Jeff Williams introduces the candidates for the Long Beach City Council districts up for election in the 2016 municipal cycle. Photos by Jason Ruiz.
All 19 candidates running for open elected positions for the city council, Long Beach Community College District Board of Trustees (LBCCD) and the Long Beach Unified School District Board (LBUSD) this year took their turns on stage inside the Main Library’s auditorium, where they got a chance to address some of the issues facing their individual races.
The forum, which was co-hosted by Leadership Long Beach in partnership with the the library, Long Beach Community Action Partnership, PADNET and Palacio Magazine, sought to not only give the candidates an opportunity for their voices to be heard, but also give the community a one-stop shop of sorts where they could hear those voices.
“In addition to the candidates having an opportunity to present their positions, it’s equally important that city voters are informed about the candidates and the issues,” Leadership Long Beach Executive Director Jeff Williams said.
The format of the forum was broken up into into categories instead of individual races, with all candidates for LBUSD, LBCCD and city council taking the stage collectively. Each candidate was asked to describe which value was most important for an elected official to have and each group was provided about four questions, with the council candidates facing one audience-generated question each, and provided time for a closing statement. However, not all candidates were allowed to answer each question, with the moderator only fielding answers from half the stage at a time on each topic.
Fourth District Councilman Daryl Supernaw, who was appointed to serve a four-year term because no one met the requirements to run against him, spoke before the council portion of the debate, where he recalled spending a Grand Prix weekend conducting a recount, adding that he doesn’t envy those having to campaign, especially those potentially headed for a run-off election.
“I gladly defer to them by not having an opponent tonight,” Supernaw joked. “If anyone followed my election a year ago I had a lot of opposition and tonight I have none. I prefer this alternative.”
As much as the issues were far-ranging, one need facing the LBUSD, LBCCD and the city council races coalesced around revenue and funding gaps that are keeping the city from investing in critical improvements of infrastructure. In the past few weeks, both the LBCCD board ($850 million bond measure) and the city council (one percent sales tax increase) approved ballot initiatives asking tax payers to help the city foot the bill for those needs, and a third measure may still be in the works from the LBUSD, which could top $1 billion.
When asked about the issues, the candidates varied from outright supporting the ballot initiatives to denouncing them in full, with some offering support with stipulations that they thought should be met.
Second District Trustee candidate Vivian Malauulu said she was 100 percent behind the board’s action to ask the voters to approve the bond because of its potential to revitalize old structures and enhance some of the ongoing projects on campus. However, as a member of the retired public employees association, she said she would’ve pushed for protections for senior citizens.
“I would’ve asked for a senior exemption,” Malauulu said. “I think that because we’ve got the mayor requesting a one percent tax to be approved on the same ballot in June, I think our seniors are a population that need to be serviced and considered when bond measures and tax increases are proposed.”
Her competitor and current area two trustee Irma Archuleta said she also supported the measure, but questioned whether or not a study needed to be conducted to validate Malauulu’s concerns about seniors and how they might be affected, as well as who would pick up the slack if they were exempted.
The issue of funding at the LBUSD level seemed to hinge on where the money was being spent, who made those decisions and how more money could be raised to help reduce class sizes, especially for schools facing large populations of English learner students who would benefit from smaller student-teacher ratios.
The city’s proposed sales tax increase drew major concerns from Garnica, who like several candidates before her, questioned the timing of putting so many ballot measures asking for tax payers’ money in the same voting cycle.
“Adding one more thing is a little bit worrisome for me,” Garnica said. “We need to find a sustainable way to increase our general fund and bring revenue to our general fund for long-term and not just adding a burden to our businesses and our residents here. We need to make sure we put ourselves in a position to thrive and compete with surrounding cities and municipalities.”
Other candidates were resigned to the idea of higher taxes, but noted that it was a necessity for the city’s needs to address growing backlogs of infrastructure needs.
“This is a bitter pill we will indeed need to take,” said Sixth District Robert Harmon. “We have to do the right thing. We have infrastructure that needs to be maintained; it’s been deferred, we pay now or we pay later.”
Current Eighth District Councilmember Al Austin, who supported the move by the council to move forward with the ballot initiative but was absent for the formal vote due to the death of his mother, said that the funds generated could help a city that's teetering on the brink of falling into disrepair.
“Long Beach, in many respects, is on the verge of being a world class city or a third world city when you look at our infrastructure and public safety needs before us,” Austin said.
The city council races each have their individual issues that the candidates focused on as they briefly laid out their platforms.
In the Eighth, Laurie Angel and Wesley Turnbow took turns stating that under their leadership, both fiscal responsibility and community engagement would increase from the levels they’re at under current Councilmember Al Austin. Austin’s focus, if reelected, would be continuing his defense of the Long Beach Airport noise ordinance and improving economic development in the district.
The Sixth District candidates, Harmon, Eric Miller, Josephine Villasenor and write-in candidate Andrews, honed in on the need for investments to be made in public safety and for gang suppression measures to be reintroduced to help make the center of the city safer.
And in the Second District, Eric Gray, Joen Garnica and Jeannine Pearce talked about a vision for the future of the district, parking improvements and addressing poverty driven-issues, respectively. Pearce, who has a long history of advocating for social injustice reform in the city, recapped her own poverty-stricken upbringing, stating that her diverse experience made her believe she is the candidate who can best address such needs.
“Every day, I carry that with me, that integrity and that fight, and I’ve brought that to my community work.” Pearce said. “And when I came to Long Beach I found a place where I could practice my values.”
An eclectic mix of questions from the audience provided some insights to how the candidates think on the fly. Issues ranging from transparency in office, medical cannabis policies and even fracking and access to quality food and dietary legislation were raised. In closing, candidates addressed why they would be the best to either continue in the office they’re already serving or replace the person currently holding that seat.
Eric Miller, who’s hoping to supplant Sixth District Councilmember Andrews, talked about coming back to a district his mother moved his family away from, after she found a syringe in the front yard of their home across from Antioch Church of Long Beach. When he moved back to the Sixth District, Miller said he saw there were still a lot of unresolved issues that he hopes to help fix.
“I have seen the Sixth District be a bit stagnant, to say the least,” Miller said. “I want to help the youth, I want to help the neighborhoods, I want to improve these neighborhoods with all of the knowledge I have of the community and my background with what I do now.”