The topics of public safety, infrastructure and homelessness dominated the conversation Wednesday evening during The Signal’s 2022 City Council Candidate Forum.
On stage at the Grace Baptist Church, the nine candidates running to take the three available seats sparred with one another, with the challengers highlighting what they would do should they be elected and the three incumbents arguing what they would continue to do should they hold their seats.
In the form of one-minute answers, the candidates took turns responding to a series of questions regarding life in the Santa Clarita Valley.
A major topic for discussion during the debate was that of local law enforcement and drug use, with many of the candidates split on how the city should proceed forward.
Challenger Kody Amour and incumbent Marsha McLean were split on the idea of “defunding the police,” or the process of allocating less resources to local law enforcement in lieu of paying for more social workers and programs to crime.
“Sometimes, you hear about defunding the police,” said McLean. “Absolutely not. We need to add additional deputies, we need to spend more money on law enforcement because that’s what we all care about.”
Amour argued that the city could save money by creating its own police force, with funds being diverted to assist in other areas and social programs — such as combatting homelessness, a group he says he belongs to.
Denise Lite, the leading fundraiser thus far in the campaign, bringing in approximately $70,000 in donations, said a way to assist with the local homeless issue — and avoid requiring residents to pay more money to assist in the crisis — would be to improve the city’s advocacy on receiving more Measure H funding.
“I have a very soft heart for the homeless in our community. All of you sitting here in the last four years have paid $26.5 million in Measure H funds to support the homeless and our city has only received $675,000 back,” said Lite. “Our advocacy is not strong when it comes to getting our Measure H funds back into this community for the betterment of our homeless population.”
Selina Thomas, a now two-time challenger who ran in 2020 for one of the two available seats that year, stated that she would create a fentanyl task force in the interest of public safety, allowing medical experts and social workers to come together to solve the local issue.
“We are in a crisis. We have the unfortunate distinction of having the highest number of fentanyl deaths in the county,” said Thomas. “My three daughters are smack in the middle of the high-risk group, so we absolutely need to decrease (the number of fentanyl deaths) and not have that distinction of being the highest in the county.”
On one thing that he would promise to bring to the city should he be elected, Jeffrey Malick promised to follow a state of New York 2020 prohibition, outlawing the display of hate symbols — such as denoting white supremacy and Nazi ideology — in public buildings and in public grounds.
Challenger Douglas Fraser argued that the city needs to improve its accountability to the citizenry, saying that he would work to create a better and more transparent line of communication between residents and their local government.
All the candidates seemed to agree that the cost of living in California was hurting local residents, but they differed on how to go about solving the issue. While McLean would steer toward limiting additional taxes on community members, Amour and Malick agreed that a vacancy tax — charging landlords for having empty or uninhabited properties — could generate needed revenue for the city while also bringing down housing prices.
“Instead of building these inordinately expensive homes, I would start shifting or building affordable housing for our youth, so we don’t get a brain drain after they graduate high school,” said challenger David Barlavi, adding that the homes could also be used by low-income seniors living on Social Security. He later added: “Stop the development of expensive homes entirely and focus on affordable housing.”
Incumbent Bill Miranda said that he wanted to see an increase in the amount of high-paying jobs locally, and continue to maintain Santa Clarita as a “great place to raise a family.”
“We are one of the most important cities in America,” said Miranda. “National polls have us as one of the safest and best places to live in the entire country. In almost six years on the council, I have helped to make it that way… If we all work together, we will have an even better Santa Clarita.”
“I think the thing that’s going to keep our city stable is (economic development), keeping good jobs here, and continuing to allow our community and our citizens to do better in the workforce,” said Mayor Laurene Weste. “Then they can afford the things they want, keep them healthy and safe and allow our community to flourish in the way that it has.”
The Santa Clarita City Council election is set to take place on the same day as the 2022 General Election, Nov. 8.
The City Council candidate forum can be viewed online on The Signal’s Facebook page at bit.ly/3UqVRWp. The Signal’s 2022 school candidate forum is set to take place on Oct. 12 at Grace Baptist Church. The William S. Hart Union High School District candidate debate will go from 6:30 to 7:30 p.m. and the meet and greet with all K-12 school district candidates will begin immediately after.