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Whittier candidates take the hot seat at election forum

WHITTIER – Whittier voters got their opportunity Wednesday to get to know several of the city council candidates appearing on the March 3 ballot.

The forum – held at the Whittier Community Center – was sponsored by the Whittier Area Chamber of Commerce. Each council hopeful was given the opportunity to take part in the forum; of the 12 candidates vying for the three available spots, 10 candidates participated.

The forum was split into two parts, with the mayoral candidates opening the evening, followed by a joint forum made up of the District 1 and District 3 races.

It was the race for the mayor’s seat which proved to be the main event of the evening.

Incumbent Mayor Joe Vinatieri and his four challengers – Louis Reyes, Rolando Cano, I.L. Leon Savage, and Christine Singer-Luna – were asked four pre-decided questions and one audience-fielded question and given two minutes to respond.

Not surprisingly, the homeless crisis was one of the major talking points of the evening.

“As we all know, the number one issue in Whittier is homelessness. It is multi-faceted…there’s a whole different series of people,” said Vinatieri. “The area where we have a problem is older adults, male and female. We all know about the Boise case; all I can tell you is that this has been a very difficult issue for us.”

“Housing is one aspect of it, and we need to do housing,” he added. “But don’t let anybody kid you into thinking that it’s just housing. It’s also drug and alcohol addiction, it’s also mental illness. The problem is, until we have some help from the state…we’re going not be able to do a whole lot of things other than offer beds…”

Singer-Luna took a more sympathetic approach.

“I think if we first examine the situation – how we’re talking to people, how we’re treating people – there needs to be respect, and there needs to be dignity,” she said.

Singer-Luna added that during a recent police ride-along, she witnessed a homeless individual seeking aid, only to end in a complicated and cluttered procedure.

“I feel like a big part of my messaging tonight is streamlining communication,” said Singer-Luna. “The first thing I want to get is fruits and vegetables to these people; let me feed you so you listen to me.”

Each candidate was also asked if they would support Measure W, a proposed .75 percent sales tax increase aimed to counteract the city’s budget shortfall and maintain quality of life for residents.

Candidate Reyes and Mayor Vinatieri came out in support of the measure.

“Whittier was, I guess, banking on oil for that revenue, and now we’re like, ‘Wow, we have to do something,’” said Reyes. “Whoever wins mayor, they need that and I know that from a policy perspective. I actually would have taken that step a long time ago, because it was the right thing to do as unpopular as it is…if it didn’t pass, then I’d have to look at the cuts again.”

Singer-Luna, Cano and Savage said they oppose the measure, with Singer-Luna saying that the tax would disproportionately affect individuals who were uninformed and could not afford to leave the city.

Cano said he wished that the revenue from the tax could be used on specific projects, instead of it being deposited into the general fund.

One of the more interesting takes of the night came from candidate Savage, who took a hard line on the police shortage and public safety in most of his answers.

“My reasons for running is to make Whittier safe again; to apply common sense to the administration right now,” said Savage. “We live in a town where we are understaffed as far as our police department is concerned; we have over 80,000 people living here, and we only have 128 police officers in our police department.”

“My goal is to increase the police department this year by 480 policemen…that’s what I’m here to do; to make this town safe again.”

Following the conclusion of the mayoral forum, the forums for District 1 and 3 were combined and presented concurrently.

Candidates for Whittier City Council. Photo by Alex Dominguez

The District 3 race was represented by incumbent Cathy Warner, and challengers Alex Moisa and Yasmin Ferrada. Candidate Lucian Petrusan did not participate.

The forum for District 1 – which is guaranteed to produce a new councilmember – consisted of Jessica Martinez and Magdalena Barragnon Moe. Third challenger Andrew Roble did not participate.

The forum will be available to watch later on the Chamber website. A second forum – sponsored by local environmental groups – will be held at the community center Saturday at 2 p.m.

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