Thursday, February 6, 2020

City Council Election: Part 1 Where do the candidates stand on the issues

As 'Vote by Mail' ballots are just beginning to hit local mailboxes, this first of a two-part series will highlight some of the positions each candidate for city council has taken on key local issues during a recent public forum.

Public Safety

Public safety is a shared responsibility between law enforcement and the community according to Anthony Otero, a police lieutenant with a major agency in the region. Otero presented his three-part Public Safety Initiative to further reduce crime in the city.

Using the latest technology, Otero's safe parks initiative would deploy tools such as motion sensor-controlled lighting to assist deputies on foot beats addressing crime and nuisances in local parks. He proposes forming an all-volunteer mounted patrol to assist in this initiative using Creek Park first to pilot the initiative before expanding it to other parks.

Technology would play an important part in his safe streets initiative using automatic license plate readers and cameras on routes into and out of the city making it possible to go back in time to identify and apprehend criminals that are coming from outside the city to conduct business.  This same technology could be deployed in neighborhoods if residents agreed as a group that its use would help address a local issue.

Matthew Morse acknowledged that the city is experiencing falling crime rates and would like to see neighbors get together to form groups and watch out for each other.

Noel Jaimes feels the city is well patrolled by deputies augmented by city Public Safety Officers and has excellent response times to calls for service.

District #3 candidate John Accornero told the audience that he feels public safety is very important and had recently toured both the La Mirada Sheriff's Station and Fire Station 49 to find out what he could do as a city councilperson to allow them to do their job better. He failed to reveal the results from his fact-finding mission.

Councilmember Ed Eng touts La Mirada's low crime rate as evidence the city is on the right path despite the challenges presented by AB 109, AB 47, and AB 57. The three measures shifted non-violent offenders away from prisons to county jails and community release, reduced some felonies to misdemeanors resulting in a surge in crime rates across the state. 

Eng credits this success to relationships city staff, community members and its leaders have built with the Sheriff's Department which recently reported that crime rates in areas patrolled by Norwalk Sheriff's Station are at a 30-year low.

Eng also explained more resources have been shifted to allow deputies to conduct more investigations. 

(Editor's Note: La Mirada's special problems unit (SAO deputies) have made numerous drug busts over the past year that have helped cause disruptions in local supply chains.)

Mayor Steve De Ruse said the current deployment of deputies and other Sheriff's Department resources has allowed a pro-active approach to policing that is getting results. He pledged to continue to provide deputies with the tools and resources needed to get the job done,

Calling public safety his first priority, De Ruse told the audience that "if you don't feel safe in your home, nothing else means anything".

Homeless encampments

The candidates were asked what proactive actions would each take to stop the establishment of homeless camps in the city.

Matthew Morse was first up to answer this question and admitted he was not very familiar with this issue or current city policy and would seek help from advisors and seek counsel for assistance. Morse noted that the participants in the recent annual homeless count tallied 33 homeless individuals found living in the city. He was undecided if the city should provide service since doing so may attract more homeless to La Mirada.

Noel Jaimes would offer to help the Whittier Union High School District with a proposal currently under study to use part of the Sierra High School campus as a shelter as one way to keep camps from popping up in La Mirada.

Anthony Otero told the audience that arrests will not solve the problem and dealing with it is a shared responsibility between public, private and religious organizations. Otero further stated that agencies with the resources to help the homeless should have primary responsibility leading the effort and not law enforcement.

Otero referred to a state law allowing a caretaker to be appointed for those with mental illness and views the law as a way for the state might become caretakers of individuals as a way to get them the help they need.

John Accornero has staked out a controversial position by proposing the city look into establishing a homeless shelter at a shuttered warehouse that sites on the southeast corner of Alondra Blvd. and Valley View Av.

(Editor's Note: The property at 15910- 15912 Valley View Ave sold for just over $21 million in 2017 and is a 210,000 square foot warehouse on close to seven acres)

Councilmember Ed Eng says the city has been dealing with the homeless issue in a proactive manner which includes enforcement with current laws and codes already on the books. Eng said the results of that effort can be seen by the recent homeless count tally now stands at 33, down from the 60 counted two years ago. 

Mr. Eng, Executive Director of a county commission that acts as independent advisors to the county Board of Supervisors said he is opposed to a proposal to mandate shelter housing in local communities.

Mayor De Ruse spoke about the need to determine why a person is homeless and determine what kind of help that person needs such as with substance abuse or mental illness and then find them the resources that they need. 

The mayor reminded everyone that a humanitarian approach is called for as homeless individuals are human too.

Local taxation

In District 5 candidate Anthony Otero stated adamantly he would vote against any attempt to impose a new local tax on La Mirada homeowners. 

Also stating he would not vote for such a proposal Councilmember Ed Eng says the city has built up a general fund reserve that is 130% of the amount that is budgeted to be spent from that account allowing the city to ride out any downfall that might occur in the economy.

To further emphasize his point that city finances were in excellent shape he held as proof a recent report from the state auditor that said La Mirada's financial stability was rated as being the 11th best in a state with over 400 cities. 

Eng attributed that stability to a longtime philosophy of fiscal conservatism and being financially prudent.

Mayor De Ruse, John Accornero, Matthew Morse, and Noel Jaimes also stated they would oppose any new taxes on homeowners with the mayor adding it would not be necessary because the city is well-run.

Up Next: Part 2 on Saturday