The loss of redevelopment funds and public safety topped the list of issues being debated among candidates for Cerritos City Council.
Seven candidates are vying for two open seats in the March 5 election, including lone incumbent Carol Chen. Challengers include Gerad Valencia, a homemaker; George Ray, chairman of a manufacture company; Frank Aurelio, a Cerritos Planning Commissioner and attorney; Alejandro Estella, a retired social worker; K.Y. Ma and James Kang.
Council hopefuls said they were concerned about city improvements, public safety and the steps to take without redevelopment funds. Late last year the city repaid the state $10.1 million due to the dissolution of its redevelopment agency, which used property tax revenue to spur business development.
City officials must be knowledgeable about their spending to identify areas where money is being lost, said first-time candidate Valencia.
"It would be irresponsible to spend what we don't have," he said.
In addition to the loss of redevelopment money there is also uncertain tax reform legislation being considered by Congress, Valencia said.
"Unfortunately, our federal government may make changes that can have retroactive repercussions," said Valencia. "Cerritos can not move forward without knowing what negative impacts Congress' decisions will (have)."
Redevelopment agencies had been highly valued by California cities for decades as a tool to improve neighborhoods and attract businesses. California lawmakers dissolved the agencies last year to plug holes in the state budget.
Serious discussions of postponing redevelopment projects must be made until the economy bounces back, Valencia said.
Several projects, such as low- to moderate-income housing projects, will be greatly affected without redevelopment, according to Ray.
"With the loss of redevelopment funds the city of Cerritos will require federal, state, county and MTA grant funds for infrastructure projects," he said.
Public safety also topped the candidates' list of priorities.
"I will work diligently and aggressively to make our city a safer place and to listen, with care and value, to the opinion of all residents," said Chen, a business owner who has worked in city government for nearly 20 years. "My tenure on City Council, Planning Commission, Property Preservation Commission and the Community Safety Committee span over 16 years. My focus has always been on serving the city by being an independent voice for all residents."
Ray said his main focus will be community safety, including working with the Los Angeles County Sheriff and fire department to improve safety.
Aurelio said will he would also make community safety a top priority.
He would also "protect the quality of life for all residents, partner with our school leaders to better serve students and provide innovative ideas to strengthen our local economy," he said.
City improvements, like fixing streets, sidewalks, trees and improving parks was also an area of importance for candidates.
"My focus will also be to improve the maintenance of the city streets and sidewalks to improve safety," Ray said. "I believe the city will not attract new business if the infrastructure is not maintained."
The city needs to pay more attention the needed improvements, something Estella says he will do, if elected.
"I plan to be available for the residents of Cerritos whatever their concerns, which could be safety, improve the appearance of our city - especially our parks," he said.
Keeping residents aware of city spending is also important in a resident-politician relationship, Estrella said.
"My platform will also include transparency of expenses incurred by each city council member, submitting an annual report to the residents of City Council's accomplishments," he said.
Maintaining Cerritos' business-friendly environment is also essential, Ray said.
"My number one goal is to keep Cerritos the great city it is, to protect the financial strength by expanding the business base that will in turn bring additional revenue into the city," he said. "My top priority will be to remove any barriers that will cause businesses to move out of Cerritos, which will attract new business to the city,"
If re-elected Chen said she hopes to "contain costs and maintain financial stability with a balanced budget."
"I will focus on increasing our economic base and create jobs, promote the highest standards of cooperation with our local schools, college and business community," she said.
Although it will be difficult, Cerritos must be cautious in future decision without redevelopment funds, Valencia said.
"Fiscal responsibility is at the utmost importance to me, but is going to be a challenge since the State of California has decided to essentially steal redevelopment funding from Cerritos and 400 other redevelopment agencies," he said. "I want to ensure the longevity of Cerritos by making sound financial decisions with the help of my fellow council members."
Ma and Kang did not respond to numerous attempts for comment.
A Cerritos council candidate forum will be held 6:30 p.m., Tuesday at Cerritos City Hall, 18125 Bloomfield Ave. For more information go to http://www.cerritos.us/.
Cerritos candidate profiles
Family: Wife, Angelica; two children
Education: USC, Bachelor of Science
Main focus: "(I will) focus on the city's fiscal responsibility, accountability, and transparency."
Information: www.facebook.com/gerad.valencia or
Frank Aurelio Yokoyama
Family: wife, Wendy; two children
Occupation: Cerritos Planning Commissioner, attorney, real estate broker, local businessman, and Cerritos youth sports coach
Education: UC Berkeley (Business Administration) and Harvard Law School
Main focus: "I will make community safety a top priority."
Family: Wife, Ruby; two adult children
Occupation: retired social worker
Education: California State University, Long Beach, Bachelor Degree in Social Work
Main focus: "The safety of the residents and the children at school, improving the appearance and cleanliness of the city, and transparency."
Family: Wife, Beverle; two adult children
Occupation: chairman of LeFiell Manufacturing Company
Community involvement: Cerritos Optimist Club, Board Member of Friend of the Youth Foundation, Community Guidance Center, and Workforce Investment Board Southeast L.A. County.
Main focus: "My main focus will be community safety working with the L.A. County Sheriff's and Fire Department to improve the safety of the city."
Family: Husband, Tony; two adult daughters
Community involvement: Member of the Cerritos Regional Chamber of Commerce, the Cerritos Optimist Club and the Asian Pacific Congressional Advisory Council of the 40th Congressional District.
Occupation: City councilwoman and business owner
Main issue: "To contain costs and maintain financial stability with a balanced budget during these difficult times."