WHITTIER — Gun enthusiasts angry over the City Council's recent decision to ban ownership of assault rifles have launched an effort to recall the entire council.
In an attempt to take advantage of a dispute over a controversial proposal to limit apartment construction in Whittier, the recall proponents also cited the council's handling of the apartment issue as grounds for removal from office.
However, council members say the recall effort--a rare event in Whittier--should not be taken seriously.
"It's ridiculous," said Councilman Gene H. Chandler, who criticized the gun enthusiasts for including the apartment controversy in the recall notice. "It discredits the people who are intelligently trying to do something about zoning."
Activists Keep Distance
Local activists who want to limit apartment construction distanced themselves from the recall effort.
"We have nothing to do with this," said Whittier Conservancy President Michael Sullens. "I don't think they have enough support to recall them."
On Monday, three Whittier residents who opposed the ban on assault rifles filed a notice of intent to recall the council, the first step in the lengthy recall process. The notice named Chandler, Mayor Victor A. Lopez and Councilmen Myron Claxton, Thomas K. Sawyer and Robert F. Woehrmann.
The notice criticized the council for "abuse of powers," saying the council members "willfully allowed and encouraged a program of apartment construction within the city limits to continue in direct conflict of the wishes of the majority of its citizens."
The notice also accused the council of "endangering the public health and safety by enacting a restrictive firearm ordinance which refuses a citizen of Whittier a right to keep and bear arms."
Council members have until Monday to file a written response to the recall notice.
"I don't think it's worthy of a response," Woehrmann said.
"I wouldn't give them the satisfaction," Lopez added.
But those who filed the notice, Vivian and James Mayo and Harold Porter, say the council has underestimated how angry Whittier residents are about the apartment controversy and the ban on assault rifles.
Gun Group Meets
Porter said about 250 people who oppose the rifle ban met this week in La Mirada to organize the recall effort. He said recall proponents plan to take the next step in the process this week--publishing a legal notice of recall in the local newspaper.
"These things are going just as they're supposed to go," Porter said.
Porter and the Mayos said they were asked to sign the notice by a man who is organizing the recall drive, but none of them could recall the man's name.
"We're more concerned about the gun issue than the apartments," said Vivian Mayo. "It's our constitutional right to bear arms. I feel that's a part of our heritage."
After the legal notice is published, recall organizers must then file an official petition with City Clerk Gertrude Hill, who must certify the wording. Organizers will then have 160 days to gather signatures from 15% of the city's registered voters, or 5,677 voters, Hill said. A separate petition will be required for each council member.
The clerk's office has 30 days to determine whether enough voters sign the petitions to force a recall election.
Hill said this is the first time in at least the last 10 years that a recall has been initiated in Whittier. "It's been pretty quiet politically here," Hill said.
Meanwhile, the City Council delayed a decision on a proposal to limit apartment construction in many neighborhoods north of the Uptown Village business district.
The council listened to about 1 1/2 hours of testimony during a public hearing on the issue before deciding to postpone a vote until April 25. "We don't want to jump into it tonight," Councilman Myron Claxton said. "We want the final decision to be the right one."
Council members seemed particularly concerned about two issues: whether to declare one area a historic zone and what to do about developers whose projects have been delayed by the controversy.
The city's zoning consultant, Michael Brandman Associates, has recommended that apartments be permitted in an area bounded by Painter Avenue, Hadley Street, the alley on Greenleaf Avenue and Camilla Street. But at Tuesday night's meeting, City Manager Thomas G. Mauk recommended that the area be declared historic and that future development be limited to single-family homes.
Developers say apartments should be allowed because there are already more apartment buildings than homes in the area.
Concerning the 12 developers whose projects have been delayed pending a decision on the zoning proposal, the council is considering options that range from asking developers to limit their projects to duplexes or single-family homes, to allowing developers to proceed with larger projects that would have been permitted under the old zoning.
The latter option would allow the construction of nine projects that would add 78 apartments to the area, according to the city Planning Department.