LA MIRADA — The four men competing for two City Council seats offer a gamut of experience and a diversity of opinion about what is good and bad for this middle-class bedroom community, the self-proclaimed "Courtesy Capital of the World."
The quartet of contenders includes a former councilman, a planning commissioner and a longtime incumbent who all profess--to one degree or another--general satisfaction with the status quo. The fourth candidate is a political novice who takes exception to a variety of council-backed projects.
Vern Stewart, a 54-year-old, semi-retired construction contractor mounting his first election campaign, says the city's fledgling auto mall is a mistake. He complains that two planned housing developments will be overbuilt, attracting new residents who will overtax city services. And he contends that city government is taking over too many programs that should instead be carried out on a contract basis, such as the local bus service.
Housing Projects Attacked
A past president of CALM (Citizens Assn. of La Mirada), a small group formed to oppose high-density developments, Stewart also attacked two recently approved housing projects for the elderly. One project lacks sufficient parking, he asserts, and the other will be too expensive for area residents, even with subsidized rents.
The other three candidates for the $450-a-month council jobs, three-term incumbent Dave Peters, Planning Commissioner Bob Chotiner and former Councilman Ken Jones, hold much rosier views of the city's course.
"I think the city is headed in a positive direction," said Chotiner, a planning commissioner for the past six years and owner of a wholesale women's apparel company.
He supports the planned rebuilding of La Mirada Mall by a private developer who wants to turn part of the financially ailing shopping center into a housing tract of 160 detached, single-family homes. "From what I've seen, it's going to be a very nice project," said Chotiner, 47, who has been active in a number of civic groups over the years, including the La Mirada Civic Theater and youth organizations.
He is enthusiastic about the local Redevelopment Agency's creation of an auto mall, which has thus far signed three auto dealerships. He also favors the housing projects for the elderly. One, a federally subsidized 75-unit complex at Adoree Street and Valley View Avenue, will rent to low- and moderate-income senior citizens. About a fourth of the units in the second project, a 163-unit complex on La Mirada Boulevard, will be set aside for moderate- and low-income tenants, with the remainder of the apartments costing between $950 and $1,350 a month for studios and one-bedrooms.
Although the La Mirada Boulevard complex will be built in an area zoned for single-family homes, Chotiner says the higher density is justified for such a project.
Jones, a 56-year-old businessman who has coached and sponsored youth athletic teams, was narrowly defeated in his reelection bid two years ago after one term on the council. "I was complacent. I didn't think I could lose. It won't happen again," said Jones, who owns a truck instrument company.
Despite his support of the senior housing projects, Jones said he worries that local elderly people will be caught in the dilemma of having too much money to qualify for the federally subsidized apartments but not enough money to afford non-subsidized rents. To counter that, Jones says he would consider using city money to subsidize rents.
The auto mall, Jones said, is "going to be great." He also favors the La Mirada Mall revitalization, although he is concerned that the planned residential portion may be too dense.
After 12 years on the council, Peters, 45, said he wants another four-year term to help steer projects to their proper conclusion. Peters, a Biola University political science professor, cites "the sorely needed" mall redevelopment, the community activity center that is to be built near City Hall and the auto mall, which is expected to generate $1 million in annual sales tax revenue.
Not only does La Mirada have to meet the needs of its growing elderly population, the city must also take care that its younger residents are not neglected, said Peters, who has served as mayor three times. He pointed out that the 799-unit development planned for a swatch of former oil land off Beach Boulevard will attract families who will want recreational services.
Still, Peters said the city's existing programs are sufficient. More services and additional spending are not needed.
Mayor Ben Ashley, the other incumbent whose term expires next month, is not seeking reelection.
Stewart, who said he has attended numerous municipal meetings in recent years, argues that the city is "playing a game of craps" by developing an auto mall to bolster its tax revenue. Dependency on such income sources make city finances dangerously vulnerable, he said.
If the candidates' predictions prove correct, Chotiner and Jones will be the election's big spenders. Chotiner anticipates spending about $8,000, and as of the end of last month, had nearly $4,000 in his campaign fund. His largest contribution, $1,000, came from Gary J. Gerber of La Mirada, whom Chotiner describes as a longtime friend. Gerber owns J & M Oil Co. of Lynwood.
Jones says he will likely spend $7,000 to $8,000. He has loaned himself $2,000 and collected about $1,600 at a fund-raiser.
Peters said he plans to spend no more than $3,000, and Stewart thus far has only a few hundred dollars.