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Among Riverside Council Races, Ward 1 Generates the Most Action

A district with the most candidates, and the most in campaign donations, hears lots of ideas about meeting opportunities for the city's future.

October 21, 2003|Seema Mehta | Times Staff Writer

Candidates competing to represent Riverside's Ward 1 on the City Council don't agree on much, but they do agree on this: The council is on the verge of making historic decisions that will determine the city's fate for generations to come.

The nine candidates in the race to represent the city's downtown, Wood Street, Northside and Grand neighborhoods include a local businessman, a deputy district attorney and the creator of an infamous Riverside T-shirt.

Among the four council races on the November ballot, the fight for the Ward 1 seat is the costliest and most competitive. The candidates with the most campaign money and endorsements are the businessman, Dom Betro, and Deputy Dist. Atty. Paul Fick.

The winner will replace Councilman Chuck Beaty, who is retiring after serving since 1994. If no candidate receives more than 50% of the vote Nov. 4, a runoff between the two top vote-getters will be held Jan. 13.

"We're at a real crossroads in the city, and I can contribute both business skills and human service skills that could benefit the future of the city," Betro said.

Betro, 51, who has lived in the city for 18 years, is president of the Family Service Assn. and owner of Calabria restaurant. The married father of three said growth, low-cost housing and aging infrastructure are among the top issues facing the city.

"I want to bring a balanced, thoughtful approach to development that will retain the quality of life and livability that has marked this city for a generation and that is the main strength of the city," he said.

Betro has raised $69,135 in campaign contributions as of Sept. 20 -- the same date applies to all candidates' money totals -- and has been endorsed by former state Sen. Robert Presley, county Supervisor Jim Venable and others.

Fick, 55, said he too decided to run for the council because it is a crucial time in the city's history, with the potential for $300 million in private investment in the downtown.

"I'm running because I believe the decisions that the city of Riverside makes in the next five years will determine the nature of this city for the next generation or two," he said. "We're at a critical point where all the pieces are lined up on the board. It's the time to make decisions as to how to move them, and if the decisions aren't made right, we'll be regretting it for the next 30 to 50 years."

The Pennsylvania native said that in addition to shaping development, he wants to work on a regional traffic plan, make the city's permit process easier and increase code enforcement.

He added that he will retire from his job at the district attorney's office if elected. Fick, married with two children, has lived in the city for 13 years.

His campaign has raised $43,506 and has received endorsements from several law enforcement organizations as well as Supervisor John Tavaglione.

Richard Castillo, 53, owner of a plastics fabrication company, said his experience as a businessman will serve him well on the council and make him responsible with taxpayer dollars.

"I think I can make a difference. I'm a businessman, and it's my firm belief that we have to start running government like a business," he said. "I'm a novice, but I'm a quick learner."

The East Los Angeles native, married with two children, says the city must embrace growth.

"We can't stop growth in Riverside," he said. "Either it's going to grow all the way around us, or grow within. We have to make those decisions that help us manage the growth."

Castillo has raised $23,035 and has been endorsed by the Southern California Small Business Assn.

Michael J. Lyons, 45, a substance-abuse counselor, said he believes the council is too pro-business and should be more "pro-community." Lyons, who ran unsuccessfully for a council seat four years ago, has raised $7,062 and has the support of labor unions.

"My main concern in the city is spending ... too much on the private sector," he said. "We need to get back on track," spending money on such things as public safety and street improvements.

Retired Southern California Edison executive Mike Gardner, 55, wants to trim city spending, decrease the use of consultants, add 50 police officers and attract jobs. He has raised $3,407.

"I have some ideas for doing things a little differently that I think will bring major improvements for the city, specifically in the area of economic development," he said.

Susan L. Nash, 58, a retired attorney, said she is running because she wants to do something about the region's poor air quality and would like to reform elections to abolish the ward system, establish instant runoffs and publicly finance campaigns. She also wants the city to be more vocal about national and world matters, such as passing a resolution against the war in Iraq.

Attempts to reach candidates Joe Ludwig, Teresa M. Seipel and Patrick Strong were unsuccessful.

Strong gained notoriety for designing a T-shirt that reads "Suicide. Homicide. Genocide. Rivercide."

On Strong's Web site, he writes, "What kind of mold will I bring to the Jell-O party? Certainly, it's not the mold growing on the present town council of WWII-era retirees. I'll bring a more youthful type of cellular slime to whack this Green Acres city out of several generations of a weird mixture of backwoods bubba meets uppity snob."

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