PICO RIVERA — In this predominantly Latino city that draws much of its economic strength from redevelopment, four candidates will compete for two City Council seats in the April 12 election.
Two are incumbents who praise the city's redevelopment record. Another is a challenger who complains that progress has come at the expense of residents. And another is a challenger more concerned with local schools--over which city government has no control.
The city has poured $36 million into building a shopping corridor along the south side of Whittier Boulevard. Construction is under way on the 250,000-square-foot Crossroads Plaza, which already is 90% leased, and city officials are trying to line the rest of the roadway with retail outlets.
But candidate Richard Mercado Sr. says the burden of redevelopment has fallen unfairly on about 75 businesses and 160 families whose property was acquired through eminent domain.
"I think redevelopment has wiped out a lot of good business people in the community," Mercado said. "They didn't have the spirit to relocate."
Longtime incumbents Garth Gardner and James M. Patronite and challenger Arthur R. Monreal defend redevelopment, saying the city has successfully attracted businesses that provide crucial sales tax dollars to this no-property tax city.
Gardner and Patronite also say the city is providing more social services, noting a planned senior citizen and art center that will expand Smith Park and city subsidies of bus passes for students and seniors.
Mercado, 54, a building inspector for the city of Pico Rivera, wants the City Council to meet monthly with the board of the El Rancho Unified School District to discuss ways to reduce drug and alcohol abuse among students.
He also pledges to seek a YMCA for the city and to provide senior citizen transportation on weekends for medical care and shopping. Mercado, a 22-year resident of Pico Rivera who has unsuccessfully run for the council twice, reported $6,789 in contributions and $7,846 in expenses, leaving his campaign $1,057 in debt.
Election officials said Mercado would have to resign his job with the city if he is elected.
Monreal, 29, is unemployed, but has worked in retail sales management, hotel office management and as an editor on a weekly newspaper. Monreal said he supports the council's redevelopment and social services policies, but he is running for office primarily because he wants the council to take over the El Rancho Unified School District. The city and school district have always operated independently.
"I'd like to see a total restructuring of our school district," Monreal said, including recruiting better teachers and expanding vocational education programs.
Asked if the City Council had the expertise to manage a school district, Monreal said: "I think the school board is less qualified (than the council) to do that."
Monreal also would try to rescind the city's ban on lawn parking that started last year.
A 28-year resident of Pico Rivera, Monreal said he supports the City Council's redevelopment and social services policies. Monreal, who has spent $500 of his own money in his first run for public office, said he is considering running for the school board if he loses the election.
Gardner, 65, is seeking his fifth term after 16 years on the City Council. A real estate appraiser and probate referee for the Pasadena branch of Los Angeles County Superior Court, Gardner served 12 years on the Pico Rivera Planning Commission before running for the council.
Gardner said city officials need to keep state lawmakers from taking away the city's portion of state property taxes, a move that has been suggested by some Legislators. This income is crucial in Pico Rivera, which does not levy a property tax, Gardner said.
For the next term, Gardner said his priorities would be completing the redevelopment of Whittier Boulevard, improving street maintenance and improving social services, particularly for senior citizens.
The city needs to make sure that developers follow through on their redevelopment projects, Gardner said. Some developers are behind schedule in their commitment to building businesses on Whittier Boulevard, he said. A 38-year-resident of Pico Rivera, Gardner has reported $5,858 in contributions and $2,181 in expenses.
Patronite, 66, has been on the council for 14 years, three times serving as mayor. He also said the city's redevelopment effort should continue and include the cleaning up of blighted areas such as the intersection of Paramount and Whittier Boulevards.
Patronite disputed candidate Mercado's claim that city redevelopment has been heavy-handed. He said complaints about the acquisition of property have been minimal. "You have to sacrifice a few for the betterment of a greater number of people," Patronite said, adding that redevelopment brings jobs as well as business tax revenue to the city.
Patronite led the candidates in fund-raising and spending, reporting $13,452 in contributions, including a $3,000 loan from himself, and $5,077 in expenses. Among his contributions was $1,000 from Metropolitan Waste Disposal Co., a Montebello firm that is under contract with Pico Rivera. Patronite said accepting the contribution was not a conflict of interest because the contribution was made after Metropolitan's seven-year contract with the city was approved.