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Southeast Elections : Tax on Hotel Beds Splits Candidates in Commerce Race

March 13, 1988|RICHARD HOLGUIN | Times Staff Writer

COMMERCE — The candidates vying for three seats on the City Council are sharply divided over whether the city should enact a bed tax, an issue that also will be decided by voters in the April 12 election.

However, incumbents Robert J. Cornejo and Arturo Marquez and their three challengers agree on many issues:

The abandoned, landmark Uniroyal plant along the Santa Ana Freeway should be developed as quickly as possible;

Something needs to be done to alleviate the nerve-racking congestion at the so-called "Mixmaster" intersection, the city's busiest, and

They don't want a proposed hazardous waste incinerator built in neighboring Vernon--at least until a complete environmental impact study is performed.

Philosophical Nerve

But the bed tax ballot measure has struck a philosophical nerve. Commerce, incorporated in 1960, prides itself on being a model city that is friendly to business and provides many services to its 12,000 residents without levying city property taxes.

If passed by a two-thirds vote, the bed tax measure would impose an 8% tax on the use of hotel rooms in Commerce. The revenue--projected at $500,000 a year--would be earmarked for public works projects.

"I was around when the city was incorporated," said Cornejo, who opposes the tax. "One of the points stressed . . . was that we'd provide services without taxes."

Cornejo, 53, is seeking his second four-year term on the council. He said he also opposes the tax because the city has a comfortable reserve and is not in urgent need of money, and because it would be unfair to impose a tax on only one segment of the business community.

Commerce has a budget of $18.68 million with a projected $4.6-million surplus. The city's Redevelopment Agency has about $20 million reserved for projects, an official said.

Marquez, who was appointed to his council seat in 1984, said he has not made up his mind about the tax.

"I have a lot of people (constituents) who

are very concerned about it," said Marquez, 24. "They feel it's opening up the way for further taxes in the city."

Candidate Manuel Jimenez, who was the city's public works director before he retired in 1986, also opposes the tax.

"We have a very, very solid reserve," he said. "I feel very strongly that if we go into any type of a first tax, then it opens the door to others. (If) in the future we may need that avenue . . . we would have those avenues to go to." This is the first time the 62-year-old Jimenez has run for City Council.

Candidate Art Navarro supports the bed tax, noting that many California cities, including Los Angeles, have one. Navarro also said the tax would have little, if any, effect on Commerce residents because they do not usually stay in the city's hotel rooms.

Navarro, 37, a fifth-grade teacher, is on the Traffic Commission. It also is his first campaign for City Council.

"We have to develop new revenues to make up what's eaten away by inflation," Navarro said. "It's not a new tax, it's just never been used in Commerce before."

Lukewarm Support

Ruben Batres has thrown lukewarm support behind the tax. He said money from the tax could be useful, for example, to make improvements to alleviate traffic congestion at the jammed intersection of Atlantic Boulevard and Telegraph Road beside the Santa Ana Freeway.

The city estimates it will cost about $20 million to build a bridge on Atlantic Boulevard over the Santa Ana Freeway and into East Los Angeles to alleviate congestion at the intersection. Even if it secures grants, the city will have to pick up a substantial portion of the bill.

"If that's the only route we have at this time, I can't see denying it," Batres said. "Once I'm in there, I'd like to investigate other avenues and find out if there's some other way we can do it (raise money for public works projects)."

Batres, 55, is a furniture company supervisor and a member of the city's Planning Commission. He ran unsuccessfully for the City Council in 1982 and 1986.

The local hotel industry opposes the bed tax through a political action committee called Citizens Against Taxation. Owners of the Hyatt Hotel and the Ramada Inn in Commerce have contributed $2,000 to defeat the measure, according to a campaign disclosure statement. As of Feb. 27, the close of the first reporting period for the April election, the committee had spent $1,387 on a mail campaign opposing the bed tax.

Opposes Bed Tax

John Endsley, treasurer of Citizens Against Taxation and general manager of the Ramada Inn, said the group opposes the bed tax because it would drive up room prices. Endsley also said it is unfair to tax one industry, especially when the city has surplus funds.

Cornejo, an account executive with a trucking firm, was first elected to the council in 1984. He said one of his proudest accomplishments was helping the city to balance its budget.

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