With only days left for campaigning for three City of San Fernando city council seats, it’s anyone’s guess about who will win. While typically incumbents have the advantage, in this race each candidate appears to have a viable base of support.
As the election gets closer to March 3, there is daily speculation about who will win, usually fueled by a “whisper campaign” and speculation about last minute “hit pieces” that could surreptitiously, be placed in residents mailboxes late at night.
In such a small town, there is little escape from the gossip and in the City of San Fernando rumors are always aplenty.
On Monday, Feb. 23, after a second attempt, a candidates forum was successfully held by the San Fernando Chamber of Commerce. Somewhat puzzling, it was held outside of the city.
The first attempt to hold a candidates forum went belly up when all of the newbie candidates [Pilar Enriquez, Jaime Soto and Yolanda Haro] declined to participate.
But this time around , Yolanda Haro at the eleventh hour agreed to participate and joined the three incumbents in fielding questions before a packed room at Casa Torres Restaurant in Sylmar.
For those who follow the voting record of Mayor Sylvia Ballin, Councilmen Jesse Avila and Antonio Lopez there were few surprises.
The incumbents took their rightful credit for getting the city back on track by pulling the city out of the bad ol’ days of public scandal and near bankruptcy. The incumbents supported a prior recall of those council members involved in sex scandals and replaced those city administrators involved in creatively cooking the city’s books.
Like any political debate or candidate’s forum, there was the customary patting of one’s back.
Mayor Sylvia Ballin said she considered herself “the best candidate,” and maintained her position of opposition against building more affordable housing in town along with her position to stop the high speed rail from running through town. Ballin believes San Fernando is being straddled with an “unfair share” of negative projects. Ballin and Haro want to put the brakes on affordable housing projects, expressing their point of view that the city now has “enough.”
In contrast, Councilman Antonio Lopez has been strong in his conviction to build affordable housing in San Fernando and has met with L.A. City Councilman Felipe Fuentes to consider options to work with the high speed rail authority in their proposed plans to have the bullet train travel through town.
Lopez, closely associated with local developer Sev Aszkenazy, (of Aszkenazy Development, and publisher of this newspaper) took credit for the new businesses in town, which are also Aszkenazy projects.
In this campaign, like others, Aszkenazy Development is at the center of debate, and whether you love or hate them, they always seem to be part of the election equation. This time around, the most recent construction of affordable housing on First Street and the plans to place affordable housing at the former J.C. Penney mall location is the crux of controversy.
Councilman Jesse Avila has also been a strong supporter of affordable housing, pointing out that most people “don’t understand it.” Avila also takes credit for the deal to turn the San Fernando Regional Pool over to the County of L.A., while Ballin is quick to correct him by saying that the work to stop the red ink at the pool and in the city has been a “team effort.”
In response to a thread of discussion about business in the city, Avila received big laughter at the forum, when he said that he wanted to bring “Jungle Chicken” back to town. Perhaps those laughing remember the urban legend about the place being shut down and an employee fired for making love to a dead chicken.
Yolanda Haro, new to much of the council’s history, said her motivation for running for office is to help bring services for “special needs children” in the city.
Meanwhile, Jaime Soto and Pilar Enriquez declining to participate at the candidates forum, have fueled concern.
Among the concerns raised about Soto, have been his connection to those San Fernando council members who’ve been previously recalled from office and his family ties with Mimi Soto, who during her tenure as the SEIU, Service Employees International Union representative for San Fernando, is infamous for instructinglocal city workers to take another vote when she didn’t agree with the outcome.
Curiously, in this election, the SEIU has endorsed all of the council candidates, including Yolanda Haro who didn’t show up for the standard endorsement interview.
Perhaps the SEIU is hedging all of their bets.
Pilar Enriquez, meanwhile has been linked to recently elected Assemblywoman Patty Lopez, but many have asked why Enriquez isn’t more visible in this race.
But soon this campaign and all of it’s speculation will be over.
Those who care enough to vote will take their best shot at picking the three who will determine the city’s next chapter. The council members will make big decisions on business and affordable housing. Or will it all be moot if a bullet train isn’t stopped from coming through this small city’s front door?
And so the city turns….