City Council candidates talk local health department, propositions affecting businesses

SCV Chamber of Commerce hosts forum with City Council candidates from top left: Jason Gibbs, Chamber moderator Peter Warda, Selina Thomas, Cameron Smyth, Kelvin Driscoll, TimBen Boydston and Chris Werthe (not pictured).
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Six of the nine Santa Clarita City Council candidates running to fill two seats open this November discussed Wednesday their positions on topics such as the idea of a city-run health department, propositions affecting businesses and the city’s response to a Black lives matter protest. 

The discussion was hosted by the Santa Clarita Valley Chamber of Commerce, which heard from candidates Cameron Smyth, incumbent and current mayor; Selina Thomas, owner of a locally based HR consulting business; Kelvin Driscoll, a program director for the L.A. County Department of Public Social Services; and returning candidates Jason Gibbs, TimBen Boydston and Christopher Werthe.   

COVID-19 and a local health department

All candidates voiced support for reopening the local economy and emphasized that a safe and responsible approach is how businesses will be able to remain open. 

Thomas, said she would like to lead a business coalition that can speak to the exact needs of businesses because “with respect to their revenue needs, how their employees have been affected and how do we re-engage them.” 

Similarly, it’s vital for the government to speak directly to businesses in order to “really recognize the impacts,” Smyth said, highlighting the struggles of hair salon owners he has learned in meeting with them. 

Driscoll said a safe reopening could include increased local testing and a city-sponsored contact tracing program “because we know that what is interconnected to our small businesses doing well is consumer confidence. Yes, we know what our numbers are now but that is under lockdown. We need to make sure that our numbers stay low and that we’re fully operating.” 

An all-hands-on-deck approach is needed in Santa Clarita to avoid another spike, according to Werthe, who said the city must work with businesses and the community to communicate the need for mass compliance of the safety protocols. 

Gibbs and Boydston indicated that local control, rather than using the county’s guidelines, will help in reopening in Santa Clarita. For example, they said, the closure of Mountasia Family Fun Center could have been shortened if given the chance to practice the same measures other businesses in operation have practiced. 

Local control appeared to be the main driver in most of the candidates’ support for a city-run health department, an idea the City Council agreed Tuesday to formally look into at an upcoming meeting. Werthe, however, was the lone opponent, saying such a department would be too costly. Boydston, who did not indicate a direct position, said exploring the idea could lead to an interim step. 

Breakdown of ballot measure positions

The candidates were also asked for their positions on Proposition 15, which would raise property taxes on large businesses and invest the revenue into increasing school funding, and Proposition 22, a move that would label app-based transportation and delivery drivers as independent contractors but offer some employee-like benefits. 

Prop. 15: Most candidates said they do not support the measure because it would further affect small businesses, while Werthe said the proposal would provide schools with much-needed funding. 

Prop. 22: Four candidates said they supported the proposal because it helps offer clarity following the passage of Assembly Bill 5. Werthe and Driscoll said this proposal is not the solution to AB 5. 

Response to BLM protest

Candidates were asked if they agreed with the city’s efforts to protect local businesses during the June 4 Black lives matter protest, which began as a rumor and concluded in a peaceful demonstration by about 800 people with a large police presence that included the National Guard.

The responses were split: Boydston and Gibbs said it was the right call in preparing for any potential rioting and looting. Smyth said it was a difficult decision but “one so far that has shown to be the right one.” 

Werthe said the response was “overblown and overreacted” to a sensitive topic. 

Thomas said a “real consensus” about how to handle similar instances before rather than during a crisis, such as the pandemic, is vital. Driscoll said council members have to respond with a balanced approach in protecting businesses and protesters alike. 

To help readers get to know the City Council candidates and their positions on local issues, The Signal is hosting a livestreamed candidates forum starting 6 p.m. Monday on The Signal’s Facebook page. The video will also be posted for free public viewing afterward on signalscv.com. All nine candidates have indicated they plan to participate.

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