By J.K. YAMAMOTO
Rafu Staff Writer
CARSON — Supporters of former Carson City Clerk Helen Kawagoe picketed outside City Hall on Feb. 7, protesting the City Council’s decision last month to name the council chambers after Kawagoe posthumously.
Kawagoe suffered a stroke in September and resigned in December after 37 years of service. Her supporters are demanding that the chambers be renamed while she is still alive. About 30 people walked from corner to corner at the intersection of Avalon and Carson carrying signs with such slogans as “Stop Hurting Helen,” “Celebrate Helen’s Life Now,” and “Why Does Helen Have to Die?” Many drivers honked their horns in approval as they drove by.
Some of the signs were critical of Mayor Pro Tem Julie Ruiz-Raber and Councilmembers Lula Davis-Holmes and Mike Gipson, who voted down an attempt by Mayor Jim Dear and Councilmember Elito Santarina to have the chambers renamed immediately.
The demonstrators held up their signs, as well as pictures of Kawagoe, at that evening’s council meeting. Although the renaming issue was not on the agenda, there was an hour-long oral communications period for those who wanted to speak on non-agendized items.
Senior Citizens Advisory Commissioner Dorothy Dominguez challenged the council majority’s argument that city facilities can’t be named after living persons, pointing out that the Del Amo Boulevard overcrossing at I-405 was named the Kay Calas Bridge after a living former mayor of Carson.
“Mayors have come and gone, councilmembers have come and gone. Mother Helen … will always be here in spirit, now and forever,” Dominguez said.
Terri Forsythe of Homeowners Against Rent Decontrol told the council majority, “You are citing an ordinance that does not exist … She needs the chambers named after her … It will help her to get well that much quicker.”
Forsythe said to Ruiz-Raber, “I can no longer support you … because of what you’re doing to Helen … I don’t know you anymore.”
Richard Vaughn of the Mobile Home Park Rental Review Board suggested that Gipson was pressured by Ruiz-Raber and Davis-Holmes into voting to honor Kawagoe posthumously after initially voting to rename the chambers right away.
Miriam Vasquez, a Carson resident for 43 years, castigated Davis-Holmes for her vote, stressing that Kawagoe is sick and “cannot defend herself.”
Raul Murga, one of the organizers of the rally, said, “We don’t want anybody to feel that they are so aloof that they can demand and require that a person must die before they’re acknowledged for their gifts to the community. That is absolutely unbelievable.”
Sheryl Miyamoto, Kawagoe’s stepdaughter, said, “Please listen to your constituents because they are here to demonstrate their love, respect and honor for Helen … These are the folks who have elected her for 10 consecutive terms because they believe in her.”
Regarding the argument that Gil Smith, one of Carson’s founding fathers and the city’s first African American mayor, has not been similarly honored, Miyamoto said, “Two wrongs do not make a right … You have the opportunity to change the policy of naming streets and public facilities, which would enable timely and appropriate recognition of not only Helen but Gil Smith.”
Dean Gouch, a neighbor of Kawagoe, produced records from last year showing that city staff was “unaware” of any policy regarding the naming of sites after public figures. He pointed out that Ruiz-Raber was among the council members who voted for the designation of the Kay Calas Bridge in 2003.
“Listen to the people if you want to get re-elected,” Gouch said.
Although one of the arguments against Dear’s motion was that it would set a precedent, Jane Osuna, a neighbor of Kawagoe, noted, “There hasn’t been a big rush to have stuff named after living people” in the nine years since the bridge was named.
Singling out Gipson for his vote — “Were you not listening to what was going on?” — Osuna asked the council to take another vote “without bias, setting aside your personal preferences and prejudices.”
Parks and Recreation Commissioner Alene Harris urged the council, “Do the right thing … Be done with it, and let’s heal the city and move on.”
Janet Okubo, a resident of Imperial Avalon Mobile Home Estates and president of the Greater L.A. Singles JACL, commented, “It would be more meaningful and bring happiness to a person who has worked for 37 years for the City of Carson to be able to see this before she dies.”
Calling the council’s action “cruel and shameless,” Jan Schaefer, one of the organizers of the rally, said, “At the last meeting all of you lavished praise and love for Helen. But it seems only two of you were sincere.”
She added, “There is no legitimate reason to delay … The only reason would be that you really have no intention of naming these chambers for Helen at any time. If you don’t do it now, there’s no guarantee that Helen’s name will ever be on these walls. We all hope that Helen lives many more years, but in that time you or another council could easily reverse your decision … Do what you know in your hearts is the right thing to do.”
Those sentiments were echoed by other speakers, including Louis Cogut, Fe Koons, Rosa Banuelos, Jennifer Vasquez and Amador Saenz.
According to Chief Deputy City Clerk Wanda Higaki, oral communications resumed at 12:30 a.m., but seven of the 10 scheduled speakers had already left. Two of the remaining speakers discussed Kawagoe, with David Garcia asking the council to reconsider and Dianne Thomas supporting the council’s decision.
Schaefer told The Rafu Shimpo, “The only way it can come back on the agenda is if one of the ‘prevailing parties’ brings it back. The mayor and Councilman Santarina cannot bring it back because they voted against Raber, Holmes and Gipson’s resolution and were in the minority. Unfortunately, it is not likely that any of the three others will bring it up again.
“The citizens who are in support of naming the chamber for Helen have not given up, but we aren’t certain right now about our next step.”