Five candidates for the 41st Assembly District lined up to share their views in a forum sponsored by Southern California Public Radio (KPCC) and the Pasadena Sun on Wednesday night in the Crawford Family Forum.
Though they touched on a variety of issues, the climate for business in California and local transportation were recurring themes in their responses to questions from the audience. Bill Kisliuk, city editor of the Pasadena Sun, moderated the discussion.
The newly-drawn district includes South Pasadena, Altadena, Sierra Madre, Monrovia, as well as several other foothill cities in East Los Angeles County. A map of it can be viewed at right.
The candidates are Michael Cacciotti, mayor of South Pasadena; Edward Colton, an attorney in Pasadena; Chris Holden, Pasadena city councilman; Donna Lowe, Claremont Tea Party activist; and Victoria Rusnak, Pasadena businesswoman.
Colton, Lowe and Rusnak stressed their status as outsiders and business people who would improve California’s business climate, while Cacciotti and Holden stressed their political experience and ability to create consensus to get things done. Here are some highlights.
The primary for the race will be held in June. In California's new primary system, the top two vote-getters in June's primary will be on November's ballot, regardless of party.
Below are some of the issues that were discussed at the forum.
Is the 710 Freeway extension a go or no-go?
The 710 Freeway and Gold Line extensions recurred as examples of local control and economy-building measures. Colton, Cacciotti, and Rusnak gave unequivocal thumbs down to the 710 extension, and both Lowe and Rusnak cited their support for local control.
Holden’s response was more nuanced, explaining that there are three options for the extension: put it on the surface, tunnel, or do nothing. “I submit you have a freeway now that traverses the city,” he said, but he does not support a surface route. Along with Cacciotti, he thinks that the houses now owned by Caltrans along the proposed route should be returned to the community.
Most of the candidates expressed support the extension of the Gold Line to the Ontario Airport, and see this as one way to increase jobs and build the economy. Cacciotti observed that companies are eager to build restaurants and other businesses at the stops along the Gold Line.
How can California attract more businesses and improve the economy?
One questioner requested specific answers to California’s economic problems, saying, “All I hear are broad statements.”
Lowe responded, “Environmental regulations are crippling business here….We’ve decimated business, decimated industry.” She said the economy could be turned around by creating opportunities for businesses to return to California.
Rusnak stated, “There is no question that we have economic woes” and that fueling business with tax incentives would “tackle the unemployment problem.”
A “multi-pronged approach” which would address mismanagement at the state level was favored by Cacciotti. He supported selling off the Caltrans properties along the proposed 710 extension and putting it into the state budget, and investing in infrastructure.
Colton asserted, “I’m the only candidate in the entire state to have a white paper that tells how to bring companies back to California.” He would do this with extended “tax holidays” for businesses coming to the state and partial credits for hiring new graduates from California State Colleges and the University of California.
“There are a couple approaches,” Holden said. On the micro-level, investing in transportation and infrastructure would get people back to work. On the macro-level, investing in green technology, targeting the biotech corridor in Pasadena by utilizing Caltech and Huntington Hospital, and continuing to invest in education would improve the economy.
Public Employee Pensions and Benefits
Reforming public employee pension plans was on the docket for all five candidates as a way to improve the overall economy.
There was no disagreement from the other candidates on Holden’s assessment that double dipping and salary spiking (the practice of increasing and employee’s salary just before he retires to increase his benefit amount) need to be reformed.. Rusnak added, “We have to honor the promises we made, but going forward, we must have a different approach.”
Cacciotti mentioned that health benefits as well as salary add to the cost. He stated that at 69 percent, the portion of South Pasadena’s budget dedicated to salaries and benefits is the lowest of any city in the San Gabriel Valley. Colton insisted that the public employee pension system is “unsustainable” and that it “must be modified, must be changed. Every city, every county is under stress because of the pension plan.”
Regarding the spate of foreclosures, the candidates agreed that government needs to work with the banks, though Lowe said what is needed is “not laws and regulations, but incentives to bring business back.” Rusnak honed in on “Jobs. We need jobs. If people had jobs, they would be able to pay their mortgages.”
Obama for President?
In an open primary, candidates do not have to specify a party affiliation, but Kisliuk deftly got around that with the question, “Do you support President Obama’s reelection?” Here’s how it broke down.
Colton: “Of course not. I’m a Republican.” He said he admires Obama for “where he comes from,” but “his policies are tearing this country apart. I’d like to see a president like Romney bring the country together.”
Holden: “I supported the President in 2008. I will support him again….Without the things he was able to accomplish, we wouldn’t see the turnaround in Detroit, people getting their jobs back.”
Lowe: “I’m not sure what Obama has to do with the 41st District,” and said Detroit and the auto industry were “decimated” by his policies. “I don’t agree with his policies.”
Rusnak: “I supported President Obama in his first election and will support him again,” but that California politics, with the open primary, don’t rest on Obama. “We need to stop this politicking and get down to work.”
Cacciotti: “Federal policies do impact us at the local level. We used to get money for infrastructure” but now the money is going to Washington, and “billions are going over the ocean.” He said that Obama had inherited a disaster and has improved things, and he will support him again.
And now we hear from the audience:
Patch spoke with some of the people in attendance to find out their reactions to the forum. Dr. Bill Sherman of South Pasadena was pleased with the format.
“I attended a prior forum at the Pasadena Senior Center,” he said. “This one was run better. I enjoyed the questions that were asked. They put their feet to the fire.”
Karen Wingard of Pasadena, who works with the California Democratic Party, said “I agree with South Pasadena about the 710, but I’m going to vote for Chris Holden. I think with Chris and Michael, we have a good idea” of their record. She also expressed that the open primary will cost California more, because it results in “two general elections.”