Wendy Leung, Staff Writer
Created: 10/20/2010 05:37:18 PM PDT

RANCHO CUCAMONGA – Trying to tap into the anti-incumbent mood, challengers in the City Council race urged residents at a candidates forum on Tuesday to vote out the current council.

Candidates urged voters to “clean house” and accused the City Council of being a “good ole boys club” at an Alta Loma Riding Club event focused on issues of the equestrian community.

The most creative and jocular closing statement among the 12 candidates who attended the Heritage Park event came from Luella Hairston, who took off her coat, put on rubber gloves and playfully scrubbed a table for early spring cleaning.

“I ask you to join me and clean out all the incumbents,” said Hairston, who was appointed by the current council to serve on the senior advisory committee. “Vote fresh faces. Vote for leaders you can trust, that will do the right thing when no one is looking.”

Thirteen candidates are running for three open seats in a crowded City Council race that is pitting two former council members against a lawyer, coffee shop owner, Fed-Ex driver and others. Incumbents Diane Williams and Rex Gutierrez are seeking re-election while Councilman Dennis Michael, whose term ends 2012, is seeking the wide open mayoral seat.

Whatever happens on Nov. 2, the city will get a new mayor with Don Kurth ducking out of the race. Three candidates – Michael, a retired fire chief; Bill Hanlon, a military veteran; and Marc Steinorth, a marketing executive – are hoping to replace Kurth.

Hanlon did not attend the Tuesday debate.

Each candidate at the riding club forum answered different questions, mailed to them in advance, about issues of development, open space and access to trails.

When asked whether homes in a single lot should go through the same approval process as larger developments, Erick Jimenez, a Fed-Ex driver, said it should because that would lead to consistency in the neighborhood.

“You don’t want McMansions blocking your views,” Jimenez said. “It can ruin the feel of (the neighborhood.)”

When asked if he supports a plan to block equestrian access to the North Etiwanda Preserve, Brian O’Connell, a retired nurse, said he opposed the plan but spent the rest of his allotted time criticizing builders’ and developers’ influence on the city.

Alexander Mendoza Sr. was brief and frank when he told the crowd he wasn’t up to speed on many of the equestrian community’s concerns.

“When I read your questions, I had no idea,” Mendoza said. “I called my cousin who rides a lot of horses and she was no help.”

Mendoza, a retired U.S. Postal Service worker, said he would likely work with the riding club and the county with regards to the regional trails system.

Former Councilman Chuck Buquet touted his experience on the council in the 1980s and early 90s and chided a couple of challengers for having to call city staff members to research the questions of the riding community.

“I don’t believe a council candidate can get by with superficial knowledge. We need people with experience,” Buquet said. “We can put experience on that council that’s going to be top down. Staff is not going to run the city. The council will run the city.”

Buquet and former Mayor Bill Alexander are two former politicians hoping to stage a comeback.

The 90-minute debate, which included a question and answer period from the audience, was the second of three similar forums held this elections season. On Tuesday, the last of the debates, hosted by a group of senior citizens, will be held at Central Park.

Ken Douglass, a riding club member, said it was clear from the event that some of the challengers did not know much about the equestrian community of Alta Loma.

“To be able to represent the equestrian community, the challengers have to do a little homework to understand the equestrian overlay. The incumbents seemed to have their finger on the pulse,” Douglass said. “I’m not saying the challengers could not represent us but they have a steep learning curve.”

Douglass, who said he’s still undecided about which candidates to vote for, said he doesn’t have the much talked about anti-incumbent attitude.

“I don’t think a clean sweep would be as beneficial to me personally. I’m very happy with the way things are going in the city,” Douglass said. “I’m pleased with the amenities. And as far as public safety goes, we have a premier program. People enjoy shopping and doing business in Rancho Cucamonga.”

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