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February 27th, 2009 by Temple City Tribune
Council Candidates Show Diverse Philosophies at Forum
On Monday, February 9th the six candidates vying for seats on city council gathered into room 601 of Temple City High to respond to questions from the community about their respective stances on issues facing the city.
Sponsored by the Temple City Chamber of Commerce and facilitated by the fiercely nonpartisan League of Women Voters, the forum provided an opportunity for attendees to submit questions via index cards and then watch as the potential council members each responded to their queries in turn. Contestants of the Miss Temple City Ambassador Program, poised and polite, worked their way through the 120 folding metal chairs (nearly all of them occupied) to collect the cards and deliver them to a panel of three LWV members who then read them directly to the candidates. The panel members all reside outside of Temple City, and claim to have no vested interest in the election.
After an introduction from the League’s Pasadena Area President Yvonne Pine, the forum promptly commenced at 7:30pm sharp. Topics ranged from increasing diversity to the importance of local task forces, but, unsurprisingly, economic development was the big topic of the day. With the failed Piazza Project on everyone’s mind, it’s safe to say that anyone playing a drinking game with the words “Rosemead and Las Tunas” would have needed to be carried home by the end of the evening.
The deep divisions in the candidates’ styles were apparent from the start, and by the meeting’s end the diversity of the group was abundantly clear. Challengers Tom Chavez, Vincent Yu, Silenus Ong and Chuck Souder painted a picture of an ineffectual council and vowed to bring change and progress desperately needed by the city. Incumbents Cathé Wilson and Ken Gillanders were, naturally, more content with the path that the council has been taking and defended the current state of affairs, blaming any retardation in development on sources outside the council.
Opening statements began with Mr. Souder, who reminded listeners of his accomplishments as a former council member and city mayor. “In the last four years, nothing has been done that compares to those nine [when I was in office],” he proclaimed. Mr. Gillanders took his opening statement as an opportunity to lash back at Souder’s self-praise, claiming, “no one person can do much of anything on his own…Souder makes it sound like it was all him.”
Ms. Wilson, current mayor of Temple City, also referred to experience in her initial response, informing the crowd that she has served on council for 17 years. She stressed that she makes it a point to always be there to listen to what her constituents have to say, and maintains an open-door policy that allows citizens to speak with her face to face. She stressed that Temple City has “a good future, even though it does seem sort of bleak right now. I still see where we can go forward.”
Mr. Ong spoke boldly and with conviction about redevelopment in his introduction, announcing, “We all know what is wanted and needed in our city…you may ask ‘where’s the beef?’ to the city council of the last two decades…never will I [have to] apologize for sleeping on the job.”
Attorney Chavez stated in his introduction that, “I believe the role of a council member is simple: to represent the concerns of the citizens…to be truthful, open and accessible is what our citizens want and deserve.”
Vincent Yu affirmed that his years as a private and county architect make him an expert at the type of redevelopment needed by the community, and said, “I really want to make a difference in the city. Temple City is at a juncture where we have a lot of important changes coming…I’m pro business, I’m pro development.”
The first direct question asked of the group regarded Charlie Martin’s controversial dual role as city manager and attorney, and all four challengers expressed disapproval of the current situation. Chavez stated that, as an adjunct professor at Pasadena City College, he teaches students about potential conflict of interest, and that this potential exists in Charlie Martin’s case. Incumbent Gillanders responded, “I think they’d better change that course at the community college.” Mayor Wilson noted that the point is moot, now that Martin is set to retire and the search for a replacement is already in the works.
As the topics turned to increasing revenue and commercial development, the challengers once again cited the need to change the status quo. Mr. Souder claimed, “the history of this town is that it has not been so business friendly.” He expressed that he has long had problems with the now-failed building plan at Rosemead and Las Tunas, which is a “prime corner [and] needs to be developed”.
Chavez stated that the lines of communication with new and existing businesses need to be opened, and that “we need to aggressively pursue state and federal funding.” Regarding Rosemead and Las Tunas, he said, “You can only have one chance to make a first impression…that is the entrance to our city.”
Mr. Ong pushed the idea of a name-brand hotel in Temple City, noting that only 1% of sales tax goes to the city, while all hotel tax does. He claimed that his competition had all been gung-ho about the Piazza project until recent litigation problems, and informed the audience that he has a “20 year plan and vision for the city,” which includes commercial redevelopment.
Mr. Yu corrected Ong, stating that he, as planning commissioner, actually voted against the Piazza project because, “I could tell it was not thought out.” Yu proposed working with existing business owners who have “built their livelihood” in the city, as well as with the chamber of commerce in order to boost the economy in Temple City.
Ms. Wilson stated that “number one, very first thing we have to do” is create a plan for the development at Rosemead and Las Tunas, but later noted that, “at present time, it is in litigation so there’s not much that we can do.”
Gillanders, a retired business owner, denied his role in the corner project’s failure, stating, “I was there after it had been proposed. However, rather than constructing anything, we got a list of changes that had not been approved in the first place.” He added, “Nobody ever poured one cubic inch of concrete.” He also rejected the idea of a new hotel, saying “in order to get hotel tax of 12% you have to have someone sleeping in that room.”
When asked if he supported a system where there is a 2-term limit, as opposed to the current one where a councilmember can be termed out and then run again, Gillanders responded, “well, you’d certainly waste a lot of experience.” He noted that after two terms he had “just barely learned how to find the boy’s room.” When it came time for his answer to this question, Mr. Ong assured the crowd, “I don’t need 2 terms to find my way to the boy’s room,” and contended that if you haven’t done what you set out to do in 8 years, you should quit. Mr. Yu was the only other candidate to support the term limits, saying, “I agree 8 years is a long time.”
The differences in style and political philosophies are clear, and it will soon be up to voters to decide whether or not the recent national trend towards change and away from status quo will make its way to the streets of Temple City. With only two seats up for grabs this election, and two incumbents in the running, the council is not guaranteed a fresh face (or in Souder’s case, a return visitor) this year. So how much change will rock the Temple? Citizens will have to wait until March 3rd to decide.
By Nina Kathryn Hauptman