Gardena City Council candidates divided over uncertain financial future
Eight candidates angling for two seats on the Gardena City Council won’t have incumbents to worry about in the March 7 election — both decided to give up their seats to instead bid for a run for a rare vacant mayoral opening.
The winners, who will replace council members Tasha Cerda and Terrence Terauchi, will have to hit the ground running when the dust settles from the most pivotal city election in years.
Their first priority will be to hire a new city manager. Soon after, they will have to decide how to pay for needed Civic Center upgrades. The city’s police station is fast becoming obsolete. Its detectives are housed in trailers in the parking lot, and its jail doesn’t meet state standards.
These issues already are creating controversy and divisions in an election overshadowed by last year’s conviction of former Mayor Paul Tanaka. He is serving a five-year prison sentence for obstructing an FBI investigation into the Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department when he worked as undersheriff.
In the race for mayor, Cerda and Terauchi face two of their council colleagues, two former council members and a seventh candidate.
None of the eight contenders for the City Council seats have served in elective office before. They include local business owners Art Kaskanian and Wanda Love; pastor and retired Gardena police Lt. Rodney Tanaka; teacher Paulette Francis; Shannon Lawrence, an adviser to former Los Angeles Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa; and first-time candidates Cammie Le, Nolan Jamora and Charity Chandler-Cole.
A CITY DIVIDED
City Manager Mitch Lansdell is about to retire after a nearly 20-year stint at the helm of City Hall. He is widely praised for steering the city away from bankruptcy and buoying its credit rating. Lansdell worked closely with Paul Tanaka during his 11 years as mayor to manage the city’s books and build up a $21 million reserve savings account for emergencies.
Before the former mayor stepped down from his seat in June, he and Lansdell presented a plan for the city’s immediate future that was adopted by the City Council. It included making Police Chief Ed Medrano the new city manager and financing a new police station with $15 million from the city’s savings account.
The proposed Civic Center renovation would reduce that balance to about $6 million. The plan includes a new senior center, built with set-aside funds totalling about $5 million. Critics oppose the idea of spending down reserves for the police station without a plan to replace the money.
The city is still recovering from big cutbacks it enacted during the recession to keep its spending in line with its revenues. Its many departments were consolidated into a few “super-departments” to save on staffing costs. In addition to being police chief, Medrano was made manager of the Community Development and Public Works departments