MANHATTAN BEACH — If 3 plus 2 rarely equals 5 now, will 5 minus 2 equal 3 next week?
Translated into election politics: If council members Jim Walker, Russ Lesser and Bob Holmes almost never agree with council members Gil Archuletta and Jan Dennis on major issues, will the retirement of both Walker and Lesser from city politics next week mean Archuletta and Dennis will get a third ally on the council?
The solution to that political equation lies with an accountant, a real estate broker, two airline stewardesses, an economist, a sheriff's lieutenant and a management consultant.
The seven aspiring successors to Walker and Lesser in the City Council election on April 8 have talked about all sorts of issues in their quest for the two seats, but one concern that follows them wherever they go is the current council division.
Whom do you support on the council? How do you perceive the factions on the council? What will you do to end the bickering and nasty infighting?
All seven candidates profess to be independent thinkers capable of getting along with anyone and everyone. "No one will control my vote"--phrased in various ways--is a refrain common to them all. In interviews, all of the candidates said they disapprove of the sometimes explosive clashes that occur between council members during public meetings, including the most recent incident at a meeting two weeks ago.
At that meeting, the council verbally slugged it out in front of the television cameras over a campaign mailer distributed by Archuletta and Dennis. The battle culminated in an unsuccessful effort by Walker to oust his two political foes from their largely ceremonial posts as mayor and mayor-pro-tem.
"It is just disgusting what is happening," said candidate Gerry Johnson, a real estate agent and part-time airline stewardess who is making her second bid for public office in the city. "Something has got to change."
The rivalry between the two factions, commonly referred to in this affluent, upscale community as the "philosophical split," has nebulous origins. But one thing is fairly certain: It centers on both personality conflicts between council members and the issue of development.
In general, Archuletta and Dennis, relative newcomers to the council who ousted two incumbents in 1984, seem to favor greater controls and imposition of more extensive conditions on new projects, leaning toward what some critics call an overbearing and bureaucratic approach to growth.
Lesser, Walker and Holmes, in contrast, generally believe that growth and new development in the city is being held in check, new projects receive sufficient review and the city should leave a good thing alone. Critics accuse them of catering to the needs of developers rather than residents.
For example, the so-called philosophical split was apparent when the council engaged in a bitter dispute early last year over an unsuccessful effort to place a moratorium on all non-residential construction in the city until the council revised the city's general plan.
Archuletta and Dennis supported the move, arguing that better city planning was necessary and that the council majority was working to stifle dissent on the issue. The other three council members joined to defeat the measure. Holmes argued at the time that the existing building code protections were adequate, and he called the proposed restrictions "ill-conceived, unnecessary and punitive."
Three candidates in next week's election have received endorsements from incumbent council members, two from the so-called majority faction and one from Archuletta and Dennis. Archuletta and Dennis said last week that they also support a second candidate, albeit informally.
Lesser, Walker and Holmes have endorsed Mike Collins, a real estate broker who is vice chairman of the Board of Zoning Adjustment, and Laurence Dougharty, an economist and chairman of the city's ad hoc committee on undergrounding utilities.
With his background in real estate, Collins is seen by his supporters as an ideal replacement for Walker, who is also a real estate broker. Likewise, Dougharty is perceived to be a good swap for Lesser, who is an accountant.
"The council has run very smoothly with us on it, and Larry and Mike are the two most qualified people to replace us," Lesser said. "While I will disagree with lots of things they do, I want the most qualified people on the council."
Dennis and Archuletta, in turn, have endorsed Bruce Ponder, a self-employed management consultant who has worked with various neighorhood groups, but who has never served on a city commmission. Ponder's emphasis on protecting the city's residential character and preserving its small-town atmosphere won him the endorsement. His work on behalf of police officers has also earned him endorsements from the police and firefighters associations.