The watermelon email, a new location for city hall and a potential Seal Beach-Los Alamitos Supercity -- All topics covered during a recent Los Alamitos City Council candidates’ forum.
The four candidates are current councilman Ken Stephens, realtor Demi Devaney, small business owner Dean Grose and real estate investor Richard Murphy.
All four are campaigning for two seats on the council. Due to the upcoming retirement of Mayor Pro Tem Marilynn Poe, Stephens is the sole Los Al council member running for re-election this year.
Sponsored by the League of Women Voters, the forum took place at the Los Alamitos Community and Recreation Center Oct. 17.
Throughout the forum Devaney appeared flustered at times, while Grose, Murphy and Stephens all appeared relaxed.
The watermelon email
After opening statements, moderator Joan Haig, vice president of voter services of the League of Women Voters of the Central Orange County Area, asked questions submitted by the audience -- one of which was regarding the watermelon email.
In 2009, Grose, then Los Alamitos Mayor, forwarded an email depicting a watermelon patch on the front lawn of the White House with the caption “No Easter egg hunt this year.”
Keyanus Price, a local volunteer who is black, received the email from Grose’s personal account and said she wanted a public apology.
The furor that arose led to Grose’s resignation from the council.
Haig said, “Can you please explain how your judgment is better now than when you sent the watermelon email that caused your … (resignation) from the city council?
“As we go through life, we also do things, some things, we later regret,” Grose said. “That particular instant I received a cartoon, laughed and thought it was cute and forwarded it on to a couple of friends.”
“I didn’t understand at the time the impact that it would have. I understand that now, I have a great deal more sensitivity than I did at that particular point.
“I apologize to the woman that was offended by that,” Grose said. “I have apologized to my colleagues that were on the council at the time and also the community.”
“It’s time to move on, “he added. “There are some folks in the community that believe that’s not possible. I do.
“We’ll let the voters make that decision.”
Haig then asked the other candidates what they would have done if they made a similar gaffe.
“I think that a stronger apology probably would have worked in this case. It would have quashed it right there,” Murphy said. “The most important thing in any kind of disaster recovery is to get the information out, and get a strong decision, and doing that would have stopped the avalanche that followed.”
Stephens said, “I think everybody learns from other people’s mistakes, and you see it anywhere when you have people that are in public service or in politics."
“If you made the mistake, apologize quickly, and, if need be, do as Dean did at the time: step down.”
Devaney said she would have issued a "public apology."
"Everyone makes a mistake, whoever you are, where ever you are, whatever you do. We always make mistakes,” she said.
One of the earliest questions in the debate was whether the city should combine with another community, such as Rossmoor, Cypress or Seal Beach.
Grose said that while the city has and should continue to “combine services” like police dispatch, “each city is unique and likes its independence and likes its identity.”
“I don’t think there’s a need to change that,” he said.
Devaney seemed to favor a merger, noting it “would be a great idea if we have Seal Beach” because they are “a progressive city” and because “we have a lot of retail stores there.”
However, Devaney said, “It’s up to them.”
“It’s up to the other city if they want to. … But it will be a good, what can I say, a good one for us, to be one whole community.”
Stephens said that it is “very difficult to comprehend Seal Beach and Los Alamitos being together.”
“It’s an interesting concept, to be honest, I don’t see it happening within my lifetime,” Stephens said. “I do believe that there’s a great deal of joint services that are duplicated throughout a lot of cities.”
“I know that if we are able to blend some of the services or have joint services in some cases we're going to reduce the overall impact to the budget for our city and quite a few of the other cities around us,” he added.
Murphy said he was against it.
“I strongly disagree with the Supercity idea,” Murphy said. “I think the geography just does not work for the citizens of Los Alamitos.”
“We would be the hind end of Seal Beach and I think we’d be swallowed up and forgotten."
He added however that Rossmoor might be a good fit to join Los Alamitos, but Rossmoor residents should decide for themselves.
“I’d like to give Rossmoor every chance for self-determination,” Murphy said.
New digs for City Hall?
The candidates were also asked their opinion on a potential sale of the 13.5 acres where city hall currently sits and the possibility of mobbing the seat of city government elsewhere.
“I think that would give the city a lot of opportunities sales-tax wise,” Murphy said. “That would enable us to balance our budgets and definitely increase our total amount of money available for our use.”
City Hall “doesn’t need to be on a major thoroughfare,” Grose agreed,
“That piece of property currently doesn’t bring us any sales taxes and brings us only limited property tax because of the government buildings that are on it,” added Grose.
Devaney did not say specifically whether she favored a move of city hall, but said, “city hall is the face of our city.”
“Without the city hall, we’re nothing,” she said. “That’s what I believe.
“That’s the most important factor that we have to our city, it’s our name.”
She said however that a recent study showed a post office might be a good spot for it's new location.
“We really don’t need a huge city hall,” Stephens said. “We are 12,000 residents. You have to look at how much area is necessary.”
“Whoever the person was or the group (that) was interested in purchasing 13.5 acres, I think they would probably help us find a corner (for) a two-story building.”
The moderator also asked the candidates' for their opinion of Measure DD, a Los Alamitos ballot measure that, according to the ballot text, would lower the tax rate on telecommunications services from 6 percent to five percent.
Opponents, like the Orange County Register editorial board, said it would expand the tax “to cover virtually every form of electronic communication.
“I believe that the public was given bad information by the city attorney and bad information by the city manager,” Grose said. “It was discussed as ... an upgrade in language.”
Grose said, however, "it appears to be a property tax.”
“I supported the opportunity for the community to make that decision,” Grose said. “I will vote against it.”
“Boy, the city really blew this one,” Murphy said. “This started out as a small technical ordinance to change some language, to make our tax a little more inclusive and somehow we ended up with a 300-word monstrosity that taxes technology that hasn’t even been invented yet.”
He said the primary problem was that the city had to “rush the bill through” to make the election deadline.
“In the rushing, we just got it wrong, I look forward to voting no and hopefully be able to revisit (it).”
The issue could have a strong impact on the city’s finances, and the council opted to put it to voters to decide, said Stephens.
As for whether he would vote for it?
“I’m not going to answer that question just simply because when I go into the voting booth that’s my privacy in that voting booth," Stephens said.
“And I don’t want anyone to think I would say something that would cause them to vote in a different direction,” Stephens said. “Just please read it and see if it makes sense to you.”
“For now I say no,” Devaney said. “If they will rewrite it ... then I will say yes.”
--Do you support a traffic light at Katella and Enterprise?
All said no.
--Do you support a potential left turn pocket into Cypress 24-hour fitness?
Murphy, Devaney, Stephens: No. Grose: Yes.
--The biggest issues facing the council?
Devaney: Traffic and conflict on the city council.
Grose: Economics and sustaining revenue.
Murphy: Balanced budget and leadership on the council.
Stephens: Fiscal integrity. And reviewing unfunded liabilities for city retirement services.
-- Murphy and Stephens said they were loaning their own campaigns money so that they wouldn’t be beholden to anyone’s opinions.
--All candidates said that they want to amend the city code, so that contracts would again go to the lowest bidder.
After the controversial trash hauling contract wherein the city awarded the contract to the second highest bidder, a judge voided the contract, saying that they city ignored its code requiring it to award contracts to the lowest bidder.
The City Council than voted to change the code to not require the lowest bidder.
There are 15 days to the Nov. 6 election.