HUNTINGTON PARK — If reelected, Councilmen Thomas E. Jackson and Jack W. Parks promise to support what they say is the largely successful redevelopment of a city that was once labeled a suburban "disaster area."
But challengers Raul R. Perez and Raul A. Aragon contend that Jackson and Parks need to be replaced, in part because they presided over a redevelopment program that caused cash-flow problems and resulted in layoffs of city employees last year.
The race for the two City Council seats in the April 12 election is a struggle of the old guard, which touts itself as experienced and knowledgeable, and the new guard, which maintains that the aging, all-Anglo City Council is not responsive to a community of about 51,000 that is more than 80% Latino. Jackson, 52, has served on the City Council since 1968. The 63-year-old Parks has been a councilman since 1976.
Incumbents Spend More
It also is an election in which the incumbents will overwhelmingly outspend their challengers to make their views known to the city's electorate. Jackson and Parks, who are running together, raised $38,774 and spent $6,790 as of Feb. 27, according to a campaign disclosure statement. Perez loaned his campaign $900. He has spent $350. Aragon has pledged to raise and spend less than $1,000 during the election, his campaign statement reports.
Jackson and Parks say they will continue to support redevelopment if reelected. In all, the city planned 90 projects in its four redevelopment areas. Seventy-six projects have been completed or are under construction, Redevelopment Director James Funk said.
"We took a town that was on the brink of decay and by using redevelopment . . . we were able to convince developers to build town houses, homes, commercial buildings and industrial buildings," said Jackson, who owns a flower shop. "Without redevelopment that could never have happened."
"We've turned it completely around," said Parks, who owns an auto body shop. "It's made a much nicer city by having redevelopment projects go on."
But the challengers said the incumbents and redevelopment are responsible for the financial problems that surfaced last November, when city officials called together more than 50 municipal employees --nearly a quarter of its work force--and warned them of impending layoffs.
At the time, officials said the city was engaging in deficit spending of more than $300,000 a month because it was forced to offset financial setbacks suffered by the Redevelopment Agency. At that rate, the city would have been unable to meet its payroll after the month's end, officials said.
In the shadow of strong opposition from employees, the City Council eliminated only 13 positions--some of which were vacant. In addition, the city borrowed about $1 million against anticipated revenue that the Redevelopment Agency expects to receive by the end of the year, Funk said. The councilmen double as Redevelopment Agency members, who decide the city's redevelopment program.
"I think they undertook too much at one time," said Perez, a 45-year-old loan officer. "Some projects should have been finished before jumping into another."
Aragon, a Los Angeles police officer, accused the council of poor management.
"If they're the ones managing the funds, why the deficit? Why did they have to lay off people?" said Aragon, 28. "The City Council is responsible for that."
Funk said the cash-flow problems began in 1984, when developers operating in a climate of high interest rates began defaulting or backing out of key projects. Although substitute developers were eventually found, property tax income that the Redevelopment Agency counted on to meet its debt service was delayed.
About $2.7 million in tax revenue is expected to flow into the Redevelopment Agency this year. But the agency expected to be receiving much more by now, enough to meet its $4.4-million-a-year bond payment.
Tax Revenue Goes to Bonds
The city was forced to service the bond debt with sales tax dollars that it would have used to meet payroll and other operating expenses. Although city officials knew redevelopment was not generating as much revenue as needed, Jackson said they did not realize how much sales tax revenue would be diverted to cover the bond debt.
Jackson said the city's effort to complete 90 redevelopment projects between 1980 and 1990 probably left the agency juggling more projects than it could handle.
But he said the effort has helped turn around a city that a 1982 Rand Corp. study declared as one of 14 suburban "disaster areas" in the country. Rand said the 14 areas were beset by social and economic problems that included crime, low incomes and deteriorating housing.
Property Values Rise