Elections are just under six weeks away, and the four candidates for mayor are hitting the pavement, trying to reach every last voter in all of Redondo’s five constituencies.
In the lead-up to March 5, Easy Reader will bring you profiles of each candidate running for office, starting this week with mayoral contenders Pat Aust, Steve Aspel, Matt Kilroy, and Eric Coleman.
‘I’m a hometown guy’
For 44 of his 64 years, Pat Aust has worked for the City of Redondo Beach. Born and raised in the South Bay, he considers himself a “hometown guy” who married his high school sweetheart – they are still together, and have two grown children – and developed, early on, a fascination with the history of his city.
Aust, who is serving his second term as the District 3 councilmember, spent 33 years working as a fireman for the city. For nine of them, he held the reins as fire chief.
Post-retirement, he was elected to president of the board of the Beach Cities Health District, to president of the Historical Society, and eventually to City Council. He now divides his time between preserving the city’s history – he has 4,000 old photographs of Redondo Beach, and his home (built to look like a fire station and outfitted with brass ceilings, two antique fire engines, and “the biggest collection of fire memorabilia on the West Coast”) is on the Redondo Beach historic tour – and to making decisions that will affect its future.
Aust believes he brings to the table a broad working knowledge of Redondo history that his opponents lack.
“I know and understand how and why city government operates the way it does… I believe we should learn history so we don’t repeat it. There are a lot of mistakes made and I’m sitting there going, ‘We’ve tried it before and it didn’t work,’” he said.
He counts as his greatest political strength his ability to contextualize the present within a historical framework.
“People say, ‘I have a new idea,’ but often these are things we’ve already tried. I also have an idea; I know how it works,” he said.
People should vote for him, he says, because he has a proven track record, because he’s dedicated his life and career to bettering the City of Redondo Beach.
“I’m not focused on one issue; I’ve been focused on building a better Redondo since I was 20. This is my life’s mission,” he said. “I have no cause. My cause is to make life better for the people of Redondo.”
Aust is wary of Measure A, the ballot measure that asks voters to rezone AES’ Harbor Drive property into parkland and commercial space, in effect forcing the company to move its power plant off the premises.
“Initiative law is not the way to do things,” he said. “[Measure A] is confusing – it’s 30 pages and it’s contradictory to itself… It just opens the door for more lawsuits.”
As a former fire officer and chief, he is prioritizing public safety. He has a swath of disaster experience – he fought the 1993 fires in Malibu, headed the response to the Northridge earthquake in 1994, established the CERT program (which has grown exponentially since its inception), and worked with the Beach Cities Health District to put together a medical reserve corps comprised of trained and working professionals.
Aust says he is aware of the realities government officials face, including the fact that the “lion’s share” of property tax dollars go to the state and federal government, and has a thorough understanding of the economy and the city’s fiscal circumstances.
“I’m a different candidate. I’m not collecting endorsements from people I know – I don’t use a single endorsement because I have a proven 44 years serving this community and making it a better place to live,” he said. “I think the voters know that.”
‘I’m a people person’
Steve Aspel says he’s a “people person” who considers the people of Redondo Beach not constituents but people whose problems he aspires to fix.
Aspel, who is wrapping up his second term as the District 1 councilmember, says 37 years of selling insurance and training junior insurance agents was a “natural lead-in” to a job that requires him to “take care of” his clients – in this case, the people of Redondo Beach.
“All these years of taking care of customers, getting phone calls at 3 in the morning because their house burned down, has [taught] me to work with people on an individual basis,” he said.
He says the job prepared him to “relate to people.” He’s a guy that will “tell it to you straight,” he says, but he’ll also be there if “ya just want a hug.”
“I know how to work with people from all walks of life, from every different income range – you live in a little bitty house or a mansion, you’re the same to me,” he said. “I don’t judge you by the house you live in . . . .
“I like interacting with the different age groups, too – from old guys in walkers down to 24-year-olds.”
Aspel, 59, spent his youth traveling, but eventually settled in Redondo Beach with his wife and two daughters, and found to his surprise that he liked doing “the dad thing” – coaching, refereeing, “learning how to like Barney,” volunteering as Zero the Hero.
Being elected president of Rotary led to a job as head of the planning commission and “next thing” he knew, Aspel was being urged to run for city council.
“I thought, ‘With my mouth that’s not gonna happen.’ [Former councilman] Chris [Cagle] told me I’d be the best councilman elected once [because] I’m the guy who has a tendency not to reflect before he says something,” he laughed.
“What you see is what you get. I speak my mind,” he said, adding that he genuinely loves people and will always return their phone calls and give them an answer, even if it’s not the one they’re hoping to hear.
Aspel says he doesn’t make promises he can’t keep – “we can’t do everything,” he said – but he will “fix your potholes, trim your trees, and return your phone calls.”
He embraces his nickname, “The Pothole Guy,” which he says his opponents dreamt up to “denigrate” him because he prioritizes “the little things.”
“In my business you only got paid if you earned it, if you made a sale… I like results; I don’t like talk. I do things. I don’t talk about them,” he said.
Aspel says his first priority, on a personal level, would be to bridge the divide that’s been wedged between supporters and opponents of Measure A.
“I want to heal those wounds regardless of which way [Measure A] goes,” he said.
But from a political perspective, he wants to address issues in all of the city’s nooks and crannies.
“Every corner of the city has their own huge issue. The very south has [the old] Bristol Farms [site, which is possibly being developed], that’s a hot button… There’s the harbor revitalization, that’s a huge issue for the village condos. In North Redondo there’s the transit center – if you live in that neighborhood that’s your big issue. It’s not all about AES; every neighborhood has their own AES. I’m firmly convinced most people are concerned about what goes on in their corner of the world.”
‘I always do my homework’
Maybe it’s because he’s used to assigning it, but Matt Kilroy says he always makes sure to do his homework.
Into his second term as District 5 councilmember, Kilroy teaches eighth-grade science at Adams Middle School. He’s a chemical engineer by trade with a degree from UCLA and 20 years of experience in the aerospace industry, so he’s by nature analytical, he said.
“People don’t give enough thought to the technical side of things,” he said. “I get laughed at for it but really, whether it’s an issue like Seaside Lagoon or AES or the Marine Life Protection Act, it helps to have a technical background and to have the information you need to come to some kind of decision.”
Kilroy, 56, decided to run for mayor when he reviewed the candidate list and felt he had “something to offer no other candidate could offer, something Redondo Beach needed,” he said. That something was leadership.
While the mayor has no vote, Kilroy believes it is a much “broader” role than that of a figurehead.
“First of all, the mayor should be taking leadership positions, especially on bigger issues like Measure A,” Kilroy said.
“When the issue came up of who would write the argument against it, no one would because they didn’t want to alienate voters. I think that’s the wrong position to take. In situations like that, the mayor has to step up and take a stance and lead Redondo Beach.”
Kilroy believes his experience as councilman has prepared him to represent Redondo Beach at a regional, state, and federal level. Already, he says, he has testified to the science review board about the Marine Life Protection Act and to the regional water quality control board about discharge limits. Mayor Gin has also asked him to testify before the California Energy Commission about the AES power plant.
Kilroy, who is married with three grown children, says he’s assumed a leadership role at almost every organization he’s joined.
He’s on the board of directors at AYSO. He’s a Boy Scouts troop leader and still takes kids on weeklong hikes – last year, he did 85 miles in the Sierras – and served as chair of the planning commission and city commissioner, among other roles.
Kilroy says teaching and tutoring have endowed him with a particular patience that he could never have gleaned elsewhere.
“You wouldn’t survive a room full of 8th graders if you had problems interacting with people. And you have to develop an ability to explain a concept [by looking at it] through their eyes,” he said. “Teaching is a training ground for learning how to communicate.”
He says a key component of communication is listening, genuinely, to other people.
“I try to approach people’s points of view with a bit of respect and understanding; I try not to be sarcastic or dismissive of them,” he said.
His primary focus is the “fiscal health of the city,” whose public servants face increasing retirement costs and whose police force faces budget cuts.
“I’m still looking at the budget as a whole,” he said. “Some growth has returned – though sales and property tax revenues are coming back up from their low points – there has been an increase in costs of retirement benefits and healthcare is up 77%. There were cuts made across the board and restoration has to be across the board.”
‘I’m kind of the wild card’
Eric Coleman is campaigning on a promise to “bring fresh ideas to the table.”
Though his broad repertoire includes gigs managing retail shops and farming in Canada, Coleman is principally a schoolteacher, filmmaker, and artist.
He is also the only mayoral candidate who is not currently a councilmember; this, he considers a strength.
“When I hear politicians touting their record in public service I – and many other people – think they might be just gaming the system,” Coleman said. “I’m walking door-to-door with a message and fresh ideas; I’m not just riding on my record.”
Coleman, 31, has a professional history that includes political cartoonist for local and college newspapers, television producer of his own show, English as a Second Language teacher, theater actor, tutor, and tour guide. He says his experiences and his travels have opened his eyes, and endowed him with a head full “fresh ideas” he wants to implement if elected.
“This isn’t just another job,” he said of his mayoral campaign. “This is a chance to take Redondo in a new direction, in a more cohesive, unified direction, in a future-looking direction. That is the truth. Any of these guys [his opponents] gets in, it’s going to be more of the same, maybe some slight tweaks and modifications, but nothing groundbreaking, nothing that’s going to separate us from other cities or put us on the map.”
His first fresh idea is “bringing back the red cars” – wheeled trolley cars he envisions connecting all points of Redondo Beach, from the Galleria to the Riviera Village to the pier. Coleman believes the city could enter into a partnership with a private company to deliver a red car service that could be profitable on its own, increase economic activity in its drop-off areas, and ease parking and traffic congestion.
Coleman wants to streamline the city’s permit and paperwork processes – “you need to pull papers even to build a treehouse,” he said – and to overturn a moratorium on all new street festivals.
He believes the city should host events like festivals and movies in the park to “bring us out of our homes onto the streets and [build] our community.”
Coleman is passionate about keeping Redondo from “becoming Recondo” and believes in “rezoning to limit future condo development in areas that are already built up,” he said.
He looks to the success of Measure G – it halted the Heart of the City project, he claims, a proposal Coleman calls “the botched land grab”– as a gauge of the way the community feels about development.
Coleman supports Measure A because he believes, first of all, that replacing the power plant with a hotel would increase tax revenues “three times over.” He says AES, whose Harbor Drive plant generates less than 5 percent of the city’s power, is “using the City of Redondo.”
What sets him apart as a candidate, Coleman said, is his vision for the city’s future. A self-proclaimed “wild card,” he says he is thinking bigger and broader and further outside the box than his opponents.
As an artist, he has “learned through working on a composition that you have to give equal consideration to different parts of a composition or the whole gets lost.”
This is a tenet he is bringing to the political forum.
“Everyone else is looking at small pieces of the picture,” he said. “I’m trying to look at the whole, connect the whole, to [bring] north and south Redondo [together] and build community and make [the city] more cohesive.”
Editor’s note: The Heart of the City project was rescinded in 2002. Measure G, a harbor-related zoning measure, was passed by voters in 2010.