SOUTH PASADENA — Two incumbents who lined up on the losing side of a pair of controversial referendums are running for reelection in what is shaping up as a referendum on their leadership at City Hall.
On the firing line in the April 8 municipal election are Mayor Samuel G. Knowles and Councilman David L. Margrave, who approved a businessman's proposal to build a high-rise office building downtown and supported a new civic center.
A third seat is open because Councilman Ted Shaw opted to keep a pledge not to run for a third term.
In all, nine candidates are seeking office. Among them are several opponents of the projects, including longtime council critics Jon A. Fasana and William A. Mann, and political newcomer Christlena Lawton. They already are pressing the incumbents' unpopular positions as an issue in the campaign.
Also running are Gail V. Anderson, James C. Hodge Jr., Evelyn Fierro Peterson and James S. (Jim) Woollacott Jr. Jay Don Laurence has dropped out of the race.
"People have a chance to vote on new leadership," said Margrave, who is seeking his second four-year term. "Do we want the new leadership or the old? I don't believe they're going to vote on programs."
Knowles, a council member since 1978, and Margrave supported the proposed construction of a new civic center at El Centro and Meridian avenues. Critics contended that the council paid too much for the new site and that remodeling the existing City Hall would be less expensive than building a new structure. Last year, voters rejected the proposal and voted to remodel the existing City Hall, a $2.7-million project now under way.
Knowles and Margrave also supported construction of a 20-story high-rise office building by auto dealer Ted Colliau. In 1983, residents, unhappy with the size of the building and angry that the council had granted Colliau a lenient parking variance, forced the matter to a referendum and killed the project.
Bristol Farms Center
Knowles and Margrave said they do not expect their support for the defeated proposals to hurt their campaigns. They both take some credit for encouraging recent development downtown, such as the new Bristol Farms shopping center.
"I hadn't thought of it hurting me because those subjects are behind me," said Knowles, a 64-year-old engineer.
Margrave said he still believes voters made a mistake on the City Hall issue and that in the long run the city will not save any money. "The opposition wants that to be the point of contention," said Margrave, the 37-year-old owner of a plumbing company. "I don't believe that's what the voters are going to focus on."
But there is some evidence the incumbents might be vulnerable. Former Mayor AlvaLee Arnold, an ally of Knowles and Margrave and a key sponsor of the project, has said the civic center referendum was largely responsible for her defeat in the same election.
Planning Commission Vet
Woollacott, a 68-year-old retired insurance executive and nine-year veteran of the Planning Commission, also supported the high-rise building. Woollacott, who is backed by Colliau in the election, stressed that he is running an independent campaign, saying, "No one pulls my string." Woollacott said the high-rise referendum was good because it gave the city its current 45-foot height limitation for buildings, and added that he does not believe his vote for Colliau's building will affect his campaign.
But Fasana, a two-time candidate, and Lawton, who is running for the first time, say they believe the records of the incumbents and Woollacott will not be acceptable to voters. They are running as a team, and are backed by South Pasadena's Committee for Responsive Government, a small group of City Council critics who ardently opposed Colliau's high-rise building and a new civic center.
"My main concern in getting involved in the City Council race is I firmly believe there is a better way to spend tax dollars than they have been spent in the past," said Lawton, a 57-year-old bank manager.
Mann, a former committee member and frequent council critic who opposed the two projects, also is keying his campaign to the change-in-leadership theme. At a League of Women Voters forum last week, the 44-year-old engineer charged that "a few powerful residents control the direction of City Hall."
Target of Criticism
Margrave also has been the target of criticism for working for the city while he was on the council. From his election in 1982 until March of last year, his company, Morrow & Holman Plumbing Inc., did more than $14,500 in business with the city. Although Margrave denied he had a conflict of interest, the city has stopped using his firm on the advice of the city attorney.
"I certainly don't like David Margrave's conflict and the cavalier attitude some of the people at City Hall have had over the last 8 to 12 years," said Fasana, 39, the chief of the Los Angeles City Paramedics.
Somewhere between these two factions are Hodge, Anderson and Peterson.