Don’t accuse Robert Richter of failing to speak his mind.
A retired scientist and engineer who developed advanced technology for JPL, Xerox and General Electric, Richter emerged as perhaps the council’s harshest critic in the run-up to Flintridge area votes about sewer installation and assessments.
Then and now, Richter maintains that city officials have knowingly misled and deliberately lied about the need for sewers — especially to residents below Foothill Boulevard, where assessments failed due to hefty price tags.
“What I learned about the city when I got involved in sewers was the starting point, not the ending point,” said Richter, 80, who came to the U.S. from Germany in 1952 and served with the Army Dental Corps during the Korean War.
What’s come since the sewers question is a council candidacy — his second in two years — marked by aggressive criticism of council incumbents and equally forceful means of making a point, at times publicly declaring past city actions and discussion of certain issues as “absurd” or “a waste of time.”
Running a strictly grassroots campaign, Richter said he has not sought supporter contributions and, as of press time, does not appear to have filed any campaign finance disclosures.
“There is no one on the City Council with an engineering background” with which to evaluate technical contracts and decisions, he said. “I’m simply offering my services.”
Valley Sun: Briefly explain why you want to be on the council and your top priority if elected.
Robert Richter: The City Council, as I experienced, is not honest with homeowners. They lied to us when they tried to force sewers upon us, and that is why I felt something had to be done and it was my duty to do it. If I’m elected I will very thoroughly look at all the programs and contracts by the City Council, whether they are realistic, whether they are cost effective, whether they are scientifically and engineering appropriate.
What would you describe as the city’s most important accomplishment over the past several years?
I don’t think there are any accomplishments. For instance, the Town Center. Every time my family comes to visit, everybody wants to go to the Americana [at Brand in Glendale]. Nobody should consider it an accomplishment to shut down the Angeles Crest Highway [to trucks]. We had the first accident [in 2008], and what did they do at that time? Then we had this tragic [fatal] accident [in 2009] and all of a sudden they spring into action. They made lemonade out of a lemon. That is not right.
Which personal qualities that you posses are most relevant to being a council member?
The council is imbalanced. It has lawyers, a lady in public relations, a salesman, a financial man [but] not a single person on the council with engineering and science background and a background in management of projects.
If the city experienced unanticipated and significant revenue loss in the near future, where would you look first to make cuts?
That question is very unfair, actually. We are so rich you wouldn’t believe it! It is a question which is not appropriate.
Is City Hall user-friendly?
Being a scientist, an engineer, I said ‘Let me see what’s going on [with the sewer proposal]. Why do I need sewers?’ So I go to City Hall and ask what would happen if I needed a repair on my sewer, what is the procedure? “Oh, we don’t have a procedure…” [they said].
How strong is the city’s general plan?
It shouldn’t be too strong, because constantly life changes. In this environment, where we see change so fast, you should not have an absolute plan, but you should have direction, and that direction should be to maintain La Cañada as it is as a rule, because La Cañada is an oasis. We don’t want to be La Crescenta…Los Angeles…Pasadena…Glendale. If we bring in too much business in the name of having more revenue, it destroys us.
All candidates have opposed the 710 tunnel, but what should a council member be doing about it?
We demand from the state to increase the capacity of the Ventura Freeway. Then we do not need to fear that traffic will be diverted [to the 210]. After the Ventura Freeway has full capacity and no trucks have to be diverted, then we should push to have the Long Beach Freeway extended so you can travel from La Cañada easily to Long Beach. That is the engineering approach.
What should be the future of sewers?
I want to see that we do not install a public sewer system to solve the problems of a few when [instead] we could help those people. We need to change the attitude toward helping people.
What about peacocks?
Peacocks have no business on public streets. We are not a wildlife preserve, and the City Council cannot force homeowners to subjugate their property to wildlife.
And property tax breaks in exchange for historic preservation agreements?
The Mills Act (which allows for voluntary homeowner contracts) was passed to help cities redevelop and to bring in visitors to see the old buildings. Do we have a slum district? It’s absurd.
Why should voters choose you?
To balance the City Council. I have shown proven capability, so what more do they want? Has anybody else proven they can deliver contracts on time within budget and to specifications?