Long Beach’s 1st District candidates speak out in live debate

Candidates for the city’s vacant 1st District seat sounded off on Wednesday night in a lively forum at Fingerprints Music hosted by the Long Beach Post and the Downtown Long Beach Alliance.

Six of the eight candidates participated, including Mary Zendejas, Misi Tagaloa, Elliot Gonzales, Ray Morquecho, Mariela Salgado and Joe Ganem. Candidates were asked questions on top issues including climate change, housing affordability, a living wage, the city’s homeless crisis and whether they would support a permanent extensions to the city’s Measure A sales tax.

Watch the debate here.

On climate change, staunch environmentalist Gonzales said he would like to see the city review all of its contracts with oil and gas companies and consider divesting from oil and natural gas. Gonzales, who supports the Green New Deal, said Long Beach could be a leader in local change.

“A lot of it can start right here in our backyards,” he said.

Tagaloa, a pastor at Second Samoan Congregational UCC, said he has already worked with schools on the city’s Westside and the South Coast Air Quality Management District to help improve air quality. He said he plans to do more if elected.

“I will fight for our community,” he said.

On the issue of homelessness, Ganem, a retied police officer and city manger, said the city already spends about $30 to $50 million a year on homelessness and yet people still sleep in the streets. Ganem said the problem is “solvable” by investing in more supportive housing like the Century Villages at Cabrillo on the city’s Westside.

“Permanent, supportive housing with wraparound services is the answer,” he said.

Zendejas, who has big name endorsements from Mayor Robert Garcia and state Sen. Lena Gonzalez, said she also would be in favor of wraparound services for the homeless and ongoing support “with compassion.”

“I know it’s in an emergency state right now but we really need to push it even more,” she said.

When asked about a $500 donation to her campaign from power company AES, which was recently hit with multiple state air quality violations at its Long Beach and Huntington Beach facilities, Zendejas said she would “consider returning the money.”

Salgado, a local business owner who describes herself as a candidate for the people, said one of her top issues is housing affordability. Salgado said she’d like to see a moratorium on rent increases until the city can figure out a better way to help its low income residents.

“I can’t tell you how many times I’ve interacted with people who are experiencing $900 or $1,000 rent increases,” she said. “This is a citywide issue, and we need to ask the tough questions.”

Candidates were divided on the issue of supporting the Measure A sales tax extension, which will be on the March ballot. Morquecho, a business owner, said he would support the measure but wants assurance that the money is not simply going to public safety pensions.

“We need to have some more accountability and transparency on where those dollars are actually going,” he said.

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Kelly Puente is a general assignment and special projects reporter at the Long Beach Post. Her prolific reporting has taken her all over Southern California—even to the small Catalina Island town of Two Harbors. She is a Tiki mug collector and is currently pursuing a master’s degree in public policy and administration at Cal State Long Beach. Reach her at [email protected].
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