The city's recent bailout of a towering pink hotel and the overall issue of redevelopment of the downtown's aging, cluttered business district are the prime issues in Garden Grove's special mayoral election, a campaign heavy with rhetoric but scant on specific proposals.
Of the eight mayoral candidates in the winner-take-all election next Tuesday, three hold seats on the City Council. The remaining five challengers all strum the same theme: that the City Council has given too much to certain business and has ignored the public will.
Named to Judgeship
The election became necessary when former Mayor Jonathan H. Cannon was appointed by the governor to a new West Municipal Court judgeship in August and the remaining four council members were unable to agree on a replacement to complete Cannon's two-year term.
Cannon, who was first elected to the council in 1978, had been mayor since 1980. He won reelection in easy races in 1982, 1984 and again in 1986, a year after switching to the Republican Party, following 10 years as a registered Democrat.
The former mayor has not endorsed any of the eight candidates, but he predicted that the election's outcome would have little effect on the direction of the city.
"I just don't see the basic makeup of the council changing, especially if one of the present councilmen wins. It will still be the same four people on the council," Cannon said.
The leading candidates are Councilmen Milton Krieger, W.E. (Walt) Donovan and Robert F. Dinsen. If one of them wins, and the new mayor and the remaining three council members cannot agree on appointing another council member within 30 days, another special election would be required in April to fill the winner's unexpired term.
Former Mayor J. Tilman Williams, 62, is also counted as one of the favorites to return to the post he held in 1976-78.
Perhaps the most outspoken of the eight candidates, Williams said he decided to run mainly because the council was unable to appoint a successor to Cannon, thus forcing the city to spend up to $60,000 on the special election.
"The prima donnas on the council couldn't appoint a mayor," Williams said. "They couldn't make a choice, and there were a lot of good people out there who could have served as mayor for one year."
The other four candidates include John (Gus) Modaffari, who was on the city Planning Commission for eight years before resigning last year; businessman Malcolm R. Fisher; businesswoman Karen Tracy Moreland, and Steven Childres.
The challengers, including Williams, are focusing their campaign criticisms on what they call "give-away" programs, such as the city's involvement in last year's building of the Princess Alicante Hotel, a 17-story, 400-room facility not far from Disneyland.
Century City-based Princess Cruises Resorts & Hotels was the first initial operator of the $51-million hotel. But the city initially plowed in about $8 million, including the land on which the hotel sits. In return, the city was to share in an unspecified amount of profits for 10 years.
Princess Cruises, which does not usually manage hotels, was unable to make a profit and three months ago turned management of the hotel over to the Chicago-based Hyatt Corp., which has changed the name to the Hyatt Regency Alicante.
With that management arrangement came a $2-million bailout loan from the Garden Grove Redevelopment Agency and another $250,000 to refurbish parts of the hotel. In return, the agency will receive a 5% interest in the hotel.
Only Dinsen, a 70-year-old retired building contractor who has been on the council since 1980, opposed building the hotel. He also opposed the $2-million loan to the Hyatt Corp.
"I voted against it when we constructed it and when it changed hands because I thought the taxpayers should not pay for any part of it," Dinsen said. "I just don't know where that $2-million (bailout loan) went."
Donovan, who was on the council for 11 of the last 15 years, said the hotel is expected to generate $600,000 in property taxes and perhaps another $400,000 in occupancy tax. He contended that bond money was used to subsidize the hotel, not taxpayer dollars, as Williams and Dinsen and some other challengers say.
'Nothing to It'
"The so-called tax-fighters are wrong. That is ridiculous because we can't raise taxes without voter approval. It's a nice slogan, but there is nothing to it," said Donovan, a 61-year-old retired Southern California Edison executive.
Krieger, who has been on the council for 13 consecutive years, is an unabashed proponent of redevelopment. That, he said, is the proper way to revitalize Garden Grove, one of Orange County's older communities, which has about 135,000 residents.
"This is an older community, and we have to revitalize (it)," he said. "We've used the tool of redevelopment, and it's a darn good tool. The question here is, what do you do for business? Redevelopment is healthy business. It's more taxes by minding the store."