During the second of three scheduled candidates' forums before the March 8 Cerritos City Council elections, pre-planned questions were shunned, and the candidates answered queries directly from the audience written on 3x5 cards.
Sponsored by the Women’s Club of Artesia-Cerritos, the forum held in the Cerritos City Council Chambers Tuesday, Feb. 1, was attended by more than 60 members of the community. Each candidate was allowed two minutes to make an opening statement and one minute to answer a question and closing statement.
Candidate Kiran Rami made an opening statement, but left the forum soon after due to a professional obligation.
Here are excerpts and highlights from those statements and the candidates’ answers to five questions:
What’s your position on selling partial interest in the Cerritos Center for the Performing Arts Center, and why?
- Grace Hu said she would like to review all programs. She added that the Cerritos Center for the Performing Arts (CCPA) was needed in its beginning to promote and draw business interests to the Cerritos Towne Center, but she concluded that a revenue loser shouldn’t go on unimpeded.
- Harshad Mody addressed the overall loss the CCPA was taking over the years. Mody said someone should take a detailed look into the CCPA and that the center should not be losing a single penny.
- Joseph Cho said he was not in favor of privatizing the CCPA. He talked about the CCPA’s new management and how several of her ideas have reduced the deficit.
- Mark Pulido said the CCPA is a centerpiece for the economic engine at the Cerritos Towne Center. According to Pulido, the CCPA is a magnet for businesses and businesses have relocated to the city because of the venue. Pulido does not believe in selling a public good for private gain.
- Chris Fuentes said, “I have been campaigning for several years for the city to take a realistic look at the $4 to $6 million loss each year (the Center incurs). For years they’ve (City Council) ignored these losses.” Fuentes said he was in favor of a private-public partnership.
- Bruce Barrows said, if you look at the “whole package,” the city generates a profit, albeit no city theatre in the nation actually makes its own profit. Barrows believes the CCPA benefits the entire community, brings business in and benefits our children.
As a councilmember, what would you do to help Cerritos residents on the Westside who border the Cerritos island county border area, with the problems they’re encountering with this unincorporated area?
- Mody had an opportunity to meet some of the residents of the Westside. According to Mody, their sentiment is that they feel like an “escaped child in the family.” If elected, Mody said he’ll incorporate the Westside into the ABC Unified School district so they can reap the benefits the school district.
- Cho said, “I’m also a resident of the Westside, so I understand the feeling.” He said he encouraged residents in the area during a recent precinct walk to bring their issues directly to Cerritos’ government. Cho said residents’ concerns would be addressed, and that government would provide better services.
- Pulido said, if elected, his approach to the Westside would be to maintain his approach with the entire city: an accessible and accountable elected representative. He said it’s a matter of reaching out and getting back to basics.
- Fuentes said west of Pioneer Boulevard, “maintenance is substandard.” He complained that the center of the city received the “lion’s share” of attention while residents on the westside feel “disenfranchised.” Fuentes said residents’ issues aren’t addressed until election time.
- Barrows said there have been problems in the unincorporated area regarding maintenance. According to Barrows, the city polled that area to see if the residents would like to officially become part of Cerritos, but the answer was a very definite “no.” He said there is little the city can do to address that area’s issues other than working with Supervisor Don Knabe to help them.
- Hu recalled walking the Westside’s precinct. She said that children who reside in the unincorporated area attend Bellflower Unified schools instead of the ABCUSD. Hu said, “If I’m elected, I will work with the ABC schools, (to help students) attend the schools.”
Name two improvements you would make in the city.
- Pulido said Cerritos Elementary, Mary Bragg Elementary, Nixon Elementary, Kennedy Elementary and Tetzlaff Middle School currently do not have traffic lights. He said the city should explore the idea of having them. Pulido also said he would like to take leadership on establishing the first Cerritos dog park.
- Fuentes said he would fix anterior walls that residents are faced with. He added that the city said the “walls were on residents’ property, so they were responsible for fixing them.” He also said he would change the “culture” of the City Council. Fuentes said “perks and retirement benefits” should be eliminated.
- Barrows believes that putting money into things such a dog park as well as other things people have promised in their campaign trail would be foolish due to the cost of maintenance. He said the city has to look at the economic reality and the budget.
- Hu said her priorities would be to maintain safety and to sustain a clean city. She encouraged more collaboration between the city, fire department and sheriff’s department.
- Mody said he wants the house burglaries to be stopped. He added he would like to see sheriffs present at schools when children are getting out for the day.
- Cho encouraged financial sustainability and reducing crime. He said about crime, “It’s decreased, but not enough.”
Based on a possible budget shortfall, what specific cuts would you make to staff and operations?
- Pulido said one concern is travel costs. He said he has opted to attending state conferences instead of national conferences so he can drive his own car. He said he would cut things in administration first and services for seniors and youth last.
- Fuentes said, “We (City Council) have allowed a runaway salary and benefits to build among executive staff while rank-and-file city employees are relegated to part-time positions.” Fuentes feels the city doesn't need two assistant managers. "We never had one before," he added.
- Barrows said the payroll for some of the city’s positions are lower than average. Despite this, he said they might have to cut a position here and there. He added that Cerritos does subsidize the city employees’ pension and pays the full 8% of the costs.
- Hu shared a story of a resident she spoke with who complained about City Council salaries. She said, “I will cut Council salaries first.” Re-evaluating the CCPA was another idea she shared.
- Mody said he will use the city budget as a private corporation. Mody said he will go over the financial review and see where the dollar makes sense. Mody said, “Our parents always taught us 'the dollar you save, is dollar you earned'.”
- Cho said much depends on the status of the Redevelopment Agency. He said, “If the Redevelopment Agency is terminated July 1, 2011, it’s going to deeply affect Cerritos. Cerritos’ RDA accounts for a quarter of our combined budget.” Cho encouraged the creation of a task force if the state eliminates the Agency, and streamline expenditures.
- Mody said, “Cerritos is bleeding financially.” Mody added that a major part of the problem is re-electing the same members in city council.
- Cho said, “Financial sustainability is his highest priority.” He maintained that he would “fight to keep the state’s hands off of local funds.”
- Pulido said, “Cerritos is my hometown. I grew up here. I share your values. I also share your concerns about the challenges facing our city, state and nation. At the same time I’m excited the possibilities for the future of our hometown, Cerritos.”
- Fuentes said, “It’s time to focus on Cerritos issues.” He later added that Cerritos should “live within its means.” And he advocated for “open access, transparency in our local government and an unpaid City Council.”
- Barrows said, “It is imperative that we continue to seek economic growth for our community in order to preserve our services and programs for our residents.”
- Hu used her closing statement to talk about her dedication to Cerritos and her family. She also complimented the audience on the questions asked.
The final Candidates Forum is scheduled for Feb. 15 from 7 p.m. to 9.pm at the , Council Chambers. It will be sponsored by the La Palma-Cerritos Branch of the American Association of University Women (AAUW). All forums are open to the public.