Eds. Note: The San Fernando Valley Sun/El Sol videotaped the forum and have made it available for viewing via our Facebook page.
A candidates forum for two seats on San Fernando’s City Council was held on Thursday, Feb.16, at San Fernando Middle School. The forum, sponsored by the San Fernando Chamber of Commerce was moderated by former Assemblyman Richard Katz.
The seats are currently occupied by Mayor Robert Gonzales and Mayor Pro Tem Joel Fajardo. Both are running for re-election.
A small group representing Residents for a Better San Fernando, held up protest signs prior to the debate to take issue with recent mailings that connect San Fernando City Councilmember Jaime Soto with past council members Maribel De La Torre and Brenda Esqueda, who were responsible for the city’s two sordid sex scandals and responsible for the city’s near bankruptcy.
Residents removed those council members in a recall election in 2012. Residents for a Better San Fernando was first organized by those who fought against the recall.
Protestors accused the San Fernando Police Officers Association of creating the flyers. However, they were distributed on car windshields anonymously.
Residents for a Better San Fernando has endorsed Jason Hayes and Marvin Perez, two candidates relatively new to the city who have not been involved in the city’s politics.
Former Assemblywoman Patty Lopez stood in the middle of the group holding a protest sign that said “Bully,” with a line draw across it. Lopez is currently running for the Los Angeles Unified School District board.
The school auditorium appeared too large a venue for the small number of San Fernando residents who attended the actual forum, and the sound system made it sometimes difficult to hear.
Whether it was the cold weather or threat of rain that kept residents away from the forum, which is likely to be the only one prior to the election on March 7, those residents who attended appeared to be mostly the friends or relatives of a candidate.
Residents noted the format of the forum didn’t allow the audience to openly ask questions, but instead required people to write their questions on cards, which were then selected by Katz.
“Do you believe in UFOs” was one of the questions selected by Katz, which caused some initial laughter and later grumbling after the debate.
“Why did he waste our time with that dumb question?” asked Councilmember Sylvia Ballin after the debate. “There are some very serious issues in our community, and he wastes our time with that.”
“Why do we allow an outsider to our community [to moderate] and then makes the decision to pick what questions are important to ask?” said former Councilmember Jose Hernandez.
Tom Ross from the Chamber said that people would have the opportunity following the debate to speak directly to the candidates, and ask their questions at the back of the auditorium.
“I take my hat off to anyone who runs for office,” Katz said. “You find out a lot about yourself and learn some things about yourself that you never knew, mostly because they never happened.”
David Govea, a new candidate, described himself as an educator who has been teaching for ten years.
Gilbert Berriozabel delivered his comments bilingually and said he has been a longtime resident in the city, a commissioner with the city and has run for council on three different occasions.
Robert Gonzalez described himself as a fifth-generation resident of San Fernando, and still lives in the house that his grandfather built. He cited his accomplishments as Mayor.
Marvin Perez, said he was “not a politician, but a homeowner who wants to make the city better, and that he is hard working and is committed. People in the audience chuckled when he said, “My 17-year-old marriage is evidence of my commitment.” (sic)
Candidate Jason Hayes described himself as teacher at Monroe High School. He and said he was shocked to see a police officers’ mailer and referenced “bully tactics.” “I feel that they don’t represent our hard working officers in blue,” Hayes said.
Katz opened the forum with a key question: “There has been a lot of discussion about ‘Taking Our City Back’…What are they ‘Taking The City Back’ from?”
“They are influenced by developers, and other interests that are controlling business dealings” said Hayes, making an indirect reference to the current council.
“There are special interests,, I agree with Jason here,” Govea said. “Special interests are taking over.”
The candidates touched on issues relating to the Transit Oriented Development (TOD) and Measure SF, that would take the city treasurer’s position off the ballot and make it an appointed position.
The elephant in the room — whether to build addition affordable housing in San Fernando — was not well addressed. Hayes referenced being a supporter of making the City of San Fernando “a sanctuary city,” but was not supportive of building apartments on First Street connected to the TOD.
For more of the debate, go to the San Fernando Valley Sun/El Sol website, Facebook page and YouTube.