Months of political turmoil have set the stage for Tuesday's race for two Rancho Palos Verdes City Council seats.
An abundance of home, hotel and golf development proposals for the city's coastline has sparked debate among candidates over the future of land that is viewed as a city jewel.
Nasty exchanges between council members before cable television cameras--not to mention the antics of regular council gadflies--have led some candidates to call the city a laughingstock.
The council wrangles escalated in March with disclosure of the secret marriage of City Councilman Robert E. Ryan and City Clerk Jo Purcell. And that drama took a surprising turn Oct. 17 when Ryan--who is up for reelection--suddenly resigned from the council and refused to say why.
Ryan, a councilman since city incorporation in 1973, announced a week later that he had resigned because he wanted to stop alleged harassment of his wife by City Hall colleagues. Instead, he said, the situation had actually worsened, and he was jumping back into the council race.
Against that backdrop, eight candidates are running the final lap toward the polls.
They are incumbent Mayor Jacki Bacharach, 43, who spends full time on government activities and serves on the Los Angeles County Transportation Commission; Kay Bara, 50, a housewife and environmental activist; Alan J. Carlan, 59, an electronics consultant; Ted E. Gibbs Jr., 46, a corporate and real estate attorney; Steven Kuykendall, 42, a mortgage banker and property manager; Bob McNulty, 57, an attorney and city planning commissioner; David F. Roche, 67, a retired deputy county assessor, and Ryan, 59, an aerospace engineer.
Bacharach, who is seeking her third four-year term, has been targeted for defeat by environmental activists, who contend that she favors big development. Bara, Ryan, Carlan and Gibbs also say she is too pro-development, but Bacharach denies this, citing her role in helping to write the city plan that restricts coastal development.
She also disputes contentions by some environmentalists that the city is working too closely with developers who want to build on the coastline. Some critics, including Bara, say the city's system of conducting studies and workshops on development concepts creates the impression that the city favors those projects.
But Bacharach defends the system, saying the city needs to learn as much as possible about proposed developments. "We need to know what we want, what the citizens want," she said.
Ryan, too, is feeling heat after years of holding political sway in a city he helped create. Saying Ryan "has been erratic for at least six months," Bacharach said she hopes his resignation flip-flop "destroys his electability. He is playing with the process and the people of Rancho Palos Verdes."
Calling himself a one-time Ryan friend, McNulty said Ryan's conduct is unbecoming to an official. McNulty contends that former Ryan supporters are now backing him. "The guy has lost it, forfeited his right to be a councilman," McNulty said. "The public trust is gone."
Kuykendall said he got into the race because of the council's behavior. "We have a council that has become the laughingstock of the local community," he said. "Bob Ryan's act is well-documented. . . . (He) has made a circus out of our council meetings. He's done many good things, but his time is past."
Ryan calls his resignation a mixed bag politically. "The publicity is a big plus," he said. "The minus is people will say, 'Won't you resign again?' Some are confused whether I'm really a candidate."
Ryan asserts that criticism of his behavior is really a smoke screen to divert attention from the type of overdevelopment he says he is defending the city against.
Ryan was one of two council members who voted earlier this year against the Marriott Corp. retirement center's being built on a 34-acre site on Crestridge Road above the Peninsula Center. Ryan said the center was too large, but Bacharach said she does not consider the project overdevelopment because it will retain 19 acres of open space.
"There is a very pronounced tilt toward development among city officials," Ryan said. "If McNulty and Bacharach are elected, you will see it played out."
Countered McNulty: "There is no development that has been done that violated the General Plan. Coastal development plans are being falsely presented as an issue."
The future of the coastline is bringing out the greatest divergence of opinions among candidates.
The strongest preservationist stances are taken by Bara and Roche.
Bara said she fears a rape of the coastline, saying Tuesday's election will determine if the city remains residential or becomes a resort city. She said she wants the city to stay as "open as we can stay," but that if there is coastal development, it should be homes, not hotels or golf courses.