Debates launch Redondo Beach political season
About 50 people showed up to Redondo Beach city hall on Monday afternoon to hear what the 14 candidates running for public office on March 5 had to say about the power plant, public safety, parking, and a plethora of other Redondo Beach issues.
For five hours, candidates from districts 1, 2 and 4 and four mayoral candidates introduced themselves, debated the city’s priority issues, and answered questions put to them by moderators from the Chamber of Commerce.
This year’s race is shaping up to be an interesting one, with three current council members vying for mayor and a high school student eyeing the District 4 seat. All are in favor of supporting business and nurturing a relationship between the city council and the school board, but candidates differ most noticeably in their opinions of the city’s traffic problem and Measure A, the ballot measure that will ask voters to rezone AES’ Harbor Drive property in order that it can support not a power plant but a park and commercial development.
Below are highlights from yesterday’s forum, divided by race. Over the coming weeks, Easy Reader will publish a series of profiles, providing a more in-depth look into each candidate’s background and vision.
Kimberly Fine introduced herself as a home- and business owner, an “everyday person who wants to make a difference in her city.”
Repeatedly she said she “will not accept taxpayer-funded fringe benefits” and came back, time and time again, to her priority issue: public safety.
She lamented the shrinking of the police force in recent years, noting that with 84 officers the force is smaller than the national average, and said police presence needs to increase because crimes are getting “more severe” and proving detrimental to economic growth.
“If you don’t have a place where people feel safe shopping, they’re not going to spend and our economy is going to stagnate,” she said.
To alleviate traffic, she believes the city can wield influence by synchronizing lights and enforcing the speed limit to ensure the timing of the signal system is spot-on.
Regarding Measure A, Fine will honor the majority vote.
“It’s true none of us want a power plant in our backyard [but] I really feel that my views on this don’t matter. As a councilperson I will honor the vote of the people on Measure A – I see both sides of the issue,” she said.
James Light said his priority is to fight over-development and rid Redondo of the power plant whose “blighting influence” mars the city’s “seaside charm,” he said.
Light, an aerospace engineer and co-author of Measure A, believes Redondo Beach is “at a crossroads” and can choose at the polls whether to “continue down the easy path that leads to soulless cookie-cutter over-development, or… choose a better path.”
Light believes in offering incentives to attract “the right kind of businesses” to Redondo Beach, which will function as a “root” from which other successful businesses can thrive. He points to El Segundo’s business climate as proof this strategy works.
Light wants to “hold [city] staff more accountable for their jobs” in order to cut outsourcing costs.
The potential sequestration of the L.A. Air Force Base, which will mean lost jobs and depressed property values, is another concern of his.
Light said the root of the city’s traffic problem is the fact that 83 percent of residents commute to jobs outside the city and to address it, “we need to start bringing jobs into city so we don’t have to commute out of it.”
Jeff Ginsburg, a small business owner and long-time member of the Riviera Village Business Improvement Advisory Board, says his strength is an ability to “build consensus in the community on the tough issues [and] bring people together.”
He is pushing for a shuttle to transport hotel guests to and from the Riviera Village, and believes in providing incentives for people to take the bus. “Sadly,” he said, “most of the time when you look at our local buses they’re empty or there might be two people on them, so we’ve got this large bus going and people sitting in traffic.”
Ginsburg wants the city to undertake energy-efficient projects in order to cut its costs, citing as an example the LED light installation project in the Riviera Village with which he was involved.
While he will support the majority vote on Measure A, he believes land rights issues “really prevail on this.”
“I would rather not have a power plant there, but really, the right thing to do is respect landowner rights,” he said.
Dianne Prado is campaigning on the platform that “the political atmosphere needs to change.”
A civil rights and housing attorney, she supports small business and low-income earners.
Prado believes the city should consider instituting a five-year arrangement with small businesses whereby it agrees to “not tax them in the beginning,” and says that in order to spur economic development, the city should prioritize taking care of all people.
“If the community and the people are taken care of, then that reflects as a whole and is able to put more revenue out there,” she said.
She “will ask the hard questions,” including, she said, why the Chamber of Commerce permitted AES to be a platinum sponsor of Monday’s forum if its priority is to promote tourism.
She voiced her support for Measure A, noting that “as a leader you have to take a stand on an issue.”
“I may not be very well-behaved, per se, according to whatever standards, but I am going to fight, I’m going to make your voice heard and my voice heard,” she said.
Michael Jackson, chair of the Harbor Commission, says he understands business from both the perspective of a small business owner and that of a former employee of large companies like Hughes, TRW, and Boeing.
His priority is to “restore balance and common sense in city government” because he believes the “bickering, name-calling, [and] nastiness of the past few years needs to end.”
Central to his campaign is the retention of the L.A. Air Force Base, which he considers a close-to-home issue given his 27-year employment in the aerospace industry.
Jackson is adamant that city government cannot “spend [its] way out of government spending.”
“You don’t add to your budget just because your revenues are bad, you reduce your staff and you do it across the board,” he said, adding that government should not “fuel” the economy but support it.
He considers it crucial for the city to listen to residents and merchants in close proximity to the waterfront throughout the revitalization process.
Jackson does not support Measure A because he believes it “will not do anything more than rezone the property” and “will not shut down the power plant.”
“No one wants a power plant in their backyard – no one. But it’s there, so it’s how you deal with it. It’s how you phase it out…You [have to] respect the property rights and state decisions,” he said.
Susan Kowalski introduced herself as a business owner and philanthropist.
“I love the community and [that’s] the reason I decided to run,” she said. “I’m not a politician, I’m a member of the community just like all of you.”
Kowalski believes the community should focus on marketing its tourism potential and on encouraging people from neighboring beach cities to patronize Redondo Beach businesses.
Kowalski is “delighted” with the vision for the waterfront taking shape, but believes CenterCal is “rushing it a little bit.” (The developer hopes to sign a memorandum of understanding with the city by June.)
Kowalski does not back Measure A.
“I do believe Measure A is not the way. I believe we can negotiate instead of legislate. I think we need to listen to what the private landowner, AES, has to say. I would never want somebody coming into my property and telling me what to do with my property without a negotiation or conversation,” she said.
Kowalski does not see traffic “as being a big issue in the grand scheme of issues,” but encourages all Redondo Beach residents to ride the bus.
Incumbent and Measure A co-author Bill Brand said his focus is two-pronged: the waterfront revitalization and “the permanent retirement of the power plant.”
Brand, an airline crew chief who is running for a second term, believes Measure A is “more important than [his] campaign or anyone else’s,” as it ultimately “will have a huge impact” on whether state authorities approve AES’ proposal to re-power. He cited three other cases in which companies retired power plants in response to public opposition.
“There were no compromised positions in those cities and there isn’t one here, either,” he said. He later reiterated that “there is no compromise here with AES [because] they want a power plant.”
Brand noted that the proposed plant will consume 17 million gallons of freshwater a year and will depress property values in the area. He considers the power plant an important regional issue, too, in the context of its impact on air quality.
“I’ve covered a lot of issues in the last four years but [Measure A], what’s before you now, is critical and it’s not about compromise,” he said.
District 5 councilmember Matt Kilroy, a Redondo Beach schoolteacher, said that if elected he will take a stance on big issues, such as unfunded mandates and Measure A.
As councilman, Kilroy has represented Redondo Beach at the regional, state and federal level, and says he always does his “homework on issues rather than just listening to what’s said.”
Kilroy said he has been “proactive” in taking action to ensure the L.A. Air Force Base stays local.
He also helped to write the argument against Measure A, which he believes will have “vast implications” for the city.
“I’m coming out against Measure A. I’m saying vote no because I think it’s wrong. I think it’s important for someone that expects to be mayor to take a leadership position on issues like that,” he said.
If passed, he envisions Measure A leading to “years of litigation with AES” and “literally millions of dollars in costs for the city.”
District 1 councilmember Steve Aspel described himself as a “people person” who has “never been afraid to take on the tough issues.”
If elected, he said, he will continue renovations on the Esplanade, Artesia Boulevard, King Harbor and the pier.
Aspel is prepared to “do battle with our congresspeople and our senators” to keep the L.A. Air Force Base in Redondo Beach because it is “the heart and the soul of the aerospace industry in our region.”
Traffic, while it is a regional issue, is “better than it was” years ago, he said, owing to a new traffic circle in South Redondo, speed cushions (“They’re like oysters – you love ‘em or you hate ‘em, but people that have ‘em seem to like ‘em,” he said), and advances in technology that enable city staff to analyze traffic more carefully.
Aspel will ultimately support the voters’ decision on Measure A, but believes it does not have “enough meat on the bone to give AES enough critical mass to actually move.”
If the land is rezoned into a park, he doubts the city could come up with the money to maintain it. It’s also doubtful, he said, that the “citizens of Redondo want to subsidize a parkland.”
District 3 councilmember Pat Aust, formerly Redondo Beach Fire Chief, said he has 44 years of “continuous experience working for the city.”
“For 44 years, my full-time job has been improving the city of Redondo Beach. Building a better Redondo is something I started when I was 20 years old,” Aust said, noting that he is not collecting endorsements and disseminating literature because his career and accomplishments are evidence enough of his track record.
A retired “public safety professional,” he says he will prioritize public safety.
Aust considers the potential closure of the L.A. Air Force Base a “pivotal” issue and while he supports putting the power plant issue before the voters, he does not believe Measure A is “good law for our city.”
“Measure A is a 30-page document full of ambiguity that is contradictory to itself… It is not what we need. We need to make a decision on the power plant and then we need to decide what’s going to be built there,” he said.
The biggest problem facing Redondo Beach today, Aust says, is the economy, because it affects healthcare and housing and every other aspect of life. Aust says the council has no control over synchronizing traffic lights on PCH because the road belongs to CalTrans.
Eric Coleman, the only candidate who is not currently a councilmember, has said he will “bring new blood and fresh ideas to the table.”
He says he has lived “a lifetime” in his 31 years, travelling and working abroad, and wants to “enrich Redondo, [his] hometown, with some of these ideas” he’s picked up on his journey.
He believes the “residents of Redondo are sick are tired of being nickel-and-dimed by the city” and wants to reduce permits and paperwork and fees; he also worries about Redondo becoming “Recondo Beach” and big developers stripping “the pier of its character.”
Coleman believes the city should “undo the street festival freeze” to attract out-of-towners to the area and increase economic activity, build a hotel on the AES property, and institute an “efficient trolley system” to reduce traffic, as he thinks people are not likely to overcome the “negative stigma” associated with riding the bus.
Coleman supports Measure A and believes “the AES propaganda machine has churned out an impressive amount of misinformation” concerning its proposal to re-power.
Stephen Sammarco, a political consultant, is prioritizing public safety “every day, not just on election day.” He worries that the city has lost 18 police officers due to budget cuts.
“It’s no secret that my goal is to put more police on the street,” he said, and suggested the city regionalize Redondo SWAT and divert the funds retained to the police force.
He believes “the days of power plants in bedroom communities are long gone” but has qualms about Measure A.
“I’m concerned with the legal ramifications with this initiative, should it pass. We are, in essence, rezoning this land in order to take it away from AES and I think the lawsuit and the room of lawyers that will come with it will last a very long time,” he said.
He believes the city should run a trolley car for transporting people to the beach and the malls and “let AES pay for it.”
Sammarco has a “different opinion” of traffic. “As a business owner I like traffic – traffic means people with wallets and people looking to buy things,” he said to several laughs.
Jan Jeffreys has, as library commissioner, learned to be “rather comfortable” sitting on the dais, she said. She is “very concerned” about public safety, and wants to encourage people to participate in the CERT program. She says she has a history of “sincere community involvement.”
Jeffreys is against raising taxes, which will “overburden our residents,” but says “you cannot run a business – and the city is a business – you cannot run it without a lucrative tax base.”
Jeffreys says traffic is just part and parcel of city living. “Bottom line is, we live in Los Angeles. We’re a major city. There’s going to be traffic. We all know that,” she said, and encouraged Redondo residents to take the bus.
She called the announcement of Nordstrom’s move from the South Bay Galleria a “shock” but she is “confident that we’ll get something as good as Nordstrom, perhaps better.”
Jeffreys says she is “leaning towards” Measure A but does not “know about the other side of the coin,” or AES’ perspective. She repeated several times that she has put in a call to AES executives but has yet to hear back.
Julian Stern, a high school student who turned 18 this week, said he has been “eyeing [the district 4] seat for 8 years.”
He says he has a “strong desire to bring the needs of [his] neighbors before the council.”
Stern wants to lobby to keep a greater percentage of tax dollars in Redondo. (Currently, the city keeps 18 cents of every property tax dollar, Stern said; the rest goes to state and federal governments.)
Regarding Nordstrom’s move, he said: “We must all remember the Galleria is a private enterprise and they want someone there as much as we do… They’ll take care of it and I’ll just be there to help them out.”
He considers public transit “extremely important” and wants to break ground on the Redondo Beach Transit Center and encourage bus line expansion.
Stern does not think Measure A is “the right choice for Redondo Beach.”
“They don’t want to pay for a park in district 2; it’d be a money pit,” he said. “The initiative doesn’t say who will pay for that park and who will maintain it.
“I’m against Measure A but while I say that, I’m open to the possibility of not having a power plant. I’d like to sit down with AES and the city to see… what would be most beneficial to both.”
For a broadcast of Monday’s forum, click here. ER