POMONA — An angry and vocal crowd of about 1,200 property owners persuaded three members of the City Council to reverse their positions at a public hearing Monday night and vote against a proposed citywide assessment district, making the council's opposition to the measure unanimous and leaving a $1.6-million shortfall in the 1985-86 city budget.
"I know it's wrong," Councilman Vernon Weigand said of the vote against the assessment district. "But even if they're wrong, if the citizens want something to go a particular way, then I feel we have to go that way."
Weigand, Mayor G. Stanton Selby and Councilman Jay Gaulding, all of whom had previously expressed support for the proposed assessment district, changed their stance after listening to protests Monday night. They joined council members Donna Smith and Mark Nymeyer in voting against the proposal.
Third Valley City
Pomona is the third San Gabriel Valley city in recent months to bow to public pressure against assessment districts. Pasadena's board of city directors voted against a proposed street and curb repair district last month after a series of volatile public hearings. And the Claremont City Council promised angry residents in June that all four assessment districts currently in place in that city will be dismantled by the end of the coming fiscal year.
The meeting, which lasted until shortly before midnight, was frequently interrupted by catcalls from the audience and loud raps of Mayor Selby's gavel as he called for order. Tempers flared in the hot, closely packed room.
Weigand said armed police officers, uniformed and in plainclothes, were scattered throughout the auditorium during the hearing as a safeguard against possible violence, although no fights were reported. Police patrol of neighborhoods surrounding the auditorium was heavy before and after the hearing to assist with parking and crowd control, Police Chief Don Burnett said.
Nearly 80 Pomona residents took turns at the microphones to register their complaints during the 4 1/2-hour meeting at the Pomona Unified School District auditorium. They protested almost every facet of the proposed assessment district, which would have changed the way the city pays for street lighting and tree trimming. The assessments, ranging from $8.39 to $52.88 for single-family homeowners, would have appeared on property tax bills.
Another 2,012 property owners filed written protests with the city clerk before or during the meeting, far short of the approximately 14,000 needed to overrule the City Council had it voted in favor of the assessment district.
Last month, the council adopted a $37-million budget that was contingent on the passage of the new levy. Council members who supported the assessment warned last night's gathering that to maintain a balanced budget, a 6% across-the-board budget cut or an increase in the city utility tax were the only alternatives if the assessment district proposal failed.
But the audience responded by threatening a recall election of any council member who voted in favor of the district.
"I think these people are mad enough to get you out of office," Pomona resident Bertha Walker told the council. The audience cheered.
"I'm going to have to take this overwhelming situation into consideration," Weigand told the audience a few minutes before the final council vote was taken. "But I don't want you to think when the vote comes that if I changed my position it was because of any threat of recall. You can have my job."
Gaulding, however, said Tuesday that the threat of a recall election was the primary reason for his change of heart.
"I'm not going to be hung out by myself on a recall election," he said. "When you're alone you don't stand a chance."
Selby told the audience before the hearing began that he had a "nagging doubt" about the proposal, and had agreed to support it earlier as a means of avoiding cuts in city services. But he said he had received no calls from residents or business owners in support of the assessment district and speculated that perhaps what the city needed was a "jolt of reality" in the form of a $1.6-million budget cut.
Complaints from residents ranged from lack of notice of the public meeting to what they called unfairness in projected assessments. Some, saying the assessment was an attempt by the council to circumvent Proposition 13, called it "taxation without representation."
Several were angry that the city had hired a Long Beach consultant to work out the details of the proposed assessment district. The consultant, Ervin Spindel of Barryman & Stephenson Inc., signed an agreement with the city that allows his fee to run as high as $35,000.