City Council Candidates Address Issues at Forum

Photo by Wes Woods II / OUTLOOK
Moderator Peter Bachmann (left) and City Council candidates Rick Gunter, Terry Walker and Keith Eich participate in a recent forum at Flintridge Prep.

Three candidates for La Cañada Flintridge City Council tackled topics including residential burglaries, trash trucks and permits at a candidate forum last week.
Councilwoman Terry Walker, city Public Works and Traffic Commissioner Keith Eich and former Planning Commissioner Rick Gunter answered audience questions and issued campaign statements at Flintridge Prep.
In all, four candidates are seeking three council seats in the March 3 election. Leonard Pieroni, who has been serving as mayor, said in late January he would not participate in the forum. Earlier that month, he announced he would temporarily step back from campaigning because of what he described as a health scare.
Each candidate at the forum on Feb. 12 began with a statement before answering questions presented by moderator Peter Bachmann, headmaster at Flintridge Prep.
Here is a sampling of topics and condensed responses:

Steps to take to combat residential burglaries:
Eich: I look at crime and safety as our No. 1 priority as a city right now. Burglaries are up significantly in 2019. I applaud the current City Council that … they approved the $78,000 [for Flock Safety cameras]. I think that we need to do more. I think we need to show a strong force of our police department, of our sheriff, in town to let people know that we are going to stand up to them. I think it’s really important that we invest more in our sheriff to do more patrols.
Gunter: The Flock cameras we’ve all talked about. One of the things we need to make sure of is that we’re investing in the appropriate technology. There’s kind of physical limits to patrol cars, to how effective they can be. … If we’re able to see all around the city at one time and the sheriffs are notified very quickly, we can get action a lot quicker. The other part, too, that [local sheriff’s Capt. Todd Deeds] let us know is that public safety is a team sport. As residents we have a role to play, too. So simple things like the Ring [doorbell] cameras help tremendously. Simple things like having a dog, audible alarms, all of this makes us a harder target.
Walker: I believe it has to be multi-pronged. I think the Neighborhood Watch is a very wonderful tool. I was at a Neighborhood Watch meeting a couple of weeks ago and I was really impressed with how the neighbors had each other’s back. … There is a lot of proactivity we can do for ourselves in conjunction with the city. I do want to say that the city has never, ever to my knowledge since I’ve been on the council ever, said no to the sheriffs when they’ve come to us with requests for equipment, added staff, or anything. So we’ve never denied them those resources. And I don’t think we will.

A possible reduction in the number of trash trucks:
Walker: Well, to be honest, at this time I’m not comfortable committing to a position on this issue. We conducted two surveys of our citizens. And the surveys came back indicating that 70% of our residents were happy with their current hauler. Now, those same residents sometimes want one hauler but they want their own hauler. If we change, if we go to one hauler, then 60% of our citizens will have to change haulers. I think that could be very disruptive. But it’s been five years. I’m willing to go back to the table, take another survey, look at other results, and see if we’re at that point yet.
Eich: The answer is yes, I would vote for one single hauler. Why? I’m passionate about this issue. I live on one of the cul-de-sacs. I helped organize our nine houses on the street to be one provider because I was tired of 18 trucks every Friday morning coming up and down our street. It’s a shame what it’s doing to our roads, Sierra Madre in 2013 went through this change and they went from $90 a quarter down to $50 a quarter and they got extra services for their city.
Gunter: Consistently the majority of the residents say they want choice. So at this point I would not support voting for a single hauler. I’d have to make sure we go back out to the residents and make sure we see what the residents think is best. Mr. Eich has kind of a key idea. Individual neighbors can absolutely band together and solve their part of the problem. I think that’s great that that neighborhood got together and said, “We don’t want that hauler here.”

On how to improve the city’s permit process:
Walker: “We do contract with [Los Angeles] County and the city is looking at other ways of working with private firms to do that because we have some bumps in the road there. We’re currently assessing it. We kind of have the perfect storm, too. We moved into the City Hall, we upgraded our computer software with the online permitting process. And we had some bumps in the road, but I think that those things are smoothing out …
Eich: Our planning process is a great process but a bit slow today. I think the biggest thing that we can do is help our city staff be more effective for our residents, for our builders and getting the turnaround time to allow those basic permits to be easy layups.
Gunter: We’re in the middle of rewriting a zoning code. That will add a lot of clarity to the residents on how do you get a permit, when you need a permit and when you don’t. The time in the last maybe six years or so our planning process has gotten significantly better. It’s a lot more transparent. … We transitioned to an online process, which helps. The building department process needs a lot of work. … One of the things that we’re looking at doing is how to figure out a way to outsource it in an appropriate way. And then lastly, we need to have the city have much more of a customer service focus.

Determining priorities for 210 Freeway sound walls:
Gunter: So the challenge of the sound walls is that it involves the cooperation of a lot of state agencies with not a lot of control. It involves working very closely with our Assembly members, our state senators to make sure we’re getting funding. … The second thing is to work with Caltrans to make sure they’re comfortable putting walls in. … There needs to be some regular method to figure out what’s the most effective way sound walls can mitigate sound and in places that have the greatest benefit.
Walker: A study was done by Caltrans … it ranked the priorities of the walls according to where they were, the number of people that were affected by them. So that was one of the criteria the city looks at when looking at funding the sound walls. The other thing is the cost. … For example, the first wall we did was a very small project because we did not have the funding. Sometimes these walls, the way they’re built they have to be tied together and certain walls have to be done in unison with each other. So a lot of it depends on funding and the criteria laid out by Caltrans.
Eich: We have a relatively small amount of sound walls getting put in, so we’ve actually had problems. I sit on the Public Works and Traffic Commission, getting responses to bids. We’ve put [a request for proposal] out and we don’t get an answer. Some of this is, I think, getting a little more creative in advertising ourselves.

LCF Coordinating Council President Becky Gelhaar, whose organization presented the forum, said Friday that at least 50 people attended the event.
“Everybody was really pleased,” said Gelhaar about the candidates and attendees. “I think it went pretty well.”
Resident Kathleen Warner said she learned a lot.
“It was very informative and I thought everyone was very congenial,” said Warner, adding it was the first time she had attended a candidate forum. “It’s nice to see there are different views.”
She said this was also her first time getting a look at all the candidates and she planned to vote for two of the three.

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