MONTEBELLO — Political candidates in this city of 56,000 these days are sized up in two ways: whether they are born and bred Montebellans and how they voted on eminent domain last spring.
A balanced budget, more police protection in south Montebello, a senior citizens center and youth programs all have their place as campaign issues, and some say these are the only real issues. But the ghost of eminent domain, which would have granted the city power to take land for redevelopment, has been resting uneasily since May 2 when ordinarily peaceful residents, stirred into a frenzy of fear, political backbiting and plain nastiness, killed it in a special election.
Sixteen days from now, at 7 a.m., polls will open for a City Council race early bettors figure will be one of the most volatile in a history of volatile elections, because it is bound to see the resurrection of eminent domain.
"When you talk about eminent domain in Montebello, it's not just two words. It's a whole list of issues and feelings and a lot of bitterness," said candidate Joseph Coria, 46, who supported the issue.
For the Record
Los Angeles Times Sunday October 29, 1989 Home Edition Southeast Part J Page 3 Column 2 Zones Desk 4 inches; 112 words Type of Material: Correction
Joseph Coria. The following information about Joseph Coria, a candidate for the Montebello City Council, was deleted from a list of candidates and their backgrounds in last Sunday's Southeast section. Coria, 46, has lived in the community for 14 years. He works as medical administrator at the Garmar Medical Group in Montebello. He is on the board of the Montebello Chamber of Commerce and is a member of the board of the Montebello Downtown Business Assn. Coria supports the right of the city to use eminent domain to acquire property for redevelopment, one of the hottest issues in this year's election. He is running on a seven-point platform that, among other things, calls for better police, fire and paramedic service in the city, more youth activities and more health awareness in the community.
PHOTO: Candidate Joseph Coria
PHOTOGRAPHER: Los Angeles Times
So far, it seems the days preceding the election are whizzing by without incident. Aside from the posters and placards poking out of lawns and plastered to the sides of buildings, the streets have been eerily quiet.
But no one is fooling himself. Candidates say this is just the lull before the storm and from the looks of things, it is getting ready to pour. "Eminent domain" are the first words out of the mouths of each candidate. And if that is not a sure sign of trouble, someone has been stealing Coria's election signs.
Coria, a medical administrator making his first foray into politics, is one of nine people running for three open City Council seats. Incumbents Ed Pizzorno, 51, and Arnold M. Glasman, 36, are up for reelection. Former Councilman William Molinari, 50, paralegal Shirley Garcia, judicial administrative assistant Betty Escobar, marketing director Larry Salazar, 32, florist Michael Baldenebro, 25, and senior aide Albert Phillips are the other six contenders.
Phillips could not be reached for an interview.
All candidates agree there are many things they would like to see happen in Montebello. There is no theater, no city auditorium or gymnasium. They want wise planning, better businesses, better communication with city leaders and anything else that will keep this place comfortable for residents who have settled here with their children and their children's children.
"It's a town where everyone knows each other," said Pizzorno. "It's comfortable and we want to keep it that way."
Montebello is a place where families settle for years. Children go to school together, they grow up and marry classmates and their children go to the same schools. It is important to residents that their political candidates be part of this extended family. Outsiders are welcomed but looked upon as in-laws until they have been around a couple of decades.
If keeping the extended family happy were all there was to it, this campaign would fade into the town's history as a blur of election signs, handshakes and fund-raisers. There is no doubt many would like to see just that happen, but candidates Coria and Escobar said there are, what Glasman calls, "factions" in town that are going to make sure it doesn't. These factions, otherwise known as Garcia, Escobar, Salazar and Molinari, are all opposed to eminent domain and they are sure to drag the defeated referendum out to wave in the air like so much dirty laundry in order to build a constituency, say Glasman, Coria and Escobar.
"It's a dead issue, but they are going to try to bring it out of the political coffin and say, 'Hey remember when . . .?' " Coria said.
Glasman and Escobar agree.
"Eminent domain was settled," Escobar said. "The people made it clear they don't want it, so all right, let's move on."
Salazar, Garcia, Molinari and council member Pizzorno, who alone voted against eminent domain when his four colleagues on the council pushed for it, said moving on is not going to be easy.
For these four candidates there were two problems with eminent domain: the issue itself and the way it was handled.
They still bristle when they recall a town meeting in the high school auditorium that stretched until 4:30 a.m. Or the council members they said treated them like children who did not know what was good for them. Or the presumption of people from north Montebello and even from out of town that spoke in favor of establishing the power of eminent domain from Whittier Boulevard south.
"The council dug in its heels and tried to force it on the community," Molinari said. "If those are tactics that the City Council is going to use, then it doesn't matter what the issue is."
"This is still the main issue," said Salazar, who is a member of South Montebello Area Residents Together, a neighborhood organization formed by Molinari which rallied against eminent domain.