller, Phyllis E. Papen, Gary H. Werner and a resident.

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"This is a smear campaign to stop me being a thorn in their side," said Harmony, 54, a first-term member who has clashed with Miller, Papen and Werner because of his opposition to development and his call for an investigation into city finances.

But the Committee to Recall Harmony and the council trio claim that, in fits of rage, Harmony "body-slammed" Papen, picked fights with Miller and Werner, and threatened a citizen with a sledgehammer. Neither Harmony or council members deny the conflicts occurred, they just differ on how each began and who was at fault. No criminal charges have been filed, and others say Harmony did not seem to be the aggressor in at least two incidents.

Last year, a recall campaign against Papen and Miller on grounds of financial conflict of interest fell short of the number of signatures required for the ballot. It was initiated by Harmony's slow-growth allies, Citizens to Protect Country Living, who claimed that Miller asked a developer to donate money to Papen's campaign and that Papen voted against the same developer's project after he refused. A subsequent recall against Harmony and Councilwoman Eileen R. Ansari for opposing a canyon development fizzled.

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Harmony recall proponents say they have 1,000 of the 6,000 signatures of registered voters needed to meet the May 5 deadline for the petitions to qualify for a recall election.

Werner could be the next recall target. Lee Schad, Country Living's chairwoman, said, "We may (seek to) recall him because he has sold out to the developers and switched to voting with Miller and Papen."

"It's because I'm not their puppet and I have a mind of my own," Werner responds. "I voted for Phyllis Papen for mayor instead of Clair Harmony, and the next day the (recall) signs went up."

In the nearby Bassett Unified School District, school board members Toni Giaffoglione, Alfred Cobos and Della Rios are targeted because of their support for a superintendent whose business dealings with the district are under investigation by the district attorney's office. Recall leaders received the go-ahead this week to begin collecting signatures; they need 1,917 by June 12.

Parents behind the recall drive say the board majority failed to put Supt. Linda Gonzales on paid leave after the allegations arose. The board members also agreed in December to settle a claim filed by Gonzales against the district for damages to her reputation after board member Brenda Johnson brought the allegations against the superintendent to the attention of the district attorney. The two parties have not settled yet on an actual amount. Johnson favors the recall.

At issue is whether Gonzales used district money to purchase educational materials from her own company.

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Bassett Unified records show Binet International sold more than $10,000 worth of bilingual books and tapes to the district since 1989, when Gonzales was employed as assistant superintendent for curriculum. Gonzales is co-owner of Binet with her husband, Moses Gonzales.

State law prohibits officials from using their position to influence a decision for personal gain. Through her attorney, Gonzales has denied any wrongdoing.

Gonzales did not list the firm on her statement of financial interest during the five years she has been at the district. State law requires such a declaration.

The three board members say the recall drive against them is led by Johnson and ex-board members, whom they ousted in the last election. Under Gonzales' leadership, they said, test scores are up and the dropout rate is down. They also say the firm's ownership by her husband was no secret within the community.

"Dr. Gonzales is innocent till proven guilty in a court of law. We've no right to judge her," board President Giaffoglione said. "Our attorney tells us in order to have a conflict, the person has to be the one signing the purchase order or the check. And that seems to not be the case here."

Another group of disgruntled parents seeks to recall the entire Hacienda La Puente school board, charging they mismanaged district funds and ignored community concerns while engaging in nepotism.

"We're fed up with them not caring about our children's education," said Diana Marquez, a parent who withdrew her son from the district because his grades dipped. "We're tired of them not telling us anything and shouting us down at meetings."

The dozen parents recently began gathering signatures; they must get 8,491 by June 17 for each of the five board members to face a recall.

The parents claim that board members Norman Hsu, Joseph Chang, Katherine L. Venturoso, Anita Perez and Kenneth R. Manning are failing to bring the district's bilingual education program up to scratch, and that the board held secret negotiations with the state about $12 million the state says the district overbilled the state. The state contends that the district's Adult Education Department claimed to have more students than it actually enrolled.

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The parents also charge that Manning, in closed session, voted to hire his wife as a preschool teacher--in violation of state conflict-of-interest laws.

Although district records show Manning and all the other board members voted to hire his wife, he says he abstained and the district last month corrected what they say was a clerical error in the minutes to reflect that position.

Board members deny the other allegations against them and contend that the recall is a matter of sour grapes, resulting from the defeat of two of the parents in last year's board election.

"I don't think (the recall group members) speak for the people who elected me four times," said Manning, who saw a recall drive in 1989 against him fizzle before reaching the ballot. "They need over 8,000 signatures, and I doubt if they'll get 400. I'm not losing any sleep over it."

The newest recall movement was launched March 8 against Walnut Councilwoman June Wentworth.

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Wentworth was served with notice of the intent to recall her by opponents who see her as a member of what they call the community's "old guard"--mostly white, long-term Walnut residents who, those pushing the recall say, feel threatened by the city's changing politics and growing Asian and Latino populations. The recall drive was spurred by the February resignation of Linda Holmes, Walnut's city manager of 10 years.

In her resignation speech, Holmes accused Wentworth of trying to thwart her efforts to promote diversity. Holmes said that Wentworth privately ordered her to "show respect" for a Walnut resident, Nadine Brown, who founded the Walnut Anglo-Americans Club in response to a coalition of other ethnic organizations in the city. Wentworth made the request after Holmes reprimanded Brown for directing racial slurs at members of the city staff, Holmes said.

Wentworth said she asked Holmes to treat Brown and other citizens fairly, but she denied that she is a foe of diversity in Walnut.

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