By George Economides, Publisher
February 14, 2012 - During the past four redistricting sessions, dating back to the 1980 Census, Long Beach City Council District 8 has continued to see its boundaries move north.
Once considered primarily the greater Bixby Knolls area, running roughly from Wardlow Road on the south to Del Amo Boulevard on the north, the 8th now includes a large part of North Long Beach, stretching up to South Street.
As long-time district residents know, there is quite a contrast between the "old" and "new" 8th District.
While improvements have been made and continue to be made, many areas north of Del Amo Boulevard have experienced lower property values, higher foreclosure rates, higher crime, more blight, fewer business choices for residents (such as banks and larger sit-down restaurants), and less park and open space than the rest of the city. It is safe to assume that the loss of redevelopment monies will be felt more along the corridors and in the neighborhoods north of Del Amo Boulevard than in any other part of Long Beach.
As current 8th District Councilmember Rae Gabelich knows, there are many challenges remaining. That's one reason she has fought hard, among her other priorities, to get more police officers on the street, get a police academy started and find money to continue cleaning up the area.
Gabelich steps down in mid-July after two terms and eight years on the city council, termed out and unwilling to seek a third term as a write-in candidate – despite many requests from her constituents to do so.
Replacing her will be either Al Austin or Lillian Kawasaki. Both have been active in the community and both have had a home in the district for about a decade.
As of the December 31 reporting deadline, Austin, who was endorsed by Gabelich, had raised nearly $16,000 in contributions, nearly all of it from union groups and individuals involved in the labor movement. He also has the support of the local police and fire unions, former councilwoman Tonia Reyes Uranga and former state senator Betty Karnette.
Kawasaki reported nearly $50,000 in contributions, much of it from business interests, but also from union and environmental groups. She's been endorsed by the Sierra Club and the Long Beach Area Chamber of Commerce Political Action Committee, as well as by L.A. County Supervisor Don Knabe, State Sen. Alan Lowenthal and former mayor Beverly O'Neill.
There is a third candidate listed by the city clerk, a Gustavo Rivera, but that individual has not contacted the Business Journal – either by mail, e-mail or a phone call – has no Web site we could locate and raised no money by the December 31 filing deadline. The Business Journal policy has long been that we will not give publicity to an individual who, based on the above items, isn't a serious candidate.
Since Gabelich ran unopposed four years ago, that means residents of the district last voted for a council representative in 2004. The number of registered voters for the April 2004 primary was 19,686, but only 3,597 voted in a four-person race, and more than half voted by absentee ballot. The turnout was 18.2 percent.
As of January 13, there are 23,285 registered voters in a district population of 53,009, and one with a very diverse ethnic background: 45 percent Hispanic; nearly 20 percent Black (highest of the nine city council districts), 16.6 percent White; and 13.3 percent Asian.
At this point, the race is considered a toss up. With low voter turnout expected, probably under 20 percent, the candidate with the best organization and the best ground game (especially walking the district and knocking on doors) will probably win. Union groups are expected to work hard for an Austin, who is a long time union organizer. Union efforts were critical in getting Steven Neal elected to the 9th District seat two years ago. Kawasaki will probably raise the most money, but may not have the ground support.
One big unknown that may affect the outcome is an endorsement by Mayor Bob Foster, who has thus far remained silent. Foster and Gabelich have battled many times on the council floor, often leading to heated exchanges, leading some political followers to believe he would support Kawasaki. But in a 2007 special election when Austin ran against eventual winner Dee Andrews in the 6th District, Foster endorsed Austin.
The Business Journal interviewed Austin and Kawasaki on January 31 and February 1, respectively. Following are their answers to a series of questions.
Q&A With Al Austin
A familiar face to Long Beach political campaigns, Al Austin, 43, is currently a full-time candidate for the 8th Council District seat. Back in 2007 Austin ran and lost to 6th District Councilmember Dee Andrews by less than 80 votes. This time around, Austin is leading a campaign on what he calls a "record of leadership and service." He began his working career in Long Beach as an aerospace employee at McDonnell Douglas, serving as part of the team constructing parts for the C-17 Globemaster III in the 1990s. During that time, Austin earned a bachelor's degree in organizational management from the University of LaVerne.
After four years, he left the aerospace industry to serve as an aide to a state senator. He has also managed political campaigns on the local and state level. Austin has been a workforce representative since his aerospace days, helping organize workers and facilitate employee organization.
Locally, Austin served on the Long Beach Citizen Complaint Commission from 2003 to 2007. He currently serves on the Fairfield Family YMCA Board and is on the Los Cerritos Elementary Parent Teacher Association. In 2010, Austin was awarded the Long Beach NAACP Advocacy Award for his community involvement. He and his wife, Daysha, are raising three sons.
LBBJ: Based on your life experiences, what is the number one attribute you would bring to the office of councilmember?
AUSTIN: I think the number one attribute is my ability to bring people together, build coalitions. Right now the 8th District is a great district made up of beautiful neighborhoods. We have some challenges, but what we don't have is organized neighborhoods and that's one of the key pieces of my platform. I aim to organize neighborhood associations, similarly to the neighborhood council model that I think is working pretty well in Los Angeles. ... We really need to organize the residents – bringing people together, laying down structure. Ultimately, I think it will help in terms of governance. ... This makes the neighborhood stronger, it makes the issue stronger, when you can have the support of a neighborhood, or several blocks or several residents behind an issue. And also, it helps us do a better job of informing folk about the issues facing ...
LBBJ: If you're elected to the city council, who do you represent? Who are your constituents?
AUSTIN: Who are my constituents? Well, the residents of the 8th District. If you break that down, that's 43 percent Latinos, 20 percent African Americans, 17 percent Anglo, 13 percent Asian and a lot of children, a lot of senior citizens. It's probably the most economically diverse area in the city. ... I like to think of myself as a middle of the road type of guy; I'm the type of person that can handle myself in a board room, but also I'm humble enough to relate to youth on the streets and some of our more economically challenged areas.
LBBJ: How do you see your role as a city councilmember? What's the purpose of a city councilmember?
AUSTIN: A city councilmember has a full-time staff, which is very helpful. But the councilmember's job is to manage and direct staff, and to be accessible to the residents to understand what their issues are and represent their voice on the city council. ... You listen to the concerns of your constituents and you go forth and you advocate. Oftentimes, city councilmembers are in a position where they're educating constituents about the nuance of an issue ... to impart information and make sure the constituency is well informed.
LBBJ: You know that the council is like a board of directors. You have a president, in this case the mayor; you have your boardmembers, the councilmembers; you have a city manager, who is like an executive director. One of the issues in the past has been that city councilmembers go to department heads instead of going through the city manager. Do you understand the structure?
AUSTIN: Yes. I think in a city the size of Long Beach, some of that can't be avoided. My college degree is in organizational management. So I'm very in tune to organization ... and understanding the chain of command. I always have this saying that our full use of the chain of command tends to eliminate confusion, tends to eliminate inefficiency, tends to be more efficient. So I do respect organizational protocol. I do understand the role of the city council in terms of being a boardmember . ... But each councilmember has a constituency that they represent, and they have to bring forth the interests of their constituency. In that role, I will be I think very strong for the residents of the 8th District.
LBBJ: Voter turnout has been poor pretty much throughout the city. In fact, for primary elections during the past 20 or so years, few have been over 18 percent turnout. Why do you think the turnout is so low? AUSTIN: I'm glad you raised that point. ... We should look at changing our charter to have our elections in line with the primaries in the state. I wouldn't have any problem running this election in June if I knew it saved thousands of dollars. ... If you're on the same ballot with the state assembly, the state senate, gubernatorial candidates, presidential candidates, turnout is going to be a lot higher and the interest will be a lot more focused. ... We need to do a better job of engaging our citizens at every level and getting them engaged in the civic participation process in the city.
LBBJ: Let's say you're on the city council, it's January. The budget took effect October 1. Councilmembers learn there are $5 million extra dollars available. How would you allocate that money?
AUSTIN: Without having all of the details in front of me, I think that would be very difficult for me to answer the way you've posed it. Obviously, you know, there are staffing shortages with our police officers. In North Long Beach, that's an issue. I think we can go a long way to reduce some of the crimes that we see are really on an uptick. ... Crimes could be better investigated and suppressed if we had more staffing in our police department. ... [due to retirements and reduced staffing] I think we're at a dangerous point right now when we need to look at not only an academy for officers, but for firefighters as well.
LBBJ: Do you support the elimination of redevelopment agencies?
AUSTIN: I can't say I do. ... Because of the gridlock in Sacramento, obviously it impacted redevelopment. I think that is a policy that is far more complicated than just saying, "Let's just wipe it up." I think the way it's going to play out is actually going to create a lot more bureaucracy than they intended, and communities that really, really, really were benefitting, like Long Beach, like Bixby Knolls, like North Long Beach, are going to be negatively impacted because of that decision. I'm hopeful that our friends in Sacramento can get to understand how devastating that decision was and maybe there could be a save.
LBBJ: If the cumulative noise from aircraft using the Long Beach Airport is reduced, would you support additional commercial flights?
AUSTIN: That's a tricky question, I don't think I could. I understand our neighborhoods. ... That's a very sensitive issue in Bixby Knolls. I think the 41 flight cap is sufficient. ... I think you need to look at it from a regional approach. If Ontario can pick up more flights, then they should get more flights there. Long Beach was designed to be a small municipal airport. It is, and I think we need to keep it that way.
People aren't as emotional over it today as they were maybe 18 years ago, but it's an issue that they want their city councilmember to watch very vigilantly. It's an issue that is very important to the residents [and] it's not only noise, but we also want to keep in mind the pollution that comes with that as well as other factors.
LBBJ: Rae Gabelich has represented the 8th District for almost eight years. How would you rate her job performance?
AUSTIN: To be quite honest with you, I didn't support Rae eight years ago when she first ran, but she's made me a believer. She campaigned on being a strong advocate for our neighborhoods. I think she's held true to that. So I would rate her, on a scale of 1 to 7, I would give her a six.
LBBJ: One to seven, not one to 10? That's interesting.
AUSTIN: It's a micro scale. I like odd numbers.
LBBJ: The smaller the number, the easier it is to rate people.
AUSTIN: Well, if you want to give me 1 to 10, I'll give her a nine.
We've witnessed some great improvements through redevelopment in our neighborhoods, [such as] a dog park and the park right around the corner from my home has really made the quality of my neighborhood go up and my experience as a resident greater. ... we have the new Marshalls ... So we've seen some great improvements.
LBBJ: So now, the new councilmember steps in with no redevelopment ...
AUSTIN: It's going to be tough.
LBBJ: How many city council meetings have you attended in the past year?
AUSTIN: I don't count. Well, let me just say, how many city council meetings have I watched? I've watched quite a few of them online or at home. I've attended maybe six or seven over the last year.
LBBJ: Has there been an issue that got to you that caused you to go to the meeting?
AUSTIN: I've been involved and watched the council for years. I don't think there are any issues that really get me excited, because I've been involved that way for years.
LBBJ: Do you know who heads up the Bixby Knolls Business Improvement District?
AUSTIN: Blair Cohn. ... I work very well with Blair. We stroll every Saturday with the Bixby Strollers, we've boxed in the boxing ring, we've sparred a few rounds ...
LBBJ: In the boxing ring?
AUSTIN: Ask Blair about my right hook.
I really like Blair, I think he's done a fabulous job of organizing our businesses. ... It's really the model of what a thriving small business community can be. I want to expand that north to the best extent possible. I know we don't have the same tools and we're going to have limited resources, but I think there is a will – there's a political will, at least on my behalf, but also in the community to keep that going as much as possible.
LBBJ: If we looked up your voting record, what would it say? How often have you voted in city elections ...
AUSTIN: One hundred percent.
LBBJ: 2007, special election, 6th District…
AUSTIN: We had a lot of fun.
LBBJ: You're a candidate against Dee Andrews. The mayor endorses you. You lose.
AUSTIN: I came up short. ... 67 votes, 70 votes.
LBBJ: You came up short. But the mayor endorsed you back then, right? Against Andrews? Is he endorsing you this time?
AUSTIN: The mayor hasn't said whether or not he's going to endorse. I've had conversations with him. We had a good conversation a couple of weeks ago, and he says, "Well, let me think it over and I'll get back to you soon." We'll see. I would like the mayor's endorsement but ...
LBBJ: It didn't help you last time.
AUSTIN: Listen, endorsements don't win elections. At the end of the day, I have to get out and talk to as many voters as I possibly can. I need to make my case. At the end of the day, city council is an intimate relationship with your elected official. People need to know that you're accessible, that you're going to be responsive, and they need to feel like they know you. I would argue that most 8th District residents don't know many of our elected officials in City Hall, including the mayor. And so the endorsement, it may help, it may help with fundraising, it may help with adding credibility to the campaign, but at the end of the day the work is going to be up to me to do, and I'm prepared to do that.
LBBJ: So when you ran against Andrews in 2007 you lived in the 6th District, but you've had a home in Bixby Knolls for 10 years.
LBBJ: But you obviously didn't live in Bixby Knolls.
AUSTIN: I took a little break. I listened to a lot of very prominent people in this city and they asked me to run in the 6th District. They felt like my background, my ideas, were necessary and I think I would have done a good job in representing the central area but it didn't work out. I moved on and moved back to my home in Bixby Knolls, and you know, the same thing happened over the course of the last year. People started approaching me and encouraging me to run. It really wasn't something that I cognitively thought about doing, like, "Well, you know what, I'm moving here and I'm going to run for city council in 2012." It just kind of happened, and so I'm a candidate, I'm fully invested and hopefully we're successful in April.
LBBJ: What's your full-time job?
AUSTIN: Right now, I'm a full-time candidate. I stepped away from my work in December of this year. I worked as an international rep for AFSCME – The American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees. AFL-CIO.
LBBJ: Out of L.A.?
AUSTIN: It was working in 11 western states, based out of Los Angeles. It was very, very rewarding work. I got the opportunity to learn a lot throughout my travels and my experience with AFSCME. I worked with them for the last eight years and I got a chance to learn a lot about, you know, local government more than anything.
LBBJ: So you're a true union guy. You're true blue to the union.
AUSTIN: My first job was when I was 18 years old, working in the aerospace industry here at McDonnell Douglas. I was a union member for almost 14 years. I left there for four years and went to work for the state senate as a staffer, gaining experience in local and state government, and then took a position with AFSCME. So yeah, in that respect, I've spent most of my career working with the labor unions.
LBBJ: So can the business community expect a fair shake from you, if you're elected, if you're really a union guy?
AUSTIN: Well, yes. Yes, because I don't think you can have a union job without a business in a poor business climate. You can't have a good paying job unless there's an employer out there paving the way for that to happen. And so, I think, business and labor, moving forward, particularly in this economy, you know, there needs to be more dialogue, there needs to be more partnerships in play to create jobs, particularly here in Long Beach.
LBBJ: One of the complaints we've heard from some businesses is that it's tough to get city contracts, even with local preference credit. They bid on them and firms outside the city get them. But one way to create jobs is to give more contracts to local firms.
LBBJ: With your union background, I would think you would be in a position where you could help businesses understand the bidding process, understand that there are a lot of opportunities. AUSTIN: I definitely favor utilizing Long Beach business.
You asked earlier about the role of a councilmember. You are an ambassador and chief for your district. You are an ambassador for the city. So to the best extent possible, if I have an opportunity to recruit new business to Long Beach, I'm going to be working very aggressively to do that. We have empty storefronts, we have empty commercial real estate, facilities. You know, Long Beach is, well, close to an airport, close to ports. It's an ideal place for a lot of businesses to do business. And to the extent where we are viewed as business-unfriendly, I think we need to address that. And if that means streamlining processes through ordinance at the city council level, I'm willing to do that to help generate business.
LBBJ: Do you know Pat West, and how would you rate his job performance?
AUSTIN: I know Pat West. We're very cordial. I think he's done a decent job under very tough times. He's dealt with a lot. Any public administrator, any city manager at this point is facing uncertainty in terms of dealing with an uncertain climate. I think he's done pretty well all things considered.
LBBJ: It took a recession for cities, counties and states to finally realize pension costs were devastating budgets. You received the endorsement of the police and fire unions, and yes, to their credit, they did come to the table and help on the pension issue and related budget items. But the city's miscellaneous employees union – the IAM, or International Association of Machinists and Aerospace Workers – haven't agreed to, for example, paying their full employee share of the pension cost. With your union background, would you be able to maybe use your influence to sit down with them and encourage them to come to the table and pay their full share?
AUSTIN: Well, [with] my background as a former union rep, and obviously I understand the collective bargaining process very well, I would encourage all parties to stay at the table. This is a big issue facing our city. Our city is not flush in terms of resources, we're not operating in surpluses, obviously, so more has to be done. I think all parties, not only the miscellaneous employees but city management and city executives, elected and non-elected, need to respect the collective bargaining process and really, really work to get things done. The one thing that I disagree with is going to the bargaining table with a set of variables, or a preconception of what the end deal should be. You know what I mean? I think you have to go to the bargaining table and allow the process to work. When that works, you have partnership. When you use the bully pulpit, when you try to force an agreement, usually you get resistance on the other side. Again, I think labor and management need to come to solutions and a partnership agreement. There has to be partnership. ... If you're bargaining and both parties are completely honest, forthright and their interests are laid on the table, I think agreements are usually reached. That's my experience. I've negotiated contracts, I've been at the bargaining table on several occasions and I've dealt with employers who have been very fair and straightforward. I've dealt with employers who have walked to the table with a level of disrespect. At the end of the day, employees who provide the services in our city need to feel like they're respected for what they do, but also that their bargaining agents are respected as well.
LBBJ: Are you friends with Steven Neal in the 9th District?
AUSTIN: I am.
LBBJ: We heard rumors that during his election he was busing in union members to help walk the district. That's what we were told. You would never do anything like that, would you?
AUSTIN: Listen, I've been involved in campaign work for 20 years. I have a lot of friends. I'm not busing in anybody. ... Anybody that wants to help me in the 8th District; I'm not going to turn away help.
LBBJ: But we understand this was an organized effort by him and his union supporters to bring in people from outside.
AUSTIN: That's no different than anybody else that's had a strong campaign in Long Beach. I don't recall Steven Neal busing people in, or anything like that. That's a reach.
LBBJ: So if I'm an 8th District resident and I don't know you, I don't know your opponent, what's the difference between the two of you? What's it going to come down to for the voter?
AUSTIN: I've lived in the district longer than my opponent, I've lived in Long Beach at least twice as long as she has. She moved here from Orange County. I really don't want to get into attacking Lillian [Kawasaki] because I really like her, but you're saying the differences. I think I'm more vested in this city, I've been involved in this city for quite some time. I have deep roots throughout the City of Long Beach from my college days up through my employment years working in aerospace, as well as my pastimes. My hobbies used to be political campaigns, you know, that's what I got into. That was my thing as a 20-year-old. I've been involved in everyone's campaign and probably walked every precinct in this city at some point, advocating for one candidate or another. It's my relationships throughout the city that, I think, will be the difference. I think that's already kind of manifesting. It's already showing itself, the diversity of my support. I have Democrats, I have Republicans, I have young people, I have seniors, I have labor, I have business – I have a little bit of everybody supporting my candidacy. LBBJ: Why did the chamber of commerce endorse your opponent? Is it because of your union ties?
AUSTIN: No, I don't know. I don't control the chamber of commerce. I don't know why they made that decision. ... There are perceptions out there that I'm going to have to overcome in terms of "the fact that you're union, you must be bad for business." I don't necessarily see it that way. I want to grow business in the City of Long Beach. I want to encourage jobs. If jobs are a primary focus of mine, then business has to go hand in hand with that. LBBJ: Over the past 25 years, we've interviewed many city council candidates. It seems that no matter what the candidate says during the race, when they get elected they're like a different person. If the media, which takes the time to sit down with a candidate to get to know him or her, gets the runaround, what is the average voter going to do?
AUSTIN: I can't speak to that. ... I'm going to do my best to stay true to who I am. Obviously, I care about putting people to work.
LBBJ: What is your relationship with the Port of Long Beach?
AUSTIN: I don't have much of a relationship with the Port of Long Beach other than the fact that I'm supportive of the efforts to keep our port competitive. It's a major economic engine, not only for Long Beach but [for] the entire region, in jobs. I'm telling you, I'm the pro-jobs candidate. Pro-business, that's fine, I'm pro-jobs so we can work hand in hand. The port is a very important element and driver for all of that.
LBBJ: Is there anything else you'd like to add?
AUSTIN: That I'm a regular reader of the Long Beach Business Journal.
LBBJ: That'll get you a vote or two.
AUSTIN: I try to stay informed as much as possible.
LBBJ: Well if you get elected, we'll put you on our complimentary mailing list.
Q&A With Lillian Kawasaki
Lillian Kawasaki, 61, retired after more than 30 years of service to the City of Los Angeles. She is a resident of the Los Cerritos/Bixby Knolls area, where she has been living with her husband for more than eight years. Kawasaki has a bachelor's degree in zoology and master's degree in biology, both from California State University, Los Angeles.
Kawasaki touts her experience in economic and community development, garnered from her work as general manager of the Los Angeles Community Development Department and assistant general manager of environmental affairs for the Los Angeles Department of Water and Power. Through much of her career, Kawasaki has been an advocate for environmental and greening efforts. She has been serving on the Water Replenishment District of Southern California Board of Directors since 2006, where she is chair of the workforce and economic development committee and works to develop clean water technology and water-related jobs. She also worked as head of the Port of Los Angeles' Environmental Management Division.
Kawasaki's three decades of local government experience is the foundation for her campaign platform. Kawasaki is running to: spur economic development; promote safe and livable neighborhoods; be a responsible steward to the environment; and increase the efficiency and transparency of local government.
She currently serves on the Long Beach Historical Society Advisory Committee and is co-chair of Friends of Manzanar, a membership organization that works to maintain and promote the National Historic Site in Long Beach where Japanese-Americans were interned during WWII. Kawasaki co-founded the Association of Women in Water, Energy and the Environment, for which she is currently a boardmember.
LBBJ: In your candidate pamphlet you write, "My highest priority will be to increase local jobs by retaining and attracting new businesses." Since most of your working life has been in the public sector, what expertise do you have in economic development?
KAWASAKI: Let me give you a quick background on that. I worked for 30 years in the City of Los Angeles and one of the positions that I held was as the head of the community development department. For the City of Los Angeles, the goal of that department is really to deal with revitalizing both neighborhoods, particularly around economic development. I managed all of the Community Development Block Grant programs, as well as all [of] the workforce. So I have a very strong background in job development, economic development and workforce training.
In fact, I managed all of the workforce dollars for the City of Los Angeles. The annual budget for the community development department was over $300 million annually, so I also had all of the small business programs such as microenterprise. We did the enterprise zone, which we're very fortunate here in Long Beach to have so much of the city be an enterprise zone.
LBBJ: You also write that "we need to improve government transparency in the City of Long Beach." Do you have examples where city government hasn't been transparent?
KAWASAKI: This is something that I hear as I'm walking in the district, that there are ... inadequate communications between City Hall and the various residents and businesses because everything happens in the downtown area. I think as you go further north, there's this general sense that we don't have as much communication. We don't have a comprehensive newsletter from the council offices. I think what would be important is to engage the community. We don't have, in the district, community advisory groups that could work hand in hand with the city. So I think the general sense is [that] we need to know more about what the city is doing and that we need to have that also [be] timely – I think that's part of it as well – so they [residents] can actually feel like they can participate and participate in a meaningful way while things are still in draft form or before things are finalized.
LBBJ: Based on your life experiences, what is the number one attribute you would bring to the office of 8th District councilmember?
KAWASAKI: I believe it's [my] 30 plus years of local government experience. Long Beach is facing numerous challenges, particularly around the budget, and it's something that this elected councilperson will come [into] and be kind of parachuted into the middle of the budget process. I also see that with term limits, you oftentimes have councilmembers [and] elected representatives that don't have a really good background. I think it's fair to say that in my 30 plus years, I've probably tackled every major issue that the City of Long Beach faces today.
LBBJ: What was the budget like that you put together in Los Angeles? What was your title?
KAWASAKI: Assistant general manager. The department had a budget and then as assistant general manager I had both the economic development and the environmental programs.
LBBJ: So you were responsible for putting those budgets together?
KAWASAKI: Absolutely. I was the head of two departments, so one was 300 million [dollars] and the other was significantly less. It was a policy level department. So I have very strong budgeting on fiscal controls as well as auditing.
LBBJ: If you're elected to the City Council, who do you represent? Who are your constituents?
KAWASAKI: Your priority constituents are those in the 8th Council District, however, the City of Long Beach [is] as well because if you have a strong district, you have a strong city, and vice versa. So you really need to make sure that as a councilperson, you are protective of both those constituencies.
LBBJ: As you know, the council seat is a part-time position. How do you identify your role as a councilperson? Your job description.
KAWASAKI: The job description may say that it's part-time, but clearly to me it is not. I've made the commitment that it would be my full-time job, including. ... I think some of the things that the councilperson needs to be involved [in] is with the budget [and] also around legislation [and] ordinances. So generally, about governance in the city.
LBBJ: Voter turnout is rarely above 18 percent, in any council district. Why do you think turnout is so low?
KAWASAKI: Walking the district, I hear from so many of the people that they have low confidence in some of their elected officials, so they're not as energized as they can be. That's a lot of what we've been doing now with volunteers, knocking door to door, not only to understand their issues but also to make sure that they know there's an election coming up and that the election makes a difference. People do sometimes feel like it doesn't really matter, but it clearly does and every vote will count. If we had ways for better communication between the elected offices, City Hall, our businesses and our residents so [that] they could feel like their participation was meaningful, I think we could get a lot more [turnout].
LBBJ: So do you think there's a disconnect between – and not just in the 8th District, but citywide – residents and City Hall as far as being engaged in what's going on in the community? Is that part of why you think voter turnout is so low?
KAWASAKI: I think that's part of it. This is also just an extremely busy time for everyone. Long Beach has its election in April, when everyone else generally tends to have their election in June. Maybe we need to combine them.
LBBJ: Here's a budget question for you. Let's say you're on the city council and it's February 1. The current budget went into effect October 1. The mayor comes to the council and says, "I found five million extra dollars." How would you allocate that money?
KAWASAKI: First, I would go back and see how the budget has already been allocated to see where there might be shortfalls and where there also might be excess revenue. Then I would look to see if there are still some efficiency measures that make sense that we could invest in, before we get down to project specific areas. So, are there efficiency measures that make sense [so] that we could have [some] sort of long-term stability in our budget? And then we could go back and look at where priorities might be, particularly where you could leverage resources and have additional revenue coming in. ... Because we need to look at budgets not only within the context of annual year-to-year budgeting, but how can we get to where we have a long-term, stable budget. I think that doing a careful due diligence is going to be very important before you make a determination on how to do those allocations.
LBBJ: Do you support the elimination of the redevelopment agency?
KAWASAKI: Absolutely not. I think the redevelopment agency has been very important, particularly in the 8th [and] 9th Districts. Their purpose was to really eliminate blight, to share in the improvement in an area by having tax increment dollars. I think that this is a very challenging time with the loss of the RDA funding. That is [a] high priority to me and it goes hand in hand with business and economic development. We must look for alternatives to the RDA funding.
LBBJ: One of the people who has endorsed you is Alan Lowenthal, who was instrumental in doing away with redevelopment agencies. Do you feel that having his endorsement will hurt you or help you?
KAWASAKI: I think that I've worked very hard to have a broad range of endorsements. I have strong advocates for redevelopment [such as] Supervisor Don Knabe, the Long Beach Chamber [of Commerce] and the Apartment Association. I think I've worked hard to build many of those, and so what we need to do is be able to bring that diverse group of people together to say, "How do we now make those transitions with the RDA being gone?" I think it's a critically valuable and essential tool.
LBBJ: If the cumulative noise from aircraft using the Long Beach Airport is reduced – due to new technology, quieter aircraft – would you support additional commercial flights?
KAWASAKI: I'm not the attorney here, but my best understanding of the noise ordinance is that it does, in fact, provide for that. It is not a noise ordinance that's based on the number of aircraft, per say; it's based on the noise levels. So, in fact, if aircraft come in that are quieter – and that would have to be monitored and validated – then the noise ordinance provides that there could be additional commercial flights.
LBBJ: Again, the bucket of noise has to be reduced, that's the only way you would support it then?
KAWASAKI: I think the question you asked me was about the noise ordinance. I was giving you my perspective of the understanding that it was not tied to the number of commercial flights but, in fact, the noise levels, so that if the noise level could go down ... When you look at the airport, [there are] three things that drive it. I think first, and foremost, to protect the noise ordinance, of which we just talked about. The second is that the airport is a very important asset for us here [not only] locally, but also regionally, so it's something where the modernization – as we've just seen [with the] completion of the parking lot under schedule and under budget – is very important. The third component of it is also to make sure that it is protective of the community and the environment. I think where we are today is, I believe, [and] certainly from the people I speak to – whether they're in the business community or they're residents in an impacted area – they generally feel very satisfied where we are today and just want to make sure that we have all those three things as we go forward.
LBBJ: I just want to make sure we're clear here. Let's say the cumulative noise fell 20 percent because of aircraft, new technology [and] things like that; a study is done that verifies that. The airport manager comes back and says, "We can add two more flights a day and stay within the ordinance." Would you then support the additional flights, or oppose additional flights under that scenario?
KAWASAKI: Well, I mean, part of protecting the noise ordinance is to allow the kinds of provisions that are contained in that noise ordinance. And again, my best understanding is that they could have those additional flights.
LBBJ: Councilmember Rae Gabelich has been in office almost eight years now. How would you rate her performance?
KAWASAKI: I really appreciate the effort that she's spent on high priority areas, which is the Atlantic [Avenue] and Long Beach Boulevard corridors [and] working hand in hand with the Bixby Knolls [Business] Improvement Association. Her work along other areas along those two corridors has [also] been tremendous. One of the things that would be a high priority – in fact, it is one of my highest priorities for the district – is to continue the work that she's done to revitalize it. All you have to do is come out on a First Fridays and see all the people that are out. ... Now we need to do more and extend it going both north and south along both those corridors.
LBBJ: With redevelopment monies gone, it may be a little tougher to accomplish some of the things the new councilperson wants to do.
KAWASAKI: There's no doubt that we will have to look at doing business differently. I think one way to look at is what they call the "community development corporations." These are non-profit, generally types of more single-purpose [development corporations], and they've been used successfully both by themselves and hand-in-hand with redevelopment tools. This is one area that I will strongly be pursuing.
LBBJ: It seems like there are always grants available from different organizations nationally [and] throughout the state. Have you ever done grant writing?
KAWASAKI: I'm actually very strong in grants. It is a skill writing competitive grants. Another is to really build strong partnerships where you can leverage limited resources. I think this is another area that is a high priority to me, whether it's working more closely with the school districts or whether it's working more with the business community to really form partnership leverage. The other part with [this] funding is [that] we've got a strong delegation, and we ought to use our delegations – our other elected officials – to also help identify and seek for us discretionary monies.
LBBJ: How many council meetings have you attended in the past year? Is that something you do, or are you a TV watcher of the meetings?
KAWASAKI: I've been to probably several, but I have watched many. If it's very important to you on the number [of meetings], I'll actually go back and count. The council meetings are very important to not only see the results, but to actually see the participation of the people that are there and the interactions among the councilmembers.
LBBJ: How long have you lived in the 8th District?
KAWASAKI: Going on nine years.
LBBJ: Do you know who runs the Bixby Knolls Business Improvement District?
KAWASAKI: Absolutely, Blair Cohn. I actually speak with Blair on a pretty regular basis and [I] will be talking to him tomorrow about redevelopment because he's ... been a key in the revitalization [of Bixby Knolls] so we really want to understand where he is and how we can be helpful. ... I think that it [Bixby Knolls] is in many ways probably the biggest success story in the City of Long Beach.
LBBJ: Have you been active in the district?
KAWASAKI: I was on the board of the Long Beach Historical Society, but now I'm on the advisory committee. [I'm] very active with the rancho, my husband is on the board of Rancho Los Cerritos. When we moved to Long Beach – we came from Orange County – we made a commitment that we would be involved in the community. Running for the district [council seat] is part of that continuation of really wanting to serve the community.
LBBJ: Have you voted in local elections?
KAWASAKI: I have voted in every election since I have been in the district.
LBBJ: What do you think of City Manager Pat West's job performance?
KAWASAKI: Every time I've met with Pat, I have found him to be very knowledgeable [and] to be very professional. He came to the city with a very good reputation from Paramount around these very issues we're talking about – our redevelopment [and] revitalization. Again, my experience has been [that] he's very responsive.
LBBJ: Having run a big city department, you understand organizational structure. In Long Beach, we've noticed that councilmembers often go around the city manager, directly to department heads. If you have a beef with something that's going on in the city, would you talk to Pat West or would you go talk to the department head?
KAWASAKI: I think it probably depends. The first place I think you need to go is through Pat West, but you can also establish understandings. It kind of depends because I think there's a difference between needing to get some very specific departmental information at which time, I think, the understanding with the city manager is that the councilmember would have every right and approval to go ahead and talk directly to the department heads; on the other hand, if there are things that require more policy or more actual decision making, I believe that those [things] need to go through the city manager. As I said, I ran departments. I was in situations where I had 16 bosses and I felt it was important that those things that required [the] allocation of resources, any decision making [or] policy setting, those should come through me, but I had no problem if it was a matter of getting details on specific programs.
LBBJ: Since 2008, you've donated thousands of dollars to President Obama's election campaign. Are you happy with the job the president is doing?
KAWASAKI: I think that this is just a very difficult time. There are certain things that I'm very happy about that he's done, but then there are also things that I have not been happy about him doing. I'm glad to see that he's doing more around jobs and economic development. I think that this is something that needs to be his highest priority right now, [to] put people back to work to good jobs, and I think he's doing that now with his focus. LBBJ: We also noticed you donated to Barbara Boxer, to ActBlue, which is a democratic political action committee, and others considered far left. If you do have a liberal bent to your political views, would that impact your decisions on the city council?
KAWASAKI: Absolutely not. This is a non-partisan seat. If you've looked at my endorsements – [such as] Don Knabe to the Long Beach Chamber of Commerce – I think I've been very forthright in where my priorities are. I think I've been very forthright in responding to the questions. I think what I see is that the residents and businesses just want their elected officials to get things done. I believe that in order to do that, particularly at the local level, it's important that we be able to get all the stakeholders at the table, which is why I have sought that broad [endorsement] support. I have a long history of working in government to show that I will always work for the best interests of the district and the city.
LBBJ: As you well know, cities throughout the country – large and small – have had financial problems. Most cities point to high pension costs as a primary problem. Do you believe that we need to examine pensions to see where we can save money, or do you support the status quo?
KAWASAKI: First I want to commend the police and fire [unions] and the mayor for negotiating pension reform. The reports are [that] $100 million will be saved over the long term. Again, my best understanding is [that] there are still some employees that have not come under the new pension reform provisions. But the goal is to have long-term fiscal stability. We're going to have to look at all alternatives.
LBBJ: But the largest union in the city hasn't come to the table on pension reform. Its members are not paying their full share of the pension costs, similar to what police and fire are doing. If you're on the council, would you sit down with the IAM representatives and say, "We need you to play ball here and be part of the team"?
KAWASAKI: I think those conversations are important to have. They do have existing contracts, but I think this issue of pension reform is going to be vital as we go forward. So yes, absolutely. We'd sit at the table.
LBBJ: What is your perspective on affordable housing?
KAWASAKI: It's important that we have housing that's available that people can afford. I've worked on housing issues, particularly in the City of Los Angeles. ... I am a supporter of affordable housing. However, there are different strategies and I think we need to pursue those – such as mixed income housing, [which] I think is desirable. I also think we can work with some of the various non-profits to find housing alternatives. Plus, very frankly, it's also the law that we have requirements for housing and they have been incorporated into general and specific plans in the city.
LBBJ: A hot topic right now is having academies for the police and fire departments. Would that be something you would consider?
KAWASAKI: I would consider that. The number of officers on the police force has gone down considerably and are projected to go even lower. At the same time, we have this issue of realignment coming from the state, which is a nice way to say that we've got a lot more liability coming with respect to [the] release of prisoners from the county to the city without the necessary resources. So that's an area that we would really need to look at to see if that is something that needs to be a priority and if there is a gap and what that gap is.
LBBJ: Is there anything you'd like to discuss that we didn't ask you?
KAWASAKI: The question I thought you were going to ask me, which is the number one question that everybody asks me, is "why are you running for City Council?"
LBBJ: So why should we ask it if everybody else does?
KAWASAKI: Well, if you would indulge me, let me end with that. We've touched on the challenges, particularly the budgetary challenges that the City of Long Beach faces, and I do have more than 30 years – three decades – of experience in local government [and] also in other kinds of public service. It is really my desire to contribute to making my community and my city stronger by being able to serve on the city council.
I think I have a unique set of qualifications in the sense that I am actively involved in my community, a lot of the non-profits and other activities, [and] I also have a very strong and broad background in economic development, workforce training and environmental [issues]. I think so many of the kinds of solutions we need to do [and] the kinds of actions we need to take really require that we're able to combine all of those [and] work with people. I can hit the ground running and get some work done and that's what the voters keep telling me they need. So, I think I'm very uniquely qualified to serve as the 8th District councilmember.
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