CERRITOS - Public safety and financial stability were important issues during the Cerritos City Council candidates forum Tuesday night, as five of the seven council hopefuls battled for two open seats.
Candidates James Kang and Alejandro Estella weren't present at the forum, which was hosted by the Cerritos Chamber of Commerce at City Hall.
Incumbent Carol Chen and candidates George Ray, Frank Aurelio Yokoyama, Gerad Valencia and K.Y. Ma talked of their hopes for the city's future.
Maintaining local control of city funds is essential for success, said Chen.
"With the loss of redevelopment, which currently costs the city over $30 million annually in tax increment funds, the city must be aggressive, competitive and creative in our economic development efforts," said Chen, a business owner.
Cerritos recently turned over $10.1 million in unused redevelopment money to the state, according to the California Department of Finance. Redevelopment agencies, which allow cities to keep more property tax for blighted areas, were eliminated statewide last year.
"It would be very important to keep a close watch on Sacramento, which will continue to look at ways to take our local major revenue sources," Chen said. "I think the important thing is that we have our local control."
Ma, a retired police officer, also said critical financial issues are facing the city.
"The next four years is going to make a lot of difference in the next 10, 20, 30 years down the road," he said.
Protecting the financial strength of the city is possible, said Ray.
"This can be done by continually streamlining the processes at City Hall, and I mean every department, because we are going to have to reduce our annual budget," he said. "But at the same time, we can't cut our way out of this. We are going to have to expand the business community and bring in more revenue."
Balancing the city's budget is the most important issue, Valencia said.
"Our cities, states and country would improve dramatically if politicians were more in touch with their voters and responsible with their spending," said the homemaker. "As a city, if we start spending more than we have we will cause a snowball effect. ... The simple answer for our city is to save now and grow when it's economically possible."
Several candidates expressed concern about the rise of crime in the city, a factor they said could deter future businesses and residents.
"Crime is on the rise in Cerritos. Residential burglaries are occurring every day in Cerritos," said Yokoyama, an attorney who serves on the Cerritos Planning Commission. "We have to come together as a community and say `no more to crime."'
According to the city's crime statistics, 283 residential burglaries occurred in 2012, up from 217 in 2011.
Candidates agreed that attracting new businesses to the city was vital for financial sustainability.
"Cerritos has an aging, deteriorating infrastructure. Now is the critical time to reinvest in our community infrastructure, our streets, our sidewalks, our walls, our parks, and last, but definitely not least, our trees," said Yokoyama.
A close partnership between public safety and city officials is important in the fight against crime, said Ray, chairman of a manufacturing company.
"I plan to work with public safety to keep Cerritos a safe and vibrant place to live and work and raise our families," he said. "I agree that residential crime is on the rise. ... I think I can help to solve these issues because safety is the foundation of our great community."
The Cerritos council election is scheduled for March 5.