Point-Counterpoint: The Sunland Tujunga Forum
It was shades of “Point, Counterpoint” from SNL, one of the classic comedy routines from the golden age of the show with Jane Curtain and Dan Aykroyd trading barbs over politics.
The routine itself was a spoof of a popular 60 Minutes segment pitting opposing, unyielding pundits against each other in a debate format.
My complements to the organizers of the Sunland/Tujunga forum for allowing a lively, unfettered format. It forced the candidates out from their protective bubbles and compelled them to bare their teeth and growl.
Both Paul Krekorian and Chris Essel exhibited passion that has been largely lacking in this campaign.
This forum changed all the rules. Up until now, salvos were exchanged via mailers; now the contest was up close and personal.
It was refreshing to see them as complete flesh and blood individuals.
Christina Gonzalez of Fox 11 News was all business and kept the candidates on track.
This article is a summary of the forum. Where I felt comfortable in using a direct quote, I did. Otherwise, the narrative is a compilation of my notes.
I recommend viewing the video when it becomes available.
Also, my own analysis and comments will be presented in a separate post sometime tomorrow.
The first half of the debate consisted of questions directed at both candidates. While no significant differences emerged, the tone gradually became more adversarial.
The initial set of questions concerned neighborhood character. Would they hit the ground running to protect communities from inappropriate development after taking office?
Both Paul and Chris stressed the need for stakeholders to be their eyes and ears.
Krekorian added that most (commercial) land owners “don’t give a darn” about communities and are “driven by downtown pro business interests.” Essel pledged to have every developer work with the District Council Office and the NCs before plans were formally developed.
What would each of them do when faced with competing legitimate uses for the same property? The example presented by Ms. Gonzales was replacing a coffee house with a car dealership.
Krekorian stated that there has been a chronic failure between the Planning Department and Building and Safety. This can lead to lawsuits as projects may be approved before the public is consulted, then delayed when citizens learn of the ramifications and file a protest. An administrative system needs to be in place for the departments to communicate and share information. Only an activist City Council office can assure that happens.
Essel blamed bureaucrats making decisions from their desks and never visiting sites. Her Council staff would serve as “vigilantes.”
Both were in favor of changing the City Charter so planning commission members are elected rather than appointed. Krekorian added that NCs are an important part of the planning process but City Hall appears to want to disempower them by requiring financial disclosure. They need more power, not less.
The subject turned to a postmortem of the Station Fire.
Chris said a summit meeting with the objective of producing an action plan was needed.
“We have a budget problem,” she said. Emergency services do not have the money to respond timely. She would work on budget issues.
Krekorian emphasized that the initial responders were civilians from the community, not city personnel.
A lack of planning was exposed by the fire. Fires are annual events. We need to accept that as a fact and plan accordingly –clearing brush and catch basins, etc.
Next up was the subject of water rates.
Sunland Tujunga is unique among communities in Los Angeles because of its rural character and equestrian activities. Large animals need plentiful water. Not enough consideration has been given to this by the DWP.
Essel affirmed her support for a Rate Payer Advocate and for special rates to accommodate owners with horses. We also need to utilize reclaimed water.
Krekorian also stated support for the RPA but the position must be independent of DWP’s management. He was also in favor of special rates for equestrian properties. The transfer of DWP’s surplus to the city’s General Fund was also wrong. Without differential treatment between agricultural and residential properties, the unique nature of Sunland/Tujunga would be lost.
Both candidates agreed that it was dangerous for bikers and equestrians to share the same trails. Separate trails for each activity seemed to be the common message.
If money is the root of all evil, it became apparent in this next segment.
Up until now, the verbal sparring was inconsequential by most standards.
Ms. Gonzales asked about their accountability to their respective donors. She pointed to Essel’s support from developers and Krekorian’s from the SEIU.
Essel adamantly denied that developers are contributing much money to her campaign. Her donors “want someone with business experience.”
She accused Krekorian of supporting Felipe Fuentes’ plan to develop the Verdugo Hills Golf Course through AB212.
Paul angrily denied the accusation claiming that Fuentes changed AB212 after he initially supported it. Krekorian said he is clearly on record of being against the development.
Regarding his support from unions, Krekorian said he has worked with labor to cut back on demands while serving as a Burbank School Board Member and Assemblyman.
The city’s employee compensation structure was next.
Approximately 80% of the General Fund is for compensation. Would either candidate support labor contract structures that allowed the City Council to exercise discretion in granting raises during difficult budget years, rather than play with staffing levels and affecting services?
Essel said her approach is to grow the economic base. Going forward, we have to change new contracts, but honor existing ones.
Krekorian said he preferred “collaboration to obstruction.” He cited his success with balancing the Burbank School budget and averting a 25% layoff.
Now it was time for the crosstalk segment; the gloves came off.
The candidates fired questions at each other.
Chris accused Paul of taking $15,000 from the insurance industry and supporting an insurance bill that would require all cars be equipped with GPS to track the moves of every citizen. There was some question as to the bill’s number. Chris mentioned AB2208. (I looked it up but could not find any language pertaining to GPS. However, I was viewing a summary. Perhaps someone can provide a link).
Paul said he has voted on close to six-thousand bills as an Assemblyman and cannot recall such a bill with that provision.
Chris replied, “You should read the bills you sign.”
It was Krekorian’s turn.
He cited his representation of about one-third of CD2 as an Assembly Member. He took pride in providing excellent constituent service.
He then said, “What have you done to work with the District before deciding to run?”
Chris responded by claiming she added jobs to the Valley while at Paramount and through her volunteer efforts. Her experience in creating jobs was valuable.
Paul countered, “So you’ve never worked for CD2? I didn’t hear you mention any CD2 accomplishments.”
Chris replied, “Wrong.”
Chris revisited the Krekorian/Fuentes connection and the $15,000 ad he funded for Paul’s benefit.
“So there was nothing going on with Fuentes and you and the Verdugo Hills Golf Course?”
Paul accused her of spreading “slanderous lies.”
“Ask Fuentes the question,” he challenged and added, “How do you explain the $50,000 independent expenditure from the painters and carpenters unions in DC?”
Chris responded that the painters and carpenters “did it by the book.”
“They probably viewed me as someone who could do something rather than a career politician,” she retorted.
“My business skills are needed.”
Paul said she was tied to the Mayor based on her downtown and law firm fundraisers.
“Over 300 of the Mayor’s supporters have contributed to your campaign. Wendy supports you. Dale Thrush is walking the District for you.”
Essel responded by announcing endorsements from City Attorney Trutanich and the Police Protective League.
Krekorian demanded, “Answer the question,” referring to his assertion about relationship to the Mayor.
Chris stated she had broad support and people think she can make a difference.
She then stated that Krekorian had raised over $1.5 million from his prior Assembly races and had the Mayor’s campaign staff working for him.
Chris concluded the segment by saying she could work in the corporate world for more money and not have to deal with being under the microscope, but she was motivated by service to the community.
Questions from the audience followed, but I had another commitment and had to leave.
I would appreciate any comments you have, especially regarding the audience questions.
Don’t forget –I will publish my comments by late tomorrow.
(Paul Hatfield operates the Village To Village Blog)