IRWINDALE — In this city of 1,052, generations of kinfolk raise their children in the same neighborhoods in which they grew up. Family ties carry over into city government; many city employees, councilmen and police officers share the same surnames. And with only 484 registered voters, large family voting blocs can make the difference in an election.
"We do have strong family ties," said Fred Herrera, assistant city manager, "and most of the people are very loyal to each other familywise."
Some of the nine candidates for three seats in Tuesday's City Council election are trying to change that tradition and contend that new people with new ideas are needed to deal with issues such as waste-to-energy plants and a housing shortage.
"We cannot run it as a mom-and-pop store anymore," said candidate Richard Acosta, 35. "It's a big business."
But even Acosta is related to a city employee. Acosta's wife, Carol, is the city's senior recreation leader and coordinator for senior citizen activities. She also is the niece of Henry Barbosa, a former councilman who lost a reelection bid in 1984.
Acosta, a shipping clerk and inventory coordinator with an envelope company, believes that the long history of family control of city government is changing. He says even though he has family ties with the city, things would be different if he were elected because he would separate family from politics.
"I look at the city as a business and not a family holding," Acosta said.
Candidates Gaston Hernandez, 24, an operations manager for a company that manufactures body-building equipment, and Mauro Martinez, 70, a retired real estate broker and currently a member of the Planning Commission, say it is time for "new blood."
Hernandez and Martinez say too many family relations cloud a councilman's vision and result in bad policy.
"It keeps these particular councilmen tied down and from voting truthfully," Martinez said. A council member with relatives on the city payroll "has special interests for his own people, and he doesn't try to listen to others."
Incumbent candidates Pat S. Miranda, who is the mayor, and Councilman Joe Breceda both belong to families that have been entrenched in city politics for many of the city's 29 years, but they say that in a small city, family members are bound to work side by side. The history of family control is not an election issue, they said.
Miranda, 60, who has been a councilman 24 years, owns a lunch stand and is running for his seventh term. He is the uncle of Councilman Michael Miranda, who is not seeking reelection. The newly elected council will select the next mayor from among themselves. Pat Miranda has a brother who is the chief of police and a daughter who is a dispatcher for the Police Department. Another brother is a parks and recreation commissioner.
Breceda, 60, a retired welder who has been on the council 12 years, has a brother who is a sergeant in the Police Department. Another brother is a former city councilman. Breceda also is a cousin of council candidate Jacquelyn Breceda.
"We all have relatives that work in the city," Pat Miranda said. "We are all interrelated. Almost anyone you hire locally is related to someone."
Four challengers do not see family connections as a problem for the city. The question of family relationships is not important, according to candidates Jacquelyn Breceda, 27, a savings application specialist in computer software for a data processing center; Margaret Barbosa, 58, the city's clerk-treasurer; Robert Diaz, 35, an elementary school teacher; and Salvador (Sal) Hernandez, 47, owner of a refuse company.
Salvador Hernandez is not related to candidate Gaston Hernandez. Diaz says he has no relatives in city government. Jacquelyn Breceda is a cousin of Joe Breceda and daughter of former councilman Richard Breceda. Barbosa is married to former councilman Henry Barbosa.
"I don't see that it has anything to do with my running for office," said Margaret Barbosa, who would give up her appointed clerk-treasurer post if she wins a council seat.
"I receive words of wisdom from anyone, I don't care which family it comes from," Jacquelyn Breceda said. "I think everyone has their own ideas. I'm not my father."
The incumbents point to the progress the city has made under their tenures as proof that they are doing a good job.
Pat Miranda and Joe Breceda said that with their help, the City Council has been responsible for luring big industry to the city. They point to the Miller Brewing Co., as well as a Toys R Us distribution center, and the Home Savings of America corporate headquarters as developments their councils brought into the city. They also cite a new senior citizens center and an expanded City Hall as accomplishments.