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Voters to Get the Final Word : In two school districts and a city where the election debate has been hottest, decisions will come at the polls Tuesday. : Duarte Council : Issues Multiply as Small Town Gets a Taste of Big-City Politics

October 29, 1987|MARK ARAX | Times Staff Writer

DUARTE — In this community of 21,000 residents, a single major shopping center and no police force, much of life seems immutable.

Perhaps nothing has better reflected the steady, small-town virtues of Duarte than its City Council elections. Candidates have always been forced to dig deep for real issues and controversy. Campaigns were run on a shoestring; individual coffers rarely exceeded $1,000.

But in recent years, progress and development have left their indelible mark on Duarte. And while the community will probably always remain more a quiet village than a rumbling city, these are indeed tumultuous times for the little town at the foot of the San Gabriel Mountains.

Tuesday's City Council election is a good measure of the change and turmoil. The five candidates--none of them incumbents--running for two seats have debated a broad range of important and divisive issues confronting Duarte.

And, in the process, the campaign itself has become an issue. One candidate, real estate agent Ginny Joyce, has raised $3,500 from friends, business associates and the owner of a bowling alley. Some opponents argue that Joyce has single-handedly ushered in a new and pernicious form of big-city politics. They say the money has allowed her to print slick campaign pamphlets and mailings, compared to their own mostly Xeroxed efforts.

Joyce scoffs at the suggestion, saying she is only trying to run a professional campaign worthy of Duarte.

Still, the candidates have focused less on personalities than on issues of leadership and the direction of their city.

"Duarte is being challenged in many ways," said John Fasana, a candidate who helped lead the city's successful fight against a waste-to-energy plant in adjacent Irwindale. "There's no shortage of things to discuss. If anything, there may be too many issues."

In the past year alone, Duarte's hierarchy has undergone a great change. After many years of service, both the city attorney and the city manager announced their resignations. A month after the council named one of its own, James Coughlin, to be city attorney, council members inexplicably changed their mind and let Coughlin go. The city now faces a $1-million claim for damages and a possible lawsuit by Coughlin.

The effectiveness of the Chamber of Commerce has also been hurt by a succession of executive directors over the past five years. Without stability at the top, critics say, the chamber has been a weak link in the city's effort to develop a strong commercial and retail base.

Then there's the problem with leaks in the copper plumbing of more than 1,000 homes built in the late 1970s and early 1980s. The "pinhole leaks," releasing small but steady amounts of water, have caused thousands of dollars' damage to hundreds of homes.

At first, some developers paid for the repairs. But when it looked as if acidity in the water may have contributed to the problem, the developers refused to foot the bill. Fingers were pointed at California American Water Co., which supplies well water to Duarte. The city--after what residents charge were years of inaction--recently hired a consultant to determine whether faulty plumbing, the water itself or a combination of the two is causing the problem.

Debate Over Name

Finally, there is the protracted and, some say, ridiculous debate over a new name for the city. Some city leaders feel that "Duarte" doesn't properly convey the ambiance of their community, built in "early California" Spanish style. They have suggested "Duarte Hills," "Rancho Duarte" or the more grammatically correct "Rancho de Duarte." The City Council can't even agree on whether to place the whole matter in the hands of the voters.

Councilmen Ed Beranek and Mervin A. Money said their decision to not seek reelection this term was unrelated to the various problems confronting the city. Money, who has been a councilman for seven years, said he is stepping down because he wants to travel and improve his home. Beranek, who was appointed to the council in May, said his growing responsibilities as a partner in an accounting firm forced him to not seek reelection.

At a candidates' forum Tuesday at a local senior citizens' home, four of the candidates presented a strong, passionate view of their city. A fifth candidate did not attend.

During the forum and in later interviews, the candidates shared a perspective on all the major issues, although they sometimes differed over approach. Each criticized the city and, in particular, Mayor John Van Doren for dropping the ball on the pinhole leak problem. Each expressed the desire to preserve Duarte's residential quality while creating an atmosphere for quality growth. Three of the four talked of the need for a new supermarket.

Noah E. Jameson, 53, a retired construction contractor and county employee who is now a computer programmer and consultant, introduces himself as a "hillbilly from Missouri."

"I have a reputation for being plain-spoken and a cynic," he says.

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