Thursday, April 15, 2010

WAND 4th District Candidate's Forum

Recapping last night’s 4th District Supervisor’s forum, in frustration, as I had videotaped much of it and the file is corrupted, so I am working from my few notes. Maybe my camera knows better than I do?

About 200-250 people attended the Candidate’s Forum last night, hosted by WAND (West Anaheim Neighborhood Development Council) and moderated by the League of Women Voters, who got a chuckle when they announced they also accept men. The WAND event is always well attended no matter what race they are highlighting, it seems to be the place where Anaheim’s “informed voters” show up. I think all of the elected Neighborhood Council chairs were present, as well as many Board and Commissions members. This is the crowd the candidates need to impress, as their endorsement might not mean much to the general public, but a sign on one of these lawns can mean another hundred or so votes from those in the neighborhood who know those residents stay involved.

All 6 candidates attended. Questions came from the audience on index cards, and Candidates had 2 minutes to answer each. It is surprising how much information one can glean from those 2 minutes, primarily how very little most of the candidates know about County government and its functions. To his credit, Harry Sidhu appears to have been working with some sort of coach, his answers have become much more polished, primarily because they are canned responses, most likely written for him. Of the candidates, only Shawn Nelson arrived with no notes or talking points, ready to answer questions spontaneously. Frankly that is gutsier than I would ever try, and kudos to him for largely pulling it off. After the event I tried to meet new faces, so as not to get responses from those who know what I want to hear. I did not speak to one person who thought Galloway did well, and Sidhu seemed to confuse people. One woman told me that while she did not always agree with Nelson’s answers, he was the only candidate who understood the job, and the issues, and did not have to look something up before giving an answer, and for that reason she would support him. The overall sense I got was Nelson knew his stuff. That is not an answer I solicited, and for those who doubt, feel free to attend the next forum and conduct your own interviews.

Overall, Rose Espinoza confirmed what I had suspected during the NUFF Forum, she is a nice lady who needs to be involved in her neighborhood, she does a great job as a volunteer, but elected leadership is simply not her strong point. I wish her well on her non-profit endeavors, she truly cares about people, but this is not her venue.

I had not met Art Brown before, and was curious to hear from someone who touts his membership in the Fraternal Order of Real Bearded Santas. He started strong, stating that you can take union money and still tell them no. The 5th term Mayor of Buena Park has a background in law enforcement, and is involved with the OCTA Board and various rail groups, as well as the I-5 Joint Powers Authority. Near and dear to my heart, he is also the longtime President of the Buena Park Historical Society. Yes, Buena Park has history. But he lost me quickly after that, waffling between common sense and government programs as the answer to all ills, with the nail in the coffin being his support for a high speed rail system that stands to decimate his own community. Besides, he is a Democrat, and Allan Bartlett won’t let me vote for them anymore.

Richard Faher continues to scare my socks off, with the creepy habit of referring to himself in the third person, as if reading a bio piece from his website rather than addressing the issues from a first person view. Faher shows up for these events with stacks of meaningless statistics, and last night’s theme revolved around a comparison of Orange County to the “successful government” of a county in Texas he believes does it right. Sadly that county name is lost in my video; it would have been interesting to do a true comparison.

My big interest (because this is a biased piece and anyone who tells you they are writing from a neutral position is lying to you) was the interplay between Shawn Nelson, Lorri Galloway, and Harry Sidhu. Only one of those candidates actually belongs in the District, but I digress. What I found most interesting was the willingness of both Sidhu and Galloway to admit to their short term residency in the District. I expected the standard line of “I have represented the people of the district for X years”, but they both surprised me by coming right out, with Galloway claiming residency in the District of 7 months. I guess she can count the time she lived in the office building; we will let her have that. Harry Sidhu admitted to living in the District for 2 ½ months! Let’s do the math, because Harry Sidhu signed a Voter Registration form on December 31, 2009, (attached below) under penalty of perjury, that he lived at the Calabria Apartments, which qualified him to run for office in the 4th District. Harry then admitted to a crowd of over 200 people that he has lived here far less than that time. Call me a stickler, but committing perjury to run for office at the very least should disqualify one to run for that office, ya think? Other than that side-trip from his carefully prepared public message, Harry toed the line, with the “jobs, jobs, jobs” message, and his new catch phrase “more makers and less takers”.

In contrast, Shawn Nelson has lived in the District since he was 4 years old, and as he pointed out in his closing remarks, “I did not move here because I thought it would be cool to run for office.”

Questions ran the gamut from the usual concerns regarding the economy, lack of park space in North County, bike trails, and my new obsession, transportation. Some were also concerned about the recent push to annex unincorporated islands into surrounding cities, to which all candidates responded that they would leave it to the County island residents to choose their own destinies, although Nelson did point out how inefficient it is to provide County services to those pockets, and perhaps we could contract services to nearby cities without forcing people into the requirements of those cities, which seems fair and equitable.

On the budget, Art Brown pointed out that the OCBC had done a study that was never acted on, and he would like to see that implemented. I have not seen the study, but now I am curious to get a copy, and find out what is in it and why it was not used.

Nelson recommends a department by department audit to find waste and duplication of effort, because “the County cannot be a jobs program.” Galloway gave a non-answer of 6,500 jobs being created by an airport expansion, but did not tell us what she had to do with that. This from someone who took credit for Anaheim improvements that were set in motion by Tom Daly prior to her election to office, but if she showed up for the ground breaking, I guess she gets to take a bow for making the lives of West Anaheim citizens better. Sadly, they have seen no further investment in infrastructure since those programs, and boy are they bitter. Harry Sidhu took a hit for that as well, folks in Anaheim are furious at seeing streets flooding when we continue to put a Rose Parade float into Pasadena every year. To Harry’s credit, he did have some ideas for “jobs, jobs, jobs,” mostly tied to putting people to work for the government, with installing solar panels at the airport and generating clean energy from our landfills. Great ideas, can we afford them? Just asking.

And of course my favorite topic, high speed rail. I know I am not the only attendee who put that one on a 3 x 5 card. This is something that not only hits close to home for the 4th district, as it runs through 3 of the District’s cities, but every Californian should be concerned with the most expensive transportation project in the history of California, and I believe the most expensive in the U.S. to date! And yet….

The Democrats toed the party line on HSR of “creating jobs” and “save the planet”. Art Brown supports the project despite the damage it is likely to cause his community, citing the recent agreement to look into shared track to alleviate the need for more space. News flash Art, the freight lines have the Federal voice on those lines, and they are not on board for this agreement yet, do not relax that pucker too soon. Galloway answered by saying that resurrecting a healthy economy is tied to HSR. May God help us if that is true.

Richard Faher gave one of his few lucid answers in pointing out that he used to commute from his home in Newport Beach to his office in Burlingame, in about an hour on Southwest airlines, and called HSR a “gigantic boondoggle.” Nelson has long been a vocal critic of the project, and had his opinion printed in the OC Register recently.

Shockingly, Harry Sidhu tap danced around the question, saying that as an engineer he had not yet taken a position to support or oppose, the study is not complete, and we have no idea how much it is going to cost. “I have not made a decision but I am prepared to look at the environmental studies.” Hmm….I wonder if he, as an engineer, understands that environmental studies do not explain how we are supposed to pay for this unfunded jobs program for the Chinese transportation industry? How can someone not have an opinion on the biggest transportation project in the history of the State? Environmental studies will not mitigate the concerns brought up by the LAO in their review of the CHSRA’s Business Plan, which is STILL not “investment grade”. How can this man call himself a fiscal conservative if he is willing to spend tens of billions of dollars in the event he likes what he sees in the environmental reports?

In conjunction with the HSR question, was the issue of several hundred million dollars of the County’s Measure M funds being stockpiled to build Anaheim’s ARTIC transportation center. Faher and Nelson opposed the idea, with Nelson pointing out that the money was supposed to benefit the entire County’s transportation systems, and that the top dollar real estate of the Platinum Triangle may not be the best place to find cheap land. Galloway thinks it will be the pride of the County, and Sidhu became very defensive, nearly hostile, insisting that this is not tax money but a public-private partnership! Um…I do not know where the “private” in that statement comes from, so far no private investors have stepped up to supplement the Measure M funds.

The question of the night may well have been a nuance missed by some. Of huge concern to Anaheim’s flatland residents is the concentration of affordable housing and its impacts on the existing neighborhoods that must somehow absorb the parking, lack of open space, and school crowding caused by the projects approved by the current Council. There is concern that Anaheim shoulders more than its fair share of the County’s affordable housing construction, while other communities in South County do little or nothing. Art Brown admitted that the area of Buena Park with the dense apartment projects has the highest crime calls. Rose Espinosa is warm and fuzzy for the Housing Commission. Harry Sidhu tried to back pedal on his support as a Councilmember for some of the highest density projects in the County, and Shawn Nelson let fly with the damning statement that not only had Sidhu and Galloway approved those projects in Anaheim, but they both approved a massive profit spike for a housing developer who crafted one of the worst of these projects, and there are even more in the pipeline! When Nelson specifically called out Sidhu’s involvement with the Elm Street Commons developer, Sidhu’s jaw dropped. Whoops, he knows about that? Yeah, he does, Harry. Blog post coming soon.

At that, Galloway dropped the cheerleader act, and went snarky on Nelson, saying, “There is a different kind of resident that lives here, and their needs must be met.” What makes the people of the 4th District angry is that those needs are being met to the detriment of the people who are already here, and had once enjoyed some level of quality of life prior to being squeezed by the underparked slums of the future that our current Council encourages. Comments after the meeting confirmed my suspicions; Galloway did not make friends with that self-righteous outburst.

Lack of park space was a concern, and several of the candidates pointed out the disparity of what is spent on south county parks, vs. North County. Nelson’s resolution for this, as well as his answer to a question regarding how to create jobs, was to stop using County parks money to pay the Sheriff’s office to not only patrol the harbors, but essentially act as the AAA of the yacht crowd. We currently pay the Sheriff to jump start or tow private vessels, when private vendors in the area are waved off those service calls by the Sheriff! We could save money and help save a few small boating service vendors by eliminating that service, as well as some other redundancies largely related to the Sheriff and parks overlay, that would free up money to build or improve more parks in our own area. Galloway’s response to the parks question was to insist that Anaheim elect someone who comes from our community, which I found ironic. Galloway presents herself as representing the people of Anaheim in the 4th District, when she has done such a miserable job of it as a Council member so far. But then I have never hidden my disdain for Galloway, why start now?

In the end, I saw what I expected to see, Faher is a nut job, Espinosa and Brown are genuinely nice people and I would love to have them over for BBQ and beer, but I do not see them leading us at the County level. Lorri Galloway is what she is, and I become increasingly disappointed in Harry Sidhu, a candidate I had backed repeatedly in the past, whose allegiance to developers and their campaign contributions is beginning to cloud his judgment. That’s what happens when you run for perpetual office, you end up selling yourself for the next campaign, until you forget who it is you were supposed to serve. Call me biased, many will, but Shawn Nelson took this one home on a platter. Nelson was the only candidate to know his own mind without notes, had the courage of his convictions to say what he thinks, and actually understood not only the issues presented, but how the County Supervisors can and cannot work to fit those issues. At times Nelson pointed out that the question did not fit the Supervisor’s authority, rather than give the pat answers voters are looking for. I walked into the forum in support of Nelson for 4th District Supe, the forum solidified my view, and I can tell you that many of the neighborhood leaders I spoke to last night have now jumped ship for Nelson. Look for Sidhu to take a pounding in Anaheim in the next poll. Harry failed to carry Anaheim against Mimi Walters, and he will fail to carry Anaheim in the 4th District. Sadly, that will pull votes away from the other Republican, which aids Galloway.

Also in attendance were:

Chasing Anaheim City Council seats: Kris Murray, Pete Bos, Brian Chuchua, John Leos, Hoagy Holguin. Jordan Brandman is running for re-election to Anaheim Union High School District, and Alex Coronado was there representing Orange County Department of Education. WAND’s own Esther Wallace is running for re-election to Magnolia School Board, Hugh Nguyen was there asking for the Clerk-Recorder’s seat, Anaheim’s Craig Hunter was attending and talking up the Sheriff’s race, (he reports outraising Bill Hunt this period) and Catherine Smith announced she is running for 47th Congressional District.

Another Candidate’s Forum for the 4th District will be held in Fullerton soon, and Nelson and Sidhu will debate at the OC GOP Central Committee meeting Monday night, which I would not miss for the world.

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