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Campaign finance reform and affordable housing dominate City Council debate

Photo by David Muñoz.

Location

Alhambra , CA United States

Alhambra’s City Council candidates were divided on campaign finance reform and affordable housing at a candidate forum hosted by the League of Women Voters and Soroptimist International on Thursday night.

Candidates Laura Tellez-Gagliano came out against Proposition 10, a state ballot initiative that would repeal the Costa-Hawkins Act limiting rent control measures that California cities could put in place. She called for more awareness of housing programs that Alhambra already has. Dunkel-Soto said that rent control wasn’t means tested and called for requiring new developments to set aside a percentage of affordable units for police officers, teachers, nurses and firefighters. Adele Andrade-Stadler, Dunkel-Soto’s opponent for Alhambra’s 5th District, expressed support for Prop 10 and Andrea Lofthouse-Quesada, running against Tellez-Gagliano in the 1st District, advocated for rent control as part of a multi-pronged solution.

“Every year, at least four to five students leave my classroom because they can no longer afford it here and that breaks my heart,” she said.

First District candidate Katherine Lee went so far as to suggest that the city stop building luxury apartments in order to address affordable housing and said that rent control would be a last resort.

The candidates were also asked to list their largest campaign donation. Dunkel-Soto received $6,000 from the California Association of Realtors Political Action Committee, while Andrade-Stadler initially said that she had received $8,000 from the Alhambra Teachers Association. When Dunkel-Soto expressed concern that a teachers union was giving that much money to a school board member, Andrade-Stadler said she misspoke and said that she has mainly self-funded her campaign using $6,000 from a previous run for the Alhambra Unified School District Board of Education. Lofthouse-Quesada capped her donations at $250 and Tellez-Gagliano received $2,000 from Evike.com. Lee stated that her largest donor was the Alhambra Teacher’s Association and received a $300 donation from her uncle.

Reaching out to diverse communities

Candidates were asked about how they would reach out to the diverse communities living in Alhambra if elected to City Council. Andrea Lofthouse-Quesada suggested yearly block parties to promote neighborhood togetherness, as well as civic conversations that honor differences. She also called for more access to language interpretation services at City Hall.

Lee discussed an idea of having residential advisory committees, who would meet once a month to work out issues like traffic and homelessness. Adele Andrade-Stadler talked about having a dedicated phone line and utilizing technology for outreach, and both Laura Tellez-Gagliano and Suzi Dunkel-Soto spoke about making themselves more available in the neighborhoods, with Dunkel-Soto comparing it to “walking the beat.”

Campaign finance limits

Candidates were asked if they would support a campaign donation limit of $250. Lofthouse-Quesada, who has limited her donations to this amount, said that this ceiling ensured that she wouldn’t be “distracted” by a few large donors. Dunkel-Soto said she would support a limit of $1,000, while Tellez-Gagliano proposed a ceiling of $500 or $1,000. Andrade-Stadler would also support a cap, saying that most of her donations are small ones.

Lee said that a limit in campaign donations would have to go hand-in-hand with changing the at-large voting system, since candidates had to spend thousands of dollars on mailers to reach everyone in the city.

By-district vs. at-large voting

Andrade-Stadler, Lee and Lofthouse-Quesada all support changing Alhambra’s at-large voting system to a by-district one. This means that each City Council member would only get votes from the district they represent, as opposed to the city as a whole.

“If you’re from a neighborhood and you’re getting your neighborhood the access and resources it needs, then that’s what you need to do, and not worry about District 1 voting for me, but rather, worry about District 5 getting what they need,” Andrade-Stadler said.

Andrade-Stadler added there was a possibility that Alhambra’s at-large system violated the California Voting Rights Act, a concern that Lofthouse-Quesada said she shared.

Tellez-Gagliano and Dunkel-Soto support the at-large voting system, saying that they would be here to represent all of Alhambra on the City Council, not just their district. Tellez-Gagliano said that she wouldn’t support a system that would make it easier on herself to campaign, instead of forcing her to try and talk to everyone in the city.

“The best way is to serve Alhambra is to specialize in your district,” Lee said. “My neighbors come up and talk to me and I stand outside, but I can’t simply do that for all five districts.”

Crime and immigration

Candidates were asked to address the issues of public safety and the protection of immigrants in Alhambra. Dunkel-Soto addressed the public safety portion of the question, saying that with only six units on patrol during the day and for four units at night, the Alhambra Police Department needed to be supplemented by reviving neighborhood watch programs. Lee also supports neighborhood watch programs and called for better bilingual translation services so that immigrants felt more comfortable interacting with the police and reporting crimes.

Andrade-Stadler spoke about a resolution she introduced to the school board making the Alhambra Unified School District a safe haven for undocumented immigrant students, while Tellez-Gagliano called for protecting immigrant families in general.

Lofthouse-Quesada was the only candidate to explicitly call for Alhambra to become a sanctuary city. “…,” she said. She also pointed out that crime statistics in Alhambra are low, but programs where neighbors could get to know each other would decrease feelings of insecurity.

Sexual assault

“I believe you,” said Dunkel-Soto, in response to a question about what the candidates would say to survivors of sexual assault. She called for early education to prevent sexual assault from happening, a sentiment that Andrade-Stadler agreed with.

Tellez-Gagliano discussed expanding mental health services for survivors in the city, in the vein of the school district’s mental program, Gateway to Success, while Lee spoke about church programs that help survivors. Lofthouse-Quesada talks about Mapping Feminist Los Angeles, which would help women find resources throughout the county.

Traffic

When it comes to alleviating traffic in Alhambra, especially where the 710 ends, Lofthouse-Quesada advocated for solutions that connect residents on Fremont Avenue to regional public transit, before building in that area again. Dunkel-Soto said that the city should tap into Measure R money to explore options to alleviate traffic. Andrade-Stadler proposed adding lanes to Fremont Avenue and adding more Metro and local buses to major thoroughfares. Laura also mentioned Measure R money and offered the theory that workforce housing would decrease traffic. Lee advocated for Alhambra to stop building.

Parks and green space

To add parks and green space to Alhambra, Lee advocated for looking into every single available space to build a large park. Lofthouse-Quesada introduced the idea of turning alleys and other concrete areas into public access spaces that would bring Alhambra together and talked about non-profits like Lots to Spots who do this work. She said that chasing a large park wouldn’t be realistic, but investing in smaller spaces by planting trees and other actions would have community buy-in. Dunkel-Soto said that the city should start counting school property as green space and opening them up more to the public.

Dunkel-Soto and Lee both suggested building a dog park as a possibility, while Dunkel-Soto and Tellez-Gagliano said that the 710 stub should become a park. Andrade-Stadler proposed building a park on the site where a Lowe’s was supposed to come in using eminent domain.

Tellez-Gagliano suggested looking into whether the golf course could be used as green space.

Homeless Housing

When it comes to homeless housing, Dunkel-Soto came out against homeless shelters as a permanent solution and praised a city task force that was working with Alhambra’s homeless. She advocated expanding on that. Andrade-Stadler called for more resources for the homeless in Alhambra, especially for homeless seniors. Tellez-Gagliano called for more mental health resources in the city for the homeless and to work jointly with faith communities. Lee said that residents should come together to talk about homelessness and to reduce fear and stigma against the homeless. Lofthouse-Quesada supports mental health services and a “wraparound approach” for the long-term homeless and for attracting living wage jobs and temporary monetary support for working class families who are living paycheck-to-paycheck.

Updated on Oct. 5 at 3:27 p.m.

1 thought on “Campaign finance reform and affordable housing dominate City Council debate”

  1. Melissa Michelson

    When is the pay-to-play system going to END in Alhambra? Ms. Soto, who loves to remind everyone that she’s a “residential” realtor, but that’s irrelevant. The fact is, she got $15,425 for online ads and $12,020 for mailers from the National Association of Realtors in Chicago, and $6500 from the CA Real Estate PAC in cash (total: $33,945) to run a local campaign in our town. Nothing against realtors, but Big Money out of Politics NOW! It’s their interests she will serve.

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