It was a close play at the plate. County Supervisor Pete Schabarum, titular leader of the Pete's Posse softball team, was the base runner, galloping toward home. Margie Morales, a 50-year-old grandmother and the catcher for the County-USC Medical Center team, had the ball.
Schabarum did it the way Pete Rose probably would have done it. The bulky 190-pound base runner dived recklessly for home, flattening the 135-pound catcher like a truck plowing through a snowbank. There were hard feelings all around, with the roughed-up Morales calling Schabarum a "macho pig." Schabarum, a former San Francisco 49ers halfback, brushed himself off and met the heated accusations in the unblinking winning-is-everything style of Charlie Hustle.
"That's baseball," he said.
According to some of his critics, the play at the plate last October on a South El Monte playing field reflects Schabarum's freewheeling, ultra-competitive political style. The county supervisor, whose district includes most of the San Gabriel Valley east of Pasadena, plays to win, scrupulously observing the rules but showing little delicacy toward his adversaries, the critics say.
"He plays hardball," says San Dimas Mayor Donald Haefer, whose city has been embroiled in a feud with the county over plans to commercialize Frank G. Bonelli County Park. "He plays a tough game. In other words, it's 'If you don't do what I say, there are other things I can hit you with.' "
When Schabarum, a member of the Board of Supervisors since 1972, decides to throw his weight around, he generally gets results. Arguably the most powerful political figure in the San Gabriel Valley and certainly one of the most influential politicians in the county, this steadfast political and fiscal conservative has played a major part in the changes the area has undergone in the past 15 years.
The valley is studded with county facilities and public buildings that Schabarum has shepherded into his district. Once-barren fields and hills are covered with housing developments that this admittedly "pro-development" official has helped usher through the process of public land use review.
Through his powers as one of five county supervisors, including a major say in how the county's $7.1-billion annual budget is doled out, and his influence on other boards and commissions, Schabarum has become the San Gabriel Valley elected official whose opinions carry the most weight on such bread-and-butter regional issues as garbage, mass transit and development.
Just in the past few weeks, for example, Schabarum has weighed in decisively on a pair of hot issues in his district, taking a stand against the proposed waste-to-energy plant at the Spadra Landfill in Pomona and endorsing a controversial revision of a plan to build commercial facilities at Bonelli Park. In both cases, the supervisor's voice was seen by some as the deciding one, freeing other politicians and county officials to speak out against the incinerator proposal (which could be withdrawn Monday by the directors of the county Sanitation Districts) and establishing the park proposal as an official county plan.
Schabarum himself, a rugged-looking man of 58, with a granite profile and a reputation for bluntly speaking his mind, impatiently dismisses the notion that he can "bring together heaven and earth."
"I'm just trying to do a job," he says. "I have very little influence with the state Legislature in California or with a lot of special districts, where I'm either not on the board or I'm just one vote."
Nevertheless, Schabarum doesn't hesitate to use his clout to carry out his plans.
For example, when the City of San Dimas, whose boundaries stretch around the 1,976-acre Bonelli Park, resisted county plans last year to build a host of money-making tourist attractions in the park, Schabarum responded as testily as a grizzly bear rousted from his lair. First he threatened to have the park "de-annexed" from the city. Contending that the county park, which constitutes one-fifth of San Dimas' land, was the subject of too many complaints from the city, Schabarum had his staff look into ways of somehow removing the park from the city limits.
Then a Schabarum aide allegedly warned city officials that the city's opposition could have negative consequences. "He told us that projects near and dear to the city and requiring county funding might not get ready access and sympathy from the county," said City Councilman Sandy McHenry.
McHenry added that he did not fault Schabarum and his staff for such an approach. "That's sort of how the game is played," he said. "I'd be surprised if it were otherwise. The difference between Pete and some others in political office is that he'll tell you straight out how he feels about things."