In less than a month, voters from most areas of Long Beach have an opportunity to vote for a city council candidate, a member of the board of education or a trustee for the community college district. Due to district overlaps, some residents may cast votes in more than one race.


While the turnout for the April 12 election is expected to be very low across the city, the stakes are high as labor advocates push for a stronger hold on the city’s elected positions while others look for a more neutral makeup of the governing bodies.


For stakeholders who are concerned that two-thirds of the nine-member city council is pro labor, the election provides an opportunity to bring political balance to the group that has become increasingly more liberal since 2000. But that may prove too difficult of a mountain to climb as incumbents – always favored – are running in two of the three city council races, although one must run a write-in campaign.


Candidates seeking seats on the K-12 and city college five-member boards are attempting to push for a labor-friendly majority in an effort to award teachers higher pay and improved benefits, and increase the number of teaching positions. Long-time incumbents are running in three of the four races, but the newest member of the college board of trustees, who was appointed to fill a vacancy, may be vulnerable.


City Council

Downtown residents have three candidates vying to represent the 2nd District and replace the outgoing councilmember. Jeannine Pearce is a labor advocate, while Joen Garnica and Eric Gray are small business owners. Several residents with whom the Business Journal spoke agreed the race is a toss-up and most likely headed to a June runoff. This is considered the most interesting of the three city council races because: 1. The candidates have been active within the district and each is well known; 2. They have raised enough money to mount a legitimate campaign; 3. Each has garnered strong endorsements from within and outside the district; and 4. Each is well informed about district and city issues and able to communicate their positions effectively.


Recent 2nd District Elections: In 2012, the incumbent faced two challengers and received 62 percent of the vote (1,530 votes). Voter turnout: 10.73 percent of 23,339 registered voters. Nearly three in four votes cast were by mail. The incumbent had run unopposed in 2008. The district covers much of the downtown area, including the Port of Long Beach, Shoreline Village, The Pike Outlets, the high-rise residential buildings along Ocean Boulevard and the business corridors along Broadway and 4th Street.


The 6th District has three challengers up against Dee Andrews, who is seeking a third term. However, under the city’s term limit ordinance, he must run a write-in campaign. If Andrews finishes in the top two, his name will appear on the ballot for the June runoff. The challengers have lived in the city at least 15 years and have been active in a number of community organizations. One candidate, Erik Miller, is a director with Operation Jump Start who has raised less than $4,000 for his campaign as of the end of the February filing period. Another, Robert Harmon, is a medical device entrepreneur and reported no money raised as of the filing period. The third, Josephine Villasenor, is the owner of a party supply and rental shop who signed a form indicating she will not raise more than $1,000, and not spend more than $1,000 during the race, and is therefore exempt from filing further statements.  Andrews, on the other hand, raised nearly $30,000 during the same period. A common theme of the challengers is their concern about increased crime and gang activity within the district. Voter turnout is typically very low, which means any of the four candidates can pull out a victory.


Recent 6th District Elections:  It’s been eight years since district residents have voted for a council representative since Andrews ran unopposed in 2012. He was elected in 2008, receiving 1,473 votes to his lone challenger’s 430 votes. There were 14,661 registered voters and the turnout was 13.25 percent. More than 60 percent of the votes were by mail. The district covers much of the central area of the city, including parts of Cambodia Town and the area around Long Beach Memorial Medical Center.


In the 8th Council District, Councilmember Al Austin is seeking a second four-year term. He faces two challengers, both with significant backgrounds in finance and management. Laurie Angel is a 20-year employee at California State University, Long Beach, where she has worked as a financial analyst and is a business manager. Wesley Turnbow owns and is CEO of the aerospace company EME, where he previously served as its chief financial officer. Austin currently is on the staff of the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees, AFL-CIO. As of the February filing deadline, Turnbow reported the most money raised, about $30,000, while Austin and Angel were both under $8,000. Austin, however, is expected to benefit from independent expenditures by labor unions.


Recent 8th District Elections:  In 2012, Austin was up against two opponents and easily won the open seat, grabbing nearly 56 percent of the vote. Of the 23,285 registered voters at that time, 3,978 – 17 percent – cast votes. Just over 57 percent of those voted by mail. In 2008, the incumbent ran unopposed. The district includes most of Bixby Knolls, Los Cerritos and parts of North Long Beach.


Long Beach Unified School District

School community organizer Jessica Vargas-Alvarez, who did not respond to the Business Journal’s request for information, is challenging the Area 2 incumbent, Felton Williams. Williams, who was first elected to the board of education in 2004, currently serves as its president. He won reelection against single opponents in 2008 and 2012 and is expected to easily win a fourth term.


Jon Meyer is the Area 4 incumbent and is being challenged by Rosi Pedersen, a retired educator who served the school district for more than 30 years as a teacher and administrator. This race is much more interesting than Area 2’s contest in that Pedersen has a well-organized effort and endorsements from numerous well-known members of the community. This may be the race where an upset is possible. Meyer has served on the board since 2003 when he won a special election for the seat. In 2008 and 2012 he won reelection easily. Meyer worked for the district for 40 years, serving as a teacher and a principal.


Historically, school district elections generate no more than a 12 percent to 15 percent turnout. In 2012, approximately 7,000 votes were cast in Area 4, but the district encompassed more than 56,000 registered voters, resulting in a 12.7 percent turnout. The 2012 election in Area 2 was even worse, with a turnout of 8.3 percent.


Long Beach Community College District

Doug Otto is the Area 4 incumbent on the board of trustees and is currently serving as president. He is facing a familiar challenger, Davina Keisser, a Long Beach  teacher, who lost to him four years ago. Otto, a local attorney, was first elected to the board in 2004 and ran unopposed in 2008. He has served in leadership positions on numerous Long Beach organizations and task forces, and headed up Mayor Robert Garcia’s transition team in 2014. Keisser has been a district teacher since 1979. She is actively involved with the Long Beach and California teacher associations. In the 2012 election, Otto easily beat Keisser, grabbing nearly 68 percent of the vote. The voter turnout that year was less than 13 percent.


The Area 2 race is where the incumbent may be in danger of losing her seat. Irma Archuleta was appointed by board trustees in September 2014 to fill an unexpired term. She was chosen from a field of 13 applicants. One of those applicants, Vivian Malauulu, is now challenging her for the seat. Archuleta, a former teacher and school administrator, is retired. Malauulu teaches a journalism class at city college and is a longshore worker whose campaign is backed by more than 20 unions.


Interestingly, Area 2 voters have not had an opportunity to cast a ballot on a trustee race since 2000. That’s the year current 7th District Councilmember Roberto Uranga barely won a two-person race. He then proceeded to run unopposed in 2004, 2008 and 2012.  When Uranga won the city council seat in 2014, Archuleta was selected to replace him. Uranga has endorsed Archuleta.


The Business Journal reached out to all the candidates with an opportunity to respond to one question – in 250 words or less. Those running for city council were asked to explain: What Made You Decide To Run? School candidates were asked: What is the top issue facing the Long Beach Unified School District and how would you address it? City council candidates were also asked to tell our readers if they support or oppose the sales tax measure on the June ballot (see separate box with their yes or no response). Due to space limitations, they were not given an opportunity to explain their position on the ballot measure. To View Each Candidate’s Response, Please Click Here To Download The Full Publication And Go To Page 31.


Note: The Business Journal has not endorsed in the city council races. It may do so if there are runoffs. However, endorsements were announced several months ago for three of the four school board races. They are: Doug Otto, Jon Meyer and Felton Williams.


For more information on each of the candidates, visit Long Beach PADNETtv’s YouTube channel at: Each candidate has a brief video introducing themselves.