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City Hall News : Mayors Will Try to Fill Air Quality Board Opening


Mayors from throughout the San Gabriel Valley and beyond meet today to try to fill an opening on the Southland's air quality board after a stalemate that has left the area without representation for a month.

All three candidates for the position are from the San Gabriel Valley, which has the worst air pollution problems in the county.

The cities have tried three times since November to elect a replacement for Henry Morgan, who was the area's representative on the 12-member South Coast Air Quality Management District Board. Morgan was recalled from the Covina City Council in November and had to vacate his AQMD seat Feb. 3.

But no candidate has received the necessary support: votes from two-thirds of the 63 cities involved, with at least two-thirds of the population. That translates into 42 cities with a collective population of at least 2.3 million.

As a result of the stalemate, the interests of the 63 cities went unrepresented last month, when the board voted to reject a plan to regulate toxic industrial air pollution.

"It has left us without representation," said Sierra Madre Mayor Clem L. Bartolai. "We've had vote after vote. It's so frustrating. The two-thirds criteria is impossible with cities switching sides, and others not even appearing."

Today, the mayors will be voting in Alhambra on whether the seat should go to La Canada Flintridge Councilwoman Joan C. Feehan, La Puente Councilman Louis R. Perez or Pomona Councilwoman Nell Soto.

"I hope my candidacy can break the deadlock," said Feehan, 62, an eight-year councilwoman who has served on a AQMD policy committee and recently joined the race with the backing of Burbank and Glendale.

For the last three months, Soto, 67, and Azusa Councilwoman Cristina Cruz-Madrid, 44, have competed for the seat. Soto is seen as sympathetic to industry concerns, while Madrid is seen as an environmentalists' candidate who has taken on the region's quarries over air pollution.

In a vote in late January, Madrid received the support of 19 cities, while Soto was backed by 33, with 11 cities absent. At that point, the mayors decided to open up the election to other candidates, and Feehan and Perez, both seen as moderates, joined the race. Meanwhile, Madrid backed out, saying she would support whoever among Soto's opponents seems to have the most votes.

"We need to find some new blood. Someone who won't represent just industry's (lobbyists)," said Madrid, who believes her candidacy was scuttled by firms facing pollution regulation.

Soto--who is the target of a recall petition in her hometown--said environmentalists and business leaders need to compromise on air quality issues. "The environment ought to be protected, but we shouldn't sacrifice business for it," she said.

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