LA MIRADA — Almost overnight this city grew up in the late 1950s. In four short years, 7,000 homes were built and thousands of young families flocked to this booming bedroom community in the southeast corner of Los Angeles County.
But the growth slowed in the decades that followed, and today the signs of an aging community are everywhere--school closings, an emerging elderly population and corner shopping centers in need of paint and polish.
Coping with La Mirada's changing demographics and its aging businesses and buildings is a central concern of the five candidates running for three City Council seats in the April 8 election.
Unlike other cities where building senior citizen housing and enforcing city codes to clean up yards and storefronts might spark debate among council contestants, La Mirada's five candidates are remarkably unified when it comes to solutions to these and other problems.
In fact, based on their platforms, it is difficult to tell the candidates for council apart in this city of 41,000.
Seniors' Complex Supported
All five support the city's first stab at developing a senior citizen housing complex, a 165-unit project proposed for the site of the former First Baptist Church on La Mirada Boulevard.
They favor the city's $49,000 survey of the elderly to determine their needs, although one challenger, Art Leslie, said the study should have been made sooner and could be accomplished for less money.
The candidates agree that the city should take steps to force businesses and homeowners to tidy up properties. And they believe that the council must play a bigger role in trying to revive the city's major shopping center, La Mirada Mall.
"One of the problems of a community being born all at once is that it begins to grow old all at once," said Wayne Rew, one of three councilmen running for reelection.
"La Mirada is maturing," he said, "and we've got to make sure that as it ages, we preserve the qualities that attracted us here in the first place."
Besides Rew, Mayor Lou Piltz and Councilman Ken Jones are seeking reelection. Rew and Piltz are running for third terms, while Jones is after a second term on the five-member council.
Inexpensive Race Expected
Challenging the incumbents are Leslie, a city planning commissioner, and Mark Oertel, a lawyer.
The candidates agreed that it will be a relatively inexpensive and low-key race. Neither Leslie nor Oertel takes exception to the incumbents' council performances, choosing instead to emphasize their own credentials and willingness to serve.
Compared to its neighbor, century-old Whittier, La Mirada would seem to be still in its infancy.
Yet the council candidates say otherwise about their city, which was incorporated in 1960. Two California State University, Fullerton, professors who were hired by the council to survey the city's elderly, contend that nearly a fifth of La Mirada's residents are now 50 or older. And according to census projections, that figure will double by 1990. The city's relatively stable population is the major reason, officials say. More than 55% of the residents have lived in the city at least 15 years, with no intentions of moving.
By summer the nine-month survey to assess the needs of the elderly should be complete. But Leslie, 43, has questioned the council's decision to spend the $49,000 to profile the elderly.
"If this city has one weakness, it tends to study things to death," said Leslie, an 18-year resident who is a business manager for a lithograph company. "We need to know how to meet the needs of the elderly. . . .
"But with a blue-ribbon panel of seniors," he said, "we could have done it in a few hours or days--and probably for whole lot less money." Even before the survey began, the city spent $1.3 million to purchase the vacant First Baptist Church on La Mirada Boulevard. Piltz said the city wants to sell the 4.5-acre site to a developer who will build the complex for senior citizens. The plan calls for rents to range from $800 to $1,000 a month, which would include two meals a day, housekeeping and security. About 20% of the units would be set aside at a reduced rate for low-income elderly tenants.
"This is such an important project because it says to the seniors, 'we care,' " said Piltz, 64, a maintenance manager with a supermarket chain.
Piltz said if the first senior housing venture proves successful he will push for more complexes, possibly near the intersection of Imperial Highway and Valley View Avenue or behind the fire station just south of City Hall.
Another key to the city's future, Piltz said, is developing city-owned land on the west side of Beach Boulevard, possibly clustering a series of automobile dealerships there to create an auto row.
Besides attracting auto dealerships, Rew said he believes La Mirada can bolster its sales tax revenues--the city's single largest source of income--by improving access and the flow of traffic in and around La Mirada Mall.