District One candidates split 2-2 on sales tax

District One Candidates Peter Amundson, Joe Kalmick, Scott Levitt, and John Waller at last week’s Candidate’s Forum. Photo courtesy Seal Beach Chamber of Commerce

District One City Council candidates Peter Amundson of Surfside and Joe Kalmick of Old Town came out in favor of a ballot measure to increase Seal Beach’s sales tax increase, while Old Town residents Scott Levitt and John Waller came out against the tax measure at last week’s forum for candidates. Neither of the candidates for Districts Three and Five, who are each running unopposed for re-election, participated in the forum. Supporters of Measure BB, the 1 cent sales tax increase, and Measure G, a $97 million bond issue for Los Alamitos Unified School District, argued unopposed for their respective measures. Two Democratic candidates for the state assembly ventured into Orange County while two Republican candidates did not attend the event. The forum was sponsored by the Seal Beach Chamber of Commerce and the Sun News and held at the Marina Community Center. What follows is a summary of the evening.

District One

City Council candidates were the last to appear on the Friday evening program. District One candidate Amundson, who is a resident of Surfside, described himself as a small business man, said the community needed to keep Seal Beach safe, small and solvent.

He pointed out he was a volunteer with Save Our Beach.

Joe Kalmick, said he had lived here more than 49 years and had a business for almost 39 years. He was also a former firefighter. He said he would be a good steward of the money raised if Measure BB, the sales tax proposal, passed and would scrutinize what to do if it doesn’t pass.

Scott Levitt, whose term as Chamber president ended in September, said he had been a resident since second grade. He described himself as heavily involved in the community and pointed out that he built a house about 13 years ago. He said he saw running for City Council as the next step in volunteering.

John Waller said he went to McGaugh Elementary. He said he loves numbers. He said he has been trading stocks for 15 years.

The first round of questions required the candidates to hold up yes or no signs.

Moderator Dianne Thompson asked, “Do you believe that there is room on Main Street for more alcohol permits?”

Amundson and Kalmick: No. Levitt and Waller: Yes.

“Do you believe that we have the correct executive leadership in city staff?”

Amundson: yes. Kalmick, Levitt and Waller: No.

“Do you believe that some money from the city should be budgeted to support and promote and market business to visitors in SB?”

Amundson: no. Kalmick, Levitt, and Waller: yes.

Then came open-ended questions, starting with what the candidates saw as the solution to homelessness.

Amundson said there was a need to get the homeless help outside of Seal Beach.

Kalmick said it was a larger problem than Seal Beach. He pointed out that Seal Beach has better weather, which brings the homeless here. He said more police were needed; he also said there would always be homeless.

Levitt said 25 percent of the homelessness in the United States is in California.

He said the solution for homelessness was difficult. If it wasn’t it would have been solved. He said Seal Beach had limited funds. He called for interaction between the cities and health rehabilitation.

Waller said that there were plenty of people that want to donate to help the homeless. He argued against putting the burden for solving the problem on the state.

Thompson asked the candidates what they would like to do with the pier

Kalmick said there was no reason why something shouldn’t be out there. He said the city needed to approach potential vendors in a more welcoming manner. He said he would like to see a restaurant at the end of the pier.

Levitt described it as the least controversial question of the night. He said most piers in California have restaurants. He suggested a casual restaurant would be the most appropriate. He said he thinks most people want a restaurant at the end of the pier.

Waller said one of the issues is the need for Seal Beach to have a Local Costal Plan, which he said speeds up building.

(Local Coastal Plans must be approved by the California Coastal Commission.)

From a sales tax perspective, he would prefer an upscale restaurant at the end of the pier.

Amundson said something was needed at the end of the pier, but proposed a “middle of the road” restaurant.

Amundson also said the city needed a Local Coastal Plan.

(All meetings of the Ad Hoc General Plan and Local Coastal Program Citizens Advisory Committee were canceled “until further notice” in 2014.)

Thompson asked the candidates for their long-term solutions for the city’s deficit.

Levitt said he had never seen an increase in taxes eliminate a problem. He preferred to look at starting salaries for city employees.

Levitt, an attorney, called for separating the city’s legal advice from its litigation.

(The law firm currently providing Seal Beach with city attorney services provides both legal advice to the Seal Beach government and represents the city in lawsuits.)

Waller said he has looked at the average compensation of Seal Beach employees, which he put at $146,000 a year.

He said Seal Beach’s tax revenues had quadrupled in the last 14 years, yet the city was still in a deficit. He suggested looking at salaries and pensions.

Waller also expressed concern about the cost of litigation. He said half the time the cost of litigation was more than the city won.

He also said some sales tax revenues would be going to Amazon.

Amundson said the city of Seal Beach was currently $80,000 “in the hole.”

(After the meeting, Amundson said he got that figure from the city’s finance director.)

Amundson said the city needed to build up business. Amundson argued in favor of Measure BB, saying the money would stay here in Seal Beach. He said the city was already making cuts.

Kalmick said he wouldn’t necessarily disagree with the other three, though he came out in favor of the sales tax. He said the city can’t re-negotiate with current employees.

He said if Measure BB doesn’t pass, Seal Beach won’t have enough money to pay for police. He pointed out the city still needed $2 million to pay for a pool.

Measure BB

Jim Brady spoke in favor of Measure BB, the city-sponsored ballot measure to increase the local sales tax by 1 cent. Moderator Dianne Thompson said no opponents had been identified.

Brady said was against taxes in the past. He said the Seal Beach Police Department was woefully understaffed because of a lack of funds. He described the city as broke.

He said there were two types of taxes—parcel taxes and sales taxes. With a sales tax, 2 million plus visitors would help pay for police services. “They have been getting a free ride for years,” he said.

Thompson asked what he would do if in one year the tax proved to be insufficient.

Brady said he didn’t think that would happen.

Thompson asked, “Do you see any point in time in which the sales tax increase could be eliminated, reduced, or “sunset” ended and how would you make that happen?”

Brady said it wasn’t up to him.

Later, Brady said that if you attended the budget meetings, you would have seen the city’s efforts to save money.

“They not only cut the meat off the bone, they cut into the bone,” he said.

He did not believe the city’s financial woes were caused by mismanagement. “If it was, Dr. Robert Goldberg would have found it.”

The audience laughed.

Brady said there would be a formal audit of the monies raised by the tax.

He pointed out that the council recently voted unanimously to spend the money on police, but conceded that the resolution was not binding.

He said if the council members misspent that money, the public needed to hold them accountable.

Measure G

Dr. Sherry Kropp, superintendent of the Los Alamitos Unified School District, argued the case for a $97 million bond issue to finance new buildings at Los Alamitos High.

(Seal Beach and Rossmoor are part of LAUSD. Los Al High is the only public high school in the vicinity of the three communities.)

Kropp said four of LAUSD’s schools in the top four in the state, but LAUSD was the lowest funded district n the state. She conceded that nobody likes to pay taxes.

She said 90 percent of those surveyed said they moved to this area for our schools.

Thompson asked why the bond measure was needed now.

“We’re in a serious place,” Kropp said. She said that the district was reaching a critical need. She said the district had to shut down the whole school site to do any work.

Thompson asked what the impact would be if Measure G does not pass.

Kropp said the district would not be able to raise or save $97 million. She said the Los Alamitos High School Auditorim would be smaller.

She said the district would have to rotate teachers more than they do now.

Kropp later said the first priority would be the school’s infrastructure. She said the next priority would be to build a multi-story building.


State seats

Tom Umberg, the 34th State Senate District candidate, opened by saying as a former member of the military, the military was biased in thinking that smarter and better people are leaders.

He said that his wife outranked him. Josh Lowenthal, the 72nd District candidate, said of his family that they sleep in the harbor but live in Seal Beach. Both candidates were Democrats.

Republicans Janet Nguyen and Tyler Diep were not present, though placards on the table at the Marina Community Center indicated they had been invited.

The major difference of opinion between Umberg and Lowenthal, who aren’t competing for the same office, came when Dr. Robert Goldberg asked them for their positions on the high-speed rail (also known as the “bullet train”) project.

Lowenthal opposes the project. “I think it was doomed from the start,” he said.

Umberg said high speed rail is something that California deserves.

The moderator asked how they would fund beach sand replenishment for all the cities, not just Surfside.

Lowenthal said the funding comes from the state.

He criticized Travis Allen, who represents District 72 in the assembly. Lowenthal said he would sponsor legislation on the issue.

“So, what he said,” Umberg quipped, provoking laughter from the audience.

Umberg elaborated, saying that in California, a Democrat has a seat at the table, apparently referring to his party’s dominant position in state government.