West Covina Mayor Mike Touhey, batting No. 2 in my luncheon lineup, couldn’t cut a more different figure from lead-off hitter Mayor Owen Newcomer of Whittier.
He’s of a different generation — 45 rather than 59. He’s a truly big guy, shaved head, goatee — to continue this West Co-appropriate if otherwise rather ridiculous baseball metaphor, the kind you want batting cleanup. He dropped out of high school to be with his dad when the latter was fatally ill with lung cancer rather than go on to get Newcomer’s ‘SC Ph.D in poli sci. He’s a life member of the NRA and a moderate to conservative GOPer to the Whit mayor’s moderate to liberal Democratic leanings.
He’s also an incredibly savvy investor in residential real estate. After we met at Villa Tepeyac — with my boss, SGVN Executive Editor Steve O’Sullivan, along for the tostadas — Touhey told us how he began working at 15 at a drive-through dairy he later bought and operated. At just 17, going in with his brother, he had the $4,000 down
payment he needed to buy his own house, and he did so, moving into his own pad, able to make the mortgage and property taxes by renting out a room. He went on to buy and sell a number of other area houses, presumably making out like the proverbial bandit. If living on one’s own is every teen’s dream … well, working like crazy in order to do so is not in the picture for most teenagers I know.
I bring up the Whit-mayor comparison because Touhey did so — terming himself a “modern” mayor while saying that Newcomer had a more conservative style.
The terminology is fascinating, and a reminder that local politics often has little to do with traditional liberal-conservative labels.
What Touhey means by modern is actively pro-development. In West Covina, development politics is practiced on a massive scale, with plenty of city tax subsidies for car dealers and other retailers who’ll move in along the San Bernardino (10) Freeway corridor. Preservation and open-space issues such as the ones that often drive City Hall agendas in the Whittiers and Pasadenas of our region are nowhere to be found among the mayor’s concerns.
Baseball is, though — as I say, the sport has long been a West Covina obsession. At South Hills High alone, several past and present major and minor leaguers are alums, including New York Yankees Jason Giambi and the late Cory Lidle.
Touhey originally ran for the City Council in 1994 on a close-BKK-landfill platform — and the council succeeded in dumping the dump two years later. Soon to open on the 315-acre site is, tantara, a Big League Dreams Sports Park, a place where baseball and softball can be played in replicas of great ballparks, including Fenway Park and Dodger Stadium. Next door will be an 18-hole muni golf course. And what else? Forty-three acres of commercial development, naturally.
There’s plenty of squabbling on the West Co council about the right ways to develop, and about who is friends with whom in the business community. Some citizens are putting together a ballot measure — seemingly aimed at Mayor Touhey — that would create geographical district-based rather than city-wide council elections. Rare is the San Gabriel Valley city that has such an arrangement — Pasadena and tiny Bradbury only, right?
Pasadena went to districts because of byzantine rules aimed at keeping minorities from getting elected. West Covina may go to them because two groups of people are really, really ticked off at each other. Vastly different reasons; neither a very good sign.
Restaurant report: Villa Tepeyac is a popular place near the car dealers where local politicos and civic shakers gather to schmooze. My carnitas tacos were pretty good; the salsa too mild, the beans and rice standard issue. The mayor had a big, wet-sauced burrito — but he begged off the arroz y frijoles. Too fattening.