At the candidate forum hosted on March 3 by the Wrigley Association, the individuals hoping to win the 7th-district council seat in Long Beach emphasized the need for public participation as they talked about their leadership style. More than 50 people gathered in the social hall at Veterans Park to hear candidates Joan Greenwood, Lee Chauser, Teer Strickland and Roberto Uranga. Alan Burks moderated the event.
Greenwood, an analytical chemist employed by an environmental-consulting firm, emphasized her community activities. She currently serves as a Long Beach Sustainable City Commissioner and represents the 7th district on the Community Advisory Committee for the I-710 Improvement Project, according to a media release. Last Monday, she emphasized her past contributions to the neighborhood’s clean-up efforts and other area concerns. She focused on one particular moment when the community needed her voice and background. Greenwood described how she used her expertise to help residents prevail in a controversy surrounding flood insurance.
“I love this district because it’s a district of fighters,” Greenwood said, describing area residents who took a hands-on role to improve their neighborhoods. She promised to put her community first.
“That’s the kind of leader I want to be,” she added, “one who rolls up her sleeves, takes action and is there in the trenches working with the people of my district towards solutions.”
Chauser, a retired school teacher who worked in the Los Angeles Unified School District, said he wanted to encourage working with citizens on a grassroots level to promote their participation on issues. During the meeting, he acknowledged that he isn’t fully acquainted with the background on a couple of the key issues. However, he did encourage using the resources of knowledgeable citizens to make realistic changes.
“Well, I didn’t know you had to be Einstein to be a city councilman,” Chauser said, “but it certainly seems like you have to know a little bit about everything [if] you’re going to be a leader and come up with the solutions. And I’m thinking that what’s really needed is to get more people involved.”
Strickland is an employee for the State of California’s Board of Equalization. She highlighted her abilities as a budget analyst. She currently serves as an associate administrative officer for the Southern California Association of Governments. Strickland emphasized community participation and praised the number of great neighborhoods in the 7th district.
“But we need to be connected,” Strickland said, “and we’re all working toward the same common goal– to making sure that all parts of the district are enjoying a high quality of life as we deserve.”
Uranga is a member of the Board of Trustees of Long Beach City College. He retired from his job as the administrative officer for Long Beach’s Department of Health and Human Services, according to a media release. On Monday night, Uranga pointed to the various supporters for his campaign, highlighting endorsements from Rep. Janice Hahn, L.A. County Supervisor Don Knabe, businesses, private entrepreneurs and unions.
“That diversity of support comes to me because they see me as an individual who will listen to the issues, who will make decisions based on the issues and not on a personal agenda,” Uranga said, adding that he wanted to make the city the best it could be.
However, Uranga’s support as shown in his campaign finances was scrutinized by Strickland when the candidates discussed their perspective on a controversial railyard project. Long Beach City Council filed suit against a proposed plan that would affect the schools and residents on the west side of Long Beach. The Southern California International Gateway (SCIG) railyard project has been criticized by councilmembers and others in the community.
Strickland said she favored the lawsuit, declaring that she is against the proposed railyard plan.
“To that end,” Strickland said, “unlike my opponent who has taken contributions from special-interest groups that are in favor of the SCIG project, I have not done so. So that tells you where my loyalties lie. My loyalties lie with the west-side residents, and I stand firm with them in opposition to that project as proposed.”
Strickland didn’t name which candidate took a contribution from a special-interest group, however Uranga acknowledged that he is the target of Strickland’s comment. Uranga defended himself, explaining that the current City Council has taken contributions from Union Pacific and BNSF Railway Company and still voted against the SCIG railyard. He said he would do the same thing, adding that he has a responsibility to the residents of west Long Beach. He said that a $400 contribution wouldn’t “make or break a campaign,” but it does make him a viable candidate. Uranga said that he would have supported a rail-to-dock project instead, but that kind of project isn’t being proposed at this moment.
“We have a project right now…The City of Long Beach needs to work with Los Angeles in order to make it happen with mitigation, with negotiation and compromise,” he said.
Greenwood said that mitigation should have been addressed when the environmental-impact studies were prepared. She said that the proposed plan would create a lot of noise and pollution from chemical-tank cars and trucks.
“The Port of Los Angeles did not address any mitigations whatsoever for the three schools that would be directly adjacent to the train-assembly tracks,” Greenwood said, adding later that “it was Los Angeles that would not come to the table and negotiate without a lawsuit.”
Chauser said he hadn’t read the details of the suit, but he added that he hoped there would be a way for neighbors, school districts and the railway concerns to work out their differences without needing a lawsuit.
“On the other hand,” Chauser said, “having not been involved in these struggles, it could very well be that that is the method of last resort.”
He said that if he became a councilmember, he would have to study the problem in hopes of resolving the issue.
Candidates were asked about their thoughts on project-labor agreements. Of the four candidates, Strickland was the only one on Monday night who clearly opposed these kinds of agreements. She explained that businesses should have the freedom to hire anyone they choose. She advocated doing “whatever is needed” to spur business. Strickland acknowledged that she is a state employee and a member of a union and that she has benefitted from collective-labor bargaining.
Greenwood said she supports businesses but also supports project-labor agreements for public-agency-construction projects. Uranga said he favors the agreements for the projects that come to Long Beach because they help the middle class.
Chauser says he has been an active member with the teachers union. He supports collective bargaining, but he warned against collusion, explaining that it is important to ensure that the people accepting the contracts are not related to the individuals who are voting on them.
The candidates were asked for their opinion on the proposal to rebuild City Hall using public-private partnerships (P3). Critics of the proposal have, in the past, questioned whether it is necessary to build a new City Hall. They have instead asked whether the building could simply be retrofitted.
Strickland said she understands that there are safety concerns. She emphasized the need to study the issue and pay attention to the seismic reports before a decision is made.
Chauser said that City Hall is still a beautiful structure and that he didn’t see anything wrong with the building. He said he would rather use the money for public services like the library and other programs that are facing cuts. Chauser said he didn’t want to change downtown or change where the center of the city government would be. The moderator then told Chauser that the plan would rebuild the Civic Center in the same location. Chauser replied that he didn’t want the area modified.
Greenwood said she has “grave concerns over the manner in which the process was conducted” for the P3. She said that it is not known how the project will be funded, adding that the City would be renting the building, not owning it. Greenwood added that not all the facts are known about the costs associated with retrofitting City Hall versus constructing a new building altogether. She said that the proposal now includes plans to house the Harbor Department. She emphasized the importance of keeping both the library and Lincoln Park.
Uranga called City Hall a “failing structure.” He remembered how an elevator in City Hall often gets “stuck” somewhere between the sixth and 10th floors. He added that he wants public input and that all options should be reviewed.
Uranga was then asked directly whether he is convinced that the building needs to be replaced.
“It needs a lot of work,” Uranga replied.
The candidates each discussed whether they thought the “boomerang” funds from Long Beach’s former Redevelopment Agency should become part of Long Beach’s General Fund or whether these funds should be earmarked for completion of prior projects in their designated area.
Greenwood said the City should be fair about the money redistribution. She described a gap between redevelopment-area projects and named a part of the neighborhood that is affected by this problem. An area along Willow Street west of Magnolia Avenue is not part of the original project area and didn’t get funding from the Redevelopment Agency. Greenwood proposed to treat boomerang funds as one-time revenue and have the funds used where the needs are greatest.
Strickland was a board member of the former Redevelopment Agency. She said that all neighborhoods need attention and could benefit from boomerang funds, adding that she would like to work with the community to see what could be done on the list of unfinished projects.
Uranga has, in the past, served as a member of the Central Project Area Committee for the now defunct Redevelopment Agency. He explained that with the dissolution of the agency, there is no centralized group to review where the boomerang funds would go. Uranga advocated for that to change.
Chauser did not express an opinion on the boomerang funds.
When discussing the City’s finances, most of the candidates acknowledged that voting on a finalized budget within a few months of taking office would be a difficult task.
Uranga acknowledged that many of the labor negotiations would have already taken place under the current City Council’s review. This Council would have already made adjustments and cuts, Uranga said, adding that it wouldn’t make sense to promise he would turn the budget “upside down.” He explained there would be an opportunity to review the budget for changes as needed around the mid-year mark, which takes place in January or February.
Greenwood also said she would trust that the current City Council would continue the same policies that have been put in place over the last few years. She described how the private sectors usually followed “zero-based budgeting” and how they required departments to justify their budgets each year. Departments would be required to review their own programs and activities and reduce waste.
Strickland emphasized her financial abilities, including her experience with the budget process. She acknowledged that budgets are not perfect and won’t address every need. She emphasized the importance to address the top priorities and adjust the budgets later if necessary.
Chauser pointed to his ideology as a Marxist when he stressed the importance of the workers. He reiterated that he would not want to discuss building a new City Hall without first prioritizing the needs of the city employees.
The candidates were also asked about their preferences in the mayoral race.
Both Uranga and Strickland acknowledged positive qualities about all of the mayoral candidates, but they did not outright endorse any of them Monday night. Chauser said he liked Damon Dunn and thought about Bonnie Lowenthal, but he has not made up his mind. Greenwood said she has publicly endorsed Lowenthal.