HUNTINGTON PARK — Resolving the city’s financial problems, bringing businesses to town and the $17 million cost of police operations were among key issues discussed by five candidates for the City Council in a forum Feb. 12 at the Oldtimers Hall here.
Taking part in the forum, sponsored by the League of Women Voters of Long Beach and Whittier, were challengers Rudolfo Cruz, Leticia Martinez, Alex Reynoso, Elba Romo and David Sanchez.
Five other candidates for the March 3 election were absent — former Councilman Andy Molina, Mayor Rosa Perez, Planning Commissioner Jhonny Pineda, Marilyn Sanabria and Graciela Ortiz. Perez is the only incumbent running as council members Mario Gomez and Ofelia Hernandez are prevented from seeking re-election because of the city’s term limits law.
Reynoso called for a state audit of the city “to see where all the money is going” and called for decreased spending, citing the recent purchase of Christmas lights and decorations for Pacific Boulevard as not necessary.
He also suggested that the city file for bankruptcy and consider hiring the Sheriff’s Department, for whom he has worked, “if it’s best for the city” and suggested that police cadets by hired part time to patrol parts of the city.
Romo a former council member, noted that the police budget of $17 million is about-three fourths of the total general fund budget of $25 million and called for more careful spending and a more efficient police operation.
She said bankruptcy is not on the table and supported the police department.
“The sheriff is not the answer,” Sanchez said.
Cruz, a frequent critic of the Police Department, called for a wait-and-see stance on the financial issues, pending more information.
Martinez, the executive director of the Greater Huntington Park Area Chamber of Commerce, said more parking for businesses and customers is needed, especially on Pacific Boulevard.
She called for a return to past practices of sending a delegation to the annual shopping center developers convention in Las Vegas, where successful contacts were made in the past for such stores as Home Depot and Starbucks.
In answer to questions from the audience, Reynoso and Romo stressed that the city could not reduce the water bill or decrease property taxes. Most property taxes are levied by Los Angeles County or the Los Angeles Unified School District.
“We can’t lower the water bill but we can watch it,” Reynoso said.
“We voted for most of these [county and school taxes] via bond issues,” said Romo, who added that as a resident she opposed the city’s utility tax.
Sanchez said that council members “should advocate for the people” against the county and water providers to lower taxes and rates.
Cruz again pledged to fight “the illegal 21 percent property tax.” Officials have pointed out that the tax was approved by voters in the 1970s to pay for pensions for city employees and that the amount is .21 percent, which is a fraction of 1 percent.
The candidates agreed that the next city manager should be qualified and someone who will stay with the city and not bring friends and former colleagues to Huntington Park.
They were referring to former City Manager Rene Bobadilla, who brought with him as finance director Julio Morales and as public works director, James Enriquez. Enriquez has since joined Bobabilla in Pico Rivera while Morales left to accept a federal job in Paraguay.
In opening statements, Reynoso said he’s lived in the city for some 30 years, is a military veteran, has a degree in criminal law and is a federal law enforcement officer for the Department of Justice and is based in Long Beach.
He also called for bringing businesses back to Pacific Boulevard, the city’s main shopping area, saying “the boulevard looks like a ghost town. We are losing our businesses (and its customers) to other cities.”
Reynoso voiced support for youth programs, noting he has founded a non-profit community group called Reynoso’s Hit and Walk, which provides social services and has a youth group.
Cruz, a business manager, said he has lived in Huntington Park for 36 years. He and his wife, Eva, have raised three children.
“We need to change the city. I am running because I want to help the city. We want a safe and clean city,” Cruz said.
“I love the city. I am a proud Catholic. I believe the Lord has encouraged me to serve the city,” said Martinez, who has been with the chamber for 25 years.
She said economic development is a key issue along with reducing the city’s unemployment rate, now about 11.3 percent. “We need to generate jobs,” she said.
“People have asked me to run [again],” Romo said. “We need a dedicated, experienced leader in the area of community service who will not become corrupt.”
Sanchez has twice run unsuccessfully for against Rep. Lucille Roybal-Allard, D-Commerce.
He said he has taught American and Mexican history at area community colleges for 12 years, worked as an aide to a Los Angeles County supervisor, was a representative in county health services and is a former county parks commissioner.
“Huntington Park needs checks and balances to stop corruption,” he said. “There has been a lot of that in the past. It’s been a waste of taxpayers money.
“I hope to bring in jobs and be a leader who will not fall back, who will not tarnish your civil rights,” he added.