Candidates for the city council of Bell Gardens and seats on the Montebello Unified School District Board of Education are in the final stretch of their campaigns for next Tuesday’s November 5 General Election. Voters will be asked to decide whether they want to keep long-time incumbents or see a change in their councilmembers or board members.
Here is a brief look at the views of some of the candidates obtained by EGP through statements and interviews.
Bell Gardens City Council
In the city of Bell Gardens, which has had its share of election campaign scandals in the past, three seats are up for a vote: the three candidates with the highest number of votes will be elected.
Incumbents Daniel Crespo, Priscilla Flores and Sergio Infanzon are facing three challengers, teacher and former planning commissioner Jose Mendoza, business owner Jasmina Saavedra and Yvette Silva, a pharmacy manager.
Two of the big issues facing whoever is elected are whether water rates for 30 percent of Bell Gardens residents should be raised after nearly two decades of no increases. Staff has said the water system is in serious need of maintenance and updates. Elected officials will also have to find ways to spur economic development after the loss of Redevelopment Agency (RDA) revenue that was for years used as a tool to bring new businesses and affordable housing to the southeast city.
Crespo told EGP that under no circumstance would he vote to increase water rates. He said many of the city’s residents are just barely getting by financially, and Bell Gardens will have to find another way to address the water systems large operating deficit. Using some of the city’s previous developments as examples, Crespo said he plans to work on deals with large retailers and restaurants to bring revenue to the city.
Flores, however, says she is conflicted about whether to raise water rates or sell off the city’s water rights. She believes it is unfair for the 70 percent of residents who get their water from non-city owned utilities to continue to subsidize the city’s water customers, but understands that many residents will find it hard to afford rate hikes.. She told EGP she thinks a gradual increase in rates could be the best solution.
Flores thinks the city should address its revenue issues by continuing to seek outside grants to help pay for some services and infrastructure improvements, and to continue to negotiate with businesses that would be a good fit for the small city.
Infanzon, who of the three incumbents has been on the council for the shortest amount of time, says updating the city’s 15-year-old master plan is a top priority. Doing so would give the city a blue print for future housing, transportation and business development. He also said he would focus on revitalizing three underdeveloped corridors along Garfield, Eastern and Florence with different types of restaurants and businesses. He also emphasizes the importance of developing the next generation of city leaders by being involved with local youth.
A former planning commissioner, challenger Mendoza told EGP he played a part in the approval of The Bicycle Casino’s hotel expansion project, which will bring new revenue and jobs to the city. He said he hopes to fill the vacant storefronts he sees with businesses that fit the limited space available in the city’s small 2-mile radius. He said increasing water rates could cause financial hardships, but needs to know more about the issue before making a decision.
Saavedra and Silva did not provide information for this article.
Montebello Unified School District
The MUSD Board of Education, for a district that spans from Bell Gardens on the south to Monterey Park on the north, encompassing the cities of Commerce, Montebello and parts of East Los Angeles, has two separate board elections on Tuesday’s ballot: On one, voters can vote for three candidates; they must vote for just one on the other.
The third largest district in the County must implement Common Core standards and decide how to spend new local district control funds. Questions have been raised as to whether MUSD distributes resources equitably across the district. MUSD has adopted a district wide career pathway curriculum, opened a technology-focused high school, and expanded career offerings at its adult school. MUSD also received a $7 million grant to purchase thousands of wireless laptops for student use.
When elected, board members will continue to deal with how to recover from years of financial cuts and declining enrollment.
On one of the ballot questions, the seats of longtime board members Hector A. Chacon and Gerri Guzman and Benjamin Cardenas, who was appointed late last year to fill the seat left vacant by Ed Chau’s election to the state assembly are up for grabs. The three incumbents are being challenged by community educator/historian Lani Cupchoy; retired electrician Frank Thomas Morales and Sonia Saucillo, who lists “domestic engineer” as her occupation.
The separate special election to fill the remaining two years of the seat left vacant by the death of Marcella Calderon has drawn challengers to the board appointed incumbent Paul Montoya, who has held the seat for two-years and hopes to be elected for the first time. Challengers include Edgar Cisneros, a deputy aid to County Supervisor Gloria Molina, and C.J. Salgado, a physicist/manager/ recruiter.
Guzman told EGP that the past unequal distribution of services, specifically to cities like Commerce and Bell Gardens, has been corrected. She said MUSD has allocated a large amount of funding for infrastructure omprovements in the south. The district has embraced new educational models, including technology and career pathways, as well as a growing number of dual-immersion programs while she has been on the board, Guzman said.
Cardenas, who has been on the board for less than a year and is on the staff of U.S. Rep. Grace Napolitano, told EGP that students must be looked at as a whole, and the importance of recognizing and addressing social issues, such as poverty and hunger, as well as being tech-ready for the 21st century world. He said he hit the ground running and that his experience working for Napolitano has helped him identify resources for the district. He thinks the district must strive to move students out of English Learner classrooms as soon as they become proficient.
A product of the district, Cupchoy, who was a part of a campaign that brought community gardens to all MUSD schools in Bell Gardens, told EGP there is still an uneven distribution of services to south side schools, and that the district’s practice of keeping teachers categorized as temporary employees for years is unfair. She also wants to see a return of the arts, and says the district needs to return to its golden days.
Hoping to fill the remaining two years of the special election seat, Cisneros told EGP MUSD must embrace technology, and better prepare students for college and the job market. He said he was not aware of claims about the uneven distribution of services until he started campaigning, but told EGP if elected he would make sure taxpayer dollars are used wisely across the district.
Salgado told EGP that the district’s main responsibility is academics, and says more attention needs to be focused in areas such as technology, math and engineering, to provide fields of study that would create career opportunities in the future. He would like to ensure that programs found in the district’s Applied Technology Center, are found elsewhere.
Appointee Montoya told EGP that he has not witnessed an uneven distribution of services while on the board, and noted that many of MUSD’s funds go to schools in Bell Gardens. He said more needs to be done to get parents involved in their child’s education. A computer system administrator himself, Montoya told EGP he would like students to be able to use technology as a learning tool. He said it’s important to make sure that technology systems adopted by the district do not quickly become obsolete.
Chacon told EGP that he plans to use his 20 years of experience to help students graduate and prepare for college. Saucillo-Valencia also told EGP she would rather see students learn at a slower rate to be sure they are really ready for college.
Tuesday, Nov. 5 is Election Day. For more information about the election contact the local city clerk’s office.