BY NICK DIAMANTIDES
Long Beach’s next municipal election will take place on April 13, 2010, but three candidates are already campaigning for the 7th District seat on the Long Beach City Council. Incumbent Tonia Reyes Uranga will have served two four-year terms by then, but the city’s term-limits law bars her name from appearing on the ballot for a third term. The three people hoping to replace her are her husband Roberto Uranga, longtime community activist Jill Hill, and Assistant City Auditor James Johnson.
Gini Galletta, on staff at the Long Beach City Clerk’s Office, said that all three have filed an intention statement. “That just means they are formally letting the city know that they intend to establish a committee for their election campaign,” she said. “That allows them to start raising funds for their campaign.”
Galletta added that the actual nomination process does not begin until the end of this year. “They cannot get their nomination papers until December 21,” she said. “Then January 21 is the last day they can return those papers to us with at least 20 valid signatures.” She explained that in order to run for the seat, a candidate must collect the signatures of registered voters who live in the 7th District.
All three candidates have lived in the district for several years, and interestingly enough, all three are employed by the City of Long Beach. All three said, if elected, they would terminate their employment with the city to avoid a conflict of interest.
Hill has served as a consultant under contract with the city for several years. “I have been very active in the community for a number of years, and I love Long Beach,” she said. “I have spent 20 years as a volunteer, and now I would like to serve in another manner, which would be representing the people of the 7th District as their councilwoman.” She explained that, shortly after moving to North Long Beach in 1985, she became involved with Neighborhood Watch. Then, after moving closer to the beach, she joined the Alamitos Beach Neighborhood Association. She moved to the Wrigley District in 1995 and, soon afterwards, joined the Wrigley Association. She later broke away from that group to help found the Wrigley Area Neighborhood Alliance, of which she is now president.
Hill said that, if elected, one of her priorities would be to get more parks in the 7th District, especially its western portion. “We need more open space there,” she said. “There are three parcels in the Wrigley Heights area– two owned by the city and one owned by the oil operators– and we need that third parcel to create a nice-sized, open space area there. That is one thing I will work very hard to accomplish.”
Hill said another one of her priorities is to develop more senior housing throughout the city. “All of us Baby Boomers are growing older,” she said. “There is going to be a need for more senior housing in the near future.”
Hill also noted that she has been very active in trying to get another supermarket in the Wrigley area, and she would continue those efforts as a councilwoman. “We need a little more choice,” she said. “We also need to have more banks on the west side.”
Roberto Uranga has been employed by the City of Long Beach for 30 years and currently serves as administrative officer for the city’s health department. He has also been on the Board of Long Beach City College Trustees for almost 10 years. “I have experience as an elected official, and I know how to get things done,” he said, noting that he helped get voter approval for $600 million in bonds that funded major construction projects on the LBCC campus. Uranga noted that he is also a long-time community activist involved in many efforts to improve the quality of life in Long Beach. “What I bring to the table is experience and commitment,” he said. “And I love this city.”
Uranga said, if elected, his first priority would be to bring budget solvency to Long Beach. “We have to do that without jeopardizing public safety,” he said. “We have to get the city’s budget back in line and make sure we have all the protective and public services that our residents deserve.”
He said his second priority would be getting more jobs in Long Beach by making the city friendlier to small businesses. “Small businesses are the backbone of our economy,” he said. “If we can help them, we can really speed up our economic recovery.” He added that part of that effort would be encouraging more commercial development along the 7th District’s business corridors such as Pacific Avenue, Willow Street, Long Beach Boulevard and Atlantic Avenue. “We need to have those areas brought back to the strength that we used to have,” he said.
James Johnson is an assistant city auditor for Long Beach. “I am running for city council because I want to make this the best city possible,” he said. “I was born in Long Beach and grew up here. This city has given me a lot, and I want to give back.”
Johnson said that if he is elected his first priority will be to ensure that the city government operates more efficiently. “We are living in a world of very restricted government funds. The city has less revenues now than it had a few years ago,” he said. “We need to be that much smarter about how we spend our money.”
He noted that his experience in the city auditor’s office has given him a first-hand view of the ways the city spends taxpayer dollars. “One example is our streets,” he said. “It would have been far less expensive to maintain the streets over the years than to wait until they became beyond repair and in need of total reconstruction.”
Johnson’s second priority would be public safety. “That is the number-one function of government,” he said. “Public health is the third priority,” he said, noting that asthma, heart disease and cancer are more prevalent in West Long Beach than in other parts of the city. “This is largely due to the truck traffic generated by activity at the Port of Long Beach,” he said. “We need to work with all interested parties to become a more business-friendly community, but in a way that allows our citizens to live healthy, productive lives.”
So far, Hill has raised about $5,000 in campaign contributions. Uranga has raised about $6,000 and Johnson about $53,000.