BELL GARDENS — With three of five seats on the ballot, many of the 13 City Council candidates in this city of 38,000 say they hope the Nov. 3 election will bring a shift in power on the council.
"There are a few people running this city and the residents don't seem to have a say in anything," said candidate Talt Coldiron, a 53-year-old cabinet maker. "That's got to change."
Incumbents Marvin Graves and Allen Shelby, who are seeking relection to their second council terms, have traditionally voted with the council majority. They are backed by an election committee headed by Councilman Roger McComas.
The third incumbent, Robert Cunningham, has proven to be a maverick. In June, Cunningham, 64, a retired letter carrier who is ending a four-year term, cast the deciding vote that killed a plan to put one-third of the city in a redevelopment area.
Graves, 70, a retired heating and air conditioning contractor, and Shelby, a 49-year-old plumber, did not vote on the plan because they own property in the proposed redevelopment area, but both have stated their support of redevelopment, which has emerged as a major issue in the election. (Two other council members, McComas and Ronald Bird, voted for the measure but it failed for lack of a majority.)
Another major issue centers on improving the Bell Gardens Police Department.
In July the council proposed to contract with the Los Angeles County Sheriff's Department for police services but later killed the plan because of overwhelming public opposition. At that time Graves said he supported contracting with the sheriff's department, although he voted against it. Cunningham was the only council member to openly denounce the proposal.
Some candidates speculate that debate over these two issues is responsible for drawing the largest field of candidates in the city's history.
Cunningham said if reelected he will take a cautious approach toward redevelopment.
"I believe in upgrading housing but I am not 100 percent for putting the entire city under redevelopment," he said.
Shelby said he sees redevelopment as the only way to "provide housing for upper-middle-class people."
Graves, who says his greatest achievement as councilman was helping to bring the Bicycle Club casino--the city's largest source of tax revenue--to Bell Gardens, said he is committed to boosting redevelopment.
"I think we did a very poor public relations job in explaining to the people what we wanted to do (with redevelopment)," Graves said. "The opposition came from self-interested groups, not the residents. That's who we have to reach."
The incumbents are running against a field dominated by political newcomers. They are:
- Coldiron, a 30-year resident of Bell Gardens who said he opposes redevelopment and supports increasing police officers' salaries and benefits. Coldiron said he would like the city to offer after-school activities and free rides to senior citizens on DART--the city's bus service.
- Noreen Bea Bell, 37, who lost a close City Council race in 1985, is the only challenger who has previously run for public office. Bell owns Sunrise Fasteners and is Chamber of Commerce treasurer. She says purchasing new equipment for the Police Department would be her first priority.
- Harold Hammer, 54, a truck driver, says he was prompted to run by "the need to give the city back to the people" and wrest control from McComas, who Hammer says "runs Bell Gardens." If elected, Hammer says he would like to make parking laws more lenient by allowing residents to park on residential streets between 2 p.m. and 4 p.m. without a city permit.
- Hank Ramey, a 22-year-old City Hall critic, says he is an anti-redevelopment activist. He said he would like the city to form a redevelopment agency separate from the City Council, which doubles as the redevelopment agency. Ramey, who attended Cal State Long Beach, is taking time off from work and school to work on his campaign.
- Francis Glenn Rose, a 47-year-old fencing contractor, said he would like to limit council members to two terms because "otherwise the council loses contact with the people they are working for." If elected Rose vowed to "slow down redevelopment."
- Randy Safford, 34, a student at Downey United College of Business, said his goal is to stop redevelopment and hire more police officers. Safford said he is in the process of setting up a bookkeeping business in Bell Gardens.
- Juan Sanchez, 26, a property manager and college student, says he is concerned with educational issues and would like the city to promote a school counseling program. Under his program, Bell Gardens High School students would tutor intermediate school students and help them plan a class schedule before entering high school.