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Pico Rivera Council Race Tests Veteran Challenger : Local Elections

February 23, 1986|STEVEN R. CHURM | Times Staff Writer

PICO RIVERA — If Richard Mercardo fails to unseat one of three incumbents running for City Council on April 8, it will not be for lack of effort.

This is Mercardo's third run for the council since 1980. This time the city building inspector is giving it a go against councilmen John Chavez, Gil De La Rosa and Al Natividad.

Mercardo admits that he is the underdog in a race that, surprisingly, has attracted only one challenger. He expects to spend $10,000 to spread his name--and message--among voters, and he plans to use all four weeks of his vacation walking neighborhoods before election day trying to land votes.

But Mercardo's strategy may not be enough to beat any of the incumbents, who have helped guide Pico Rivera's multimillion-dollar redevelopment efforts that kicked into high gear in 1985.

Seven major residential or commercial projects, including the $20-million Crossroads Plaza shopping center, were either approved or started last year. City officials say it is the biggest building boom since incorporation in 1958.

Satisfaction with the council and its redevelopment schemes may be one reason the field is so small, according to several veteran City Hall observers.

$8,500 Per Incumbent

In 1982, Chavez, De La Rosa and Natividad outdistanced seven challengers--including Mercardo, who finished well back of the winners--to prevail in the council election.

To win reelection, each of the three incumbents expects to spend roughly $8,500, most of which they say will come in small donations from friends and relatives. That is double the $4,200 it cost De La Rosa to get elected four years ago.

"Raising money is the downside to all of this," said De La Rosa, a 59-year-old retired banker who is seeking a second term. "But as postage and printing costs go up so does the cost of running for office." Once elected, council members receive $538 a month, or $6,456 a year, and another $110 a month for gasoline and related automobile expenses.

Mercardo, 51, said he is running again because Pico Rivera's 56,000 residents need a "greater voice" in redevelopment. He contends residents--75% of whom are Latino-- have not been adequately surveyed about the kind of development they want.

For example, Mercardo said, the council erred by not enclosing the Pico Plaza on Whittier Boulevard when it was built in the late 1970s. He also said the city should have attracted more than Montgomery Ward to anchor the outdoor shopping mall. As a result, he believes city residents shop at malls in other cities like Cerritos, Lakewood and Montebello, which have several major department stores.

Redevelopment Praised

"A lot of good has come from redevelopment," said Mercardo, who is financing about a third of his campaign expenses out of his own pocket with the rest coming from friends and family. " . . . But the citizens should be consulted before the council approves big projects."

Because a series of public hearings are held before final approval is given to most projects, the incumbents say it is unnecessary to poll residents on every redevelopment proposal. The incumbents defend redevelopment by saying it has bolstered city sales tax revenues and helped clean up blighted commercial strips.

"By giving this city a badly needed face lift," said Chavez, a 54-year-old Los Angeles firefighter, "we've restored pride in this city. People now want to shop here."

Chavez, who has lived in Pico Rivera for nearly three decades, said he is running for a third council term "to make sure what we've started gets finished."

Natividad, a retired Sheriff's Department commander, agreed that the city is on a roll.

'We've Taken Big Steps'

"We've taken big steps toward making Pico Rivera a better place to shop and work," said the 59-year-old Natividad, who is seeking a second term and has enlisted about 15 El Rancho High School students to walk city precincts and distribute flyers in the days leading to the election.

Pockets of commercial development in northern Pico Rivera still need attention, Natividad said, particularly along Whittier Boulevard between Paramount Boulevard and the 605 Freeway.

"But we'll get there. Redevelopment is working," said Natividad, who is serving a one-year term as mayor after being chosen last year by the five-member council. "Just examine what we've started."

The biggest of the projects given the green light by the council last year is Crossroads Plaza, a 19-acre development on the south side of Whittier Boulevard east of Rosemead Avenue. The development includes 224,000 square feet of retail space as well as a 60,000-square-foot supermarket and a 115,000-square-foot home improvement and lumber store. Construction on the plaza is expected to begin this summer.

Other projects under way or recently approved include three housing or apartment developments, totaling 82 units, and three smaller strip or corner shopping centers.

Missing 'Jewel'

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