The three candidates for two open La Cañada Flintridge City Council seats spent an evening together last week at a forum at Flintridge Prep seeking to distinguish themselves in the only debate ahead of the March 7 election.
Newcomer Keith Eich and incumbents Jonathan Curtis and Dave Spence took turns answering a wide range of questions submitted by members of the approximately 40-person audience on Wednesday, Feb. 8. The questions were delivered by moderator Peter Bachmann, headmaster at the host school.
But before they got to the audience queries, the candidates sought to set the tone with opening statements.
Curtis, 57, is the city’s current mayor and a 20-year LCF resident. Running for a second term, he highlighted his professional experience as a land-use attorney: “I’ve worked so closely with all branches of government I once said I would never run for elected office. But I did and I wanted to do so to use my extensive background and diverse experiences to give back to this wonderful community.”
Eich, 37, is an engineer, the father of three young children and resident of the city for the past three years. He said he represents many of his fellow La Cañadans: “There’s something missing on the current City Council — none of the current City Council members has children attending La Cañada Unified School District schools. I have a unique vantage point; I’m looking at the future, not the past.”
Spence, 80, is a retired salesman who has served continuously on the council since 1992, including a record six times as mayor. He focused on the council’s record with him aboard: “It’s imperative that we maintain an experienced council.”
Some of his examples included the mention of an improvement near Palm Crest Elementary School: “A year or so ago, we replaced the Jessen Bridge, [for] new and improved access to Palm Crest Elementary school, using a federal grant to reduce the cost of this expensive public works project.”
According to city staff, the bridge was replaced in 2012. Spence said he also mentioned that item, among others he revisited, at a candidates’ forum four years ago, and that he deliberately opted to repeat them this time.
“I didn’t take it out because I thought people needed to know this was an important project,” Spence said of his reference to the bridge. “I wanted to share some of the positive history. People are not aware that the bridge was unsafe and we had the opportunity to get federal grant money to repair it.”
Spence also mentioned his longtime opposition of the proposed 710 extension, and he was joined by his fellow candidates as standing against the multi-billion dollar project.
They also were united in indicating support for LCUSD initiatives, for the likely prospect of reducing the number of trash haulers serving the city and for finding a way to expand the sewer system to the entirety of LCF.
They differed on some other issues, including what to do about the traffic plaguing Foothill Boulevard during ongoing 210 Freeway construction.
Eich said the city needs dialogue with Glendale and Caltrans to establish a long-term plan to address traffic.
“That doesn’t really solve any problems,” said Spence, who suggested the best course of action to the temporary congestions would be stopping so many drivers from exiting the 2 Freeway at Foothill Boulevard.
“It is temporary,” Curtis said. “But it’s going to go on until 2018. We need to come up with some solutions, especially as the improvement of the 210 creeps closer toward La Cañada Flintridge and Pasadena; it’s going to become more severe if we don’t tackle it right now.”
He said he invited Caltrans engineers to the most recent City Council meeting so they could field concerns directly from residents.
As for whether to limit overnight parking on city streets, Curtis said it was worth taking a close look: “Some studies have found it’s much easier for the sheriff and other personnel to monitor what’s going on if there’s an issue,” he said.
Eich concurred: “I do believe cars parked in the street blocks visibility to homes; we’re distracted as a society and that causes us to not notice a lot of things. It’s now [limited to] 72 hours, we should look at 24 hours, potentially going down to zero.”
Spence countered: “That’s sort of taking away the rights and the privileges of the residents. If you can’t park in front of your house, it’s rather negative.”
The discussion of public safety continued to a broader question about what the city can do to reduce crime. The city’s crime rate is relatively low, but home burglary trends in recent years have shaken residents.
Spence said the city’s good working relationship with the L.A. County Sheriff’s Department helps.
“We have added additional sheriff’s deputies and we also have given the city manager a sort of slush fund of dollars to use in crime prevention as he sees necessary after discussing the issue with the L.A. County Sheriff’s Department,” Spence said.
Curtis noted an increase in local Neighborhood Watch groups has been helpful because sheriff’s deputies can’t notice everything.
“We need to educate people to keep an eye out and call if they see something suspicious,” said Curtis, adding that he’s interested in exploring whether wildlife-like cameras pointed only at public spaces in town could aid authorities.
Having been the victim of a burglary nine years ago in Sherman Oaks, Eich said that while additional funds for crime prevention can help, he thinks the city could do more to harness new crime-fighting technologies such as home surveillance systems.
“Slush funds? Education? Those sound like great things, but for me, this is a personal issue,” Eich said. “My house was broken into; I felt violated. It’s rough when you’re the resident and that happens to you. For me, it’s more about how do we provide peace and security without overspending?”
The deadline to register to vote in the election is Feb. 21. Vote-by-mail ballots are now being accepted at City Hall.