Sunday, November 02, 2008

Paula Unplugged

Here are Paula's unedited (longer) responses.

GoP: What do you see as the 3 biggest problems in Pomona overall, and how would you address each one?

PL: In my opinion, the biggest problem that Pomona faces is not having enough money to provide the services we need. We are over a hundred years old, and much of our infrastructure, is in need of replacement or significant repair. Some of our City is still without streetlights, sidewalks, and even curbs and gutters. Most of our alleys need paving, and a “normal” sized alley is about $75,000! While the current economic “down-turn” has made our situation more severe, we have had a fundamental problem with our budget for years. We spend more than we receive, and our revenue is basically determined by State and County formulas. Employee salaries, including the wages-portion of the Fire Contract, are about 70% of our General Fund Budget. The Police and Fire Departments, salaries and operations, are 73%. And we all want more Officers. While folks can talk about “waste,” and I’m sure there is some, we’ve cut back, laid-off, and not filled positions in order to be only 3.5 million dollars upside down this year! This is the first deficit budget I think I’ve ever voted for, because for the first time I felt there was a real effort to rein in spending. In the past, the majority of the Council went along with the recommendations of our former City Manager (who gave $500 to my opponent, by the way), which was to incur millions of dollars of Bond debt in order to fill the shortfall. And that was just one year of the “smokes and mirrors” that were done to prevent/postpone the really difficult decisions until he retired. Well, he retired last year, and here we are. I don’t mean to imply that he caused the problem, but he spent 5 years unwilling to deal with it directly, and convincing a majority of the Council to do the same.
I think the second biggest problem is the fact that so few people are really engaged in their neighborhoods and the community at large. The Lincoln Park area is certainly an exception, but it is just that, an exception. As I have been walking in other areas, I am surprised by the people who don’t even know there IS an election other than that for President. In the past there have been questions, or issues that folks wanted to discuss, but not much this time. That’s why I have made such a point of “Building Community.” While I know some have tried to put “Community Organizing” in a bad light, I’m proud of the work I did in the 60’s, and I’m proud of what I am doing now. Without Community behind you, nothing changes, no matter what laws you pass, or programs you support. In applying for a new million-dollar Weed and Seed Grant, focused on District 4, I met with every School Principal this spring, including St. Madeleine’s. I spoke to parent groups, met with Pastors and Priests, collected Parent, Parish and Neighborhood Watch surveys, and attended three community meetings hosted by the Youth and Family Master Plan’s Community Engagement group. The increased Policing and Programs will reflect the wishes of the community, within Grant guidelines. We will never have “enough” Police Officers, so the residents themselves need to learn how they can be more proactive in improving the quality of life in their neighborhoods, and how they can utilize City resources more effectively.
The third biggest issue is the cultural and economic differences that some would use to divide us. We are more alike than we are different, but there are those whose power base depends on a We-They mentality. I don’t mean to ignore the fact that the large number of newly arrived immigrants impacts our Schools, and the services the City provides. That is our reality, and to the extent that we involve all in the solutions, we “become” community, even if we didn’t start out that way. There are those, however, who want us to separate, rather than unite. Look at the whole “checkpoint” issue. As you may know, I wasn’t at all happy with what I saw the night of May 3, and I was even unhappy with the lack of response to my questions by the Police Department. But “concerns” quickly were manipulated into either for Checkpoints, or against them; either for the Police, or against them; either Minuteman/woman, or Latin@. The hateful, derogatory, disgusting and dishonest attacks that ensued, from both sides, will take months, if not years, to heal. As recently as last week, flyers were distributed all over the City, written in Spanish, admonishing all readers not to vote for the 6 members of the Council who voted for Checkpoints. Two of them aren’t even up this time!
I imagine that most reading this expected me to list Gangs, Violence or Crime and Poverty somewhere in the Big Three, and I certainly don’t want to minimize the problems they create, but did anyone read the comments online after the various Daily Bulletin articles about Checkpoints? Hundreds! I ask, have you ever read that many comments after an article about a gang shooting, or a drug deal gone bad? There certainly haven’t been 500 people on the City Hall steps drawing attention to, or protesting those tragedies. The agitators (on both sides) are scared to death that we will actually work together to solve our problems, and then the bigotry, anger, resentment and hostility that they depend on to define themselves will no longer be relevant.

GoP: What do you see as the 3 biggest problems in our district overall, and how would you address each one?

PL: Property Maintenance and Illegal Construction are two of the biggest problems in our District, and I began addressing them several years ago. As a Social Worker, I was in the homes of families living in terrible conditions. One family had twins, and while Mom was carrying them down the stairs, one of them gave way, and she dropped the boys, resulting in permanent brain damage for one. There was no lawsuit, and no insurance coverage either. I could go on and on about the roof leaks, lack of heat, broken toilets, etc. which landlords refused to repair, and families, desperate for a place they could afford, tolerated. Twice I brought forward the idea of requiring inspections by the Building Department at the point that a home sells, in order to be sure that all the toilets flush, that it has heat, and any room additions, kitchen remodels, etc. are done properly, and have permits. Both times the Real Estate Community intimidated a majority of the Council into backing off because it would be “too expensive” and “too difficult” to deal with, and it would slow, or prevent many sales. That was my point. After the last attempt, we set up a Residential Improvement Task Force, which includes Realtors, Property Managers, Residents, several City Staff members, and me. As a result of the communication that has been established between these various entities we have changed the way Pomona liens and identifies problem properties, and we’ve made recommendations to the Council which it supported by purchasing new, well equipped trucks for Code enforcement and laptops for the Building Inspectors that actually interface with Code enforcement! A specific unit has been established that deals exclusively with “abatement” cases. Obviously, with the increase in Foreclosures, we have been inundated, and there is no money for more Inspectors. In an effort to be more proactive, City Council has actually adopted a Foreclosure Strategy. One major component is daily updates of homes going into default, and putting them on a “watch” list for external inspections and extra patrol. District 4 has actually been one of the hardest hit areas, especially East of San Antonio. I also get daily emails of new property listings, many of which brazenly advertise a garage conversion or room addition with “no permits.” I send those addresses directly to Abatement. An inspection happens within a week and the property is liened, so that it can’t be sold until the unpermitted work is taken care of, or the new owner agrees to fix things within a specified amount of time. The other major component is the “Eyes on Pomona” concept that will begin with District 4, at the next meeting of the Lincoln Ave. Neighborhood Watch. Again, we’re back to Community Building, because the idea is to enlist the neighborhood to look out for each other, and vacant properties in their area, letting them know what to watch for, and who to call when problems arise.
Probably the third biggest issue is the activity and image that Holt Avenue creates. As a result of “Community Building” with a Neighborhood Watch group, Pomona First Presbyterian Church, Chief Romero and Pomona PD, we did shut down the Smoke Shop at the corner of Palomares and Holt. It may have taken too long, but it got done, and isn’t a gathering place for hookers and drug dealers anymore. Prostitution continues to be a problem, but Chief Romero believes in dealing with quality of life issues, as well as the high profile crimes, and activities that were so obvious two or three years ago have significantly decreased. Not gone, by any means, but not nearly as bad as they were.

GoP: Many residents are of the belief that the biggest problem in Pomona is not crime or poverty, but corruption and imcompetence in our local government. What are your thoughts on this, and what can be done?

PL: I suppose it depends on your definition of corruption and incompetence, and since it’s my answer, I guess I get to define it. I don’t have first hand knowledge of corruption in Pomona Politics, as in ballot boxes being stuffed, or elected officials getting trips to the Bahamas in return for their votes. That being said, there are certainly abuses of authority, and there have been amazingly coincidental changes in voting behaviors with the addition of certain campaign contributions. I will give you some examples.
One Councilmember flashed his badge at the bank in order to go to the front of the line, implying, but not saying that he was a Police Officer. Another completely changed his position on a project after it was approved, undermining it at every turn when he realized how much money the competition could contribute to future campaigns. A very recent case involves a Councilmember refusing to pay his bill at a local car repair place. He bragged about being a Councilmember, and the trouble he could cause them if they didn’t give in, so they did. They were new to the City, and told me that they just figured this was a “little Chicago,” and we would all be like that! The “Wining and Dining” that this same Council member demands/expects, is embarrassing. Developers actually have joked with me about who has gotten stuck with the highest tab (last I heard it was about $900 for lunch with him and one of his Commissioners). Local business owners have many a story of their own, privately, but are the first to say that’s where it stops.
Recently we had another pedestrian fatality on Temple Avenue in front of Scoreboard’s. After the second one, a Police Officer suggested a system of signs to discourage folks from parking and walking across the street to the Bar. The Officer recently testified, under oath, in a case involving a third fatality that the signs were approved by our Traffic Engineer, but weren’t put in place because the same Councilmember wouldn’t allow it. Even Scoreboard’s owner testified that the Council-man was “taking care of it.” We lost the case, and now there’s been a fourth fatality.
A final example is what happened to our 2006 Budget. As the result of budget crunches, City staff negotiated a roughly 2 million dollar decrease in the County Fire contract in the early 2000’s. The Fire Chief agreed; all Stations remained open, and neither Firefighters, nor their Union voiced any objection. The Union was very involved financially in the Mayor’s race in the winter of ‘05, and their candidate won. A few months later, the night that the budget was to be adopted, already over a million dollars upside down, our new Mayor demanded that the 2 million dollars be put back into the Firefighter’s contract, and because a majority of the Council was facing re-election in the fall, and wanted Fire Union support, they agreed and the motion passed. By the way, the Fire Union didn’t support a single incumbent, and they all lost.
The biggest threat that I see to our Local Government, is that it is increasingly less Local. Look at the Financial Forms that all candidates fill out. See where the money comes from. Is it from local residents, or local business owners? Can you even find it? Candidates supported by the Firefighters Union, for example, have had several mailings on their behalf, but since the Union doesn’t clear it with the candidate first, they don’t have to report it. You don’t even know that it’s the Firefighters, because it says “Citizens for a Greener Pomona”. You also have some campaign managers and/or candidates telling businesses that they’d better “pony up” if they want to keep doing business in the City. They are making it into a “Pay or Play” city. Some say, get over it; that’s the realities of Politics; they’re not buying votes; they’re buying “access” and all that. You be the judge.
As for Incompetence, that’s the voter’s call, not mine. Some Council members do their homework, read the staff reports, ask questions, etc., and some don’t. Most hardly miss a meeting, but a very few miss quite a few. A few are regularly late, but most are rarely late at all. Most are flexible enough to accommodate extra meetings when necessary, or earlier start times, but a few refuse. If they are re-elected, I have to assume that their behavior is OK with their constituency, or like many of us, the voters are just too busy working and raising a family to notice.
What can be done? If you hear about, or see an abuse of power, notify the Police Department. This Chief will follow up. Look at the Financial Forms that candidates file. Who’s behind them? Money isn’t evil, you know. We all need it to run campaigns. We can’t knock on every door, and have to rely on printed material, phone calls, signs and so forth to connect with residents. It all costs money. Are you comfortable with where that money comes from, or does it really matter? Look at the qualifications of the candidates. What evidences of Leadership do they have? What history of Community Service? Do they have enough life-experience to understand the intricacies of local government? Are they strong enough to make decisions, not based on debts owed to contributors, but based on what’s best for Pomona? If the candidate is an incumbent, do they ask questions and do their homework? Look at their record. Do you see them in the Community? When you call, or email, do they respond? Are they respected by their colleagues? You see, ultimately, it really is you that determine if you get competent representation. You’re the ones who vote!

GoP: There are a large number of vacant lots and buildings in our district, and in Pomona as a whole. What do you see as the root cause of this? What can be done about it, specifically with regard to the many-years-blighted eastern corners of Garey and Alvarado?

PL: The properties at Alvarado and Garey, are owned by private entities. The old Fire House, which was a restaurant in its most recent past, is simply in such bad shape that it doesn’t pencil for anyone to buy it as a restaurant, or much of anything else. They would have to put in an entirely new commercial kitchen, which was too much of a gamble 10 years ago, not to mention in this economy. While the service station across Garey could change operators last month without much down time, no one has been putting “new” service stations in this area for quite a while. For a variety of reasons within that industry, they have been closing them instead. The owner isn’t willing to sell for a price that makes development of that property profitable.
I have had several conversations with the owner of the former service station property at Orange Grove and McKinley. He also now owns the two houses next to it. He is actually proposing to tear down the two houses and build a bigger, better Arco Station/mini mart. It is private property, so he can propose whatever he wants, but I doubt our staff or Planning Commission will be very supportive. A doctor has bought the old Radio Shack/ 99cent store, and plans to build an office there.
The vacant building at the corner of Gibbs and Monterey is tied up in litigation between its owner and the company that bought him out about 10 years ago. It was for sale, and has a buyer if the legal issues are ever resolved. The vacant lots to the South of the Y are in escrow also. The Auto Body shop will eventually close, the Roofing Company will relocate, and the City will be selling its property next to the railroad tracks to the same developer who will be submitting plans for development.
Over on Indian Hill you have the old Food 4 Less remodeled and expanded with a new fa├žade. Vacant for a long time, there is now so much activity that parking is a problem. The area near Indian Hill and San Bernardino, especially on the West side, has issues similar to Holt. Old buildings that rent to marginal businesses that Code Enforcement must monitor constantly for signage and maintenance problems. PD is a regular visitor too, because of the panhandlers/dope dealers that gravitate to the area. Again, we can work to make them maintain the exterior, but it is private property, and they can rent to whomever they want.
The biggest problem with most of the vacant commercial buildings in town is that businesses can’t rent them and make a living. Most are older, smaller and need lots of upgrades to make them work for a healthy business model. They have little or no parking, and aren’t attractive to customers. A related problem is that many have been owned by the same owner for many years. There is no mortgage, so they can rent for lower than market rates to marginal businesses because they can’t or won’t make major improvements. This detracts from the better businesses which eventually leave. Some, like the old Antique Mart in the 100 block of Second Street, were just bought as investments by out-of-towners. When the doctor bought it, he doubled the rent, so the business relocated across the street, and the building has been vacant ever since. Neither the City, nor our Redevelopment Agency has enough money to buy the properties, even if they were for sale. The fundamental problem for many of the empty and underutilized buildings is that they simply aren’t located in an area that can support them financially. We are working with someone now to help us redesign our major commercial corridors, because basically, they are no longer commercial corridors, they are simply corridors.

GoP: Do you have any goals with regard to making Pomona a "greener," more sustainable city? Please describe them.

PL: One of my goals is to have more of our Parks and other Landscaped City properties, irrigated by reclaimed water, as a way of conserving our local water supply. We only buy about 25% of our water from outside sources. Pomona has its own wells so we provide most of our own water. We have a system that distributes reclaimed water, but it is more limited than I would like to see.
We have also systematically analyzed City hall to decrease Utility costs and increase efficiency. We were able to pay for the changes in what we saved the first year!
Another of my goals is to revamp our landscape criteria. I have begun those conversations with the Planning Department because I have been getting complaints from both sides of the drought tolerant, sustainable environment camps. Many are not happy with the front yards of cactus, farm crops, gravel and bark chips popping up near them. Folks concerned about the environment and trying to be more responsible in their use of our natural resources are dealing with the City because there is too much dirt showing, or they don’t meet the minimum grass requirement. We need to re-evaluate in light of the realities of the 21st century.
I have been President of Foothill Transit twice in the last 5 years, and on my watch we have transformed our dirty diesel bus fleet into one that is 2/3 CNG. And yes, we are definitely helping T. Boone Pickens pay for all of his T.V. time, as we buy all of our CNG from his Clean Energy. Foothill Transit has two maintenance facilities, one in Arcadia, and one in Pomona. The Pomona one is now 100% CNG, and we’ve even provided space for the Public to purchase CNG for their vehicles next to our facility on East End and the railroad tracks. By the way, I have a great picture of me in my Dump-the-Pump T-shirt, driving my little electric GEM car in front of our fleet of CNG buses in Pomona.
It may not count as “green” but I was at the forefront of pushing for Franchise Agreements with our trash haulers so that they pay for District-wide cleanups like we had on the 25th. These give folks local places where they can get rid of their old couches, broken bikes, etc., rather than keeping them in the garage, stacked in the backyard, or dumped in a vacant lot or alley.

GoP: Who do you support for Mayor of Pomona and why?

PL: I support George Hunter for Mayor. He is the only candidate with the experience and the integrity to lead our City in the right direction. I don’t mean to imply that there aren’t other ethical candidates, but George also has experience and a genuine understanding of what the job entails. We do not always vote the same on issues (even though most votes are 7-0), but I always know I can trust him, and frankly, that matters more to me than how a colleague votes. As Council members we represent different geographical areas, so it stands to reason that we will, from time to time, see things differently. But Trust…Trust is not a function of geography, political party, gender, or ethnicity. It is function of character, and George displays impeccable character on a regular basis.

GoP: Who do you support for the State Assembly and why?

PL: My supporters are voting for both of the major candidates, and probably some of the “minor” ones. My signs are in yards with signs that support opposing sides of Propositions, as well as opposing candidates. As a Council member I need to have a good working relationship with our representatives in both Sacramento and Washington D.C. City Projects and Grants can depend on those relationships, and I certainly don’t want to jeopardize them. The Mayor and City Council seats are non-partisan, and I plan to keep them that way.

GofP: What is your opinion of our City Attorney?

PL: Curious question. The Council evaluates the City Manager, City Attorney, City Clerk and the City Treasurer. Those evaluations are personnel issues, not discussed in public.

GoP: Anything else you would like to add?

PL: As difficult as it is for me to “briefly” add anything, I will try. I have brought Experienced, Independent representation to this District. I don’t always tell you what you want to hear, but I tell you the truth to the best of my knowledge. I don’t make wild promises, but I’ve kept the promises I’ve made. I promised to represent you, not Special Interests, and I’ve kept that promise. I promised to make my decisions based on Issues, not Individuals, and I’ve kept that promise. I am Leadership you can trust, and I ask you to trust me with your vote on Tuesday.

Paula Lantz

GoP: Thank you, Paula. And that's a wrap!

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