MONTEREY PARK — Petitions to recall three of the five Monterey Park City Council members on charges of racism have been filed amid accusations that the drive represents "sour grapes" from losers in the last council election.
City Clerk Pauline Lemire said an election probably will be held in May or June if the petitions have been signed by at least 4,536 registered voters, representing 20% of the city's total number of registered voters.
Petitions filed on Monday by the Assn. for Better Cityhood contained 6,856 signatures against Councilman Barry Hatch, 6,646 against Patricia Reichenberger and 5,473 against Cam Briglio.
Lemire said she has 30 days to determine whether those who signed the petitions are registered voters and to report to the council, which would set the election date.
But the recall targets and their opponents already have begun trading charges.
Former Councilman David Almada, a leading recall proponent, said the council has been motivated by "racial feelings and hostility."
He added that "people don't like the racial intolerance (council members) have generated by their own actions. People reject that extreme radicalism, almost neo-Fascist point of view."
Hatch, who won election to the council in April by defeating Almada, among others, said the recall effort represents "sour grapes" from losers of the last election and from developers who have found that a new council will not let them "continue to destroy our city with condos and little mini-malls."
Hatch said those upset with Monterey Park's efforts to control development know that "if we are successful, that spells doom to those who have been raping Monterey Park and the San Gabriel Valley."
The recall effort began in July when Kevin Smith, a developer, served Hatch, Reichenberger and Briglio with recall notices that accused them of voting for a "racist resolution" on immigration, of blocking construction of housing for senior citizens and of reducing city revenues through "irresponsible" planning policies.
Reichenberger said the racism charge "is a great camouflage," hiding what is really an effort to reopen the city to uncontrolled development.
The council in April adopted a moratorium on apartment, condominium and most commercial construction, claiming that previous planning policies had given Monterey Park traffic congestion, crowded mini-malls and shoddy condominiums.
The council is attempting to "redesign" the city, Reichenberger said, setting new development standards and devising strategies to attract large-scale, high-quality commercial projects. Reichenberger said the recall "is a development issue. The developers want the city back."
But Smith, whose family has built houses, condominiums and commercial buildings in Monterey Park, said that although the council has strangled development to the detriment of city revenue, the central issue is racism.
Attack on Ethnics
"It's one thing to take an anti-growth stand, but another to attack certain ethnic groups," he said.
He accused the council of dividing the community by adopting a resolution last June that instructed police to cooperate with immigration authorities, urged Congress to control the borders, denounced cities that offer sanctuary to refugees who are in this country illegally and declared support for the adoption of English as the nation's official language.
Hatch, Reichenberger and Briglio voted for the resolution in June, but Briglio moved to rescind it in October in an effort, he said, to end divisiveness. The resolution was rescinded on a 3-2 vote, with Hatch and Reichenberger dissenting.
Monterey Park's population of 60,200 is estimated to be more than 40% Asian and 37% Latino. Many are immigrants.
Briglio said he does not intend to comment on the recall effort until the city clerk verifies the petitions but said that he will fight the recall if it goes to an election.
Many Chinese Friends
He said he has so much support in the Chinese community that any accusation of racism would fail. Although his own ancestry is Italian, Briglio said, "I have more Chinese friends than anything else."
Smith conceded that the Asian community generally has opposed Briglio's recall but that enough signatures were obtained on recall petitions.
Almada said Briglio has been "very indecisive," changing his vote not only on the immigration issue but also voting for the building moratorium that is now in place and later declaring his willingness to end the moratorium on grounds that it had created unforeseen hardships.
Almada said he finds evidence of racism in numerous statements and actions by council members. He cited the council's adoption of a policy that killed the yearly ceremony of flying the flag of Taiwan in front of City Hall during a a Taiwanese holiday.