Jack Orswell slides into a booth at Rick’s for our second meeting at the Main Street diner. The former FBI agent sat down with Alhambra Source in 2012 when he challenged U.S. Congresswoman Judy Chu to represent the 27th Congressional District, which includes Alhambra and much of the San Gabriel Valley. Now Orswell is running again, with the campaign slogan "leadership, not politics."
Orswell, 65, grew up in Pasadena and has lived in Arcadia with his wife Janet for more than 30 years. Orswell has served as a reserve police officer, Boy Scout leader, church elder, and chair for the Arcadia Chamber of Commerce Government Affairs Committee, among other community posts. We spoke to the Republican candidate on Tuesday about smart growth in the region, alternative methods of transportation, and the San Gabriel Mountains. Read his responses below.
You challenged Rep. Judy Chu in 2012 and lost with 37 percent of the votes. Why run again?
The reason I ran in 2012 is because I'm concerned about the future for my three kids and five grandkids. Nothing has changed. As a matter of fact, when I was running in 2012, there was a $14 trillion debt, now we're at $17 trillion. So the problem is bigger.
Because of the presidential election in 2012, and because there were controversial propositions, it was a very big voter turnout. This time it’s going to be a very low percentage, so it's going to be down to very consistent, more informed voters. They look at the qualifications of both candidates. And I believe I'm a very qualified candidate.
In 2012, you said you were frustrated with “career” politicians. Do you still feel that way?
Yes, I don't ever want to become a politician. If I get elected in November, I want to be a representative. I think there's a huge difference. Politicians look to their career, making sure that they don't do things that would offend people, and making sure that they get re-elected next time. That’s non-action. We don't see any courageous laws going into effect or even being debated because career politicians are afraid that they may lose the next election as a result.
I was born in Pasadena. I watched the community change and grow, and I've grown with it. I want to reach out to everybody. I don't want to focus on one minority group and not everybody else.
I'm a member of the Chinese American Citizens Alliance in the San Gabriel Valley, and that introduced me to the Chinese community. If I'm elected in November, one of the first things I want to do is get a formal apology from Congress for the Chinese Exclusion Act of 1882. Judy Chu got an expression of regret in 2012, and from what I understand in the Chinese community, that is not satisfactory.
As a freshman congressman, I can walk into a Democrat Congressmember's office and we can talk about why a formal apology is necessary. I think thats a good way of building bridges. If we can talk about this issue and get it squared away, then we can talk about the next toughest issue.
Many of our readers have said that they feel Alhambra, and especially Main Street, is overdeveloped. What is your stand on development in the region?
Growth is important to a community. But I noticed just down the street there's a huge apartment building. Now those hundreds of people are going to need transportation to and from work and shopping areas. The streets aren't any wider, the signals aren't any more complex. A lot of Alhambra's problems are due to increasing apartment buildings, increasing traffic, and no increased infrastructure to handle it. It’s a planning commission and council's responsibility to make sure that we have the infrastructure to handle the growth.
Pro-710 advocates argue that extending the freeway from the 10 to the 210 freeway will improve traffic in the area. Do you support closing the 710 gap?
The tunnel is not a good idea for several reasons. The construction costs, the delays over a 10-12 year period. It's not going to solve the problem. It may create worse problems, and we're going to spend $10 billion to find out. And if it's a toll — and it has to be a toll because there isn't enough federal money for it — people may pay a toll one time and see they're stuck just like everybody else. So why pay the toll?
Let’s improve the traffic management systems along Fremont, Garfield, Atlantic, San Gabriel Boulevard. Let’s give motorists alternatives on free-flowing streets with computerized systems that could be put in place for millions for dollars instead of billions of dollars, and could be installed in the next few years instead of 10-12 years.
Five cities in the San Gabriel Valley are moving forward with a regional bike plan, and Alhambra is not participating. The city developed its own Bike Master Plan in 2012 but it has not come up in City Council in over a year. Do you support improving biking infrastructure in the region?
I think from talking to city leaders, they're reluctant to have bike pathways along busy streets like Huntington Drive, that put vehicles and bicycles within 3 feet of each other. We hear all the time of bicyclists getting into accidents where drivers ignored bike lanes or turned in front of bikes. An isolated bike lane is the best we could do: it solves the problem with cars and bikes and it gives bikes an expressway to get from here to there. I don't know if there's a pathway like the flood control channels that we can use or create. In Rancho Cucamonga and Ontario, there are dedicated bikeways out there that were created by the cities.
What about improving alternative transportation networks?
Bicycles, light rail, buses — today's generation is not driving like my generation did. I got my driver's license on my 16th birthday. Today's young people are delaying. As we see commercial-residential use being built more, like it is here in Alhambra, we have to have alternatives. We have to have bikeways, light rail systems, and dedicated bus lanes that can get people efficiently to work on time.
Some Alhambra residents are advocating for a historic preservation ordinance that will protect historic and cultural resources in the city. Do you support implementing preservation ordinances in the region?
Yes. Once that historic building is destroyed, it's gone forever. There are a lot of historic buildings, places, architectural styles that reflect on who we were in a different period of time. We need to preserve those. Sure we can change a retail store and turn it into a restaurant, but if you preserve the outside of the building, that's to me where the history of it is.
There needs to be a balance of private property rights vs. historic value rights. The historic ordinance should say that from now on, when you buy a piece of property that’s identified as a historic property, it has to go through a special review before any remodeling or changes.
Chu recently organized a movement to declare the San Gabriel Mountains a national monument, arguing that the designation would protect the land and ensure funding to improve safety and clean up graffiti and trash. On Oct. 10, President Obama officially declared it a monument. You were against the national monument in the San Gabriel Mountains — why?
I'm concerned for recreational uses. A monument is about preservation, not recreation. A national forest is supposed to set aside public land. Now with the monument, there are no mining operations, probably very little timber operations. And the president declared the Angeles National Forest a national monument, but only a portion of it. It doesn't protect that Mount Lowe Railway, which to me is the most significant thing that's happened in the San Gabriels. I don't know why it was excluded.
Judy Chu introduced a bill in June, Congress took off on their summer recess, and then she went to the president to bypass Congress, to bypass the debate. The public was asking a lot of questions. It smells of politics, and the people of Alhambra were denied their voice in the discussion. That's not representative government, it's not the government that I feel we want, and it's not the type of representative I'm going to be.
Why should an Alhambra resident vote for you?
I want to be their representative. I have different political views than half the people in Alhambra, but I want to represent their side. I want to listen to both sides and come up with rules, regulations, and laws that make it better for all of us. I don't want to be a politician who only supports one side of the political argument.
Editor's note: This interview was edited and condensed. This piece does not represent the views or opinions of the editorial staff and is not an endorsement.