Candidates for 51st Assembly District Take on Jobs, Street Vending, Cityhood at East LA Forum

By Gloria Angelina Castillo, EGP Staff Writer

The East Los Angeles Chamber of Commerce on Tuesday gave four candidates for the 51st Assembly District the opportunity to share their platforms and discuss issues important to the community.

The recently redrawn 51st District unifies all of unincorporated East Los Angeles, which was previously sliced into four assembly districts, and also includes Northeast Los Angeles neighborhoods (El Sereno, Hillside Village, Hermon, Montecito Heights, Lincoln Heights, Garvanza, Highland Park, Eagle Rock, Mt. Washington, Glassell Park, Cypress Park) and other north central portions of the City of Los Angeles, including Elysian Valley, Solano Canyon, Echo Park, Angeleno Heights, Chinatown, Historic Filipinotown, and Silver Lake.

Candidates Luis Lopez, Jimmy Gomez, Arturo Chavez and Oscar Gutierrez, all Democrats, answered a variety of questions from the chamber and stakeholders at the forum held at Pan American Bank in East Los Angeles.

Lea esta nota EN ESPAÑOLCandidatos al Distrito 51º de la Asamblea Enfrentan Temas Locales

While many of the issues raised were local in nature, chamber members seemed aware that state elected officials — through influence, legislation or money — have the ability to impact issues in their backyards.

Forum topics included illegal street vending, East Los Angeles cityhood, and how to create jobs locally.

All four candidates said illegal street vending is a delicate issue, but noted those vendors could be unfair competition to brick and mortar businesses, and unregulated food-handling conditions could pose a health risk to consumers.

Chavez, the district director for Assemblyman Gil Cedillo, said the issue is really a bureaucratic one, since L.A. County makes money authorizing both vending carts and business licenses, even though street venders are only permitted to vend legally in MacArthur Park and Venice.

The issue is multi-faceted, but a solution won’t be found until there’s dialogue between all entities involved, including the state, Chavez said.

Lopez, the director of a nonprofit healthcare group, said laws and ordinances should be adhered to, but other entrepreneurial and career opportunities need to be available to the people who would otherwise resort to illegal street vending to make money. An investment in adult education, for example, could help people start a business the right way, he said.

Gomez, the political director for a nurses’ union and Los Angeles Community College instructor, and Gutierrez, an insurance sales representative, said unfair competition and public health are important issues, but vendors and traditional businesses should not be pitted against each other.
Perhaps a solution could be found through communication, Gutierrez suggested, noting the multiple facets of the problem including licensing, public health, zoning and traffic policy. “I don’t want to be heartless, but we have to enforce those laws,” Gutierrez said.

All four candidates said they would support cityhood for unincorporated East Los Angeles if proposed again, but only under the right financial conditions.

The East LA Chamber strongly opposed recent efforts to incorporate East Los Angeles, and criticized state elected officials and members of Congress for supporting the effort even after a fiscal analysis showed the area would incur millions of dollars for the proposed city.

“I agree in concept and vision, but it makes no sense to rush in and where we are paying more for basic city services,” Lopez said.

“Direct representation is part of what it means to be in a democracy, it’s part of what it means to live in this country, so I believe that cityhood is something we should support as long as we can provide those [vital] services…” Gomez said.

Gomez said, if elected, he would introduce legislation to prevent further annexations of East Los Angeles, so East L.A. could in the future benefit from those strong tax bases.

Gutierrez seemed the least friendly to the cityhood concept. No one is talking about aging infrastructure “under the city,” he said, noting the cost of repairing water main breaks in places like the San Fernando Valley.

Chavez applauded the recent cityhood effort. He said he helped fundraise for the East Los Angeles Residents Association’s Initial Fiscal Analysis, the findings of which were not supported in a later more comprehensive study.

The candidates were asked what they would do to spur job creation.

Lopez said health reform and expanded health care access could pose a great opportunity for medical jobs. A “pipeline of healthcare professionals from this area” needs to be created through educational opportunities, he said.

Gomez said more tax breaks and credits would encourage small businesses to hire. He also said the community needs to be prepared to train more medical professionals through programs at community colleges.

Seventy percent of the nurses in California are trained in community colleges, and legislators need to make it easier for them to attend a college and graduate without being overburdened by debt, Gomez said.

Gutierrez suggested the marketing of East Los Angeles as a “cultural icon” in order to bring revenues to the area. He also noted car dealerships and large retail stores, like Sears and Walmart, should be encouraged to come to East LA to create a stronger revenue base.

Chavez, on the other hand, said micro-businesses, those with five or less employees, not large corporations, should be the focus of job creation efforts. Jobs in renewable energy should also be encouraged, and taxes on manufacturing should be reduced or eliminated in order to bring more jobs into the area, he said.

The candidates forum was presented by the East Los Angeles Chamber of Commerce and hosted by Pan American Bank. (EGP photo by Gloria Angelina Castillo)

Candidates responded to a variety of other questions, such as what programs would they implement for children, young adults and seniors; increasing transparency in how they use tax revenues; issues related to California’s budget shortfalls, specifically public employee pension plans; and whether they support adult education.

For more information on their campaigns and to see their endorsements, visit the candidates’ campaigns websites: Jimmy Gomez at www.jimmygomezforassembly.com; Arturo Chavez at arturochavez.org; Luis Lopez at www.lopezforassembly.com/about-luis.html, and Oscar Gutierrez at www.voteoscar.com

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April 12, 2012  Copyright © 2012 Eastern Group Publications, Inc.

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