Jared Milrad (left) and Roberto Uranga (right) are running for the Seventh District council seat and both are facing questions heading into the June 5 election.
Attacks against an incumbent’s low voting record and allegations that his challenger has violated campaign fairness laws are piling up as the race to decide the Seventh District council seat nears the decisive June 5 election day.
Current Seventh District Councilman Roberto Uranga is facing a runoff election against Jared Milrad, a president of a film production company and animal advocate. In recent weeks Milrad’s campaign has pushed forward with attacks against Uranga’s voting record, claiming that the councilman is an absentee representative of the district and change is needed. Meanwhile, Milrad’s campaign is facing allegations that it has been misleading in how it’s represented its candidate and its finances.
In a document sent to the Post, and verified by the city clerk’s office, Milrad shows that Uranga has missed 260 votes and eight entire council meetings since being elected to his seat in 2014. The council typically meets once a week excluding the last Tuesday of the month unless it votes to hold an additional meeting during the last week.
The city’s charter allows for a string of excused absences until a member misses five consecutive meetings which would then effectively vacate the seat and trigger a special election to replace the council member. A resolution passed by vote of the council can excuse a council member’s absence. The city clerk’s office confirmed that no current council member is in any danger of approaching that mark.
Uranga’s missed vote total ranks him second worst among his council colleagues during that time span, according to the figures, with only Sixth District Councilman Dee Andrews (464) having missed more. Council members Lena Gonzalez (202) and Al Austin (199) were not far behind.
“There are real issues in those votes and that’s the important part of this conversation that if you have a council member whose missing 260 votes, he’s missing 260 opportunities to serve our community,” Milrad said. “We need somebody who’s going to be showing up to work and be the most engaged, not the second most absent.”
Milrad said the votes that have been missed are consequential to the district, including a vote on the Long Beach Airport master plan in 2016 and a vote earlier this year on the 2028 Summer Olympics plan.
Depending on the week, missing an entire meeting could mean dozens of votes missed at once. But according to the same document, Uranga is not the worst offender when it comes to missing entire meetings.
Since 2014, Gonzalez (15), Andrews (12), Vice Mayor Rex Richardson and Price (both with nine) and Stacy Mungo (10) all missed more entire meetings than Uranga. Some missed meetings due to illness, and others like Gonzalez missed time due to the birth of a child.
But Milrad contends that just because Uranga is present for role call doesn’t mean that he’s done his duty as the Seventh District representative. He likened it to “clocking in at 9:00AM and leaving at 9:05” before returning to punch out for the day.
“When you have someone whose missed work 260 times like Councilmember Uranga has, frankly I don’t think they should be hired again to do the same job for four more years,” Milrad said.
Uranga has fired back saying that Milrad’s attacks are taken out of context. He estimated that since taking office in July 2014 he’s voted over 3,400 times, so to have missed 260 total votes constitutes about seven percent of total votes. He chalks most of those missed meetings to his service on the California Coastal Commission which meets once a month and requires him to travel on Tuesdays to cities spanning the state’s coastline.
“I go to these meetings after I’ve already been at a city council meeting, the important votes have already been taken, I ask the mayor and I ask the city manager not to put anything of importance where I’d be a swing vote or I’d be absolutely needed for a Seventh District or would be controversial in nature,” Uranga said. “Those votes are taken care of well in advance of me leaving a council meeting.”
As for a June 21, 2016 meeting where Uranga left the meeting just two hours after it started he said it would have to be taken up with his wife.
“I’ve walked out of a council meeting once for my 30th wedding anniversary, if that’s something wrong then talk to my wife,” he said. “You know how it is, happy wife, happy life.”
Uranga did vote on a possible council-driven ballot ordinance surrounding medical cannabis sales in Long Beach prior to leaving that June 2016 meeting.
It is not uncommon for council members to miss meetings and there are accommodations for those who wish to participate while offsite. On a few occasions Price has teleconferenced in while on vacation so she could vote on issues before the council that she wasn’t physically present for.
The city clerk’s office says it can provide those kinds of accommodations to council members who request it in advance as it requires noticing on the agenda that council members will be participating offsite and figuring out the logistics of connecting the council member to the meeting. Uranga said he’s aware of those options but often times traveling, whether by plane or car to Coastal Commission meetings, bars him from doing so.
He said the characterization of his voting record has been manipulated and that Milrad’s insinuation that he’s missed “work” 260 times is misleading at best considering the council only meets three to four times a month at most.
The allegations over Uranga’s conduct as council member come the same week that reports of an active investigation by the California Fair Political Practices Commission (FPPC) into Milrad’s campaign became public.
A March 27 letter from the Long Beach City Attorney’s office requested the FPPC to help in investigating the allegations forwarded to the council by a Long Beach resident in a 70-page complaint earlier in March. The allegations against Milrad state that he accepted campaign contributions that exceed those outlined in the Long Beach Municipal Code and that his campaign financial statements and campaign materials include “false or misleading” information.
The original complaint alleges that Milrad may have accepted an in-kind gift in the form of office space for his campaign that was both below market value and owned by a person who had already contributed the maximum donation to his election campaign.
Among other things, the complaint also alleges the Milrad is not a Long Beach business owner like his website states, and that he is not an active, practicing lawyer or a filmmaker, two descriptions which are also included on his campaign website and in his candidate statement.
The FPPC confirmed that it has an open file on the Milrad campaign but added that its policy prohibits it from commenting on unresolved matters. In a letter to the FPPC the city attorney’s office stated it would be investigating the claims regarding campaign finance itself since it is subject to a local campaign finance ordinance.
Milrad denies any wrongdoing. He says that his campaign has done everything right and the complaint filed with the FPPC is an attempt by the establishment to keep the status quo in power rather than see a change candidate like himself win in June.
“We knew from the very beginning that they would do anything in a desperate attempt to distract from their record and that’s what we’re up against,” Milrad said. “Our opponent’s allies filed a last ditch complain against our grassroots campaign. That complaint was filled with numerous legal and factual errors and the FPPC itself has not made any determination about the validity of the allegations made.”
A Seventh District candidate forum is being hosted at the Petroleum Club Wednesday May 23 at 7:00PM. The Petroleum Club is located at 3636 Linden Avenue.
[Editors note: The story has been updated to show that Councilwoman Lena Gonzalez, who has missed the most full meetings over the past four years, missed many of those meetings due to the birth of one of her children.]