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COVER STORY : The Year of the Dollar : Across the South Bay, candidates will bicker about usual Election Day issues. But underlying it all is a cash crunch that threatens the good life.

March 31, 1994|TED JOHNSON | This story was reported by Times staff writers Ted Johnson and Scott Sandell, and community correspondents James Benning, Mary Guthrie, Susan Woodward and Iris Yokoi. It was written by Johnson

In Lomita, the city may take over the county-owned library. Manhattan Beach may have to pay the county to provide lifeguard service. The tiny city of Avalon may have to find its own paramedic service because county service has gone up to $25,000 a month.

Across the South Bay, cities are strapped for money. And in the nine cities holding elections April 12, the cash crunch is one of the top issues. The candidates may bicker among themselves about building permits and unkempt sidewalks, but they have a common target when it comes to their city's recent bare-bones budgets: federal, state and county governments.

"Everyone wants first-class services . . . they want the city to look like Disneyland," said outgoing Avalon Mayor Hugh T. (Bud) Smith. "But the federal government is not giving any money to the states, the states aren't giving any money to the counties and the counties aren't giving any money to the cities."

And city governments, many candidates say, are stuck with the bill.

"It's a legitimate complaint," said Fernando J. Guerra, political science professor at Loyola Marymount University. "These cities don't have the ability to raise money like other levels of government."

But not all the races are dominated only by worries over fiscal red ink. As the South Bay's population becomes ever more diverse, racial tensions have come to the fore in the Carson and Gardena elections. In both cities, some groups say city government does not represent all major ethnic groups.

As officials tackle these weighty issues, trends show that only about one-third of the registered voters have been going to the polls in many of these cities' recent municipal elections.


Tourists see only Catalina Island's quaint life of hotels, glass-bottom-boat tours and mom-and-pop restaurants. Behind it all is the often raucous world of Avalon city politics.

Four candidates are on the ballot in the mayoral race to succeed Smith, who decided not to seek reelection: Avalon Casino Director Billy Delbert, 47; City Councilwoman Barbara J. Doutt, 46; Councilman Ralph J. Morrow Jr., 56, and businessman George Scott, who declined to give his age. Accountant David J. Keith, 38, is running as a write-in candidate.

In addition, seven candidates are running for two open spots on the City Council: businessman Dan O'Connor, 45; businessman and taxi driver Duane Stout, 48; journalist Norma Carlyon, 55; retail store owner Norbert Reyes, 22; business owner Scott Nelson, 40; businessman Tim Winslow, 53; and public utility manager Keith LeFever, 47. Incumbent Hal Host decided not to seek another term, and Doutt is giving up her seat to seek the mayor's post.

Many of the candidates say that the City Council has approved too much development without consulting the public.

"Decisions are being made that the people in the community don't understand," Stout said.

Like many mainland cities, Avalon is strapped for funds. The County Department of Beaches and Harbors told the city that it would continue to provide paramedic service to the island in the 1994-95 fiscal year for $25,000 a month. The city already is paying $520,000 this fiscal year to subsidize the island's only hospital, which has 12 beds, after a private operator declined to renew its contract.

To make up for the added costs, some candidates say the City Council can do more to increase sales-tax revenue generated by hotels and other tourist businesses.

Faced with the high cost of medical services, city officials have placed three advisory measures on the ballot that ask voters if they want to keep the hospital open, if the hospital should be converted to an outpatient clinic with an emergency room, and if the city should provide paramedic service.


The city's first directly elected mayor may not have any greater power than other council members, but the campaign has been energized after a break-in at a candidate's election headquarters.

James Peoples, 60, a retired economist and business executive, said the burglary at his offices was politically motivated. His opponent, business consultant Michael I. Mitoma, 50, now the city's appointed mayor, says that he knows "absolutely nothing about the break-in."

The race for a single City Council seat is a little more sedate. Incumbent Lorelie S. Olaes, 31, a former scholarship administrator at UCLA, will face bookkeeper Coni Hathaway, 53; clerical worker Gayle L. Konig, 42, and financial analyst Keith McDonald, 30, son of former Councilwoman Juanita M. McDonald. Olaes was elected last year to complete the unexpired term of the elder McDonald, who was elected to the state Assembly in 1992.

Candidates have spent much of their time pledging to bring more jobs to the city and combat crime, but the city's racial diversity has underscored some of the campaigns. According to the 1990 U.S. Census, the city's population is almost equally divided among African Americans, Asian and Pacific Islanders, Latinos and whites.

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