SIGNAL HILL — It's the new guard versus the old guard.
That's how the April 12 City Council election is viewed in this tiny city overlooking Long Beach, where three incumbents are squaring off against three former councilmen and a fourth challenger says she doesn't side with either camp.
"The good guys versus the bad guys," is how incumbent Mayor Richard Ceccia dubbed the race. One of the former-councilmen-turned-candidates was booted out of office via a recall, and the other two lost reelection bids.
Ceccia included himself and fellow council members Louis A. Dare and Jessie Blacksmith in the "good guys" category. He said their council votes have lowered potential residential density by 60%, forced developers to pay for more improvements such as street lights and broadened the city's sales tax base.
After a two-year building moratorium and a new general plan for the city, Signal Hill is "over the hump" of a critical period, Ceccia said. In recent years, he said, the council rewrote building codes and development standards for new construction in this former oil boom city--a city that is slowly seeing its oil dry up. The city also instituted high training standards for police officers to erase the tarnished image of a Police Department once rife with scandals and corruption, he added.
Next on Agenda
Two items are next on the agenda for this city of 8,304 residents: The council is planning the city's first supermarket and is racing against neighboring Long Beach to build an auto mall.
But former councilman Marion F. (Buzz) McCallen said that if any candidates deserve to be branded as bad guys, it ought to be the incumbents, whom he characterized as "the regime."
McCallen and former councilmen Nick A. Mekis and Robert F. Randle say the incumbents are part of a council that has spent too much money on private consultants, hired too many city employees, has been too harsh on developers and has misused money from the city's Redevelopment Agency.
The fourth challenger is Linda J. Jackson, the only contender without public office experience. Jackson agreed that the city has placed too many restrictions on new residential development and could better spend redevelopment money.
McCallen, Mekis and Randle criticize the way the city has used redevelopment funds to subsidize large companies interested in moving here or in expanding existing facilities.
For example, the council brought the Price Club to the city by helping the retail chain pay for improving and developing a building site. The council also convinced Eastman Inc. to build a new facility after the national stationery and office supply firm had threatened to leave.
The council challengers say the city should not have made so many concessions in the negotiations, such as buying Eastman's old buildings--including all the furniture.
But Blacksmith, Ceccia and Dare point to those decisions with pride, noting that Price Club and Eastman combine to bring the city more than $1.6 million in sales tax revenue each year.
Sums It Up
Dare summed it up this way: "They're accusing us of spending too much money, and we're saying the money we're spending is an investment in the future."
Ceccia said that during the tenures of McCallen, Mekis and Randle, redevelopment money was used to subsidize off-site improvements such as curbs and gutters. Today, those improvements are mostly paid by developers. According to the incumbents, the former council members were overly sympathetic to developers--to the detriment of the city. They noted that McCallen and Mekis are developers themselves.
McCallen conceded that, if elected, his real estate interests could force him to abstain from voting on some development issues rather than face the appearance of a conflict of interest.
The former councilmen said that their use of Redevelopment Agency money for items such as street lights and curbs benefitted everyone--not just the developers.
McCallen complained that the incumbents "have a policy of no growth. . . . I don't think that's good for the city. I want to do something about some of the restrictions and the ordinances they placed. You can hardly build in Signal Hill any more."
Jackson, the newcomer to city politics, agreed: "It's extremely difficult to build single-family homes (in Signal Hill)." Jackson, who runs the after-school program for the city's Parks and Recreation Department, also said that redevelopment money could be better spent. "It's great to have new businesses that bring in new revenue to the city, but they should not have to be subsidized," she said.