In anticipation of the Citywide Forum for all Long Beach City Council candidates this Wednesday, the Post took the time to chat with the candidates of each district with seats up for election (districts two, six and eight). In Part II of Getting to Know your candidates, Stephanie Rivera talks to Sixth District candidates Josephine Villasenor, Erik Miller and Robert Harmon.
As diverse as Long Beach’s Sixth District is, the area is also known for its crime-stricken neighborhoods. Among the 25 reported shootings in the city so far this year, one-third of them have happened in the Sixth District, according to Post records. Three newbie candidates have acknowledged the crime and numerous other issues plaguing the area and shared with the Post their ideas for a better District. Find out a little more about the candidates, Josephine Villasenor, Erik Miller and Robert Harmon, who have decided to take on incumbent Dee Andrews, who is running as a write-in candidate.
Josephine A. Villasenor
A brutal attack by two drug dealers on Easter day last year was the catalyst for Sixth District candidate Josephine Villasenor to begin her activism in the community. Refusing to give up a wandering Shih Tzu to the pair—who she said planned to sell the dog for more drugs—Villasenor ended up with scratches all over her body and bloody lips in her struggle to protect the dog. That night, filled with adrenaline and anger, she patrolled the streets of her neighborhood and started what would eventually become the Wrigley Community Watch group.
The watch group, which now has over 30 members, led her to become involved with the Long Beach Community Emergency Response Team, the American Red Cross, the Wrigley Area Neighborhood Alliance and the MacArthur Park Community Association. Villasenor also organizes WCW barbecues and hosts We Love Long Beach events “so that the neighborhood knows that we are there for them no matter what and to bring us closer to each other as a community,” she said.
Now the 35-year-old who has been living in Long Beach for 15 years said she wants to run for office to bring about more changes to the community she cares about.
“I saw that we were in the dark [...] and the things I was seeing about our councilman and about other things that were going on within our Sixth District, there had to be change, and I knew I had to bring light to the Sixth District,” she said.
Villasenor said she would love to see the repeal or revision of Proposition 47—an initiative passed in 2014 by voters that reduces penalties for some crimes, such as certain drug possession felonies, to misdemeanors, according to the state Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation.
“Proposition 47 is a waste because it’s like a slap on the hand to the criminals,” Villasenor said. “When you’re trying to make your neighborhood safe for the neighborhood, when you’re trying to clean up, when you’re trying to do all of this and then you come out and there’s tagging or there’s another shooting or there’s another vehicle stolen, there’s so many houses broken into, it just gets to me.”
She does, however, support the legalization of medical marijuana. A cervical cancer survivor herself, Villasenor believes it's important for cancer patients, people with Post Traumatic Stress Disorder or anxiety and panic attacks to have access.
“If you have a doctor’s note and you have a card and everything and it’s legit, yes, I am all for it,” she said. “But if you’re going to use it to [...] sell, no, then you don’t deserve it.”
Villasenor hopes to address the city’s homeless situation as well. One idea includes the implementation of a dormitory-style setting for the formerly homeless where they cook, clean, get schooling, training and work. She said it would be different from a halfway house, where drugs and alcohol can still be brought in, which can lead to relapse.
The issue hits close to home for Villasenor, who lived in her car for about a year when she was in her early 20s.
“Coming from being homeless for about a year, knowing what these people go through on a daily basis, it’s just disheartening,” she said. “You can see other people just pass them by. It hurts. Why are we so disconnected?”
As a business owner, Villasenor says it’s important for businesses to become accountable and care more for their storefronts. She said she noticed the apparent apathy during Saturday cleanups and hopes that by sitting down and explaining to them the importance of having presentable stores could bring a cleaner community where residents would take more pride in their neighborhood.
“You want your house to look good and inviting for people, for family, for friends and for visitors just like businesses,” she said. “You want customers to come into your business, you don’t want to be that business that is closed off and not open-minded.”
If elected as councilwoman, Villasenor said she would not take any pay but instead distribute the money to the Long Beach Police Department, CERT, W.A.N.A. and any other rescue organization.
Villasenor was born and raised in South Whittier as the 15th of 20 children. Her ancestry includes Cherokee, Mescalero Apache, Tongva, Mexican-Indian, Spanish, Polynesian, Irish, Argentine, Filipino and Japanese. She received a bachelor’s degree in business management with an emphasis in early childhood development from Kaplan University. She is co-owner of Pinata Fiesta Party Supply & Rentals on Anaheim Street, near Long Beach Boulevard.
Backed by former Sixth District Councilwoman Doris Topsy-Elvord, Erik Miller is running for office to bring something new to the Sixth District and the city, the candidate said in an email.
Miller believes the biggest issues plaguing the Sixth District include violent crimes, unemployment and lack of after-school programs—and he has plans to fix them.
“I am running for city council in the 6th District because these neighborhoods are not meeting expectations of the City of Long Beach,” Miller said. “I am a product of this city and I feel that my fellow residents deserve new solutions and fresh ideas to move my district and the city of Long Beach forward as a whole.”
Building local partnerships and restoring the Long Beach Police Department’s Gang Unit are some of the ways Miller said he plans to tackle crime. As part of efforts to combat unemployment, Miller said he would create more local jobs by supporting small business owners and by pushing for more local hiring.
Miller would also aim to enhance after-school programs through nonprofit partnerships that can bring more services.
The candidate has been involved with multiple local organizations. He belongs to the Long Beach Gang Reduction Intervention and Prevention (GRIP) Taskforce, for which he was chairman from 2012-2014. Under that role, Miller said he worked to implement a federal grant focused on youth programs that have reduced violence in the District.
He currently serves on the Board of Directors of “Why’d You Stop Me?” which focuses on building public trust in policing and trust in the community, he said. He also founded P.E.A.C.E. League Basketball in 2013, a group mentoring program focused on gang reduction and employment services. Miller was selected to take part in the Leadership Long Beach Institute in 2014.
Miller was born and raised in Long Beach, having attended Long Beach Unified School District public schools where he was a student athlete. The first person in his family to attend and graduate from college, Miller earned a bachelor’s degree in architecture from Woodbury University. He currently works as the director of operation for the local nonprofit Operation Jump Start, where he leads a citywide mentoring program that provides academic support, comprehensive resources and mentoring for underserved youth.
Robert Harmon was born in Australia 44 years ago, to a father from a dairy farming family in Minnesota who did a tour of duty in Vietnam and to a Polynesian mother from New Zealand. He became a naturalized citizen at four months and lived in multiple locations in California, eventually relocating to Seal Beach.
The former U.S. Navy man and Operation Desert Storm veteran moved to Long Beach in 1995 and is now an entrepreneur in the city, running a medical device company and serving as its developer.
Harmon said he decided to run because he saw it as another call to duty.
“There’s been an insignificant amount of progress in the last ten years and everybody feels like Long Beach is going to turn the corner one of these days and in order for that to happen we need some leadership that wants to do what's right, and get things done,” Harmon said. “It’s been stagnant here in the Sixth District.”
According to Harmon, the way he would better the District would be to essentially utilize all of the resources already in the city.
“I mean, there’s more than a dozen homeless organizations in the city, yet there’s still homeless encampments in the Sixth District, how do you account for that?” said Harmon. “It’s because there’s a lack of logistics and there’s a lack of control. There’s no command and control. You have so many people, the right hand does not know what the left hand is doing, and politics always gets in the way.”
Like the other candidates, Harmon understands the need for a safer community, stating the neighborhoods are under siege by “lawlessness” and “criminality.”
“There’s still unpaved alleys in this District that looks like a Third World country and [...] you can see that there’s this economic injustice,” Harmon said. “People who live in the Sixth District are regarded as the underserved, the poorest people in the city and they don’t get their share of the resources.”
Along with other ideas laid out in his Anaheim Corridor Vision Plan, Harmon said he would institute 24-hour surveillance cameras at places such as MacArthur Park where he had a gun once pointed to his face and witnesses numerous drug sales.
Harmon founded the MacArthur Park Neighborhood Association, is a neighborhood representative in the Midtown Improvement District and is project co-manager of the Cambodia Town Square and International Market Place Development.