First Council District candidates talk affordable housing, more during first campaign season event

Affordable housing dominated the conversation at a Downtown forum Thursday night among candidates vying to fill the 1st Council District seat in Long Beach this November. The position was left vacant when incumbent Lena Gonzalez was elected to the state Senate in June.

The first political event of its kind since the start of the council race, the forum took place at Toxic Toast Records Theatre in the North Pine neighborhood of Downtown and was organized by the progressive group Our Revolution Long Beach.

The 1st Council District covers portions of Downtown, Central and West Long Beach and faces issues like high crime, high amounts of air pollution and high unemployment compared to other parts of the city. A special election is scheduled for Nov.  5 to fill the seat.

With six candidates on the panel, and a mostly civil audience that seemed to applaud loudly when their preferred candidates spoke, organizers moved swiftly through each question by allowing only one-minute responses during the two-hour event.

Candidates included small business owners Mariela Salgado and Ray Morquecho, Long Beach Transit board director Mary Zendejas, former sustainability commissioner Elliot Gonzales, security guard Hashim Muhammad and local pastor Misi Tagaloa.

Each candidate mentioned housing as one of the top three issues they would tackle if elected, however only Gonzales and Muhammad were in outright support of rent control when asked about their position.

Salgado instead said the city should focus on more affordable and inclusionary housing and strengthen tenant protections.

Tagaloa responded with his own philosophical questions like: “Who are we as a district and as a city?” and “Is housing a fundamental right?”

Ultimately, Tagaloa considered rent stabilization but said a closer look into the issue would be needed.

Zendejas spoke about her own struggle in finding affordable and accessible housing.

Stricken with polio as a child in Mexico, Zendejas said she once rented a place for 10 years where she couldn’t access her own bathroom without help.

She now lives in an apartment that’s ADA accessible but pays triple in rent. Zendejas believes in maintaining and expanding rent stabilized units instead.

As a renter whose landlord is selling the complex he lives in, Morquecho joked he was “uniquely qualified to be panicked” but ultimately saw the housing crisis as an issue best resolved through a compromise.

Morquecho said building more housing is the answer to the crisis. He believes rent control leads to higher rent and sees problems with the city’s recently implemented tenant relocation assistance ordinance.

Gonzales, sniping at Morquecho, said he too believes in compromising, but not when it comes to housing—which he believes is a human right.

Instead, Gonzales sees a fix to the housing crisis through the creation of a land trust where the public owns land purchased by the city and determines the type and price of housing.

Muhammad called for tax breaks and easier zoning laws for housing developers.

Audience members at the 1st Council District candidate forum hosted by Our Revolution Long Beach at Toxic Toast Records Theatre on Thursday. Photo by Stephanie Rivera.

Candidates were also asked how they planned to be transparent.

Morquecho and Salgado gave out their cell phones, while Zendejas mentioned her upcoming listening sessions.

Tagaloa promised to make his calendar open so constituents could see with whom he was meeting, noting that many deals are made outside of city hall.

Muhammad said he’d have an open door policy to be more accessible to constituents while Gonzales promised not to take corporate donations.

Audience members in attendance seemed to have their clear favorites; some were family members while others were there as volunteers.

Organizers provided tables in the back of the theater where campaign staff and the candidates could talk to community members after the panel discussion.

Jesus Esparza, president of the Washington Neighborhood Association, said he hasn’t made a decision yet on who he plans to support.

“Everyone sounded good,” Esparza said in Spanish; he received free translation courtesy of Long Beach Forward. “Some sounded more honest while others sounded like realists.”

Esparza said he would like a candidate that will fight for low-income and undocumented community members.

The most important topics for Esparza and fellow community members he’s spoken with, he said, are rent increases and homelessness.

Joe Ganem, who lives Downtown, said the candidates were “obviously speaking to their audiences.”

Ultimately, Ganem felt Morquecho had the most solid answers and “sounded very pragmatic.”

Other responses

Is the city doing enough with regard to climate change? Does LBPD need to update its use of force policy and ensure accountability? What more can the city do for its immigrant population and as a Sanctuary city? How much has each candidate raised and how much were from developers, unions and businesses?
Misi Tagaloa It’s never enough. It’s a moral responsibility to do something. New hiring practices must be looked at to stop the pattern of paying millions a year to settle wrongful death lawsuits. Believes in de-escalation training. Says he helped make his local Samoan church a Sanctuary place to take care of people and believes in caring for the less fortunate. Has raised between $1,000 to $2,000 but he is not accepting oil money. “When people donate to your campaign they are buying you.”
Mary Zendejas There needs to be a specific job position built to implement the city’s CAAP plan. The city needs more sensitivity training and invest in doing more. Believes the body camera pilot program is a good step. Came to the U.S. from Mexico and eventually became a legal resident and citizen. Says she will fight to make sure the 2020 fiscal year budget includes money for the justice fund (which provides legal services to undocumented residents). Doesn’t know how much she raised in her recent fundraiser. Says the question candidates are really being asked is: Are you for sale? “Absolutely not.”
Ray Morquecho The city is lacking implementation. More data and air measuring is needed. While the district is disproportionately affected by the 710 freeway, the corridor is a job creator. Agrees police body cameras are a good step but believes there needs to be best practices to build trust and transparency. Believes the city council should focus on local issues but supports the idea that LBPD should not help ICE in order to keep families together. There is always money in politics and definitely a little influence, but everyone will find out. “I’ll tell you why I received money.”
Elliot Gonzales If fossil fuels aren’t kept inside the ground “this planet is toast.” The city can listen to scientists or listen to market interests. Doesn’t take money from the Police Officers Association and that “when you have police officers’ money, you have less courage to speak up against something wrong.” Says he will support what the local Sanctuary coalition needs and will work with them. Believes the city can advocate on behalf of its immigrants and that it should kick ICE out of Long Beach, referring to its offices on Ocean Boulevard. Has no interest in getting money from corporations, only people.
Hashim Muhammad Believes in changing refineries and getting plastic out of the ocean. As a security guard for 10 years he has faced similar incidents as police. He believes citizens need to comply and not disrespect officers. He believes police need to be trained in de-escalation tactics and use of force. Believes immigration policies should stay at the federal level and that voters should decide if they want Sanctuary cities. Has turned down donations. Plans to bankroll his own campaign.
Mariela Salgado The 1st District needs environmental justice. She was against Hoonigans going into the community because of the fumes affecting nearby Edison Elementary School. She also believes in limiting the expansion of the 710 Freeway and believes in zero emissions. LBPD needs to diversify its personnel to reflect the city, which is majority-minority. She supports training in de-escalation and adding resources and programming for youth. Says she came to the U.S. from Mexico as an undocumented child and believes there’s more the city can do, including language access and other resources. She is a community based candidate. She learned that endorsements have independent expenditures as well.


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Stephanie Rivera is the community engagement editor for the Long Beach Post. After graduating from CSULB with a degree in journalism, Stephanie worked for Patch Latino and City News Service before coming to the Long Beach Post in 2015.