BALDWIN PARK — The political futures of three City Council members will be decided next spring in a recall election forced by opponents of a city-imposed utility tax approved last year.
"I will never stop until that council is gone or the utility tax is gone," said Herschel Keyser, the leader of a petition drive that gathered more than the 2,899 signatures needed against each of the councilmen.
The council has until Dec. 17 to set the date of the recall election against Mayor Jack B. White and Councilmen Robert H. McNeill and Leo W. King.
The three council members said they are confident that they will prevail in the election.
'Bit of a Nuisance'
"I don't think the recall will succeed," White said, adding that for the first time in the city's history, there was no election this year because all three incumbent councilmen up for reelection were unopposed.
"It's a bit of a nuisance," said White, 53, who has served on the council since 1978.
The city must hold the election in March or April, said City Clerk Linda L. Gair. At a council meeting Wednesday night, Gair submitted the petitions, which had been verified by the Los Angeles County registrar-recorder's office.
If all three councilmen are turned out of office, the city must hold another election within 89 days of the recall. The council members would retain their seats until successors were chosen, Gair said.
If only one or two of the members were recalled, each would have to step down immediately and an election to replace them must be held within 88 to 125 days, Gair said.
The county will charge about $16,000 for verifying the signatures and Gair estimated that the city will pay about $10,000 to conduct the recall election. An election to replace recalled councilmen would cost another $10,000, she said.
The campaign against the councilmen began earlier this year, when members of Concerned Citizens for Better Government and the Baldwin Park Homeowners Group combined petition efforts demanding a recall vote and a referendum on a controversial redevelopment project.
Homeowners were upset with the city's Sierra Vista Redevelopment Project, which calls for the Community Redevelopment Agency to spend as much as $200 million to help finance commercial and industrial development along the San Bernardino Freeway.
Residents feared that their homes would be taken to make room for retail stores.
In the referendum on the Sierra Vista Redevelopment Project held during the general election last month, voters approved the plan by a margin of 52% to 40%. The remaining 8% did not vote on the issue.
Lorin Lovejoy, a member of the homeowners group, said both the redevelopment and the tax issues involve taxation without representation and citizens' rights.
"I felt they (the council members) betrayed our trust, and, therefore, as long as they are in office, we were still in jeopardy," Lovejoy said.
Council members retort that they had to choose between imposing the utility tax or substantially cutting services in the Police Department.
White said the tax was needed to offset a $655,000 loss in federal revenue-sharing money that had been used exclusively to help finance the department.
The original tax added 5% to telephone, electric, gas, water and cable-television bills. The average homeowner paid about $60 per year, according to city officials.
The council reduced the tax to 4% earlier this year because more money was raised than had been expected.
Since inception of the tax in August, 1985, the city has raised about $1.2 million, said Michael R. Yelton, the city's director of administrative services. The money has been used to replace the lost federal revenue-sharing money, increase salaries in the Police Department and hire six new officers.
When they approved the tax, council members said they had hoped to phase it out as city redevelopment projects began generating revenue for the city.
Voter Approval Needed
But because of the passage last month of Proposition 62, which requires voter approval for any tax passed after July 31, 1985, the council has until Nov. 5, 1988, to either eliminate the tax or let voters in the city decide its fate.
The three council members under fire say the recall election is unnecessary and unfair.
King, 58, who has served on the council since 1978, called the effort unjust and said that recall elections should be limited to public officials "that aren't intelligent enough to make decisions. They have acted badly, they have been dishonest and deceitful. These are things that should cause a recall."
McNeill, 69, also a council member since 1978, agrees.
"If they get angry at somebody and don't like the color of his hair, they'll try to recall," he said.
'Bone to Pick'
The councilmen also believe that antagonists like Keyser and his group, which claims about 20 members, are in the minority and, in McNeill's words, "have a bone to pick" with the council because other attempts to stop the imposition of the tax failed.
Keyser's group had earlier collected enough signatures to force a referendum on the tax, but the state legislative counsel in Sacramento ruled that utility taxes are not subject to the initiative process, according to City Clerk Gair.
Keyser contends that the recall effort is not a personal attack on the councilmen, who he said seemed to be the leaders in advocating passage of the utility tax, which was unanimously approved.
"I don't have anything against the council except it slaps me with a tax every time I turn around," he said. "If that's what you call a bone, then I've got one to pick. We know we're little people, but we're not going to be lorded over by people who think they're gods."