Get to know your City Council candidate Joseph Cho a little more through Patch's Q&A session:
Name: Joseph Cho
a) PhD in history, 2006, Yenbian University
b) B.A. in Social Science, 1966, Seoul National University
Current job: Mayor of Cerritos
Married? For 39 years to Lucy Cho
Children? Three, all lawyers. Two of the children are married, with one grandchild on the way, expected April 2011.
How long have you lived in Cerritos? 35 years.
What is your favorite book? Doctor Zhivago by Boris Pasternak
What is something unique the public doesn’t know about you?
In 2001, my daughter, Jia, was living in New York, working in the World Trade Center. On September 11, 2001 my daughter was running late by about five minutes, which probably saved her life. She was trapped in the New York subway system for over five hours. During that time, my wife, Lucy, and I were helplessly watching the television hoping for the best, but bracing for the worst. When we finally got the call from Jia, we breathed a big sigh of relief and got a new perspective on life.
Why are you running for a spot on the on the city council?
After winning the election in 2007, I was not sure I wanted to run for a second term. However, I then became exposed to the challenges facing our city, and decided that I should lend my talents and skills to solving the challenges that will face the city in the next four years. From what I have seen, it appears to me that the challenges that we will be facing in the next four years will likely be greater than all the challenges that we faced in the last four decades.
What specifically qualifies you to represent Cerritos and its citizens?
Cerritos is a very diverse community, one of the most diverse in our nation. Anybody who wants to serve on our city council would have to be able to work with people from different backgrounds, different cultures, and from different socio-economic upbringings. I truly enjoy working with people from all walks of life. In Cerritos, each councilmember gets to appoint 10 commissioners and committee members. I am proud to say that my appointees are the most diverse in the City’s history. My appointees were born in: the Philippines, Korea, Taiwan, India, Israel, and the U.S. Among them, they speak 8 different languages, and this is why I believe I have a strong team behind me to help serve our incredibly diverse community.
What can you do make sure that Cerritos maintains its title as “America’s Most Business Friendly City?”
Our City’s award for “America’s Most Business Friendly City?” is well deserved because Cerritos is a great place to do business. We have very few vacancies in our business areas. When a business closes or moves to a different location, it does not take long before a new business comes in to take its place. As a former business owner who has done businesses in many different cities, I know what it is like to do business in a city that is not business friendly and what it is like to do business in a city that is business friendly. As I have done for the past four years, I will continuously look for ways to make our city more responsive to the needs of our business community.
Do you think Cerritos should participate in the Rose Parade next year?
I believe the Rose Parade float is a wonderful opportunity for the community to come together to rally around a common goal. In the past, when I have decorated the float, I have seen an entire cross section of our community participating in the float decoration: from high school students to senior citizens, and everybody in between. This is why I have consistently voted against the elimination of the Rose Parade Float.
What do you think are the city’s most pressing issues to date?
Without a doubt, the City’s two redevelopment agencies are the most pressing issue. In the last three decades, the redevelopment agencies have accounted for about 25% of our city’s annual budget. Governor Brown has proposed eliminating all redevelopment agencies, which would be a major impact to our city. However, even if Governor Brown will not be able to pass his plan, our redevelopment agencies will begin to expire in the next three years. We must start planning for this now, to minimize the impact of the loss of a significant portion of our budget.
Another pressing issue is the demographic shift. Our population is getting grayer. In 2000, the percent of Cerritos residents over the age of 55 was 23, and in 2007 the percentage grew to 29%. Our city will have to adapt to meet the needs of an older population. Although our city has many good programs for seniors, we can do more. I have proposed a new Senior Citizens Commission to focus on the needs of our growing senior population.
Do you have any pledges or promises you would like to make to Cerritos residents if you are elected to the council?
Since being elected to the city council in 2007, I have pioneered a couple of innovative constituent service programs that are open to all Cerritos residents: a Neighborhood Park Meet and Greet, and a Community Round Table. These programs have proved to be very popular, as they allow residents to raise concerns and ask their councilmember questions in a relaxed environment that is not formal and intimidating as a city council meeting can be. I am the first (and so far only) councilmember in city history to ever offer these constituent service programs, and if elected I pledge to continue offering residents these unique programs.
What’s your opinion on cities balancing their books by issuing huge fines for infractions such as rolling stops, overnight parking, and failing to maintain proper “property aesthetics?”
At $13, the ticket for violating the overnight parking barely covers the cost of processing the ticket. We recently imposed a fine for “property aesthetics”, but this was done to give the City a tool to enforce its code without having to resort to prosecuting residents for a misdemeanor in cases of lack of maintenance. Without a doubt, the city must have tools to enforce its code because maintaining “property aesthetics” is essential to keeping the high valuation of the properties in the City. Unlike the City of Bell, the City of Cerritos does not view fines as a way to raise money.
In the aftermath of the Bell scandal, what’s your opinion on having a more “open government”—having all city contracts, all government employee salaries and meetings with lobbyist publicly posted online. What are you thoughts on this kind of transparency?
I am very much in favor of transparency. I pushed to have the city council agenda made public (on the City’s web site) as soon as it becomes available, and not wait until 72 hours prior to the meeting as required by law (effectively doubling the amount of time that the agendas are publicly available). The City already archives videos of all city council meetings and commission meetings since January 2003, and archives the minutes of all city council meetings since 2005. I would support extending the archives to all agenda reports (currently those are deleted from the web site after each meeting) as well as posting the entire 200 page annual budget on line.
Despite California's economic state and possible school budget cuts, where do you think the idea of Cerritos keeping a "park-like appearance" fits in terms of priority?
Although the economy is the number 1 priority, we cannot neglect the upkeep of our city. Maintaining our city’s “park-like appearance” is what makes the Cerritos experience so unique: it keeps property values high, attracts people from outside the city to come and do business in our city, and keeps the high quality of life that we have gotten accustomed to living. I would never allow our city’s appearance to get run down under my watch.
It seems like all cities have to cut costs in this time of recession. Where do you think these cuts should be made in terms of the Cerritos budget?
I am proud to say that in the four years that I have served on the council, in spite of difficult financial circumstances, we were able to maintain the high quality of services that our residents expect and deserve without laying off a single employee. We did that by relying on natural attrition and distribute the workload among the remaining employees, but providing the remaining employees the tools to allow them to perform their jobs more efficiently to be able to perform the additional work. This is why I believe we need to constantly reevaluate how we do business, so that we can adapt to changing circumstances and changes in technology to be able to do more with less.