Public safety, the revitalization of the waterfront, aerospace jobs and the future of the AES power plant were the hot topics of the first Redondo Beach candidates’ forum, presented Monday in the city council chambers by the Chamber of Commerce.
Of those themes, three earned wide agreement from the candidates for city council and mayor in the March 5 election. Everyone wanted to find a way to put more cops on the street, build a new waterfront that reflected Redondo’s unique character and keep the Los Angeles Air Force Base in El Segundo.
But regarding Measure A, the ballot initiative that would rezone the AES site to ban power generation and create open space and mixed use, the candidates differed. While all 14 of the candidates running said they would prefer not having a power plant on Harbor Drive, only four — including the two authors of Measure A — came out strongly in favor of the initiative.
Only one of the candidates for mayor, Eric Coleman, supports Measure A. He is also the only mayoral candidate not serving on the current city council.
The bottom line is that residents who decide to base their vote entirely on the Measure A issue will have an easy time making their choices. Some of the candidates who said they did not support Measure A — including the sitting council members — made a point of saying they would respect the will of the people if the initiative passes. At least two candidates said they were on the fence and gathering more information about the power plant issue.
Those supporting Measure A stressed that it was the only way to rid Redondo of the power plant, while others said it was a violation of private property rights that would end up in a messy legal battle, leaving the current plant in place for decades.
AES is applying to the California Energy Commission for a new plant because the ocean cooling system in the existing plant is being phased out.
The power plant, policing needs, support for local businesses and the waterfront wove themselves through the panel discussions for all four races. Here are some quick snapshots of the candidates and some of what they said.
Candidates for mayor: Steve Aspel, Pat Aust, Matt Kilroy and Eric Coleman.
Aspel, Aust and Kilroy are all sitting councilmen. Aspel is termed out in District 1 while Aust and Kilroy still have two years left in their terms for Districts 3 and 4 respectively. Aspel touted his ability to build consensus on the council and his responsiveness to residents.
“I will continue to fix your potholes,” he said. “I’m famous for that. I’m called the pothole guy.”
Aust noted his 44 years of professional, volunteer and elected service to the community, including a long stint as fire chief.
“I know what’s worked and what hasn’t work,” he said.
Kilroy, a Redondo Beach teacher, emphasized his strong ties to the district, which has been striving to work more closely with the city in recent years.
“I have also been an opponent of (city) fee increases,” he said. “If we foster a good business sense, we will get the revenue.”
Coleman, also a teacher, said he grew up in Redondo Beach and was running in part to break up what he sees as too cozy of a relationship between the city and developers.
“Is it Redondo Beach or Re-Condo Beach?” he asked.
Coleman was the only mayoral candidate to support Measure A. He said it was time to fight the “AES propaganda machine” and rezone the land, although he cautioned that cleaning up the site for possible toxins could prove costly.
Kilroy said he opposed the initiative.
“Measure A is not the solution we need,” he said. “It’s not a matter of being scared of AES.” He noted that he was the only candidate for mayor on the council who supported a resolution opposing a new plant.
Aspel said, “I don’t think there’s enough meat on the bone (for Measure A) to give AES enough critical mass to move.”
He added, “I don’t think the citizens of Redondo Beach want to subsidize a parkland.”
Aust said that people should have voted on the plant but said that Measure A was flawed because it attempted to both remove the plant and rezone the land.
“We need to make a decision on the power plant, and then we need to decide what we want there,” he said.
Candidates for District 1: Kimberly Fine, Jeff Ginsburg, Jim Light and Dianne Prado.
Fine, the owner of a small local business, said she led opposition to a sewer tax in recent years and came out forcefully for the hiring of more police officers.
“I really believe in restoring the numbers (of officers) in public safety,” she said. “The types of crimes have changed and they are getting more severe.”
Ginsburg, owner of a business in Rivera Village, detailed his work with the business improvement district there and said he was running to build consensus.
“I want to bring people together on the difficult topics and get things done,” he said.
Light, an aerospace engineer, said he was running as part of a decade-long effort to fight “cookie-cutter development” in the city. He spoke of this leadership in defeating the Heart of the City proposal that would have brought 3,000 more condos to the harbor area. A co-author of Measure A, he declared, “I have demonstrated by my commitment to our quality of life in Redondo Beach.”
Prado, an attorney focusing on civil rights and the homeless, said she was tired of seeing politicians “pander to the masses.”
“I want to inspire people,” she said. “I want to ask the tough questions.”
She said she was in favor of Measure A and that it was important for politicians to take a stand on such difficult questions.
“We need to fight the big corporations,” she said.
Fine took a different tact, saying, “My views (on the power plant) don’t matter. As a council person, I will respect the people’s vote on Measure A.
Ginsburg pointed out that some sort of power plant has been near the harbor long before most of the housing and commercial development. While he did not want a power plant, he said, “The right thing to do is respect the landowner’s rights.”
Light said that ridding the city of the power plant was a once in a lifetime opportunity.
“Redondo is at a cross roads in its history,” he said.
He later added that he wasn’t anti-business and said that Redondo should look to the incentives that El Segundo used to attract “the right kind of businesses.”
Candidates for District 2: Bill Brand, Michael Jackson and Susan Kowalski.
Running for re-election, Brand, a co-author of Measure A, said, “Measure A is more important than my campaign or anyone else’s.” He said three other California cities have removed their power plants. “There were no compromise positions there and there isn’t one here,” he said. Brand also said that the current council had notched significant accomplishments without raising taxes.
Michael Jackson, a small business owner, former aerospace executive and a harbor commissioner, said he was running “to restore balance and common sense” to city government.
“No one has the right to have their way 100 percent of the time,” he said.
Jackson emphasized his experience in the aerospace industry as evidence that he can work with officials “at all levels of government.” He said he was opposed to Measure A because “it won’t do anything more than rezone the land,” and won’t guarantee removal of the plant.
Kowalski, a business owner, spoke about her volunteer work in service to the community. In addition to being a former Sandpiper of the year, she has also served the Pediatric Therapy Network and worked as a court-appointed special advocate.
“I want to be a voice for you,” she said, adding that she is opposed to Measure A. “I would not want anyone to tell me what to do with my property without negotiation.”
Jackson said the city needed to be a better partner with businesses. Responding to Jackson’s reference to “balance,” Brand said, “The city council does work well together on these big projects even if it can be contentious.” Regarding the waterfront revitalization, Kowalski said she was “delighted” with the outreach done by developer CenterCal but cautioned against rushing the design process.
Candidates for District 4: Jan Jeffreys, Stephen Sammarco and Julian Stern.
Jan Jeffreys serves on the city’s library commission, has a master’s degree in business management and is a longtime volunteer for the seniors program at Perry Park, helping to stage their events.
“I know what it takes to make a profit and that’s what we need to focus on,” she said. “It (Redondo Beach) is a fabulous city and we just need to keep moving it along.
Sammarco operates a small public affairs firm and has a master’s in public administration and public finance. He said he was running “to make a difference” and that public safety would be a big focus for him. “My priority is protecting the families of Redondo Beach,” he said. “That is what government was created for.”
He said he would like to see emergency call boxes in the city.
At 17, Julian Stern is the youngest person to run for city council, and he said he has actually had his eye on the seat “for nine years.” A high school senior, he will turn 18 before election day, qualifying him for the ballot.
“I’ve lived here my whole life,” he said. “I can assure you of my dedication and desire (to serve) … What’s important to you is important to me.”
Jeffreys commented on the possible loss of Nordstrom at the South Bay Galleria, saying, “When you step back and see that they put a Nordstrom Rack right there (too), wasn’t that part of a master plan?”
She said she would work with the shopping center to attract an anchor tenant “as good or maybe better.”
Sammarco said he would work to open up the city’s contracts for outside service to make sure residents were getting the best deal possible. He pointed out that the city’s waste hauler has added Hermosa as a client, which could result in a reduced rate for Redondo since the company is now servicing two cities in the same area.
Stern said his family operates two small businesses in Redondo Beach, including one on Artesia Boulevard and that he would work to get more tax revenue to stay in the city.
“Right now only 18 cents stays in our city,” he said. “I would like to lobby (state and federal officials) to make sure more stays with us.”
On Meaure A, Sammarco is opposed.
“The lawsuit and the room full of lawyers that will come with it will last a long time,” he said.
Jeffreys said she was leaning toward supporting Measure A but wanted to hear more from AES and said she was waiting on a call back from the company. Stern said he would like to see the city negotiate with the power company.
“As I have been speaking with my neighbors, they don’t want to pay for a park in District 2.”