DIAMOND BAR — Less than six weeks before the March 7 election to decide whether this unincorporated community is to become a city, a citizens group has launched a vigorous campaign to kill the incorporation movement at the polls.
The Vote No Diamond Bar Incorporation 1989 Committee, formed earlier this month by five residents, drew more than 30 people to its first meeting this week. The group's founders describe themselves as longtime Diamond Bar residents, who fear cityhood would lead to higher taxes and more regulation.
"We just don't need another level of government to tell us what to do and how to do it," said Al Rumpilla, co-chairman of the committee. "All the services are in place. Everything we need is just a matter of picking up a phone and calling the right department (at the county). . . . You don't fix something that's not broken, and I don't feel Diamond Bar is broken."
Some advocates of Diamond Bar cityhood have responded to the opposition group with derision.
"When they raise an issue that's a valid one, then we can debate," said Gary Werner, chairman of the incorporation committee and a City Council candidate. "I haven't heard one yet."
After almost two years of planning, petition-gathering and politicking, they said the incorporation movement is unstoppable.
"I'd say we have about 80% support in the community," said Phyllis Papen, president of the Diamond Bar Improvement Assn. and a candidate for the City Council that would be formed if incorporation passes. "If (the opposition) had had a good showing Monday night, I might think they had some support. With 30 people, I'd doubt they represent 5% of the population."
Although the anti-cityhood committee lacks the size, momentum and financing of Diamond Bar's Incorporation '88 Committee, other cityhood proponents are reluctant to dismiss it as a fringe group. Voters rejected cityhood in 1983 by a margin of 230 votes out of 6,966 cast after a similar last-minute, low-budget opposition campaign.
"I think only a fool would count them out because of (the community's) basic inertia," said Paul Horcher, a member of the Diamond Bar Municipal Advisory Council and candidate for the City Council. "People don't want change. It wouldn't take much money or much of an effort to derail it if they run a fear campaign."
A key point of the anti-cityhood argument is uncertainty about how a change in government would affect residents. Although county government may be far from perfect, incorporation foes said, city government could be less effective and more expensive.
Cityhood opponents doubt the city would be able to generate enough revenue to pay for city services and would look to residents to make up the difference through assessment districts or utility taxes.
"We don't have a strong enough commercial or industrial base to support a city," said incorporation opponent Mike Zullo, a 19-year resident of Diamond Bar. "I don't think we can afford to hire the kind of talent the county has. I'm not against cityhood. I just don't think we're ready for it yet."
Although the city could not raise property taxes without a vote of the people--as mandated by Proposition 13--it could create assessment districts to raise money for specific services, such as lighting or landscaping, Rumpilla said. He also cited utility taxes, such as the 11% levy charged on gas, electric and telephone service in neighboring Pomona.
"What makes our people in Diamond Bar so above-board that they would not use the same vehicles to collect fees?" Rumpilla said.
Those favoring cityhood note that 47 cents out of every dollar of revenue generated in Diamond Bar is spent for services elsewhere in the county.
"We would be in a better position, because (the city would retain) that lost 47 cents, not to create assessment districts," Werner said. "We could take that 47 cents and provide services."
County Report on Solvency
According to a financial report issued last year by the county Local Agency Formation Commission (LAFCO), Diamond Bar should be solvent as a city. In fiscal year 1986-87, the report states, revenues generated in Diamond Bar exceeded $7.2 million, while expenditures totaled slightly more than $7 million, of which more than $4 million were spent on public works.
However, the incorporation opponents have cast doubt on LAFCO's figures and have produced their own financial projections, which show that the city of Diamond Bar would actually have spent slightly more than its 1986-87 revenues.
"The LAFCO budget was inaccurate in a number of ways," Zullo said. "There were some things missing in the LAFCO report and some things that were understated."
LAFCO Executive Officer Ruth Bennel said she culled the figures for her report from county agencies that provide services in Diamond Bar and League of California Cities survey information. Bennel said the criticism of her financial report is "typical."