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Bland Lead the Bland at Political Forum : Campaigning: Even some candidates say tightly controlled program, carefully screened questions took zip out of debate.


MONTEREY PARK — Garvey Reservoir should be shut down permanently to prevent a repeat of the 1989 leak that damaged a dozen homes, nine candidates for the Monterey Park City Council agreed last week.

At a tightly controlled candidates' forum, the first of six to be held before the April 14 election, many took popular positions: "Quality development" in the city as long as it wouldn't aggravate traffic problems. Improved police-community relations. Aggressive water conservation efforts.

Taxes and fire services were the issues that sparked the most disagreement among the council candidates, who are running for two seats. But slow growth--a hot topic in previous elections--was a non-issue, at least at Wednesday's forum.

Asked whether they would impose a tax on utility bills to offset a projected budget deficit, candidates Raymond Wu, Bonnie Wai and Rita Valenzuela said they would favor one if necessary. Candidates Francisco Alonso, Frank Arcuri, John Casperson, incumbent Councilwoman Judy Chu, Andy Islas and Charles Wu (no relation to Raymond Wu) were against the idea and suggested other ways to raise revenue.

Arcuri suggested some candidates were exaggerating the seriousness of the looming deficit for political purposes, saying he would "like to wait until after the election and see if we have a shortfall."

The candidates were also split on whether to consolidate Monterey Park's Fire Department with the Los Angeles County system--an idea pursued over the years by the city Firefighters Assn. Alonso, Arcuri, Casperson, Valenzuela, Charles Wu and Raymond Wu opposed the idea. Chu, Islas and Wai said they would study the matter further.

For a city that in recent years has seen its share of mudslinging and sparring among candidates, this forum was tame--at least in part because the questions were carefully screened beforehand.

Members of the group that sponsored the forum, Soroptimist International of Monterey Park, said they wanted to avoid controversy. They eliminated questions submitted by the audience that could make candidates uncomfortable.

Most candidates had prepared notes. In addition, City Clerk David Barron and two candidates for treasurer, incumbent Louise Davis and Chester Chau, gave brief statements.

"This was stupid," a disappointed Len Gustafson muttered at the conclusion of the forum. "Nothing was brought up."

"It was pretty dull," conceded Barron, who is running uncontested for his second term. "There were no new issues."

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