MONTEBELLO — A coalition of businessmen and residents who were angered by the city's recent bid to use eminent domain in certain parts of south Montebello have failed to force a recall of four council members, city officials said.
Recall leaders did not deliver the necessary petitions to City Hall by the 5 p.m. deadline Thursday, city spokeswoman Maria Rassi said. They had targeted Mayor William Nighswonger and council members Kathy Salazar, Art Payan and Arnold Glasman. Councilman Edward Pizzorno was not included.
"The group never showed up," Rassi said. "I just hope that we can all get back to work running the city."
The organizers needed to gather the names of about 4,500 registered voters to force a recall election. But they fell about 200 signatures short of their goal, said Shirley Garcia, a member of Montebello Residents for a Better Government, which led the drive.
'Lot of Enthusiasm'
Other groups had joined Garcia's organization in charging that members of the City Council had ignored the will of voters and exhibited favoritism and cronyism in office.
"We had a lot of enthusiasm," Garcia said, admitting that she was "deeply disappointed" in not gathering enough signatures. "But a lot of our volunteers just got sick."
Garcia said that her group will now attempt to persuade voters to reject three eminent-domain ballot measures in a special election May 2. Voters are being asked to decide whether to give the city condemnation powers over two redevelopment areas in mostly commercial and industrial sections of south Montebello.
Critics of the measures point out that some residential properties lay in the redevelopment areas, but city officials have vowed to exempt homes from condemnation proceedings.
"It was a valuable learning experience," Garcia said of the failed signature drive, during which the two sides, standing in front of local markets, often clashed bitterly in front of passers-by. "We are novices, but we are learning more every day," Garcia added.
Meanwhile, the targets of the recall celebrated their victory Thursday night at a local restaurant.
"A lot of people have worked very hard on this effort (to defeat the recall movement)," Councilman Glasman said from the Prime Cut Restaurant on Beverly Boulevard. "For now, they are ready to celebrate. Come tomorrow, though, its back to work."
Councilman Payan attributed the failure to a strong anti-recall campaign by council supporters.
"Our people went to work to try to give the community the other side of the story," Payan said. He and other council members targeted for recall accused the opposition of a variety of distortions. He said the failure of the recall drive showed that voters were not swayed by the charges. "I was feeling pretty good about them not getting enough names," he said.
Payan also said that a decision two weeks ago by the management of the Ralphs at Whittier and Montebello boulevards to bar any signature-gatherers from standing in front of the supermarket could have dampened the enthusiasm of the group.
"The market received a lot of complaints about shoppers getting harassed," Payan said. "I'm sure (the decision) was a major setback for them"
At one point during the heated campaign, Assemblyman Charles M. Calderon (D-Whittier) and U.S. Rep. Matthew G. Martinez (D-Monterey Park) issued a joint statement supporting the council members.
"The recall process is not immune to misuse and abuse," the two lawmakers wrote in the statement. "We do not agree with the council on every issue, but on balance we think they work hard to do the right thing for our community."