Commerce, Monterey Park Elections: Don’t Vote For Strangers, Part II
By Elizabeth Hsing-Huei Chou, EGP Staff Writer
You have your ballot, but have you figured out who you’ll pick? To help introduce you to the people trying to win your vote, EGP interviewed nearly every candidate in the Monterey Park and Commerce elections set for Mar. 8.
The candidates run the gamut from experienced leaders to eager newcomers. Each has an interesting story, as well as important views on local matters that affect you directly. This is the second half of the interviews published last week. The first half is here.
Commerce Election: Two Seats Open
“With 1,800 businesses and companies, there should be a job for everybody in this city – plus another city,” says 35-year resident and council candidate Elizabeth Flores.
The unemployment rate in Commerce should not be over 20 percent like it is now, she says. “People have families. They need to pay for their homes. People are losing their homes. That shouldn’t be,” she says.
Flores doesn’t think it would be “very hard” to get a committee together, to put together a list of available jobs each month, and pass them out on flyers to residents. The problem is city officials often seem to forget the people they serve, she says.
“The city belongs to everybody,” she says. “It doesn’t belong to council members. It belongs to the residents.” She tells people that council members “are there to listen to your concerns, not just to sit up there looking pretty.”
Though reluctant at first, Flores said she decided to run because it would give her more power to help those who go to her with their problems.
Flores admits she appeared nervous speaking publicly at a recent candidates’ forum, but says she has no problem being assertive when she has to be.
She walks in her neighborhood every morning and feels she is very approachable. “I think I’m friendly. I’ll speak to anybody,” she says.
Flores moved to Commerce in 1975 when her daughter was one and a half years old, and currently works as a substitute teacher. She has also served on the city’s Library and Education commissions.
Twenty-eight year resident and council candidate Jose Acero says he did not think twice about helping a neighbor chase down a burglary suspect last September. “I care about my community. If I didn’t care about my community, I could have easily just made a phone call,” he said.
Acero is a Los Angeles County Sheriff’s deputy so facing down a suspect came naturally for him. But he was also off-duty and driving to celebrate a sixteenth year anniversary with his wife, he said.
Acero says he will bring the same attitude if elected to city council, taking quick action in protecting residents’ access to city services and getting city staff to better respect those who cannot afford recent fee hikes.
Though some people view the new fees as tolerable, he says, “the truth is… there is a large group of people that are not okay with it.”
Acero says he would introduce a waiver system, which would still charge people who can afford the fees, but allow others to apply for exemptions based on their income.
“We should not marginalize people,” he says, because in his experience, it only causes those who are pushed aside to “make poor decisions,” sometimes to the point of breaking the law.
Meanwhile, a new $50 fee for putting up a tarp in residents’ yards violates the “private rights of our citizens,” he says. The city is running the program “as though it were a [homeowner’s] association.”
Together with his slate running mate George Kevanian, he is running a “simple” campaign by not taking any financial contributions and focusing on convincing one voter at a time through a door-to-door campaign.
Ray Gordy Cisneros
Candidate Ray Gordy Cisneros’ reputation often precedes him, but he says residents are usually surprised when they meet him personally. They tell him, “You’re a lot different than what people say you are.”
Cisneros completed his last council term in 2005 amid accusations that he was a child molester, allegations he says are false, and the discovery of child pornography on his city-issued laptop, for which he has denied responsibility. He says the authorities investigated and found nothing.
Cisneros says he is forging ahead, asking people to really look at his record as a councilman. “Nobody ever said Gordy was a bad councilman,” he said.
When he was on council, things got done, he said. He was part of the council team that helped establish the teen center, and the YMCA daycare, and he claims credit for being part of the early talks for expanding the Citadel Outlet to what it is now, and says he helped to initiate the urban entertainment center project. He was one of the first to respond to the Commerce derailment, and he also helped the city weather a budget crisis back in 2001, he says.
He wants to bring “mobile” city council meetings back, holding meetings at different locations, as the city did when he was on the council.
While the accusations continue to dog him in his campaigns, he says “what’s kept me going all these years is my faith in the truth.”
“I’m not saying it hasn’t been a difficult campaign. It has been,” he says, but he tries “to be truthful and upfront” when talking to people.
Cisneros adds there is a double standard because two council members are now facing accusations of their own. “I’m not the one being investigated by the District Attorney’s office, and I’m not being indicted by a federal grand jury,” he said.
Cisneros has worked as a public affairs consultant in many political campaigns, including school board and assembly races, and says he has been part of every campaign in Commerce since 1972.
Candidate Jaime Valencia says the current council majority uses “personal feelings to run the city, when they should be using professional feelings.”
He suspects some officials make decisions based on whether they like a person. “I don’t have to like someone to work with that person,” he says. “If it’s good for the city, I’ll work with that person.”
As a councilman he will include all neighborhoods in Commerce. Veterans Park, Bristow Park, and Ferguson neighborhoods are often neglected, he says. “They feel abandoned… They call and complain for certain city issues, and it might take a long time to take care of, or sometimes they just forget,” he says.
Valencia says he would also be good at bringing businesses into town because of his business experience and connections.
Another major issue that concerns him is what he calls the “corruption in the city.” He points to one councilman who was indicted by the federal grand jury, and says another is being investigated. This was what motivated him to run for council, he said.
Valencia works as an accountant for the Commerce Casino and as a club promoter. The latter job has caused some controversy, and despite what the flyers circulating through town say about him, he has never smoked nor taken drugs, and he does not drink alcohol, he says.
He disputes the ‘party’ image, saying he became a club promoter when he was putting his life back together after a life-changing motorcycle accident. Before the accident, he enjoyed a job as a lifeguard at the Aquatorium. A friend introduced Valencia to the club promoter job, and he discovered that he was good at meeting and talking to people.
Candidate Shawn Estrada began learning more about the city he grew up in while jogging or walking around town, talking about city issues with people who recognize him from his career as a boxer.
“They are surprised to know I live in Commerce,” says Estrada, who competed in the 2008 Beijing Olympics. “I have a lot of pride in the community,” he says, often telling people he meets that he lives “right here down the street on Wilma Avenue.”
Estrada grew up in the Bristow Park area bordering East Los Angeles, and was raised with many brothers and sisters, “sometimes living in East Los Angeles, and sometimes in Commerce.” He trains in the gym at Bristow Park.
He decided to run because he “felt it was time for a change.” With all the investigations into city council corruption, Estrada says he just wants to be a good representative for the city.
He says he will work with the Sheriff’s Department to get them out to patrol the Veterans Park and Bristow Park areas to control the drug and gang activity there. “I had a brother killed in gang violence… I don’t want no family to go through that… losing a brother is a hard thing to go through,” he says.
He feels he learned a great deal about the city and the residents through this campaign. “It is an honor just to campaign, an honor to throw my name in the hat. Whether I win or lose, for one person to even vote for me, I consider it an honor.”
Please see the last issue or online at EGPNEWS.COM for profiles of George Kevanian, Denise Robles, and Joe Aguilar.
Monterey Park Election: Three Seats Open
Candidate Bob Gin says the existing city council needs to get beyond its habit of “beating issues to death.” Instead they should be “keeping our libraries open, and keeping our fire and police departments afloat.”
Gin thinks the discussions on the budget went on for too long. “I understand budgets are important, but you can only get so much blood out of a turtle,” he said.
The city council should question the staff, he says, but ”we shouldn’t be micro-managing our city,” he says. “If we hire a city attorney, if we hire a city manager, we should allow them to do the work. We’re not the experts. We’re the elected body here to make sure we’re spending the money correctly.”
Gin is currently in his eighth year as a member of the Alhambra Unified School District Board of Education where he and other board members were tasked with bringing a $170 million budget down to a $125 million budget, he said.
Gin says he will bring to city council his experience in running a business. “Being a business owner, you have to watch your money carefully, or you lose your business. You watch how you spend the money, and you don’t overlap services, or hire two people for the same job.”
Gin recently retired from running a liquor store in Inglewood. Originally, “it was my parent’s store, we worked it together,” he said.
Gin has also had deep involvement in various cultural events and activities around Los Angeles, including running the Dragon Boat Festival in Echo Park for nearly 40 years, and helping to start the Chinatown Teen Post back in 1969 when he was a college student.
When Incumbent Mitchell Ing is accused of not being a team player, he responds that his team “isn’t with the city managers and the attorneys,” it is with the “residents of Monterey Park.”
He also does not “scream” or “holler.” He and other council members accused of “bickering” at council meetings are presenting facts exposing planning commissioners who don’t live in the city, city officials who engage in conflicts of interest, and city attorneys over-charging the city.
“There are some council members who don’t add anything to the meetings,” he says. “They just sit there, and they’re quiet.”
Some council members “grandstand” during budget discussions by saying they will not layoff city workers, even when they are facing a budget deficit, he says.
“If your budget is based on personnel,” there should be no grandstanding, Ing said. Other council members pointed to a large reserve in the city coffers that could have been used to prevent the layoffs, but a large chunk of the reserves were designated for disasters and other specific uses, he says.
Ing believes the reserve money the city “spent ten years saving” should not be used to fill a financial gap, especially with the economic recovery going at such a slow pace.
He also says the city needs to bring in more national retail stores that attract regional customers and the city’s own residents. “Just imagine how many lunch specials Monterey Park would have to sell in a restaurant” in order to match the same kind of sales tax revenue brought in by bigger ticket items like cars, says Ing.
Where to shop around town is the number one issue for residents, he says. There are residents who have lived in Monterey Park for fifty years and they never shop in the downtown area on Garvey because there is nothing there for them, he says.
Ing earned a degree in economics from UCLA, and an MBA from Cal State L.A. He began his banking career in Monterey Park 23 years ago, and has provided over 500 home loans to families in the surrounding areas, as well as small business loans, he says.
Joe Ray Avila
Candidate Joe Ray Avila calls himself a “white Mexican hill-billy.” His mother is a “southern Belle” from Tennessee, and his father was an “Orange County Mexican,” he says. He is a hill-billy, because he lives in the urban hills.
Avila is known to ride up and down those hills and around the neighborhood on rollerblades. You might see him rolling by during his campaign.
Avila is a self-employed handyman who can “fix things and build your dreams.” His favorite refrain is, “I’m a handyman, a simple man, hey, they call me the handyman.”
When his father died, and the contractors were not doing their jobs and ripping off his family, he decided he would fix up the house himself, he said. “I really don’t advertise, but I keep busy,” he says of his livelihood.
Avila has decided to run for city council because he is tired of parking tickets being given out to people for parking on the wrong side of the street on street sweeping day.
The street sweepers can go around the parked vehicles like they used to do, he says. “The city needs money, but they don’t need to tax people for petty things,” he says.
“People have to pay their property taxes. Some older people have a fixed low income. There should be no more taxing of the people,” Avila says.
He also says the city’s codes are too strict. “If businesses want to paint their stores purple or peach, they can’t do it. It’s like a homeowners association… some people might want to go for a unique style because it’s their business, their little signature to the outside world, ‘come try my spot,’” he says.
He wants to get “translators for everybody” to help people communicate when they shop at stores where shopkeepers use a different language. He wants to break down mis-communication and help existing businesses, such as the local hardware stores, sharpen up so they can compete with big retailers like Home Depot and Mission Hardware.
Please see the last issue or online at EGPNEWS.COM for profiles of Teresa Real Sebastien, Hans Liang, Walter Sarnoi, and Anthony Wong. EGP made several attempts, but was unable to secure an interview with Luis Estrada in time for this publication.
March 3, 2011 Copyright © 2012 Eastern Group Publications, Inc.