WHITTIER — Shaping the post-earthquake rebuilding of this city has brought out the largest slate of City Council candidates since 1972, as two incumbents and 10 challengers compete for three seats in the April 12 election.
Incumbents Myron Claxton, first elected in 1980, and Thomas K. Sawyer, appointed in 1986 and seeking his first full term, are seeking reelection. Mayor Pro Tem Sabina Schwab did not file for the race.
The challengers are Joe F. Corey, Elna Sue Johanson, Joseph Marsico, Selma H. Plotkin, Benjamin Rodriguez, Jerry Sterling, Thomas L. Theisen, David F. Todd, Rudy Valdez and Robert F. Woehrmann.
In addition to discussing the redesign of the Uptown Whittier business district, where about 30 buildings have been demolished since the Oct. 1 earthquake, council candidates have been debating the city's role in providing social services.
Social Services Funding
Earlier this year, the City Council voted to cut social services funding from $125,000 to $100,000 despite protests from community activists that the city was not giving enough money to local agencies that help the homeless, youth groups and others. The city had received $244,000 in funding requests from those agencies.
The campaign debate also has touched on whether the city should pursue annexation of Los Angeles County land in west Whittier, a move that would give the city Redevelopment Agency control of businesses in the area but also would add the expense of providing city services to about 15,000 more residents.
Claxton, 69, who retired after 32 years as a teacher and administrator in the Whittier Union High School District, said the Uptown reconstruction is "way ahead of the timetable" of Coalinga, Calif., after its 1985 earthquake. "I feel things have moved along remarkably well," Claxton said.
On the social services issue, Claxton voted to cut social services to the $100,000 level, but said city funding should not fall below that amount. He also favors annexation, particularly in the county area bordered by Washington Boulevard, Whittier Boulevard and the 605 Freeway. Claxton reported $5,822 in contributions and in $5,170 expenses.
Sawyer, 64, a retired accountant, said restoring Uptown "is not the city's rebuilding job . . . . We have done everything we can to help the owners rebuild." He said new construction will force rents up, which will inevitably change the nature of the Village.
"We just can't go back and restore the buildings because the cost is no longer going to be the same," Sawyer said. New developments should be more responsive to the 1,000-student campus at Whittier College, he said.
The decision on annexing west Whittier should not be made until the city has more financial information about the effects of the earthquake, he said. Sales tax revenue figures from the last quarter dropped 10%. On social services, Sawyer said the city should look toward solving long-term problems instead of the "Band-Aid solution" of piecemeal funding each year.
Sawyer is the top fund-raiser in the race, reporting contributions of $8,820 and expenses of $2,075.
The best-financed of the challengers is Theisen, 47, owner of an Uptown Whittier accounting firm, who has reported contributions of $5,778 and expenses of $4,103 in his first run for public office.
Theisen said adequate parking is the most important thing to include in the rebuilding of Uptown. He said the city should wait for a recently hired consultant to complete a master plan before allowing a lot of construction to begin. In addition to Uptown, Theisen said the city needs to follow through on previously planned redevelopment where Whittier Boulevard intersects Greenleaf Avenue and Hadley Street.
The candidate, who is also the treasurer of the Uptown Assn. and a board member of the Rio Hondo Area Volunteers, is scheduled to break ground in May on a private 40,000-square foot office and retail building in the Uptown area.
Theisen, vice chairman of the Whittier Social Services Commission, said he would have opposed cutting the social services budget. "It's almost ludicrous that we only spend $100,000 on all those services for 80,000 people," he said.
Woehrmann, 60, president of a local ambulance company and a Whittier planning commissioner since 1983, also says it is important to wait for the consultant's plan for Uptown before making major decisions about the area. He favors keeping the Village concept, and supported the council's decision to cut social service funding.
Woehrmann backs the annexation of west Whittier, and said he also would resurrect the effort to extend Hadley Street to intersect with Colima Road. Colima and the 605 Freeway are the city's only northern exits.
The city's first planning director in the seven years after Whittier incorporated in 1955, Woehrmann also has been an assistant city manager, a YMCA board member and past president of the East Whittier Rotary Club. Woehrmann reported $3,843 in contributions and $2,006 in expenses.