Candidates hoping to win one of two open seats on the Monterey Park City Council shared their commitment to safety, bringing business to the community and discussed the challenges the city faces during a candidate forum held last week.
The Pasadena chapter of the League of Women Voters and Soroptimist International of Monterey Park/Rosemead hosted the event that took place at city hall on Jan. 29.
For the most part there were few differences between the participants, which included Joe Avila, a handyman; Peter Chan, a business owner; Hans Liang, a deputy probation officer and Larry C. Sullivan, a retired businessman.
Saying he’s “not afraid to stir the pot,” Avila said he hoped to address the concerns of everyday people living in the city: “When I see wrong I am compelled to fix it.”
Chan spoke about his involvement in the city and pledged to work on things like keeping the library open longer and beautifying the city. “I would like to see a very safe city for everyone to live in,” he said.
Sullivan also spoke about his local involvement, noting that if elected he would be devoted to the job, be prepared for council meetings, and look for ways to keeps costs down and create a realistic budget. “I will always take responsibility for my decisions,” he said.
Liang said his work as a probation officer and past collaborations with the city on safety issues make him an ideal candidate. “I have the experience needed to maintain the highest level of safety here in the city,” he told the audience.
All of the candidates were asked whether they have business interests in Monterey Park that would prevent them from voting on city issues. Business owner Chan emphasized that his business is located outside of the city while Avila said his work as a handyman would not present any conflicts.
Facing a tight budget and a fall in revenue, the current city council and staff have in recent months discussed the feasibility of contracting with the LA County Fire Department for fire and paramedic services as a way to reduce costs. The controversial proposal sparked anger in the community, particularly among some of the elderly who expressed concern about response times. When asked if they would consider such a change, all of the candidates were unanimous in their response: “No,” they said. Chan said switching to the county would not save money and Sullivan questioned why a report on the issue had not been shared with the public.
Concerns about traffic prompted questions about how to bring some improvement to local streets. Liang suggested the city look into traffic control software. Avila suggested encouraging residents to use alternative forms of transportation.
And in the area of development, while Sullivan, Liang and Chan expressed support for the proposed marketplace project off the 60 Freeway. Avila said he did not care to bring big corporations to the city.
Candidates were also asked what they thought should be done in regards to a lawsuit filed against Monterey Park over a police-involved shooting last January outside a Carl’s Jr. restaurant near East L.A. College. An investigation found no fault on the part of the officer.
Chan said, based on what little he knows about the case, the city should settle out of court to save money. Sullivan and Liang said they did not want to take a side without knowing all the facts, while Avila said settling out of court is akin to admitting guilt.
As for the biggest challenges facing Monterey Park faces, for Avila it’s street cleaning, while public safety is the number one issue for Chan.
Sullivan said he believes the city needs to get its finances in order. Liang said budgetary issues are his major concerns and said the city must find ways to increase its revenue.
The only heated debate of the evening came during the presentations by the candidates for city treasurer.
Seemingly attempting to tie his opponent to the public corruption scandal in a nearby city, business owner Stephen Lam accused his opponent, incumbent city treasurer Joseph Leon, of failing to pay back money for health care premiums that were mistakenly paid to current and past elected officials.
“As our city and state begin to recover from the recession and in the wake of scandal in the city of Bell, it’s important now more than ever that we elect city leaders who are fiscally responsible and have the experience,” said Lam, who pledged not to accept a salary or benefits if elected.
“I know firsthand what it takes to balance budgets, cut waste and do more with less,” Lam said. “I’m running for treasurer because I care about the future of Monterey Park and want to see the city prosper.”
Defending himself against the accusations, Leon told the crowd that while the city attorney did find that the city had provided elected officials with more health benefits than the law allows, “… it’s agreed by everyone that no elected official of Monterey Park did anything wrong, lies are being spread and I want to get that cleared up tonight.”
Leon added that after the counsel voted to change the benefits in accordance with current interpretation, he made sure he was in compliance and offered in writing to pay back any money that may be legally owed, but claims he never heard back from the city.
Leon then asked the crowd to put themselves in his position.
“What if your employer said they may have made a mistake in the health benefits they have provided you, that goes back several years, and now wants you to pay for their mistake?” he asked.
The candidates running for city clerk included Jeff Schwartz, a chess instructor, who talked about his previous encounters with city council and his involvement with city issues.
“I’ve fallen in love with Monterey Park many times over the years,” Schwartz said. “One of my goals is to protect our votes with paper ballots and responsible oversight with electronic voting systems.”
Attorney Vincent Chang said he wants to make sure city services are convenient for all residents. “I’m running for the position of city clerk because I believe this is the best position to serve the residents of Monterey Park,” said Chang.
Neal Alvarez told the crowd that his previous work as the in-house manager for the Los Angeles County Music Center prepared him for the position of city clerk.
“This job is not an advocacy job,” Alvarez said. “My place in this job is to take you and your opinions.”
Monterey Park’s election will take place on March 5.
For more information about the election visit http://www.ci.monterey-park.ca.us/