By CJ Dablo
As they congratulated their peers, Tina Hansen and Larry Forester, for their successful bid for re-election to Signal Hill City Council, Councilmembers Mike Noll and Ellen Ward raised their glasses of water during Wednesday’s Council meeting.
Their small act was a subtle acknowledgement of the vigorous campaign the incumbent councilmembers organized against challenger Matt Simmons. Simmons had proposed several ideas to his constituency, including a solution to wind down Signal Hill’s water department and purchase drinking water through the City of Long Beach. Simmons had earlier criticized the quality of Signal Hill’s water and blasted that City’s budget priorities under the leadership of the incumbent city council.
“I think what we realized from this election is that you’ll always have people disagree with you, but the majority of people support. . .what you stand for and what you do and what you want to do,” Hansen said at the meeting.
Hansen also condemned how Simmons ran his campaign.
“Negative campaigns lead to negative results,” Hansen said, acknowledging that several members of the city staff faced personal criticism and accusations from Simmons’s campaign. Hansen mentioned an email from Simmons’s campaign which compared Ken Farfsing, Signal Hill’s city manager, to the disgraced Robert Rizzo, city manager from the City of Bell. Rizzo faces criminal charges of public corruption.
“The arrogance and audacity of that [email comparing Farfsing to Rizzo] is just beyond anything that I could even begin to imagine,” Hansen said. “And that was just the tip of the iceberg for the rest of the campaign.”
Simmons was not present at this week’s City Council meeting, however he did provide a brief statement through email Thursday morning in response to Hansen’s statements.
“In the email, I questioned whether it was appropriate to compensate our City Manager a quarter million dollars when we are a city of 11,500 and Long Beach pays their city manager the same, and they have a population of 500,000,” Simmons said in his email.
“The Beachcomber reported $473,000 of compensation to our city attorney’s firm and, in response, Councilman Forester threatened to sue the newspaper,” Simmons stated in his email. “We need a taxpayer watchdog. I want to thank all of the voters who turned out on March 1, and we need continued community involvement to protect our resources.”
Mayor Ed Wilson took issue with The Beachcomber’s article and indicated Wednesday that he had called The Beachcomber to respond to the article but did not receive a returned call from the newspaper.
“It’s a valid point to look at what we spend in Signal Hill,” Wilson said, however he advised that observers make suitable comparisons between cities. “When you look at the costs or any other expenses, and you want to compare them to another organization, I think it’s important that you compare the apples to apples and oranges to oranges,” Wilson said. “So if we’re going to compare city attorney fees. . .the first thing you have to do is figure out why we’re spending that money.”
Wilson acknowledged that the attorney costs may be high in some years, depending on the scope of the projects. He also noted that the City relies not only on one specific individual, David Aleshire, for its city attorney expertise, it relies on the resources of his firm and Signal Hill pays by the hour.
“[When] you want to compare to a full-time city attorney in another city, then I think it’s important that you compare against the full cost of that city attorney and all the expertise,” Wilson said. “And Long Beach. . . you have to include the whole staff, which is a whole floor in Long Beach.”
According to Aleshire, there are 80 staffers who serve Long Beach’s city attorney needs.
Forester reflected on the campaign at Wednesday’s meeting.
“It was a good education, I think, for many of our citizens. I think they have learned some things they didn’t have details on. They learned that a snippet out of context is meaningless,” Forester said, also alluding to contentious debates and attacks to his credibility.
Both Hansen and Forester praised Farfsing and several city employees who spent time with Simmons to answer his questions, even after critical remarks from Simmons’s campaign surfaced.
“I tell you, personally, I feel like I’ve been run over by a Mack Truck,” Forester added. “I’m glad we were able to at least convey to our citizens what we’re trying to do and what we have done for our city.”
In other City Council news:
The Council approved a request to amend a zoning ordinance that would allow animal daycare in several commercial and industrial districts in Signal Hill. Formerly, the ordinance allowed pet businesses to offer animal grooming and other animal-related services in these districts, but it did not specifically allow daycare. Overnight animal boarding was not officially proposed Wednesday in the affected areas, however, the Council asked to study the possibility of allowing overnight kennels in designated areas in the future.
Businesses would be regulated to ensure cleanup of animal waste and would be required to comply with standards for owners to connect their wash-down facilities directly to a sanitary sewer system, according to Scott Charney, Community Development director.
No one from the public spoke to oppose the zoning ordinance amendment request. One dog owner spoke in favor of the change.
“Believe me, this kind of stuff isn’t cheap,” said greyhound owner and Signal Tribune publisher Neena Strichart at Wednesday’s night Council meeting. “To be able to keep my dollars, my doggie dollars, in Signal Hill would be a wonderful thing.”
The zoning ordinance amendment request was spearheaded by the owners of Bark! Bark! Daycare & Grooming, Vivan Dominguez and Danielle Portillo.
The owners of Bark! Bark! have begun to set up shop at a new location at 2655 St. Louis Ave. in Signal Hill. According to Portillo, their facility will accommodate as many as 50 to 60 dogs. They have one other downtown location on Atlantic Avenue in the city of Long Beach. They are planning a grand opening of their new Signal Hill location on April 2.
Wilson also issued a proclamation to Ron Petke, a board member of the Greater Long Beach Chapter of the American Red Cross. The City recognized Red Cross Awareness Month.
Wilson issued another proclamation to recognize the 101st birthday of Camp Fire USA. To commemorate the celebration, members of the organization’s local club, San Wa Di O Ka, presented a small birthday cake to the attendees at Council Chambers.
The City Council set a date to interview the final candidates under consideration for the job of Signal Hill police chief. A background check and pre-interview sessions will be completed before the City Council interviews the finalists on March 29, 2011.