Meet Ken Toh, candidate for the Alhambra City Council's 4th District

The Alhambra Source is interviewing candidates running in this year’s municipal elections. We've spoken to the third district candidates, Mark Nisall and Jeff Maloney, and to fourth district candidate David Mejia. We conclude this series with Ken Toh, also a candidate for the city council's fourth district. After working for City of Alhambra as a fire inspector for 15 years, Toh wants to enhance transparency and opportunities for public participation in city government for locals. As an immigrant from Malaysia who speaks English, Mandarin Chinese, Cantonese, Malay and Taiwanese, Toh has a unique foothold into Alhambra's Asian community, which makes up half of the city's population.  

Why did you decide to run for city council? 

For a long time, I felt that Alhambra has not been on the right path, in terms of integrity. I have a very unique point of view. With my 15 years of service as a fire inspector with the city, and being a homeowner and resident of Alhambra since 2000, I know the positive and negative results, because of the city council decisions. And I also have a good knowledge of what the community needs, and how the city operates.

And what really helps me make my decision to run for city council was the Alhambra Source article written by Eric Sunada, entitled “Why we need new leadership in Alhambra.” And I agreed with what he said is a lack of full transparency, and true public participation in our local government. These two issues are my main concern. Full transparency is when the resident get full information of all the issues. Only when they can make some good sound decisions as to whether the city council make good or bad decisions. And true public participation is when the city can go beyond what’s required by the law for public participation. Only then will it be true public participation. 

I’m happy to say that I’ve not only received an endorsement from Eric Sunada, I also get his full support and help on my campaign. 

Is he your campaign manager?

My campaign manager is Efren Moreno [Jr]. He was on the city council back in 2000 to 2004.

Was it like you read the op-ed and you decided to run? How did that work? Were you planning on running beforehand?

No, I wasn’t planning to run, but I read that article one day before the deadline to submit the declaration. [Laughs] Then suddenly something flashed on my mind, like, “Oh, I should do it.”

Did you have to collect signatures for that? 

Yes, to run for city council, I had to collect at least 50 nomination signatures in my district [after submitting the Declaration of Intent]. That took me some time to get all those 50 signatures. It’s not easy.

What issues are you running on?

Like I mentioned, full transparency and true public participation are the two important issues that I mentioned just now. For full transparency to happen, the city needs to provide all the information available and easily and free to the public for all issues before the city council. And this can be done very easily, to include the staff report in the online agenda on the city website. Right now, this staff report only goes to the city council. So as residents, they do not know what’s going on when they attend the city council meetings. If they make available, they will know what exactly. This is what I call full transparency. 

The other thing that we need to do is have live broadcasts of all the city council meetings on the city website. This should also be done for the planning commission. 

And then for true public participation to happen, all the community meetings should be scheduled that is convenient for most of the working residents, which have traditional working hours. One way to help the community is also to create what I call the email notification system, where concerned residents can register or sign up to receive email notification of any community meetings, city council meetings or planning commission meetings. Only then will it be true public participation. If the residents do not know the meetings, then they won’t be able to participate. 

If the community has full transparency and true public participation, then I believe the city council will be more effective, and lead with integrity.  

Why the planning commission specifically?

Because a lot of planning commission meetings has something to do with our neighborhood. So I think it’s very important for the residents to get to know what is going on.

You were a fire inspector for the city and everything like that. How has your experience working for the city informed your campaign? 

Like I mentioned to you just now, I worked with the city for 15 years. I know how the city operates and how each individual department operates, and if I get elected as a city councillor, I can improve the work productivity, with the city employees. 

Because I was working with the City of Alhambra fire department, I built up a good rapport with the community. And in the community, a lot of the residents know me and that I am the type of person who believes in integrity and honesty. So I hope that if they see my name on the ballot, then if they got help from me, I’m sure they will vote for me. 

I heard that there was a controversy with the city when you were there. 

It was back in 2007. There was a structure fire that happened on 9th and Valley. Very unfortunate. I had to fight with the city, first in the criminal court, and then in the civil court, in order to get back my dignity and integrity. [The city] allowed the city employer to abuse their power in the fire department, and cover up the truth about what is going on in that fire. As a result, the city had to spend millions of dollars, because of this. And all of this can be avoided if they choose to truthful, you see.

I was wondering if that influenced your campaign or why you wanted to run and stuff like that. 

It’s not really the reason why I wanted to run for city council. 

Just general transparency—

Yes, general transparency, and full public participation. I think those are the two most important issues for me to run on for the city council.  

And I know you’re from Malaysia and you speak five languages. You’re pretty close to the Chinese community—the Asian community here. I was wondering how your background and your abilities, how that has influenced your campaign. 

Yes, I used to be very active in the community. Right now, I’m still quite active in the community service groups, you see. I volunteer at least 12 hours of my time every week to several community service groups, including the Buddhist temple here in Alhambra. I also joined the community group—the Fukianese association, and I’m also pretty active in several other groups, even though it’s not a community organization, it’s a group of friends that we get together once a week. 

There’s one particular organization called the I-Chinese American Political Action Committee. They interviewed me, and they decided to endorse, because I used to be a member, and right now I’m still a member of their committee group.

What kind of outreach and fundraising have you been doing? 

I’ve only had a kick-off campaign fundraising once. So far I do not plan to raise too much money. I’m the type of people I don’t like to ask people for money for help in my campaign, you see. Whatever I can afford, I will take it on. And if people are willing to donate to my campaign, then I will accept that. 

And there’s one thing I want to mention, also. I run as a community candidate this time. So in order to curb the potential of a conflict of interest, I will not accept any donation from the city developers or contractors. 

How have you been talking to residents?

You know, I just came back from New York, as you know. And I started my decision to run for city council later. So right now at this stage, I’m still at the early stage. [Laughs] So I haven’t had a chance to go out to talk to the residents, which I am planning to do very soon, go door-to-door, making phone calls to friends and family. 

Is there anything else you want to add?

As you know, running for city council is not easy. As you can tell, I have a strong accent. [Laughs] But I have the benefit of speaking different Asian languages, which would allow me to talk to many of the residents of this city, and be their voice on city council. Like I say, I believe in integrity and honesty. I believe we need to have a city council leadership that’s not only willing to listen to resident concerns, but to take appropriate action.

This interview has been edited for length and clarity.

18 thoughts on “Meet Ken Toh, candidate for the Alhambra City Council's 4th District”

  1. Do your research Alhambra Citizens.

    Toh’s campaign manager is Efren Moreno, former Alhambra city councilman who approved all the ordinances and zoning for the over development on Main Street.

    If Toh is elected, are Alhambra citizen to expect more Moreno’s agenda based on his past track record. I find it odd that Moreno is helping Toh. Why?

    Furthermore, his platform for transparency in city council meetings is not needed. The meetings and minutes are posted online for everyone who has the internet to see and review.

    Toh does not have my vote.

    Jerry, Alhambra Resident 17 + years

    1. Hi Jerry Chan.

      I have to respond to your comment because I think you are trying to obfuscate the issues by making false assumptions and gas lighting the public.

      If you do your research, what you will find to be true, is that 1) all the current city council members support David Mejia (ken Toh’s opponent) and Jeff Maloney (Mark Nisall’s opponent), 2) the current city council is responsible for re-zoning and overdevelopment more so than anyone else in the city since they have run the city uninterrupted for the last 12 years, and 3) Jeff Maloney, while on the planning commission, voted to approve the high density housing complex in Midwick in its original form, which was over 200 units. So if you want to go after someone for overdevelopment then look no further than your current city council and the candidates they are supporting. Don’t go after the candidates who are trying to change the status quo.

      Furthermore, the candidate’s campaign finance statements reveal that both Jeff Maloney and David Mejia have taken tens of thousands of dollars from outside moneyed interests, including developers and city contractors—many of whom also gave consistently and substantially to the current city council. You will also see that Ken Toh and Mark Nisall have not taken any campaign contributions from any developers or city contractors. You can go have a look at all the candidates’ campaign finance records for free at the City Clerk’s office at City Hall. I encourage all voters to do so. They are quite revealing.

      And I personally find your comment about the city already having enough transparency offensive, Jerry Chan. There is always room for greater transparency. Nearly 100% of all city decisions get made behind closed doors with little to no public input. So, NO, just posting the city council agendas and videos of the city council meetings online is not enough. The city can and should do better on the transparency front.

      Jerry Chan, I think that trying to smear Ken Toh by making false assumptions and trying to associate him with people you personally don’t like is inappropriate. The city falsely accused Ken Toh years ago of obstructing a fire investigation when he was only trying to seek justice for a man who died in a commercial blaze. The city’s witch hunt cost Mr. Toh his job and the city hundreds of thousands of dollars, only for a jury to exonerate Mr. Toh in less than one hour of deliberation. read the article here:

      http://www.laweekly.com/news/ken-toh-exposed-a-cover-up-at-the-alhambra-

      Ken Toh is the last person whose integrity you should be attacking.

      Let the people make up their own minds about the candidates, Jerry Chan, by reading what is publically out there.

      1. I think Sean’s comments at the last part of his post is kind of unfair. Jerry Chan did not attack Toh’s integrity, he just expressed his concern that Toh and Moreno would share the same ideology and views, specifically on the alleged overdevelopment. And even if Jerry does dislike Moreno and for that reason he is not voting for Toh, there is nothing wrong. A stronger rebuttal to Jerry’s argument that Moreno “approved all the ordinances and zoning for the over development on Main Street” is to give a full accounting of Moreno’s voting record and other councilmembers’ record regarding “all” the related laws, regulations, and policies. But of course one can argue that Jerry is the one who should prove his own allegation by presenting concrete evidence. Sean I would advise you to stay calm and rational rather than treating any attacks as personal ones such as smearing and things like that. It is legitimate to associate a candidate (Toh or Maloney) with the past records of his campaign manager (Moreno) and his key supporters (the current council members). Nothing inappropriate. As to transparency, I look forward to some specific idea if posting agendas and videos on-line is not enough — what else can be done? As to the city’s lawsuit against Toh years ago, I think a point can be made against the current council if they indeed made some terrible misjudgment — they may be making another terrible misjudgment now by supporting Mejia and Maloney. Another point can be made out of this lawsuit in favor of Toh is Toh’s integrity and character despite the city’s persecution and prosecution. As an aside, I am quite interested in knowing whether those “top Alhambra officials, including city manager Julio Fuentes, [who allegedly] were involved in suppressing or destroying evidence in controversial fires” were ever prosecuted.

      2. Hi Toyotomi. I stand by my previous post. I disagree with your assessment that Jerry Chan did not publically smear Kent Toh 12 days before the election by implying 1) that if elected Toh would hold views counter to what he stands for and has advocated for on his campaign web site and literature, and 2) that Efren Moreno is the cause of all the over-development and re-zoning in Alhambra without supplying any evidence whatsoever to back up such a ludacris statement.

        Ask yourself, when did all of this over-development begin, then ask yourself when did Efren leave the city council? Efren served one 4 year term and was gone by 2004. Everyone on the current city council has been on the city council uniterrupted for 10-12 years. How could Efren be responsible for all the over-development and re-zoning, most of which happened post 2008? So for someone to publically state that Efren was responsible for ALL the over-development and re-zoning in Alhambra, and therefore Ken Toh would over-develop and re-zone because Efren is supporting Ken Toh is completely unfounded and wholly inappropriate. And in my opinion, it is the very definition of smearing someone, which is “to sully, vilify, or soil (a reputation, good name, etc.)”

        There was a wonderful article in the Alhambra Source in 2014 that details the over-development and inappropriate re-zoning in Alhambra, which you can read here:

        http://www.alhambrasource.org/stories/are-alhambra-leaders-abusing-their

        All of the over-development referenced in that article took place under the current city council’s tenure, not Efren’s one term. Furthermore, Jeff Maloney (Mark Nisall’s opponent for the 3rd district seat), was on the planning commission that approved all of the over-development referenced in the article.

        Now it is fine for anyone to disagree with my sentiment on this matter, but if you are going to make a statement like Jerry Chan did, then you should supply evidence to back it up, otherwise it is just comes off as an attempt to manipulate the public 12 days before the vote, and that is wrong.

        Toyotomi, you stated, “he (Jerry Chan) just expressed his concern that Toh and Moreno would share the same ideology and views, specifically on the alleged over-development.” First, you used the term “ALLEGED over-development,” and that is fine, but know that there is plenty of community sentiment as well as evidence that confirms the city has become over-developed. Second, I agree with you that that is what Jerry Chan expressed, and I think it is uniformed and civic and political malpractice to make such a statement 12 days before people vote. People are indeed entitled to their own opinions, but they are not entitled to their own set of facts. This is why transparency is so important Toyotomi.

        As to your question about what else can be done in terms of transparency other than posting City Council videos and agendas online, here’s an idea: regularly post online copies of all city council members and candidates campaign finance records for the public to view. If the city did this, the public would see that Ken Toh’s opponent, David Mejia, has taken tens of thousands of dollars in campaign contributions from developers, city contractors, and moneyed interests from outside Alhambra. Here are just a few examples from Mejia’s campaign finance records (which anyone can obtain at the City Clerk’s office):

        US Assets LLC—$2,500
        Sherwood and Associates—$2,500
        Anasazi Corporation—$2,500
        Grow Elect: Republican PAC—$1,500
        B-K Alhambra Property LLC—$1,000
        Simon Lee & Associates: Arcitech Firm—$1,000
        Pacific Villa Place LLC: Commercial Realtor—$1,000
        The Alhambra Ratkovich Group: Developer—$500

        And the list goes on…

        You will not find any such contributions in Ken Toh and Mark Nisall’s campaign finance records because they have pledged not to take campaign contributions from such people and groups because they do not want to have any conflicts of interests while serving the Alhambra city council. That is integrity.

        I have laid out the facts so the people can make up their own mind. If you think that is unfair, then I disagree with you Toyotomi. And I will continue to address any false claims or assumptions made before the election because this election is too important to allow false claims to enter into the conversation.

      3. 1. “if elected Toh would hold views counter to what he stands for” – if Moreno was indeed responsible for the alleged over-development, then this was a legit concern, not smearing.
        2. “Efren Moreno is the cause of all the over-development and re-zoning” Jerry Chan did not say or imply that. What he said was Moreno “approved all the ordinances and zoning for the over development on Main Street.” That is, Moreno had a part to play in the approval, but Jerry Chan did not say Moreno was the (only) “cause.”
        “Efren was responsible for ALL the over-development and re-zoning in Alhambra.” If Elfren did approve some, if not all, developments, then of course he was responsible for those developments like others who voted yes. One is always responsible for what he/she voted for.
        I think the key is not whether Elfren approved each and every development on Main Street. If he approved only one, then there is still reasonable ground to doubt whether Elfren is truly anti-over-development.
        I certainly do not think publicly expressing one’s opinion 12 days before the election is “political malpractice.”
        Neither Jerry Chan nor you provided definite proof for your statements. Jerry Chan did not back up his claim that Elfren Moreno “approved all the ordinances and zoning for the over development on Main Street.” And you did not provide evidence to prove your statement that “All of the over-development referenced in that article took place under the current city council’s tenure, not Efren’s one term.”
        “if you are going to make a statement like Jerry Chan did, then you should supply evidence to back it up, otherwise it is just comes off as an attempt to manipulate the public 12 days before the vote, and that is wrong.” Okay, why don’t you yourself set an example? You claimed that “Jeff Maloney was on the planning commission that approved all of the over-development referenced in the article.” Did you supply evidence to back it up?

      4. Sean, have you taken your idea of “regularly post[ing] online copies of all city council members and candidates campaign finance records for the public to view” and asked Toh and Nisall to post their campaign finance records on their web sites? Currently, I am not able to see such on their web sites. Actions speak louder than words. You are so eager to defend them here, so why don’t you ask them to lead by example and then you can tell people that they live by their words?

      5. Hi Ada,

        None of the candidates have posted their campaign finance records online. I had to get them for myself at the City Clerks office, which you can do as well. If you do this, you will be surprised to see that Ken Toh and Mark Nisall have not taken any money from moneyed interests like Maloney and Mejia have.

        It is not my job to do your research Ada. The onus is not on me to make available each candidates campaign finance records for the public, but the city can if it wants to. And you, Ada, as well as anyone else can the can go look at the candidates and city council members campaign finance records for free at the city clerk’s office.

        But here is an idea: ask the city to post all city council members and candidates campaign finance records regularly on the city website so the public doesn’t have to drive to city hall to look at them? Such a policy would speak multitudes about how committed the city council is to providing true transparency to its citizens.

      6. I did not ask you to do my research or anybody’s research. I just asked whether you took your idea to Toh and Nisall and see whether they are receptive to your idea. If Toh and Nisall, whom you praised so much, do not support your idea, what is the chance that the city council, which allegedly lacks transparency, would approve such measure? Well, isn’t it ironic if the current council (i.e. the 3 incumbents) indeed adopt your idea but Toh and Nisall do not support it?!

      7. Julio Fuentes had a unsuccessful, I would say, tenure as Santa Clara city manager. He was pro-growth there and apparently many did not like that.

  2. It’s time for change in the City Council.

    Let’s look to new leaders who are passionate and excited to invite change, listen to Alhambra residents.

    VOTE FOR Ken Toh and Mark Nisall!

    A vote for Mejia and Maloney is to maintain status quo: supporting over-development and redevelopment, developers, cronies, et al.

    Read this informative article and their comments:
    http://www.pasadenastarnews.com/government-and-politics/20161013/3-reaso

  3. Thanks to the Alhambra Source for interviewing all of the candidates running for Alhambra City Council.

  4. I wholly disagree with you Greg. There is no excuse for a government not to be as transparent as it can. I also disagree with your ideas of representative democracy. We do not elect representatives so that they can sit in back rooms and exclude the public from the governmental process. That is not representative democracy. It is plutocracy or oligarchy masquerading as democracy. Besides, it does not matter what kind of democracy you have, transparency is paramount. What is more, regardless of the form of government, non-transparency leads to corruption and an apathetic public, which is what we now have in Alhambra (an elite few that are beholden to moneyed interests and a community that is uniformed and resigned to the status quo).

    Thus, you are making the establishment’s often invoked false assumption that City Council members have run unopposed in the past because people are happy. Not true. Just talk to people in Alhambra.
    I also suggest reading up on CDBG funds.

    https://www.hudexchange.info/resource/19/basically-cdbg-training-guidebo

    While parking structures are allowed in certain circumstances, it does not mean cities should blow $8 million on one in a residential area to the detriment of the lower income residents these funds are meant to help. There are best and worst CDBG practices. Alhambra stands out amongst its peer cities as an extreme CDBG exploiter. There is plenty of data to back this up, but you would have to know where to look because the city has not been forthcoming with its residents on this issue, and that is why it has been able to misuse CDBG funds for so many years. But this all comes back to transparency and public engagement. Still think non-transparency is okay?

    The city council needs to be exposed. They do not deserve a free pass on this matter. Just because you were elected does not mean you are a good politician or a politician that has the support of a majority of the community.

    1. This is way more than transparency. This is more a vendetta from a group of people than collaborative efforts to work together. To complain about council members running unopposed for years means that somehow the 80K+ residents of Alhambra are still doing fine. Do you see mass riots on the streets? I talk with my neighbors and our side of town isn’t screaming. Yeah, nobody’s perfect but from your comments it’s the end of the world.

      All this “anti-establishment” talk is becoming to sound more like a Trump rally. Any Trump supporters here?

      And please, enough with these CDBG funds. You need to call HUD and file a complaint. But HUD knows better and sees these types of uses all the time in cities all over this nation. This is a local issue, not a “transparency” issue. Just because you don’t like something doesn’t mean its not transparent.

      1. Greg,

        You have completely misrepresented my comments, and, again, I wholly disagree with your logic. Resorting to ad hominem attacks on me or people who question the current City Council is inappropriate and undeveloped reasoning. You have jumped to conclusions about people who disagree with you and are unhappy with the status quo. You have also made false assumptions about HUD and what the public has already initiated. And your comment about this being “a local issue, not a transparency issue” I also find ill conceived. It is both a local issue and a transparency issue. The two are not mutually exclusive.

        But this is part and parcel of the problem in Alhambra. Those that benefit from the status quo try to silence those that seek change by demeaning, dismissing, and/or attacking them.

        I get the feeling you are part of the establishment crowd, Greg, and that is fine, but you do not get to claim satisfaction on behalf of all Alhambrans. Everyone deserves a seat at the table in Alhambra, not just the moneyed interests and favored sons of the current City Council.

        It is right and healthy to question local governments’ intentions and past behavior. That is democracy.

        Finally, Greg, I have not attacked your character nor brought national politics into this conversation, so I would appreciate it if you extended the same courtesy to me and others who comment on posts. Please do not turn this into a trolling thread for the purposes of baiting people and obfuscating the issue at hand. This is meant to be a forum for discussion and debate amongst people who want to be informed via the only free and independent press outlet in Alhambra.

        Debate is healthy. Name calling, false assumptions, and ad hominem attacks are not. They poison the well and lessen the conversation. I will not continue to engage with you if you insists on resuming this type of thread.

      2. Interesting Sandy. No need to take the moral high ground when the very same people who support your views are just as guilty for name calling, false assumptions, and ad hominem attacks against the city council. I will definitely NOT be voting for Toh.

      3. Hi Greg,

        I was reading through the comments. Thanks for sharing your thoughts and who you will be voting for. However, I disagree with everything you said.

        Here is what I think: people who are tired of the political status quo in Alhambra should vote for Ken Toh and Mark Nisall.

        http://www.kentohforalhambracitycouncil2016.com/

        https://www.facebook.com/KenTohforAlhambraCityCouncil2016/

        http://www.nisallforalhambracitycouncil.org/

        https://www.facebook.com/CommitteeToElectNisallAlhambraCityCouncil2016/

  5. I agree with Ken’s stance on transparency.

    Transparency in our government may very well be the biggest problem in Alhambra. Every year, for decades, the City Council has listed greater transparency as a priority in its long-term strategic and one-year annual action plans, but never follows through with any sincere and sustainable remedies. Thus, the current City Council has exploited the issue of transparency to both pander to the public while at the same time fostering and utilizing non-transparency to push through their policy agendas with little-to-no public impute or debate.

    Case in point, there is no independent and free local print press in Alhambra. Ask yourselves, what don’t you like about what is happening in Alhambra, then ask yourselves when you found out about development projects, city contracts, ordnances, and public policies? Before or after they were pushed through the planning commission and City Council? There is no excuse for this. Transparency must improve in Alhambra.

    The community should not have to fight like it did to prevent CDBG funds from being used on a multilevel parking structure in Almansor Park. They should be included in the process from the very beginning. If they were, such projects would never be put forth in the first place.

    1. You sound like you’re advocating for true democracy. We have a representative democracy. You’re transparency concerns only work if everyone participates in the process but not everyone has the time or need to specialize in every single city issue. Hence, we have elected representatives.

      CDBG funds are used by what HUD allows through policy and what has been practiced. Sorry to burst your bubble, but Alhambra isn’t the only city in this nation to have used funds for a parking structure. If you don’t like it, fine. But going on a rant on elected officials who were elected by voters only polarizes this city even further.

Leave a Reply