BY NICK DIAMANTIDES
The four candidates vying for three seats on the Signal Hill City Council explained their positions and philosophies at a forum held in the council chambers of Signal Hill City Hall last Thursday evening. About 30 people attended the event, which was sponsored by Concerned Citizens of Signal Hill and the Signal Tribune.
During the approximately 90-minute discussion, the three incumbents (Council members Mike Noll, Ellen Ward and Ed Wilson) and challenger (Edward Villanueva) answered questions read by moderator Gary Dudley, and each had opportunities to explain why he or she deserves to be elected.
In his opening remarks, Noll warned that in the upcoming months and years, the federal and state governments are likely to significantly reduce their funding for many projects and programs undertaken by California cities. He insisted that now, more than ever, Signal Hill needs experienced people on the city council who know how to navigate the city through the perilous economic times ahead. “I have been on the city council for 16 years,” he said. “I have been through one of the recessions in Signal Hill.”
Noll also pointed out that the present city council has done an excellent job and the city has remained financially strong during his tenure. “We are out there taking care of roads, and we’re out there doing other things,” he said. Noll stressed that for the past 16 years the council has always maintained a balanced budget and now, even if all revenue vanished, the city has enough money set aside to pay for all General Fund services for six months.
Villanueva emphasized his broad vision for the future, and the need for long-range planning. He explained that the city needs to do more for the environment and has to push for better communications with the public. “This is your city, and we have to make it the kind of city you want to live in,” he said. “I will work to build relationships. If elected to office, my cell phone is going to be available to everyone.” He added that, if elected, he would welcome innovative ideas from business owners and the public and incorporate those ideas into programs that would make Signal Hill a more vibrant and prosperous city.
Ward noted that she has more than three decades of service for municipal governments in Southern California. During those years she also owned a business for 23 years and served as the executive director of a nonprofit organization for nine years before being elected to the city council in 2001. She explained that her years in the public and private sectors have given her the expertise and perspective necessary to make good decisions for the city. “The eight years I have been here, we have accomplished a whole lot,” she said. “We have added five new parks and a trail system, and we have built up a financial reserve that will allow us to maintain our level of services even when revenues decline. I’d love to continue working for the city.”
Wilson explained that his background as a CPA and CFO has been instrumental in the city’s superb management of its finances. “Since being on council, we have balanced our budget every year, moved to five-, 10- and 15-year forecasts and increased our reserves– money set aside for the future,” he said. “We have maintained our streets, built million-dollar homes and low-income housing.” He added that, during his tenure, the city built five new parks, a trail system, two one-million gallon water reservoirs, and a police substation while adding six new police officers to the Signal Hill Police Department. He added that a supermarket and a gas station came to town during those years, and Signal Hill was finally successful in procuring its own ZIP code, as well as creating its own website, which now includes live video streaming of council meetings. Wilson echoed Noll’s comment on the need to keep successful, experienced council members onboard.
After the candidates’ opening comments, Dudley asked questions, and each candidate had two minutes to respond. Asked about their priorities if elected, the four contenders had a variety of answers. Villanueva said attracting new businesses and helping existing ones succeed would be one of his highest priorities.
Ward said the construction of the new police station and the expansion of the library were her two top priorities and developing a nature park on the north slope was her third.
Wilson said safeguarding the city’s revenues had to be one of the council’s primary concerns. He warned that not only are California cities facing reduction in state and federal funding, but also the state has the legal authority to take some money out of certain accounts held by cities.
Noll said that he would continue his strong efforts to make sure Signal Hill gets $30 million from the federal stimulus package to pay for the new police station and other infrastructure improvements. “By having more money into the city, we can improve these things that we are talking about,” he said.
There was little disagreement in the way the candidates answered the other questions. They all pledged to not propose any new city taxes. They all acknowledged that the city was powerless to stop a new adult entertainment club from coming to town.
Villanueva did mention that, in his opinion, the new police department should have been completed several years ago, and he warned the current police facilities and communication system would not be adequate to handle a major catastrophe. He added that funding for the new facility might be hard to obtain if the city does not get as much as it has requested from the federal stimulus package.
The three incumbents insisted that the city is moving as quickly as possible with that project. “It is going to be built,” Ward said. “And we do have a plan B (for the funding of it.)”
In their closing statements the three incumbents reiterated their accomplishments and reminded the audience that choosing experienced, successful candidates was the best choice voters could make. Villanueva, who is a manager in the City of Long Beach Public Works Department, told the audience that he has 10 years of experience in municipal government, has solid connections with state and federal elected officials and could bring new life and new perspectives to the Signal Hill City Council.