The four candidates vying for two open seats on the City Council took their messages to the south side of town Monday night in the second and final public candidates forum before the April 12 municipal elections.
The composition of the dais at the was different this time around, as newcomer made his first public appearance after falling sick before the last debate at city hall earlier this month. Joe Espinosa, who participated in , has since .
Moderated by the always whimsical on K-GEM, the discussion overcame early technical problems and centered around alienation in the south side of town, the and the light rail project.
Candidates were first asked what the greatest need for the south side of town was, and all mentioned that the area could use its own park. Adams has called for a park to be built somewhere below the freeway and repeated that it should be named after a local Latino to honor that portion of the community.
"Because to me it’s not just parks, and it's not just who you name them after, it's people feeling like they’re a part of the community," Adams said.
Addressing the same question, Shevlin referenced the (MAP) program and the need to continue it. MAP, which trains neighborhood leaders to better utilize public resources, is funded by redevelopment money that could be taken away by the state. Shevlin said the program was key to the revitalization of Monrovia's south side.
"It has gone into the south portion of our town and helped the citizens and educated the citizens on what it is to be a part of the community," Shevlin said.
Walker also asked the candidates how the Gold Line would benefit the south end of town, and each one agreed that the light rail project would help to bring jobs and investment to the area. While the total number of jobs that will be created by the Gold Line remain unknown, Ziegler said the project would better connect the region and allow Monrovians to better reach employment opportunities outside the city.
"What it's going to do is it's going to allow many folks a convenient and healthy way to get to other communities that have healthy employment centers," Ziegler said.
The project should also lure people into Monrovia from other places, Shevlin said.
"Hopefully it will also bring a lot of people into Monrovia," she said. "They’ll come and see how wonderful we are and they’ll want to come back and visit often."
The topic of affordable housing was also addressed, and Adams said the city spends a little over $1 million annually on low-income housing. Because of real estate prices, that money doesnt't stretch very far, so the city's strategy has been to focus on improving the affordable housing that's already here, Adams said.
Ziegler set himself apart from the other candidates when talking about the importance of the city's redevelopment agency, which the incumbents have as a crucial tool for the city in attracting businesses.
Ziegler said that redevelopment had been implemented well in Monrovia but has been used poorly statewide and cautioned that it should not be considered the "end-all, be-all" in encouraging investment in the city.
"[Redevelopment] makes me angry in a way as a capitalist," he said. "It’s a subsidy, and to say that we can’t survive without a subsidy gets me."
The discussion then turned to public employee pensions, which all candidates agreed have spiraled out of control. Adams said it was city's greatest fiscal challenge.
"I think the single biggest economic issue facing Monrovia is our public employee retirement system," Adams said. "It's unsustainable."
Cosylion pointed out that the problem ultimately lies with the state's pension program, CalPERS.
"The cities can reform as much as they want, but it actually has to do with the state," he said.
One point of controversy brought up by Walker was the decision by the city to spend about $7,000 . Adams reiterated that he was "embarrassed" by the way the logo was handled, and Cosylion said the money could have been better spent elsewhere. Shevlin said it was a nice idea but added that perhaps the timing was bad.
"Right now, yes, things are tough so maybe it's not the best time to roll something out like that," Shevlin said.
Ziegler said the whole issue was a non-issue, as the amount of money represents only a drop in the bucket of the city's budget $60 million-plus budget.
"Overall, I'm pretty disappointed by all the controversy over this," Ziegler said, adding: "...To turn this into a flame war back and forth publicly is really a distraction."
The debate also indirectly addressed recent clashes on the City Council between Adams and Mayor Mary Ann Lutz. The other three candidates said the council should continue to cooperate and keep disagreements respectful when asked about the need for civility on the council. Adams said he tends "to be a little more outspoken than perhaps some would prefer."
"I don’t think any of us are elected to sit back and put our friendship in front of what we think is right for the community," he said.
Shevlin and Cosylion closed out the debates by urging Monrovians to get out and vote. The last day to register to vote in next month's elections was Monday, but people can still sign up to vote by absentee ballot until April 5, Shevlin said.