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LOS ANGELES COUNTY ELECTIONS

New Majority Leading South Gate Council Race

Voters in 49 cities go to the polls to fill offices, school district posts and decide ballot measures.

March 05, 2003|Jean Merl and Richard Marosi | Times Staff Writers

Voters in scandal-ridden South Gate, going to the polls Tuesday for the second time in less than three months, appeared to be returning a recently seated council majority to office. Vice Mayor Henry Gonzalez and council members Maria Davila and Gregory Martinez -- both swept into office in a January recall election that ousted officials who drained the city treasury amid allegations of corruption -- jumped to an early lead.

"The residents won, not me," Martinez said. "Now the city can start rebuilding itself."

In Carson, another city struggling with fallout from criminal charges against public officials, Elito M. Santarina and Julie Ruiz Raber were leading the crowded field to fill two vacancies on its five-member council.

Voters in these two cities were among those who went to the polls in 49 cities and in five school or community college districts around Los Angeles County on Tuesday. In addition to choosing elected officials, voters were faced with an array of measures to decide.

They included a parcel tax for the San Marino Unified School District, a proposal to ban the sale of fireworks in El Monte and proposals to either impose or increase utility-users taxes in Azusa, Monterey Park, Palos Verdes Estates and South Pasadena.

In Pasadena, voters narrowly rejected Measure A, which would have allowed all-mail elections in the city and school district. Proponents said it would have boosted turnout by making it easier to vote and would have saved taxpayers money. Critics said the measure was vague and could have led to fraud.

At least 17 states, including California, allow mail elections for cities and counties. Oregon holds all of its elections by mail.

Campaigning was intense in the Redondo Beach Unified School District, where the teachers union, aligned with a parents group, ousted two incumbents and won a majority on the school board. The coalition elected Carl Clark, Arlene Staich and Jane Diehl.

Nowhere, however, were the stakes higher than in South Gate, where voters were filling three seats on the five-member City Council. In January, they ousted the city treasurer and three council members in a recall election. The treasurer's office was not on Tuesday's ballot because there are two years remaining on the term.

South Gate's recently elected incumbents, Martinez and Davila, along with Gonzalez, were facing 11 challengers as they tried to preserve the new council majority. Three recalled officials were among those on the ballot for a council seat in Tuesday's elections: former Treasurer Albert Robles, former Mayor Xochilt Ruvalcaba and former Vice Mayor Raul Moriel. Two others who had been allied with Robles and his cohorts were vying for a council spot: Patricia Alfaro and Yadira Bonilla-Clayton.

The predominantly Latino city is still reeling from the tumult of the last two years under Robles and his allies. Contentiousness, not surprisingly, has marked the current campaigns. Although Robles, Ruvalcaba and Moriel did not appear to be campaigning, their presence sparked debate. Critics accused the recalled officials of secretly backing Alfaro and Bonilla-Clayton, who did not file the required financial statements.

Carson has two vacancies to fill on its five-member City Council since two lawmakers pleaded guilty to extortion and related charges and resigned last year. Mayor Daryl Sweeney was indicted along with others last fall but has pleaded not guilty and has remained in office while awaiting trial.

The two open seats drew 18 candidates, including a former councilwoman, several commissioners and a host of political newcomers.

City officials have been distracted by the corruption scandal, in which several past and present officials are accused of soliciting bribes in exchange for votes on lucrative city contracts.

Between Oct. 15 and Jan. 21, the council was unable to muster the minimum three members needed to hold a meeting.

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Times staff writer Joy L. Woodson contributed to this story.

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