Election 2012: Questions for Elizabeth Salinas for City Council*
Alhambra Source is inviting candidates for local offices to sit down and answer questions from staff and community members. We started with the City Council race, where Elizabeth Salinas is challenging incumbent Steven Placido, who is running for his third term. Salinas, 38, an immigration attorney, has lived all but four years of her life in Alhambra. Speaking in her Midwick Tract home, she shared how concern over local development got her interested in the City’s politics. We are still waiting to hear from Placido, a local dentist, who has not replied to numerous requests for an interview.
What made you interested in becoming involved in Alhambra City government?
My parents moved to Alhambra in 1976, when I was 2 years old. I grew up here and went to school here — All Souls and Ramona Convent. After I got married, we couldn’t afford a house here so we went and bought a house in East LA in the University Hills area. In 2006 we bought this house.
I’ve always had an interest in politics — in undergrad I was a political science major. But to tell you the truth, what really propelled me were the latest developments proposed for the Midwick Tract. My neighbors and I were very concerned about the size of the project and we weren’t happy with the way the project was handled — both on the side of the developer and the City — so I ended up going to the meetings and being very vocal. As a result, I started seeing other issues that made me go, “Well I’m not very pleased with that either.”
What will your main issue be if you are elected?
My main issue is development as it affects residential neighborhoods. I think the City is doing a lot with development — with housing and business — but my whole position is don’t sacrifice the beauty of Alhambra for that. We have these great tracts, so how do we go about protecting them?
Before the Midwick issue, were you aware of issues going on in the City? Had you been to City Council meetings before?
It was definitely a wake up call. I’d attended other meetings sporadically, but now I try my best to attend all of them. One of the meetings that really impressed me was when all of the swimmers came together. The City of Alhambra basically shut down the swim team, and also cut most of the lap swimming hours. They wouldn’t give the swimmers a lane and just said they didn’t have funding. I was not pleased with the response we got from the City, or lack thereof. I understand a lot of cities are going through budget issues, but it wasn’t just that. It was recycling, homelessness, a lot of things that I had actually read about in the Alhambra Source, which has brought light to many of these issues. This is what really propelled me to go to the meetings and find out what was going on.
If elected, how do you think it will affect your role in the Midwick issue?
I’ve been told by council persons that if I’m elected I’ll have to recuse myself. This is assuming that the project is going to rear its head again, because right now it’s on indefinite hold. One of the arguments that Dr. Placido always made is that he couldn’t give an opinion on it one way or another because it’ll jeopardize his position. I will have to recuse myself and that’s with great sadness, but I know that my neighbors will not let this issue die down. They all know how I feel about it, and if it’s not City Ventures, it’ll be another developer, because it’s a large property and they’ll want to do something with it.
Some of our readers have brought up that there is very little awareness among residents about what is actually happening in local government. What are some ideas that you have to improve communications between residents and City Council?
I want more transparency when it comes to these issues, these particular developments, and how they’re affecting the community.
The City does give the option to watch Council meetings online and look over the agendas, so there’s no reason why residents shouldn’t be up to date. But the City can go a long way. First and foremost is responsiveness. Returning phone calls, emails — I’ve had experiences where I’ve written to my councilman and it’s taken him a while to respond. In the private sector, that wouldn’t fly. You respond within 48 hours. But I’ve spoken with many people who say they’ve written emails and never get a response at all, even though the City’s mission statement clearly says “responsive leadership.”
One thing I would do differently as a councilperson, and I know Gary Yamauchi has done this, is to have quarterly town hall meetings. As a citizen I would like it if once every three months, we have the City Council members come back to their respective districts and meet with the residents. It’s hard to get them to come back here because sometimes people can be hard on you, but that’s part of being a politician — not everyone is going to like what you’re doing, but ultimately they voted you in. I would like to see more of events like the National Night Out, but with city government — an opportunity for the Council to come out and say this is what we do, these are the issues we’d like your feedback on. We can use parks to have community events; I’d like to see more things like block parties, just to solidify that community feel.
As far as Council meetings, they can do much more to make residents feel welcome there. It’s very difficult to go up in front of the Council with a genuine concern when you are given a strict five minutes to speak. We ask real questions and we hardly get any answers and sometimes no answer at all, simply, “Your time is up.” It’s almost as if they just want to get through the night and not give any answers. I don’t agree that people don’t attend the meetings because they’re satisfied with what City Council is doing. My experience has been that if people aren’t participating, it’s because they don’t want their concerns met with rudeness and they don’t want to feel like their concerns don’t matter. There has to be a greater outreach effort to make people feel like they belong.
What are some of the changes — both positive and negative — that you’ve observed in Alhambra?
A positive change I’ve noticed is the library, which is wonderful. They get a lot of funding in gifts, and it’s a great place. It’s very well run, and they offer a lot of programs for children. Some of them, like the day camp, have been cut, but the City has tried at least to provide alternatives to make up for those losses, such as the sports camp called Super Stars, which my kids participate in.
As for the negative, the emphasis on business here is good and we need it for our economy to grow, but at the same time the City is now reassessing its need for other services that actually help people, such as recycling centers, which offer people a choice on what to do with their recyclables. People still have that choice, but now the City is making it more difficult, and I need to travel outside my city to find that service. Another example is the pools. We’re a city with two great facilities that are being completely underutilized. Something the City could possibly do is to take some of the advice from the other cities — maybe go to some of the department stores and ask if they would fund the pool for the summer, and not just say that the City has no funding. To me this is called creative leadership, and it’s not creative to tell a room full of constituents, “We don’t have the money.”
There’s also the issue of homelessness. I know there are homeless people in Alhambra — I’ve seen them on the streets, I know that many people are struggling. The City claims to take a regional approach to dealing with homelessness, but what are they doing to help? Let all those organizations that are actually trying to help do something, and don’t stand in the way of people trying to do good. It’s almost as if the City wants to present itself in this different light that’s not a compassionate city. The Alhambra I grew up in was a compassionate place and I think we’ve lost some of that. That’s why I’ve said I want Alhambra to not just be business friendly, but also people friendly, and it starts with some very basic things.
*10.16.12 This article is not an endorsement. Alhambra Source does not endorse political candidates.