Mayor Furey Sets Priorities at Historic Council Meeting

It was a historic and emotional evening at City Hall last night as the community welcomed a new City Council and said goodbye to many very familiar faces.  Tears were shed by many of the outgoing members, including Mayor Scotto, as they recalled their many years of service to the community and thanked many of those in attendance who had supported them along the way.

Torrance might never again have so many years of accumulated service all leaving the chambers at the same time.  The combined years spent leading our city by Mayor Scotto, Councilmembers Brewer and Sutherland, as well as City Clerk Sue Herbers exceeds well over 50.   Their volunteerism goes far beyond that as each of them served in various capacities prior to assuming city leadership roles.  I couldn’t help but marvel at the time each of these dedicated community servants has spent in support of our community.  As evidenced by the standing ovations each one of them received, it’s clear their service has had a lasting effect and that their legacy will live on among many in the community.

The community also had the opportunity to welcome and hear from the new council.  Mayor Furey took the opportunity to outline his three initial priorities as he assumes office.  Those priorities are as follows:

1)      Conduct a Public Works Workshop: Furey tasked the Public Works Department to provide a report showing the 5 year infrastructure plan, current funding status, and planned Measure R projects.  The report will be presented to Council in the near future.

2)      Redesign of City Website:  This initiative will explore a redesign that will create visually attractive pages, adopt a user centric approach, and create search optimization and site usability.

3)      View Impairment (Tree) Ordinance: City Staff to research the issue utilizing models from neighboring cities and present a plan to council within 60 days.

During the meeting, Furey also took what appeared to be a veiled shot at Nick Green and the Daily Breeze.  Speaking with regard to what he termed as “gossip” in the community about the upcoming council appointment, Furey cautioned residents “to consider the source” claiming that the source in question was “generally incorrect.”  He then concluded by stating, “so don’t always believe everything you read.”

Former Police Officer and Planning Commissioner and now Councilmember Geoff Rizzo offered his sincere thanks to many in the community that had supported him and helped him get elected and promised to give it his best.

Tim Goodrich, the youngest councilmember by far, also offered thanks to many in the community.  He concluded his remarks by making a comparison to himself and the recently passed, local legend, Louis Zamperini.  He noted that they both had lived in Western New York, both ran track, went to USC, served in the Air Force, and made Torrance their home.  Goodrich then offered that he would be honored and consider his work done if, during his time on the council, he could live up to be half the man that Zamperini was.

It should be interesting to see what course these new leaders will follow as they take the torch from those experienced leaders that Torrance was forced to say goodbye to last night.

Council Vacancy: The Argument for Considering a Special Election

The newly elected Mayor and City Council will be formally installed at the upcoming meeting on Tuesday.   One of the first matters that will come before them is what to do about filling the vacancy created by the unexpired councilmember term of now Mayor Pat Furey.  Filling this vacancy is critical as the individual could easily end up serving as a councilmember for the next 10 years as the initial two year period would not count against the two term limit.  The Council has two options: they can either use their authority to appoint a new member; or they can decide to hold a special election to fill the position.  Either way, the decision is sure to cause a stir within the community.

After a recently concluded divisive mayoral election, selecting someone by appointment may lead to further fissures in the community.  Should the Council choose this option, a possible selection, and probably the least controversial choice would be Leilani Kimmel-Dagastino.  It could be argued that she earned the appointment by finishing 5th in the recent election – only one slot shy of the winner’s circle.

Dagastino, however, is a Republican and was heavily supported by that party in the recent election.  Newly elected Mayor Furey is a Democrat.  He may risk alienating his base by selecting a Republican, such as Dagastino, to the position.  No other viable Democratic candidates remain among the pool of 12 unsuccessful candidates in the past election as the field was dominated by Republicans.  That may be why rumors are swirling that Furey is looking beyond the recent field of candidates in search of an appointee.  Some voices, such as those found here, are claiming that a backdoor deal has already been cut to appoint Ray Uchima.  Such a decision will likely not to be a popular one amongst the community at large.

Given the above, I hope the Council will give more consideration to allowing the voting public to decide the matter through a special election.  Sadly, the idea of a special election seems to have gained little traction with the Council due to the expense.  The City Clerk, who provided an unsubstantiated estimate of $200K for the costs, admitted in the staff report that the City has not solicited a firm quote. I believe it would be a shame for the Council to move to appoint someone, especially an individual that didn’t run in the recent election, without exercising due diligence in order to gain a full understanding of the actual costs associated with conducting the election.

A quick Internet search reveals that the costs of an election can vary widely depending on how the election is conducted.   Vote by Mail options reduce costs significantly.  The cost of that option can be reduced even further by requiring voters to provide their own return postage.  I found some information showing that cities utilizing the vote by mail option reported costs as little as $1.25 per voter.  California cities such as Lake Forest and Livermore recently held special elections at a total cost of $39K and $50K respectively.  To further reduce costs, Torrance could even consider options such as limiting the special election to only those that voted in the June election.  My point here is that there are options available that are worth fully considering before the council rushes to make an appointment.

Just in the last few months, Torrance has approved expenditures such as $75K for AYSO banners put on city street lights, $146K to promote ridesharing amongst city employees, and $75K to hold an hour and a half optional ethics class.  The Council didn’t blink an eye in approving these, and other more costly measures, yet seems to be balking a great deal at the cost of holding an election; something that is at the core of our democratic and governmental process.  Why is that?

Elections Reflections Part Three: Did the Torrance Chamber of Commerce Fail the Local Business Community?

Did the Torrance Chamber of Commerce fail the local business community with their endorsements in this past election?  Admittedly, having not been an active participant within the Chamber and only having cursory knowledge of their activities, I am probably not the proper person to answer that question.  That said, participating in the Chamber endorsement process did cause me to wonder how satisfied the business community was with their representation as I found their endorsements quite perplexing.  The Public Safety endorsements made a lot of sense in that they endorsed those most likely to protect their interests.  I’m not so sure the same could be said of the Chamber.  The Torrance Chamber markets itself as an organization that, “supports the interests of business before government.”  With the imminent departure of Torrance’s largest employer, supporting business has likely never been as important in Torrance as it is now.

Shortly after my endorsement interview with the Chamber and only a few days prior to Toyota’s announcement I had an e-mail exchange with an influential member of the endorsing committee.  The topic was how we could improve the business climate and the comment to me was:

“The problem we face is that we have had some very, very liberal left representatives locally …the SUPER MAJORITY in Sacramento is extremely far left in their political views and they are not going to change. I know many of them and they simply are not willing to listen.”

It can be assumed that not all members of the Chamber endorsing committee would agree with that viewpoint, but given the above I was surprised to see the Chamber endorse the farthest left leaning candidates in the race.  Three of the candidates the Chamber endorsed (Goodrich, Griffiths, and Weidemen) were also endorsed by the Sierra Club – an environmental activist organization not generally known for its pro-business agenda.  Among a large field of Republican candidates, it is also notable that Goodrich and Weidemen were the only two legitimate Democratic candidates running and were both heavily backed by that party.

Goodrich, whose limited professional business experience consists primarily of working as a union representative for the California Association of Public Employees, made an especially intriguing pick.  The Chamber also backed well known Geoff Rizzo whose career as a police officer, though admirable, doesn’t necessarily qualify him as someone with an astute business sense who will serve as a strong advocate on behalf of the business community.  What made these endorsements even more perplexing is that as far as I’m aware neither Goodrich nor Rizzo had any level of meaningful involvement with the Chamber prior to receiving their endorsement.

Why did the Chamber endorse these candidates when they were many others with very strong business backgrounds and a history of significant contributions to the Chamber to choose from?  Dagastino and Mattucci, for example, are both former leadership Torrance participants (a program designed by the Chamber itself to train future business leaders) with a long history of running their own businesses and working directly with the Chamber.  Mattucci, to his credit, was the only candidate that produced an actual business plan to help struggling small businesses in Torrance.  As another example, Alex See is a local restaurant owner who had a career in the aerospace industry and who also has been active in the Chamber.  As an Asian, Alex See could also have provided keen insight into the crucial Asian business community within Torrance.

We will never know for sure, but the extra boost offered by the Chamber endorsements may have been enough to put business friendly candidates such as Dagastino and See, who finished just shy of winning in the 5th and 6th places respectively, over the top.  Given the strong business credentials of these candidates, and others passed over by the Chamber, I am still left wondering what criteria drove the Chamber in their decision making process.

I’ve heard some say that the Chamber made a conscious decision to pick those they thought would win and not necessarily those they thought would be the best for the job.  I’ve also heard that they are too closely tied to the political powers that be to make an independent decision.  I’m not sure if there is any truth to those assertions, but if there were wouldn’t it surely lessen the Chamber’s credibility among its members.  As it stands, I do wonder if their decisions didn’t alienate some of their membership that was paying attention.  Evidence of this could be the seemingly strong initial support for the United Business Alliance started by Mattucci in the wake of the campaign.  The facebook page for that Alliance found here still boasts that more than 50 Torrance businesses signed up in only two days.   Could that organization now arise as a competitor to the Chamber?

If anyone has any insight into why the Chamber made the choices they did I would appreciate it if you would provide it in the comments below as I, and I am sure some other candidates as well, would love to hear an explanation.

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