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Voters Go to Polls to Decide Wide Assortment of Issues

Results are divided in Lynwood council races, with Louis Byrd headed for reelection and Arturo Reyes being rejected.

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

Results from Tuesday's local elections were showing mixed results, with voters in Hermosa Beach turning down a seaside bicycle path but giving a thumbs-up to a preferential hiring measure for military veterans.

While a school bond measure for the El Rancho Unified School District in Pico Rivera won handily, a similar proposal for the Acton-Agua Dulce Unified School District in northern Los Angeles County was trailing and a parcel tax for the Castaic Union School District lost.

Malibu voters turned down a complicated open-space-for-development proposal, while early returns in Rancho Palos Verdes showed strong support for a term limits proposal.

In Lynwood, which recently recalled a veteran councilman, voters rendered a split decision, returning Councilman Louis Byrd to office while rejecting incumbent Arturo Reyes.

The results sent conflicting messages in the working-class city, where both incumbents on the ballot had been under fire in recent months because of their extensive travel and use of city-issued credit cards.

Both had traveled to Brazil and Mexico, and spent thousands of dollars for meals at expensive restaurants. The credit card statements of both men are being reviewed by the district attorney's office as part of an investigation into the possible misuse of public funds.

Last month, council members canceled their credit cards, and some members promised to cut back on compensation that makes elected city officials among the highest paid part-time politicians in the state.

Teacher Leticia Vasquez, who finished first among the 13 candidates, said: "The community is just fed up and I'm committed to making that change."

It appeared as if the city's black voters supported Byrd, who is black, while Latino voters were split among several candidates.

Byrd was ecstatic over his victory, saying he will continue bringing "good government to Lynwood."

"I'm going to do the best I know how for the people," Byrd said.

Jose E. Serpas, a retail industry worker, said he didn't vote for Reyes or Byrd because he wanted a new direction for the community.

Serpas, like many residents interviewed at the polls, said that Reyes' credit card spending and travel hurt his standing in the community. "All of that money could have been used by us, for the community," Serpas said. "People in power too long end up ruling like kings or dictators."

Voters went to the polls in 85 jurisdictions, many of them school or community college districts. The Los Angeles County registrar-recorder conducted all but three of the elections -- city contests in Lomita, Bell and Westlake Village.

One of the hottest school board races occurred in Manhattan Beach, where voters angry over building cost overruns and other financial troubles were turning out incumbents Teri Greene and Tracey Windes.

In the Centinela Valley Union High School District near Los Angeles International Airport, 18-year-old college student Rafael Ramirez, backed by a local teachers union, defeated former board member Mario Chiappe.

Tuesday marked the first county-run elections in more than three decades in which no punch card voting devices were used.

Discredited in the 2000 presidential election because of the large numbers of incompletely punched-out choices, the punch card system has been replaced with a look-alike, optical scan method known as InkaVote. Instead of punching holes, the voter uses a special pen to mark choices. The three cities that ran their own elections Tuesday used similar systems.

The county plans to use InkaVote through at least 2004, or until it can afford the estimated $100 million needed to convert to an electronic touch screen voting system.

The county already has used touch screen on a limited basis by allowing early voters to try it out in recent local elections.

Registrar-Recorder Conny McCormack told the Board of Supervisors on Tuesday that the elections were running very smoothly and that the wildfires had affected only one polling site, in Claremont, but that a new site had been found.

Tuesday also marked the first time that the federal Department of Justice expanded its practice of monitoring elections to local contests.

Voters who suspect election irregularities were asked to contact Assistant U.S. Atty. Cynthia Valenzuela at (213) 894-2434, or the area FBI offices at (310) 477-6565.

In Los Angeles County, a lack of competition for seats caused the cancellation of elections in 16 school or community college districts, 15 special districts and two cities -- Hawaiian Gardens, where only two people filed for two City Council seats, and Rolling Hills Estates, which attracted only three candidates for three seats on the five-member City Council.

In addition, elections were canceled for two of the three seats in contention in the Pasadena Area Community College District, leaving voters with a choice to make only for Office No. 6 on the board.

Times staff writer Sue Fox contributed to this report.

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