WHITTIER — A group of gun enthusiasts claims to have gathered about two-thirds of the signatures needed to force the entire City Council into a recall election, but so far it apparently has failed to woo the support of other community organizations.
Spokesmen for the Whittier Voters Coalition, which includes members of the National Rifle Assn., last week announced that they had collected about 5,000 signatures on petitions that condemn the council's four-month-old ban on the sale and possession of semiautomatic assault weapons.
The city statute will become moot after January, when the statewide law against assault weapons takes effect, City Manager Thomas Mauk said.
The petitions also accuse Mayor Victor A. Lopez and Councilmen Gene Chandler, Myron Claxton, Thomas K. Sawyer and Robert M. Woehrmann of "abuse of power" for failing to limit widespread apartment construction in this 12-square-mile city.
"We're convinced that we need a new City Council," said Whittier Voters Coalition head Paul Schwemler at a planning session recently, "one that is sensitive to the needs and wants of the citizens of the city of Whittier."
The councilmen, in telephone interviews, stood by their decision to outlaw military-type assault weapons. They said they were confident that the coalition will not be able to collect enough signatures to force a recall election.
"I am confident in the citizens of Whittier," said Lopez, who added that he has lived in the community for 50 years. He said the council "did the right thing" by unanimously passing the anti-assault weapon ordinance in March.
The Whittier Voters Coalition has until 5 p.m. Aug. 22 to deliver the signatures of 7,500 registered voters to City Clerk Gertrude L. Hill. The signature-gathering is the second step in the lengthy process to call a special election. Once the petitions are delivered, the city clerk has 30 days to certify the signatures.
Schwemler and 26 other gun advocates met at the La Mirada Library to rally support of other activists who may be dissatisfied with the council. But no other community organization sent a representative.
In a telephone interview before the meeting, Schwemler said leaders of the Whittier Peace Coalition, the Whittier Conservancy, the Mark Twain Democratic Club and the Parent Teachers Assn. had joined the recall effort of the Whittier Voters Coalition and would attend the planning session.
The La Mirada Library was chosen so the various groups, who disagree on a variety of subjects, would meet on "neutral ground," Schwemler said. The meeting was advertised in a local newspaper.
"We have a common objective here," Schwemler said. "We're putting our differences aside for a common goal. Our dissatisfaction with the City Council is as uniform as it can be."
Deny Supporting Coalition
But in telephone interviews, leaders of the other organizations denied that they support the recall or the goals of the Whittier Voters Coalition. Some of them claimed that they were never invited to the meeting, and questioned the motives of the Whittier Voters Coalition.
"They have tried to align themselves with our group and causes before," said Mike Sullens, president of the Whittier Conservancy, a nonprofit organization that has been critical of housing development and proposals to tear down several historical buildings, including the Whittier Theatre.
"I don't understand why they keep insisting" that the two groups have joined together to oust the council, Sullens said.
Gerald Haynes, a member of the Whittier Peace Coalition, said none of the group's members have been working with the pro-gun group. "It would be safe to say that our members generally agree with the gun-control (ordinance). I'm not quite clear where the (gun advocates) are coming from."
And Councilman Claxton disagrees with charges that he and the other council members are out of touch with their constituents and repeatedly ignore them. He pointed to the pro-gun group's apparent failure to gather the support of leaders of some other community groups.
"It's just wishful thinking for them to assume that others will join their cause," Claxton said.
But Schwemler shrugged off the lack of response by leaders of other community groups to his group's recall effort. "There are a lot of people out there who support this for different reasons," he stressed. "If they (the leaders) want to work with us fine. If they don't fine."
The Whittier Voters Coalition began its petition drive in April after the council joined a growing number of government agencies in condemning semiautomatic weapons. After five schoolchildren in Stockton were killed in January by a man using a semiautomatic assault weapon, more than a dozen cities--including Los Angeles, Carson and Beverly Hills--passed restrictions on such weapons.
State lawmakers have also passed restrictions on military-type weapons, but the Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors narrowly rejected one for unincorporated county areas.
In the Southeast area, Compton, Long Beach and Lynwood have also passed a variety of laws against assault weapons. Bellflower council members had considered passage of one in February, but never voted.