DIAMOND BAR — For voters in this community, Tuesday's long-awaited vote on whether Diamond Bar should become a city may be the easiest decision they must make at the polls, requiring either a yes or no response.
More perplexing will be the task of choosing the new city's elected officials from a pool of 20 candidates. If the cityhood measure passes, the top five vote-getters will become Diamond Bar's first city council.
There are no hotly debated issues to make the decision easier. The candidates, not surprisingly, all support Diamond Bar's bid for cityhood. They all cite traffic as being the community's most pressing issue, particularly the planned extension of Grand Avenue from Chino Hills, which residents fear will create near-gridlock conditions in Diamond Bar.
Candidates agree that the Grand Avenue extension is inevitable, but that the new council should seek to delay its opening until San Bernardino County officials make road improvements in Chino Hills to stem the influx of traffic into Diamond Bar.
For candidates seeking to distinguish themselves in this crowd, name recognition is clearly important.
Perhaps the best-known of the group are members of the Diamond Bar Municipal Advisory Council (MAC), an elected board that advises county Supervisor Pete Schabarum. Except for Lavinia Rowland, all members of the five-member committee have entered the race.
All four ran in the November MAC election, with Paul Virgil Horcher, Cleve Holifield and Gary L. Neely winning the three open seats. Gary G. Miller, who placed fourth in the seven-candidate field, was later appointed to a vacant MAC seat by Schabarum.
Horcher was easily the top vote-getter in the November race, out-polling his nearest competitor by more than 1,800 votes. A resident of Diamond Bar since his teens, Horcher, a 37-year-old attorney, said he is confident voters will elect him to the council because of his voting record.
"I've opposed every new apartment project or condominium project, not because I'm an elitist but because I think we have more than our share," Horcher said.
Holifield, a two-term MAC member who finished second in the November race, also cited his eight years on the advisory council as his major qualification. Holifield, 55, a quality assurance manager at General Dynamics in Pomona, raised doubts about candidates who were drawn into Diamond Bar politics only recently because of the Grand Avenue controversy.
"It's hard to read their motives, but it does seem a little suspicious that they didn't come forward to serve the community on the MAC," he said.
Neely, a 39-year-old marketing executive, has been a MAC member since the November election. He helped lead a successful anti-cityhood campaign in 1983, but has since changed his position because of what he perceived as the county's unresponsiveness to community concerns about traffic problems.
Neely also criticized politicians who have sought to capitalize on the Grand Avenue issue, including Schabarum, who last week ordered the construction of a fence to block the road's opening until San Bernardino County officials complete road improvements to mitigate the influx of traffic into Diamond Bar.
"I'm seriously considering a motion that we change the name of Grand Avenue to Grandstanding Expressway," Neely said. "Erecting barriers is a testament to the (county's) lack of long-range planning."
Miller, who formed Concerned Citizens for Diamond Bar Traffic Control, a group seeking to delay the Grand Avenue extension's opening, rejected the assertion made by Neely and other opponents that he is a single-issue candidate.
"I consider myself a well-qualified candidate who tackled a very difficult issue," said Miller, 40, owner of G. Miller Development Co. "I would rather be considered a one-issue candidate than a no-issue candidate."
Miller said his 18 years of dealing with community planning issues has given him needed expertise. But while campaigning on his qualifications, Miller has also had to fend off some other candidates' criticisms that he is a wealthy developer who is trying to "buy" the election by outspending his opponents.
Miller has spent $6,497 on his campaign, about $2,700 more than any other candidate, according to disclosure statements filed with the county registrar-recorder. However, Miller said it is inaccurate for opponents to suggest that he is campaigning solely through buying more signs and other campaign materials that the others.
"If someone says I'm trying to buy an election, I've got some very thick callouses on my feet that say I'm not trying to buy anything," he said, referring to the door-to-door canvassing he has done in the community. Miller also disputed opponents' claim that he is a developer. "The last (large) development I did was in 1981. I build a couple houses a year."