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Tuesday Votes Will Address Two Heated Issues : Elections: Views on the role of government are key in the Cypress recall effort and bids to unseat incumbent Orange Unified School District trustees.

November 05, 1995|BILL BILLITER and LESLEY WRIGHT | SPECIAL TO THE TIMES

Voters in two Orange County elections will resolve several hotly debated issues Tuesday when they fill two school board seats in the Orange Unified School District and decide whether to recall any of three Cypress council members.

The Cypress recall targets those who voted to allow a controversial carpet warehouse to be built, angering many residents who argue it would be an environmental disaster to nearby neighborhoods. But the broader dispute centers on whether the city is adequately following state environmental impact laws.

In the Orange Unified race, candidates are divided between those aligned with a national conservative movement that wants control of education given to individual schools and those candidates, backed by unions, who fear the intrusion of religious conservatives.

Fred Smoller, associate professor of political science at Chapman University, said debate about the role of government is at the heart of both elections.

"In Cypress, there's the argument that government wasn't vigorous enough and was kowtowing to the private sector. In Orange Unified, there is the opposite situation--there's the argument the public system needs to be significantly reformed and limited in order to be effective."

The targets of the Cypress recall are Mayor Cecilia L. Age, Councilwoman Gail H. Kerry and Councilman Walter K. Bowman, who voted in favor of the giant warehouse in September, 1994.

Warehouse opponents argued that Cypress city government has for years been adding one development after another without an updated environmental impact report to analyze the cumulative effect. The opponents, in addition to launching a recall, took the environmental impact issue to court, where they lost on a technicality. Their case is pending before an appeals court.

The three council members have said the 439,650-square-foot carpet warehouse actually poses less environmental damage than what the business-park zoning of the land otherwise would have allowed. The council members also have said Cypress would get about $800,000 a year in tax money from the warehouse.

Seven candidates are running to replace the targeted City Council members. Burt Cheifer, a sales representative, and Regan Smith, a homemaker and businesswoman, are running for Age's seat. Paula English, a business owner; Lydna B. Lacayo, a reporter and businesswoman, and Gina Restivo, a lawyer, are seeking Bowman's seat. Tim Keenan and Jerry L. Sharber, both business owners, are vying for Kerry's position.

Cypress voters also will have nine advisory issues on their ballot. These are questions seeking voter sentiment about some proposed city projects.

In the Orange Unified election, three seats are open on the school board, but the seat held by moderate Robert Viviano has not been challenged and will not appear on the ballot.

Trustees Maureen Aschoff, a 50-year-old librarian, and businessman Bill Lewis, 42, are facing some stiff competition, however. Union leaders and anti-conservative groups are quick to inform the district's 90,000 voters that the incumbents form part of the right-wing majority on the seven-member board.

Both Aschoff, who is board president, and Lewis have been endorsed by some of Orange County's most powerful conservatives, including Rep. Robert K. Dornan (R-Garden Grove), Assemblyman Mickey Conroy (R-Orange) and state Sen. John R. Lewis (R-Orange). Aschoff also has been endorsed by the conservative Education Alliance.

Both board members support looking into widespread privatization of services such as busing and food services. They also want to consider expanding the role of charter schools in the district as a means of breaking away from state education regulations.

Challengers Gloria Wildman, 57, a social worker taking on Aschoff, and 44-year-old CPA David Gernak, who faces Bill Lewis, have been endorsed by the teachers union, which is campaigning heavily in the race. They, and Sue McCann, a 42-year-old school business administrator who opposes Lewis, say the board is moving much too fast in these controversial areas. They accuse the sitting board members of using their posts as a means of earning conservative stripes that will propel them into higher office.

Both sides refer to the district's controversial history, which includes bid-rigging scandals, employee strikes, corruption charges and the unsuccessful sexual harassment cases against three former administrators that cost the district at least $400,000 last year.

Parents in the district, which includes Orange, Villa Park and parts of Anaheim, Garden Grove and Santa Ana, also have joined the fray in these last few days. Sue Guilford, an activist parent, sent a letter to about 200 voters asking them to vote against the incumbents.

"Among their supporters are those whose philosophy is to alter our school's curriculum and promote their particular religious doctrine in the public schools," the letter said in part.

Countering them is another parents group called Parents for KIDS (Keep Improving District Schools). These residents also are walking precincts, this time urging parents to vote for Lewis and Aschoff as a vote against union influence and for educational reform.

Turnout for the school board races traditionally has been low.

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