March 2, 2011

Lakewood City Council candidate roundup for the March 8, 2011 City Council election

Well the day is almost upon us. Make sure you sharpen your pencils and make it to the polls on March 8, 2011 as this year, for a change, we actually have ballot choices (unlike in March 2009)

LAAG is not "endorsing" any of the Lakewood City Council candidates as we really don't believe in "endorsements". If there is one thing Lakewood candidates have plenty of its "endorsements" by their "pals". Quite frankly we think endorsements are not really worth that much. We want facts not facebook friends. LAAG quite frankly is more interested in who does not endorse a candidate (and why) rather than who does.

Elections are important for one reason really. It’s the only time elected officials will really listen (or at least pretend they are listening) to voters/taxpayers. Once elected look out. You just become a constituent that they have to mollify then do what they damn well please as after all they are now “in”, you are not, and they know what’s best for you as they got a "mandate from the 2500 or so people in the city that voted for them". Those small turnouts make it nothing more than a "popularity" contest, not an "issues" contest

The only good thing we can say about local politics is that they are non partisan so we don’t need to hear all the bickering from and regarding the parties. And quite frankly we are saddened that Lakewood voters want to know the party affiliations of the candidates. Without political party nonsense and chatter we can focus on the "issues". Problem is the only issues are "fluff" if you read the campaign “fluff fliers”. The candidates don't really address the "hard" issues adequately. Why should they if voters let them off the hook when they don’t do so? Of course part of the problem is that the hard issues are just that; hard to tackle and if you take a stand on them before an election you could be accused of not following through once elected. Now we wouldn’t want that.

Only one of the 5 candidates (Marisa Perez) took LAAG’s transparency pledge (well about 90% of it) and bothered to fill out our candidate questionnaire which had much tougher questions on it than those put forth at the ”debate”. All had an equal opportunity to do so as we emailed it it to all of them at the same time. Those that wanted to reach out to us did. We can only base our opinions below on what we have seen or have gleaned from public information. Again LAAG is not “endorsing” any candidates.

Larry Van Nostran (incumbent)

Interestingly Larry Van Nostran is running again while his colleague Esquivel is not. It was Van Nostran supported Esquivel and helped him get elected for the first time in 1990 (once again for an open seat). One of the things that came up in the 2011 debates was term limits for City Council (which are hard to do without a city charter or city wide referendum). Only Marisa Perez supported that. Obviously Larry would not (even thought he just taped a political ad for the debate and did not respond to the question). Larry Van Nostran has been on the city council every year since 1975, following a "special election" in 1975. So if he were to finish out the 2011 term he would be in office for over 40 years making him one of, if not the longest, sitting council members in the state. Well LAAG will say in writing what everyone else is afraid to say out loud (or heaven forbid write): Its time to retire. LAAG has nothing against the elderly. We just feel that after 36 years its time to step aside for the good of the city and allow some fresh perspective on the issues of the day. Unfortunately its why we had to institute term limits in Sacramento (term limits are also unpopular in the Middle East we hear)

One of the reasons Larry Van Nostran taped his "debate" speech and thereby ducked all the forum questions was some vague surgery or health problem (as noted in his speech). Again no full disclosure from the candidate from what we have seen on whether this or any other health problems will affect his next 4 year term (leaving him 81). Quite frankly at his age (77 per our research) and his vague health problems, we feel that there is a real issue related to him not finishing his 4 year term. This comes up with all candidates over 70 and most recently in Jerry Brown’s campaign. Again not a big problem in most political offices, however under current law (supported by most city councils of course) the sitting city council is now allowed to appoint a replacement for the remainder of the term and not hold a special election. Of course this is wrong democratically speaking and we all know will lead to even more manipulation of the “buddy system”. It was supposedly done to save money on elections (heaven forbid we don’t want to spend money on those). We all know that once there is an incumbent in Lakewood its hard to run against the "re-election machine". That is what happened in March 2008.

Nothing about transparency in his election materials of course. We don’t even know if he knows the meaning of the word. We tip our hat at his railing against "illegal fireworks" in his campaign material but quite frankly the March 2006 Dunrobin explosion (which gave birth to LAAG) was on his watch and due to the escalation of legal and illegal fireworks use and misuse and Los Angeles County Sheriff (LASD) incompetency, also on his watch. (LAAG wont rehash the whole issue of the LASD’s lapses in failing to prevent the Dunrobin explosion after numerous calls by residents over many years)

So overall Larry Van Nostran stands out as the worse choice for 2011 in LAAG’s opinion. We wish Larry well in his retirement and with his medical issues. We thank him for the years he has served.

Marc Titel (former Lakewood Councilmember)

The biggest questions we have about Marc Titel are not answered in any of his campaign material in our opinion. Why did you leave the council (he was not voted out) before 2001 and why are you trying to get back in NOW? He talks a lot about "experience" but quite frankly we don’t know of any other legal qualifications for the job other than living in the city and being over 18. It takes 2 days a month to do which is not a bad gig given all the perks, heath benefits, and government pension enhancements government employees get from it. Quite frankly it is not at all clear why Marc Titel wants to get back in. Why did he not run in 2009 when we badly needed a candidate? Not willing to run against an incumbent? Is that an unspoken rule in Lakewood? Again lots of unanswered questions.

What did he do in his last 17 year stint on the council that is noteworthy? (Again something specific, not just "supporting" law enforcement and puppies) Again silence. Seventeen years is a long time to serve without some long standing, bold or significant solo achievement. Marc Titel mentions nothing in his campaign materials about transparency. That does not surprise us as we don’t see anything from his campaign materials that speak to what he did to promote it when on the council.

Marc Titel seems to base much of his campaign on his "experience". In our opinion all the candidates are more than "qualified" for the job. Lets not get into the Sarah Palin qualified or not debates over city council. Please. There will be no 3 am calls from generals or nuclear launch codes involved in the job. As far as LAAG is concerned the most important qualifications for the job are being truly independent from special interests, being willing to go against the majority of the council to stand up for taxpayers and what is right, being smart enough to think outside the box, and truly listening to [good] ideas that don’t always come from other elected officials, municipal lobbying groups or city staff (many of which do not live in the city). Yes those of us outside government sometime know a thing or two about budgets and solving problems.

We do like the fact that Marc Titel is the only candidate without a government job or consulting position (at least currently) but that alone is not enough to essentially re-elect him to his 18th year on the council.

In LAAG’s opinion this election really boils down to the three candidates below, which although they can be distinguished from the prior two candidates, it is more difficult to see the fine distinctions between Joy Janes and Jeff Wood (based on what little we know from their campaigns). The problem of course is there are two seats to fill in this election so again it always comes down to choosing candidates which are the “least” bad choices.

Joy Janes (Sitting Chairperson Lakewood Redevelopment Committee)

Joy Janes is a smart person and politically well connected. In our opinion, perhaps too smart and too politically connected. She was one of the earliest to start campaigning (well before the vacancy was publicly announced as per years past in Lakewood) and she has run a very professional style campaign. Her campaign manager for this election has in the past or currently works for congresswoman Linda Sanchez (whose former “district director” now works as Lakewood’s “Public Info officer”) How cozy is that? (not to change the subject but could we eliminate that position or make it part time with and “enhanced version” of our transparency pledge?) Joy Janes also works in the office of State Assemblyman Warren Furutani (D-Lakewood) and before that was Chief of Staff in the 5th District at the City of Long Beach. You get the point. All these people that “work” in government are “lifers” and just get “recycled” from one position to the next either through elections, appointments or getting a “well paid gig”. All her connections to the city are not enumerated here but we are sure there are many given that Joy Janes was appointed many years ago to the “planning and environment” commission by former councilman Bob Wagner, who LAAG respects for the most part.. Again good and bad points about "insiders" with lots of political connections running vs true "outsiders".

We do not like the fact that to run for city council, commissioners who are appointed often get a better chance at winning election simply due to their knowledge of the how things “work” in Lakewood, but I guess that is politics. Based on what we have seen the city council likes commissioners to run as they often are their “pals” and as they have worked with them for a longer time they know where they stand on ensuring the "status quo" the current city council wants. Don’t want to rock the boat if you know what I mean. Outsiders are not given much encouragement.

Again on transparency Joy Janes has said more on her website than other candidates but given that she was aware of LAAG’s proposed legislation on transparency in December 2009 we expected more from her than some “vague commitments” (like: “Joy will work to encourage citizen participation in city government by making it more open and responsive to the needs of residents..” …from her campaign website). As she has been a “city hall insider” for many years we would expect to see more transparency on her own commission (see comments to this article) Did she take LAAG’s transparency pledge? Nope. Comment on it? Nope. Accept some part of it? Nope. So again we see more of the same status quo with Joy Janes on city council. We would like to be pleasantly surprised but we are not too encouraged when candidates wont even MAKE specific campaign promises, let alone break them once elected.

With all the potential loss of redevelopment funds and “name calling” going on between Governor Jerry Brown and the cities I would also have expected more detail from a long term planning commission member to show us just how those funds have been so well spent under her tenure and why cities have a right to that money. Or is it just a slush fund that should be cut?. Again nothing on her website of any substance. I guess that’s the reason Lakewood voters come to our website. Some substance. Some critical questions and analysis.

Jeff Wood (Sitting Commissioner Lakewood Recreation and Community Services Commission)

Jeff Wood’s day job is for the “state version” of FEMA created in Jan. 2009. (You recall FEMA the federal agency that forced us to buy silly flood insurance in the late 1990’s…how could you forget). So again another candidate that is already a government employee. 

Same problem here as Joy Janes in terms of already being a city hall "insider". Apparently appointed to the “Recreation and Community Services commission” by Joe Esquivel roughly 10 years after Esquivel was “elevated” to city council. I don’t equate “Parks and Rec” with Planning and environment as the latter usually involves ticking off homeowners by saying “no”. Parks and Rec we assume involves making hard choices like how often to water the lawns and what time to turn off the park lights. We do like the TV show though and assume its not far from real life? But over all, the same issues Joy Janes has as a commissioner, even thought he is not the chairperson. The real purpose we assume of commissioner positions (each council member gets to appoint one) is to “groom” a councilmember successor. That’s how politics work. Now that Esquivel is “retiring” its Jeff’s "turn" to be in the spotlight.

Again the dog park issue has come up in debates and with residents that want one but we don’t see Parks commissioners coming out and taking a bold stand on this. It just gets shoved off to staff (who ever that is), laden with costs and then sent out to pasture as “too costly” (of course we don’t know any details about the city budge but a juvenile colored pie chart…please) Am I missing something? How about creating some park space with all the vacant land laying around or commercial space likely to never be leased this decade? Again no outside the box thinking that we can see. We don’t see anything in his campaign materials that scream “outside the box thinking” either. Maybe its just that parks commission does not offer a true opportunity to shine. Not sure.

On transparency once again Wood at least mentions (almost as an after thought; bottom of one campaign flier) that he supports the “idea” but with no details or pledge its nothing but a hollow promise. We also note that again same problem as with Joy Janes to some extent. If you truly supported transparency all along (as opposed to a “recent convert” to the idea for the campaign as someone else mentioned it) what specific steps have you personally taken to promote transparency in your own commission? Examples please? Silence.

So with Joy Janes and Jeff Wood it’s a tossup really. To close to call.

Marisa Perez (“Environmental Policy Advisor” per the ballot)

Marisa Perez appears to be the only “outsider” running. We say that as she has not been on any Lakewood commissions or been closely aligned with any past or current council members that we can see. No real insider connections to city hall (at least when compared to all the other candidates)

Right off the bat we will say that we are impressed that she completed LAAG’s Candidate Questionnaire and took some if not all of LAAG’s transparency pledge. (her pledge is here) Trust us. This is a good thing. As we said before transparency is the key to everything that goes on in local government. Never forget that. Most voters are learning that lesson too late. There is no investigative journalism going on at the local level and we have the City of Bell debacle as our reward for that.

People already in government, especially those in elected office tend to get the “bubble effect”, which is what Obama feared once inside the Oval Office. That is you only get to hear from staff and “yes men” and the rest of the public’s legitimate ideas are thrown out or never reach you. People in government are also loathe to accept ideas from outside as they often feel as they are elected they somehow are better or smarter than “non electeds/non insiders” and are surrounded with a “cloak of wisdom” once elected. They are not. Again not true of all elected politicians and government bureaucrats but unfortunately we have seen it happen too many times lately. And the reality is the longer in office or in government the more susceptible you are to the “bubble effect”.

So again Marisa Perez does not have the support system that Joy Janes and Jeff Wood have as she is coming from outside the system. That is very rare and can really only happen at the local level. Meg Whitman tried it and you see what it cost her.

In our view Marisa Perez is fully competent, qualified and is a quick study. She is personable and seems committed to the cause. Her background as represented seems more than adequate for the task at hand. Will she know the job inside and out from day one? No. No one could. But that’s why we have the City manager, City Attorney and City Clerk (“the pros”) all sitting there at council meetings holding the councilmember’s hands. Just to make sure all the “formalities” are completed. (wasn’t that why we just couldn’t let Howard Chambers retire...he was too damn good?) The real work is the reading and time that goes into prep for the meeting and the votes. Put it this way, Marisa is more qualified that Larry van Nostran or Joe Esquivel ever were when they were first elected. In fact I would go so far as to say she is better qualified for the job now even as Larry and Joe are at the end of their “reigns”.

She also supports term limits which in a non charter city like Lakewood may be attainable with a city wide vote and we would support that measure as well given that “incumbent bias” in this city is just too strong and voter turnout just too low (in terms of a percentage of votes). Marisa stated that she wanted to limit herself to three terms (12 years) on the council. LAAG applauds that. But then again that is the type of thinking you get from an outsider candidate. Try one. You might be glad you did.

So there you have it. The 2011 candidate roundup. They’re not much but they’re all we have got. So look at all their websites, read the candidate statements but most of all make sure you get out and vote on March 8 2011. City council elections can mean more to your quality of life than an national election can in many ways.

Lakewood Accountability Action Group™ LAAG | | Lakewood, CA A California Non Profit Association | Demanding action and accountability from local government™ click here to receive LAAG posts by email

No comments: