Henry Nunez says he has never participated in a protest, sit-in or demonstration. He didn't even vote in the city's last general election. But now the 51-year old real estate developer and Realtor says he has been on a hunger strike since Easter Sunday - drinking only liquids to call attention to what he claims is "the most important election" in Arcadia's history.
Now normally you don't get quite that level of commitment in municipal elections here in Southern California. Sure some people work very hard on city campaigns, and there are those who can become quite passionate about the issues, but a hunger strike is pretty unprecedented. Especially in Arcadia, which is certainly not the kind of place you'd associate with missing meals over local politics.
So what exactly is the concern that has caused Henry to break the dinner bowl and get his Gandhi on? World hunger? The plight of the world's poor? An end to wars, now and forever? Mmm, apparently not. Would you believe this is actually over high density development?
The 245-pound, Cuban-born Nunez supports three candidates he believes could help create a more modern and innovative general plan for the city, maximize opportunities for mixed-use development around the future Gold Line light rail station and do more to integrate diverse ethnic groups in the community. City staff is now working on a general plan that will soon be presented to council. Those candidates are incumbent Mayor Pro Tem Peter Amundson and challengers Paul Cheng and Sho Tay.
It is worth noting that here in Sierra Madre we are currently experiencing no hunger strikes in support of the development agendas of Joe Mosca, Nancy Walsh, or the guy rumored to be currently enjoying spring break in fun-filled Lake Havasu City, Arizona.
Of course, there is a slow growth side to the Arcadia equation, and the Star News asked for their opinion on Mr. Nunez's dramatic protest.
Mayor John Wuo defended the current city council's actions, however, and said every person has a right to their own opinion. "If one person wants something, do we have to do that person's request?" Wuo said. "We have almost 60,000 residents. Are we going to do it 60,000 ways? That's not good government."
So it turns out that Henry Nunez is not your typical Realtor. He apparently is the CEO of the very influential and quite prosperous Henry Nunez Real Estate Co, Inc., a leading developer in the area. And would it really be a controversy over development if there wasn't some kind of money angle? It is here that Mr. Nunez's true agenda is revealed.
"... Nunez, who has developed housing projects in cities such as Upland and Monrovia, admits, too, that he has a personal agenda in his election goals. Nunez, who is an executive officer and past chairman of the San Gabriel Valley Economic Partnership, would love to be the primary developer of multi-million (dollar) mixed-use projects between Colorado Boulevard and Huntington Drive.
Now that certainly gives us some insight into what has driven Henry to stage his hunger strike. And apparently that is what is at stake here. Those who are elected in next Tuesday's Arcadia City Council election will be the ones to decide just what kind of General Plan that city will adopt in the next year or so. And the fate of the high density and mixed-use development projects that Mr. Nunez hungers to build hang in the balance.
One of the candidates Nunez is opposing, Councilman Bob Harbicht, wants to maintain limits on the height of development in the downtown area - something Nunez considers "ludicrous." But Harbicht said he made clear to Nunez and others on a citizens' advisory committee last year that he did not want to double the density or raise the height limit from three stories to five stories, as they recommended at the time. "We felt it was a very dramatic change from what Arcadia has been in the last 100 years," noting that all members of the Council and Planning Commission were in agreement. "I don't think Arcadians want very dense development."
There is one thing in this article that I found particularly alarming, and that is Henry Nunez's involvement with the San Gabriel Valley Economic Partnership. This influential organization is home to a couple of Sierra Madre's most shining luminaries in the business world. Not only does Bart Doyle sit on its Board of Directors, but that pesky Bill Coburn is also listed amongst those playing a role in the SGVEP.
Could these solons of commerce also go the hunger strike route over our election just like the SGVEP's Chairman Emeritus Henry Nunez has done in Arcadia? Or possibly adopt other equally radical and troubling strategies to somehow save their candidates from an ignominious defeat at the polls next Tuesday? If so, it could bring a whole new, and potentially troublesome, aspect to the Sierra Madre race.