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LOCAL ELECTIONS / LA HABRA CITY COUNCIL : Focus Is on Boosting Business, Battling Gangs


LA HABRA — Battling gangs and building business are the hottest issues in the minds of this city's five City Council candidates.

Each of the candidates--Rose Hernandez Espinoza, Kent A. Roberts, Dorothy May Rush, Paul G. Thornburg and Mayor David M. Cheverton--vying for two seats in the Nov. 8 council election has unique strategies for tackling the issues.

Espinoza, hailed by leaders nationwide for her successful after-school garage tutoring program for some of the city's poorest children, says education is key.

"Gangs can be phased out by tutoring the youngsters, educating them, giving them hope and vision and getting their parents involved," said Espinoza, 42, a computer design drafter.

She wants her 3-year-old tutoring program duplicated in neighborhoods throughout the city as a deterrent to gangs. Dozens of children and their parents have learned to read, write and communicate through MAS, or Motivating Adolescents to Succeed.

Espinoza also proposes creating a youth forum to allow high school students to voice their ideas for solutions to the city's gang problems because "if we continue to have gang activity and graffiti, businesses will not be attracted to La Habra."

Rush, the 60-year-old grandmother best known for her anti-gang activism, believes the city could be rid of gangs by increasing police patrols and cracking down on landlords who fail to meet city codes and keep their properties clean.

"I just want to clean up this city and make it a better place to live," said Rush, a retired dressmaker. "I believe the community-oriented policing that the Police Department will be beginning soon will be the solution to gangs."

Rush, whose home has been shot at several times, also is known in town as the woman who pushed the City Council to enact a strict anti-blight ordinance. After years of discussion, the council adopted the law that, among other things, prohibits people from drying clothes on their front yards.

But Rush said she disagrees with the clothes-drying ban and vows to abolish the ordinance if she is elected.

Roberts, 52, who served on the City Council from 1981 to 1986, said the city is in desperate need of a long-term plan to revitalize the older commercial and residential areas, attract new businesses and encourage public participation in local government policy-making.

He has produced a 22-page document outlining how his goals can be accomplished. In it, Roberts, a real estate investor, proposes establishing a community newsletter, holding town hall meetings, televising City Council meetings, persuading businesses to provide job opportunities and mentor programs to youths as a way to deter gang involvement and beautifying commercial areas.

"I'm trying to establish more alliances with businesses, residents and educational institutions to gather information to allow the city to make more informed decisions on current problems," said Roberts, who joined hundreds of residents who recently persuaded the City Council to prohibit a bikini bar from opening in the city.

Thornburg, 52, who served on the Planning Commission from 1984 to 1993, said La Habra needs to ease regulations on small businesses in order to attract more to the city. Also, it needs to educate residents to shop at stores inside the city rather than the shopping malls outside it, he said.

"The survival of business leads to the generation of funds to increase our Police Department and other services to our residents," Thornburg said. "Our streets are deteriorating and our infrastructure is deteriorating but I think a solution is to increase our business climate here." Cheverton, 35, is the only incumbent in the race, having served on the council since 1990. Councilman William D. Mahoney, 54, who was first elected in 1982, has decided not to run again.

Cheverton said at a recent candidates' forum that his record speaks for itself.

During his term on the council, Cheverton has voted to approve the $2-million project to expand and upgrade the Police Department's facility; the construction of a new Super Kmart store, which is expected to provide 700 jobs; the construction of the city's new Community Services Building, and the purchase of a $60,000 high-tech fingerprinting system for the police.

"I will continue to vote for items that will help improve the city in many ways and what I've done so far has done that," said Cheverton, a communications director of a nonprofit agency in Irvine.

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