The Alhambra Source will be interviewing candidates running in this year’s municipal elections. First up is candidate for the Alhambra City Council’s third district seat, Mark Nisall. A retired law enforcement officer and court manager who has lived in Alhambra for 16 years, Nisall bills himself as “the only independent candidate in the race,” who wants to bring change to how the council conducts business. Below are his stances on key issues, including business development, affordable housing, public safety and the 710 tunnel.
How did you decide to run for city council?
I’ve been a resident of Alhambra for 16 years, and the incumbent councilman for the third district, [Gary Yamauchi], he was first elected in 2004. He ran unopposed in 2008 and then again in 2012. And that bothered me. I said to my wife, “I could run for city council!” She said, “You should.” So this year I decided to run, because I haven’t been happy with the policies and the decisions of the city council, and I decided to try and make a difference, and do something that might give me the opportunity to get on the council and make some changes.
What policies in particular [do you want to change]?
One is the overdevelopment in the city. They’ve done a lot of development, used a lot of water, and caused a lot of traffic problems. They city council blames the traffic on the 710 freeway, which is true to a certain extent, but the downtown traffic that we have, I think is mainly related to all of the high-density development projects that they’ve had over the past few years. Those projects really haven’t done anything to provide affordable housing for middle class working people. It’s all high end. The people who are buying are all wealthy individuals and investors. It’s very expensive. Working class people can’t afford to buy here. Rents are very high.
I’d like to see more affordable housing, and the way you can do that is by requiring builders to provide some percentage of their new development projects to provide a certain number of units for middle-class working families, moderate income people. And they do it in other areas: Pasadena, for example. They have an inclusionary ordinance, which requires builders to provide about 15 percent of new housing as affordable housing for middle class and lower income people. So this city could do the same thing. They could make that a requirement of the builders as a condition of doing business here. So it’s just a matter of the city making it a priority.
One of the other things I’m opposed to is their push to get the 710 freeway tunnel completed. I’m completely against the tunnel. I was in favor of it initially, but when I looked into the facts [including the cost, the time it takes to build, and the environmental impact], I realized that I had a made a mistake in judgement.
I’m in favor of the Beyond the 710 proposal. It’s an approach that uses—for example, enhancing light rail, adding some bus lines, shuttles, making street improvements to increase traffic flow, synchronizing traffic lights. But the idea I like the most is building a boulevard north—an aboveground boulevard—north from Valley, headed north into South Pasadena and Pasadena, which would divert a lot of the traffic away from Valley Boulevard and Fremont Street.
Concerning the schools, we have a drug problem in the schools right now. One of the things I want to see done—I want them to put a Drug Abuse Resistance Education program back in the schools. My daughter just graduated from Park School. I asked her, “Did you get any drug abuse training when you were in school?” She said no. I’ve heard from people that these programs don’t work. But I think they can work. When the kids get to high school. I don’t think they’re as reachable as when they’re in the middle school. I think you can reach the kids when they’re young, and they’re impressionable in middle school. They have a drug problem in the school district here. The kids are using Xanax and other drugs. They use the Xanax because they’re probably so stressed out. It’s a tranquilizer. It’s also very addictive.
I think the city has neglected public safety. I think the police and the fire department are understaffed. I don’t think they’re getting the equipment they need to do their jobs. I’d like to see increased staffing and funding for our public safety departments. And that goes to drug abuse training, because the DARE program is run by the police department. They’re the ones who send the school resource officers into the classrooms to teach drug abuse training. So I think we can find some money in the budget for that.
In terms of your past experience in the courts and law enforcement, how will that inform your work if you’re elected?
My experience in law enforcement helped me understand the needs of the Alhambra Police Department. I actually attended the Alhambra Police Department’s Citizens Police Academy to get a better understanding of the local department. And I’ve actually met the chief of police on a couple of occasions, and now he’s the city manager. If I’m elected, I think I can work with the city manager to get additional funding for the police department and hopefully for the fire department. I’ve also talked with Dave Mejia, who’s the candidate in the fourth district, and I said, “If we’re both elected…” Even though he supports my opponent, I still think we can work together on public safety issues. And he agreed. He’s a detective-sergeant with the Los Angeles Police Department, so he understands public safety. So that’s one thing that Dave and I can agree on is the need to improve public safety in Alhambra. We have a lot of other differences, but I wanted him to know that in the event that we’re both elected to the council, we’ll be able to work together on issues of mutual interest. And he agreed.
You say that especially with the parking structure, there wasn’t a lot of outreach done. If you’re elected, how will you improve outreach to the public?
I’d make it a priority. And they can hold public meetings to discuss it. They could certainly have more discussion during city council meetings concerning that, to get a sense of how people feel about it. I think how they do it in most communities is that they have public meetings. And then they talk about what their plans are, and then they get a sense of how people feel about it, whether or not it’s a good idea. The city doesn’t have a very good record of public outreach here. They kind of do their own thing and hope nobody notices. That’s wrong. You can’t do that. They’ve learned the hard way this time. They really had to change directions 180 degrees, and that’s something that they’re not used to doing. They don’t like doing that. But they were really forced to. Public outcry was too much for them to ignore. And so they did the right thing. In the end, they did the right thing by not building the parking structure. Like I said before, there’ll be a lot of debates about how to spend that money, and I may agree with some of the ways they want to spend it, such as the [police] sub-station and fixing the streets, but I’d like to see more. I’d like to see more discussion concerning how to spend that money with community input.
Is there anything else you want to add?
I have no ties to the council. I have no ties to the chamber of commerce. And I really feel in Alhambra, it’s a very unhealthy relationship between the city council and the chamber of commerce. The council makes a lot of decisions, takes actions, that might be good for business, but aren’t necessarily good for the people who live here. I really think that they’re too close. I will try and—I don’t know what I can do, but if I get elected, there’ll be a majority against me on the council. I think I can make an impact. I’ll make an even bigger impact in 2018, because the other three members of the council are terming out. We could have an entirely new city council by 2018. Two members are being replaced this year, three more in 2018. So we could have a new council with new policies, new direction, fresh blood, new ideas. I think you could see a big change in Alhambra politics in the next two years.
How does that affect the way you’re raising money?
I’ve tried to raise some money, but I said I’m not going to take donations from special interest groups and political action committees. For example, I don’t want to take any money from developers or builders or real estate interests. If I’m going to get some campaign funding, I’d like to see it come from middle class working people and other organizations.
I haven’t received one donation up-to-date, except from family, which is okay, because there are no strings attached to those donations. Oftentimes, when you receive funding from special interest groups and political action committees, there are strings attached, and you’re expected to do certain things when you get into office. I want to avoid that.
One of the problems I have with my opponent [Jeff Maloney] is that he’s too close to the city right now. He’s the former vice president of the planning commission. He was there when the city was making recommendations—the planning commission was making recommendations to the city council, concerning all the residential and commercial development in the city. So to a certain extent, he was there when they decided to overbuild. Now he’s on the transportation commission. And he has to address all the traffic problems that we have in the city now, and some of that is related to the overdevelopment. You’ve had overdevelopment in the city for a number of years now, and that’s starting to cause some major traffic problems in Alhambra. I haven’t seen one initiative come out of the transportation committee to resolve all of these problems that we’re facing in the city right now.
Because of his work on the commissions, he’s been endorsed by all five members of the city council. If he gets elected, I think the city council will expect him to be a team player. I think they’ll expect him to go along with the current policies of the council. And I don’t think he can be as independent as he thinks he probably can be. I think they expect him to go along with the other members of the council, and so I believe I’m the only independent candidate in the race.
This interview has been edited and condensed.