BELLFLOWER - Bringing new businesses to vacant storefronts along two main city streets is a top issue for most candidates in the March 5 City Council election.
Incumbents Dan L. Koops and Scott A. Larsen and challenger Usbaldo B. (Alex) Munoz will compete for two four-year open council seats.
Luis Melliz, a freelance campaign organizer; Ron Schnablegger, a real estate appraiser; Gloria Willingham, an adjunct professor at the University of West Los Angeles and R. Yahye will seek the open seat vacated by Randy Bomgaars, who resigned last summer.
Whoever wins the vacant seat will serve the remainder of Bomgaars' term, which expires March 2015.
Munoz and Yahye didn't respond to requests for an interview.
Melliz, Schnablegger and Willingham said in recent interviews that the city needs to be more business-friendly - streamline its business permit process, simplify zoning ordinances and be aggressive in attracting business to empty buildings on Artesia and Bellflower boulevards.
"It takes months to get a conditional use permit, but there has to be an easier way to get people an answer," said Schnablegger, who said he applied for a business permit last year to open a pawn shop.
"None of the vacant zones matched my need. I couldn't be in a redevelopment zone. I couldn't be close to a school. I had to have a certain amount of parking," he said.
A building finally met Schnablegger's need, but the city wanted $150,000 in renovations.
Willingham said the city needs "tough redevelopment" - holding the property owners of vacant buildings accountable to fix up some of the rundown storefronts.
"These buildings need to be brought up to code. Many of these building owners are absentee," Willingham said. "We need to bring the owners back and take care of their property."
The council also needs to have eminent domain on the table when considering what to do with the vacant buildings, she said. Eminent domain is when the government takes possession of private property and compensates the property owner.
Koops, who was elected to the council in 2009, and Larsen, who was elected in 2001, said the city wants to bring new retail businesses.
"We don't want to be the junkyard for businesses," Koops said.
"We're trying to attract new retail," Larsen said. "We don't want more check-cashing places and judo shops."
On other issues, Larsen said the city needs to spend more than $1 million to repair sidewalks, but didn't provide specifics on how the city should pay for it.
Larsen and Koops said they supported the city's expansion of open spaces with the recent opening of Riverview Park and the upcoming opening of Palm Street Park.
Melliz also mentioned sidewalks. He said sidewalks need to be built on Coke Avenue between Rose Street and Artesia Boulevard because people are forced to walk in the street.
He said the city should use general fund money to do so, but didn't provide specifics.
Willingham said she wants to end civic apathy and empower people to participate more actively in council meetings by reaching out to the public.
The seven candidates are scheduled to attend a forum today from 5:30 to 7 p.m. in the youth center at St. Dominic Savio Church, 13400 Bellflower Blvd.
The event hosted by the Bellflower Chamber of Commerce is free and open to the public.
Want to go?
What: Bellflower candidates forum
When: 5:30-7 p.m. today
Where: St. Dominic Savio Church, 13400 Bellflower Blvd., Bellflower
Occupation: Co-owns Bellflower-Lakewood Appliance Center
Education: Bachelor's from Cal State Fullerton
Family: Married to wife, Judy, for 39 years; three children
Key issues: Public safety, economic development, more business friendly
Community involvement: Bellflower Kiwanis Club, Sister City program
Occupation: Certified public accountant
Education: Bachelor's from Cal State Fullerton
Family: Married 36 years to wife, Monica; three adult children
Key issues: Downtown economic development, open space expansion, return of bellflower street festivals
Community involvement: Bellflower Kiwanis Club, board chairman of Ambassadors for Peace
Occupation: Freelance campaign organizer
Education: Bachelor's in sociology from Cal State Long Beach
Family: Married to wife, Cindy Fuentes-Melliz; one daughter
Key issues: public safety, eco develop/zoning, return youth and senior programming.
Community involvement: Mentor for Cerritos College freshmen, past volunteer coach for Bellflower Youth Sports League, past tutor with Bellflower Unified School District
Usbaldo (Alex) Munoz
Age: Not given
Occupation: Licensed contractor
Education: Not given
Family: Married to wife, Angela; triplet infants
Key issues: Cut red tape for businesses, reduce business fees, encourage business investment
Community involvement: Not given
Occupation: Real estate appraiser
Education: Bellflower High School
Family: Married to wife, Joyce; four adult sons
Key issues: public safety, streamline business license and permit processing, support youth and senior programs
Community involvement: Bellflower Public Safety commissioner, Bellflower Kiwanis Club, founding chairman of Citizens for a Better Bellflower
Occupation: Adjunct professor health-care management at University of West Los Angeles
Education: PhD in education/administration from Claremont Graduate University; master's in nursing science, University of Arkansas, Medical Science Campus; bachelor's in nursing, Regents College (now Excelsior)
Family: Married to Ben Toure; five adult children
Key issues: Diversity and inclusion, public safety, support business growth
Community involvement: Green Foundation, American Legion, Nurses For a Thriving Bellflower
This candidate didn't respond to interview requests and no biographical information is available.