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.”

Salinas with her family.

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.

Salinas in front of her Midwick home.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.

29 thoughts on “Election 2012: Questions for Elizabeth Salinas for City Council*”

  1. Thank you for this article and the series that shares information about who is running for elective office. More stories like this help all of us be better educated about our city.

  2. Hi Elizabeth Salinas,

    Thanks for sharing your views. I would like to know exactly what you mean when you say your main issue is “development” in residential areas. Do you mean a carte blanche approach to stopping any developer from building in “R1” suburban tracts? Or any tract? I ask because even the Midwick City Venture Project you vehemently oppose has been an “R3” tract for years and was downscaled to 70+ units, much smaller than the 127-unit senior housing facility that existed there for years. Keep in mind, the CV project is much smaller than what the current R3 zoning ordinance allows. You said in an earlier post that it is obvious I am not from the Midwick area; yet I personally didn’t say nothing to you months ago when I saw you at the Farmer’s Market between Bay State St. and Main St. when you were advocating against high-density development. The irony was that you were promoting your message in my district that are filled with multi-unit high-density condos. You know, these so-called “high-density” condos are also people’s homes, like mine! But with all respect, I agree with you that the beauty of Alhambra needs to be preserved, but can we also create new beauty as well (and not necessarily in suburb sections of Alhambra)?

    I scour not only the Alhambra City Council agendas but the Design Review Board and Planning Commission agendas as well (agendas that the Alhambra Source doesn’t post). I can assure you that our city IS GROWING and DEVELOPING constantly. There are always monthly agenda items for a room addition, a second floor addition, a larger garage, etc. If our city didn’t even make half the effort to accomodate these things, I would project that we would see alot more illegal conversions like our next door neighbor San Gabriel. There are constant newcomers moving into our city, some I know very well. They are here not because they want to densify Alhambra with congestion (which isn’t necessarily a causal relationship), but because of our city’s proximity to jobs and schools (like downtown L.A. only 8 miles away, USC, Pasadena City College, Cal-State Los Angeles, etc.) What I’m saying is that regardless how you want to curb growth, society will always find a way to naturally grow not only from internal influences, but external ones as well.

    How will you support and guide our city’s development into the future? I hope you could provide leadership for the other four districts as well on this, and not only your Fourth district.

    v/r,
    John Gacis
    1st District Resident
    Alhambra, CA 91801

    1. Here is a link to the General Plan Map (a.k.a. zoning map). I needed to refer to it to consider the question posed – I was away during the whole Midwick CV dispute – so I decided to post a link here in case it helps others.

  3. Democracy allows the people not to vote and to give up
    Others try, I have spoken in the Public Comment Period in both Alhambra and LA and continue

    Alhambra Council depends on lack of public participation in order to do what they thought was best for themselves. Now they have given up on the A-CRA and have defined Fremont to Main, yeah Main, as “Industrial Redevelopment Authority/Area”

    Remember follow the money and in redevelopment areas – increased properrty tax due to public projects goes to the City without going to LACo and allows Alhambra to build the Wonderous Alhambra Gateway Garden, did you miss it – NW corner of Fremont/Valley…

    Support those who have the interest and determination those who want to try to make things different, and maybe even better….

    1. Another conspiracy theorist haranguing the city…

  4. Thanks to the Alhambra Source for providing this opportunity to hear from the candidates.

    Are there any plans from the Source any other local organization to host a public forum or debate between the city council candidates?

  5. Speaking of benefits? Why do our council people get lifetime medical insurance if they serve long enough? ( I think it is three terms). I don’t recall that ever being on the ballot?

    1. The commenter who calls himself “a friend” makes a good point. For those who don’t know, under Alhambra Municipal Code § 2.04.280 the city pays to provide medical, dental, vision, disability and life insurance benefits to some former city council members. Those former city council members must have served 12 years on the city council.

      During 2010, Alhambra paid over $30,000 in health benefits for two former Alhambra City Council members, Michael Blanco and Boyd Condie. Neither were on the City Council during 2010. During 2009, Alhambra paid over $28,000 in health benefits for Michael Blanco and Boyd Condie. Neither were on the City Council during 2009. Source: City of Alhambra; see Making a Request Under the California Public Records Act (using the request for that data as an example about how to make a public records request).

      1. Not bad for a “part-time” job. Who else in the city gets such benefits?

      2. You can easily see that information. The City of Alhambra and all other government agencies in California are required to report compensation for active employees to the State Controller, currently John Chiang. The Controller shares those compensation details with the public on its web site.

        California Office of Controller: Government Compensation for the City of Alhambra (Calendar Year 2010). Clicking a column will sort by that column. In this case, I’ve sorted by the Health, Dental, and Vision column. You can just as easily sort by the highest paid employee (city manager).

        While active employees – including city council members – are included in the data set, the Controller does not release data regarding compensation payments made on behalf of retirees, other inactive employees, or former officials.

      3. Here is what the Alhambra City Code says:

        “Every member of the City Council of the city who retires after 12 years of service on the City Council shall in each year after their retirement receive the same medical, dental, vision, disability and life insurance benefits that sitting City Council Members receive during each such year, but in no event shall any such benefits be less than substantially the same health care benefits received during his or her tenure on the City Council.  Such benefits and the premiums therefor shall be paid by the city.”

    2. Alhambra is a charter city so they are able to make their own rules/laws. Therefore, they themselves can vote in these types of benefits. This has not been confirmed NOR denied that their familes also get lifetime benefits. That’s doggone good for a part time job!!! Maybe we should all run for city council at one point and secure our medical benefits!!!!

      1. Zlady and “A Friend”: this is something you can ask the city clerk to clarify. She can tell you if the benefits package includes family members and if this ordinance provides benefits after the former council member passes. Past articles suggest that family members are currently covered by the city council benefits package.

      2. Mr. Bednarski

        Thank you for the info. Will look into it.

    3. Alhambra is a charter city so they are able to make their own rules/laws. Therefore, they themselves can vote in these types of benefits. This has not been confirmed NOR denied that their familes also get lifetime benefits. That’s doggone good for a part time job!!! Maybe we should all run for city council at one point and secure our medical benefits!!!!

      1. Families may get benefits also since the city code does say, “…but in no event shall any such benefits be less than substantially the same health care benefits received during his or her tenure on the City Council.” If family was covered during their tenure, lose of family coverage would be substantially less coverage.

  6. Recycling centers, swimming pools, and the homeless are not the MAJOR ISSUES affecting Alhambra right now, at least for the MAJORITY of us residents. Those are areas that only win votes based on emotional appeal. I want to vote for someone who will provide leadership and growth for our city.

    1. What execatly are you looking for in our city coucil candidate? Why dont you ask Mrs. Salinas or Mr. Placido those questions you have in mind? What do you mean by growth? Do you want more housing? More jobs? More businesses? To the best of my knowledge Mr. Placido has denied to have a debate with Mrs. Salinas. He rather answer questions throu a mailed out questionaire. He has’nt repplied to Alhambra Source either. Where is Mr. Placido why isn’t he doing interviews or debates? You should go to the next city council meeting this coming monday at 7pm and ask him directly your questions/concerns and when he is doing a debate with Mrs Salinas.

      1. @ Zlady,

        Sorry lady, but it seems like you beef is with Councilman Placido. I’m fine with the way the city is going on now. We are not broke like San Bernardino, Bell, or even our next door neighbor Montebello. This article sure attracts alot of 4th district residents pissed off with Placido. Poor guy, but that’s okay. Our city easily has another 60,000+ residents who aren’t pissed off like you…

        Thank goodness…

      2. George,

        Of course my beef is with Placido, he is my reprresentative. I love my neighborhood and dont want to see it over developed. If i wanted to live by condos, apartment or high buildings I would live in Downtown L.A or NewYork City. You’ll soon be pissed off when something like this come into your backyard. None of the council members helped it just happened to be be in the 4th district this time. Over development is a city wide problem. And the 60,000+ residents you refer to only a fraction will come out to vote. You’ll be lucky if 10% show up election time. I hope you like New York because if Placido wins we will be the New York of the west coast.

  7. I will be happy to vote for Elizabeth. We need new people on the council. People like Barbara Messina who have made their lives work of being on the board yet are so out of touch with the residents needs to come to an end. It upsets me that in a time of financial hardships these council people continue to take money from the city for benefits when they are old enough to be on medicare like the rest of the community. Closing pools would not be necessary if they gave up this benefit.

  8. Well, this past Sunday, Dr. Placido left a note on my door while I was out. Last I checked, I live in the district served by Gary Yamauchi. Now, I know Mr. Yamauchi has just essentially been reappointed to the council, but I had hoped he’d at least do some door to door canvassing (or even set up something at Alhambra Park). I suppose Dr. Placido is at least willing to face residents in NW Alhambra, but I’m a bit disappointed with Mr. Yamauchi.

    1. In my opinion Mr. Placido is willing to go to your district because residents in his own district are disappionted in him. He has failed to represent us when we needed him the most in our battle with City Ventures. If your not familiar here is a brief discription, City ventures/Front Porch wanted to build 93 homes/condos 3 stories high at 4300 Fremont ( over where the retirement home were). The Midwick resident were not happy and asked Mr. Placido for help. When asked what his opinion or thoughts were regarding this project he always stated that if he voiced his opinion he would be violating the Brown Act and would have to excuse himself when the project was up for voting. Resident had to fight for themselves and started a petition, 600+ signatures to date. There were numerous meetings between residents, city ventures/front porch and 2city council members. To date this project is on “indefinite hold” and Mr. Placido took credit for stopping the project. Some residents went to a city council meeting and confronted Mr. Placido for taking credit for something he had no part in. He called himself a leader and by being a leader he allowed us to fight for ourselves. Is this the kind of leader you want? The kind that leaves you on your own during a battle? The kind that lets you do his job and then takes credit for it? That isn’t the kind of leader I want.

  9. All city councils represent their own district and at one point are mayors of the whole city. Right now we have Messina from 2nd district as Mayor. About 3 months ago it was Ayala from 5th district. Candidates must live in the district they want to represent but, all residents can vote. “Tranperancy” is something that will be hard to accomplish but, at least Salinas will try and not just keep her arm crossed and hope for the best. She has upset some of the current council for questioning them with some of their projects/money issues and that is more than i can say for other Alhambra residents. She isn’t happy with the way the city is being managed and she is the one who is standing up and running against Mr.Placido. If she didn’t run the City Council will ASSUME that all is well and everyone is happy, as Messina stated in her last non challenged election. We should always know where and how our money is being spent and election time is a great time to question council about it. Now is the time when they become a little more “Transperant” and give a little more info regarding the city and their plans. I applaud Mrs Salinas for having the courage to run against the incumbent Mr. Placido who is no where to be found!

  10. I will be voting for Dr. Steven Placido!

  11. Great story. Glad she is in the race!
    I thought that Alhambra has an at-large city council system, meaning that those elected serve the whole city rather than a specific area within the city. Is this true?

    I had thought that this at-large system is one of the things that contributes to low voter turn-out and low levels of engagement with government over all.

    1. @LM: Thank you for the comment! City Council members do represent the entire city, but they are each designated a specific district and nominated from that area. Dr. Placido is from District 4, for example.

  12. Oh No! Another candidate talking about “transperancy” (which does not exists in Alhambra). I don’t know how or why this happens during election time; candidates talk the good talk about “transperancy” but once elected – close the door!!!

  13. Placido is afraid to face the people.

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