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More Youthful Officials Will Be Along, He Predicts : Mayor of Corona Steps Down at Ripe Old Age of 25

December 09, 1985|BARRY S. SURMAN | Times Staff Writer

CORONA — William Miller is now the youngest former mayor in the city's 99-year history.

His yearlong term as Corona's ceremonial chief ended last Wednesday when he turned the gavel over to Councilman S.R. (Al) Lopez. But Miller, 25, still has a year remaining to serve on the City Council.

After that, Miller may turn his full attention back to his varied business ventures in Riverside County: a couple of apartment developments, a cable television system and a frozen-yogurt shop.

Or maybe not.

"I would like to be governor someday," he said in a recent interview.

Miller grew up in Eagle Mountain, a small (population 1,890) town in central Riverside County. After living briefly in Orange County, he moved to Corona about five years ago.

Found a 'Big Town'

"To me, it was a big town," Miller said. Corona has more than 40,000 residents.

Miller was 22 years old when he was elected to the City Council in 1982. And a year ago, at 24, he became mayor of the northwestern Riverside County city.

As in many California cities, Corona's mayoral post is largely ceremonial: The mayor's primary duties are to preside over City Council meetings and to represent the city at various functions. The job generally is rotated annually among the part-time City Council members.

A professional, full-time city manager supervises the day-to-day affairs of the city and serves as its chief administrator.

Still, Miller said, his higher profile as mayor gave him a better opportunity to pursue his goals for the city. And, by his own accounting, Miller made good use of that opportunity.

Changes in City Hall

During his tenure as mayor, the council created a new staff position he recommended, an industrial recruiter dedicated to courting businesses to locate in Corona. The city also left bitter divisions within its Police Department behind, retiring a police chief, hiring another and providing its police officers with substantial pay increases.

And the city succeeded in a four-year battle to close Corona's first and only adult bookstore, an issue central to Miller's 1982 campaign.

"That is one thing most city councils don't have the courage to do," he said, "to go against the odds and take on a good fight."

One fight Miller could have done without, though, was a battle with the local school board over developer fees that Corona charges home builders to finance new school construction.

Miller served on a council committee to study the fees, which Corona-Norco Unified School District officials have claimed are too low to pay for the schools that new residents will require.

Per-Unit Fees

On March 20, 1985, after negotiations between the city and the school district broke down, the City Council voted to reject the district's request for fees ranging from $2,079 to $5,389 per residential unit, depending on size. The council voted instead to draft an ordinance raising its flat fee from $1,973 per unit to $2,610.

Miller, who voted with the 3-2 council majority, was part-owner of an option to buy four acres of land designated for an 88-unit apartment complex in northwest Corona. That prompted school board President Sally Hoover to file with the state Fair Political Practices Commission a conflict-of-interest charge against the mayor.

A Riverside County deputy district attorney concluded "that there was at least a technical violation" of the 1974 Political Reform Act, but the state commission is still looking into the charges, a spokeswoman said.

Miller, who has since sold his interest in that apartment project, called the charge "a totally unfair attack." His preliminary vote to raise the fee would raise his development costs by $46,728, he noted.

The conflict-of-interest charge, "more than anything, shakes (my) confidence in people," Miller said.

'Go Through Fire'

"That is politics," he said. " . . . You go through the fire and come out a little stronger on the other end."

Miller has not decided if he will seek reelection to the council next year, but is setting some new goals for the coming year, he said. "I'd like to be a part of attracting two or three major industries to Corona."

Some longtime observers of Corona politics have suggested that Miller's tenure may also help attract some young people to public service. Although none have yet surfaced, Miller predicted that "soon, very soon, you will see some younger people taking office in this state."

The most important thing for other young politicians to remember, he said, is not to feel burdened by a lack of experience.

"When I was running for council, 10 or 12 of the 14 (candidates seeking three council seats) had no experience, either. (Knowing) that helped keep my confidence up," he said.

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