For the first time in nearly a decade, Torrance voters will elect a new mayor.
Mayor Pat Fury, who has been in the top position since 2014, has been signed as the leader of the city of 147,000.
But two candidates to succeed Fury during the June 7 statewide primary are not political newcomers: current District 2 councilman George Chen and Cliff Numark, who served on the council from 2008 to 2013, before splitting Torrance into districts. had gone.
Numark received $47,000 in contributions during the previous reporting period, which ended April 23, according to the most recent campaign finance documents, and had $102,000 in cash on hand.
Meanwhile, the chain raised $25,000 during the same period and had $79,000 in cash on hand.
The next elected mayor faces myriad challenges, including an estimated budget deficit of more than 12.5 million; Controversy over police officers accused of exchanging racist and homophobic messages; Calling for an independent Police Monitoring Commission; and the ongoing homelessness crisis.
City finances, public safety and homelessness were, in fact, the top three issues facing Torrance, according to both candidates,
However, they differ in their proposed solutions for each.
The city’s retail and tourism industries faltered during the pandemic – including its crown jewel, the Del Amo Fashion Center, and unemployment rose from 3.3% to 16.5%.
The city’s fiscal year 2021–22 general fund operating budget was adopted with a structural deficit of $16.8 million. Torrance balanced the budget required by state law with $12 million from the American Rescue Plan Act and about $4.8 million in planned salary savings from vacant positions.
But city workers project a recurring structural deficit of $12.5 million to $14.1 million each fiscal year through 2030-31.
The city’s poor financial situation – which Torrance’s current officials will try to correct by asking voters to approve a sales tax increase this election – prompted each to run for mayor, the candidates said.
Chen, a 30-year-old resident and a retired aerospace engineer, said the council should consider the city’s “needs” versus “wants.”
Those — such as the Rose Parade Float ($127,000) and annual contributions to the Torrance Cultural Arts Association ($74,400) — should be scrutinized and possibly cut, he said.
The city may also consider a restructuring, Chen said, reducing the number of mid-level supervisors.
“There may be some staff cuts,” Chen said, “and maybe those who retired and we don’t need to replace them.”
Chen said his overall fiscal outlook would see department heads come up with ideas for cost-cutting and revenue growth in their regions.
Current officials have already said that without an increase in sales tax, the city may face a 5% cut in each department.
But handing cost-cutting and revenue growth to department heads, Chen said, would mean those managers would have some skin in the game.
“It’s not just the cuts that we need to make,” Chen said. “We have to work on the top line. I want to pay people to think, challenge them, and work hard for our residents.”
Numark, a senior vice president/head of marketing who moved to Torrance 23 years ago, said he has a 90-day plan to address the city’s financial woes. The plan calls for the mayor and city council to suspend convalescence and eliminate city paid dinners before council meetings.
Newmark’s plan would also create a zero-based budget, requiring the city to develop a new spending plan from scratch each year, as opposed to basing the budget on a number of prior years.
According to a report by the California State Auditor, Torrance ranks fourth among the cities facing the most serious financial risks, behind Compton, San Gabriel and Blythe.
The city’s depleted general fund reserves, along with pension obligations and revenue projections, featured prominently in that audit. During the pandemic, the city lost approximately $15 million in general fund revenue, according to a report from the city manager’s office. The stock was almost exhausted.
The upcoming ballot measure is to increase reserves. The measure will raise the SST rate by one and a half percent to 10%, generating approximately $18 million annually.
Torrance voters rejected a similar measure in 2020, though one would have increased the sales tax from 9.5% to 10.25%.
Chen, who voted against levying the measurement SST on the ballot paper, said increasing the sales tax is a flawed solution.
He compared the city to a real estate agent who wants to make more money. The simple solution, Chen said, would be to raise a commission for the agent. But this will leave the customer dissatisfied.
“If a real estate agent needs to make more money, a real estate agent needs to sell more homes,” Chen said. “So in the same way, the city of Torrance needs to think and work harder to make more sales.”
To bring more people and businesses into the city – especially foreign companies – Chen suggested Los Angeles hosting the International Youth Summer Games leading up to the 2028 Summer Olympics and building more sister city ties.
However, Numark said Torrance needed an additional revenue stream from the increased sales tax.
“If the SST doesn’t pass,” Numark said, “given that city finances are in any way shape or form today, the city is going to have very strange choices.”
If the city needs to cut the budget further, public safety will be one of the top areas facing cuts, according to literature Torrance has sent residents.
The future of the budget of the police and fire department has not been decided yet. But those budgets – which make up 62% of the city’s General Fund expenses, or about $8 million – could see cuts during this month’s budget hearings.
Chen said he wasn’t happy about the city’s mailers, saying that with the loss of essential services like policing and fires, more sales tax is needed. The city, he said, used a “scary strategy” to market the tax.
The councilor said, for him the safety of the public is always his number 1 priority.
“Just because I’m against sales tax hikes,” Chen said, “doesn’t mean I’m against public safety.”
A “policing of the 21st century” model is needed, Chen said, where the department relies more heavily on modern technology.
Chen said that to reduce the number of personnel and vehicles called into an area, which could potentially reduce overtime costs, police could designate “hot spots” for live video camera surveillance throughout the city. .
That way, he said, the dispatch would be able to better measure the severity of the 911 call.
Numark also stated that he placed a high value on public safety and established a “culture of cost reduction”.
“We need to get serious about examining how every dollar in the city is spent,” Numark said,
He said the police department needs a comprehensive assessment on its core procedures and use of technology.
But finances and efficiency are not the only challenges facing the police department. It is also facing an ongoing controversy over the conduct of the police in previous years.
The police force has been under investigation since the 2018 murder of Christopher DeAndre Michel. The department also faced allegations late last year that 15 Torrance officers were involved in sending homophobic and sexist text messages.
Although two officers who were accused of painting the swastika on the victim’s car were fired from the department, 13 others are being investigated by California Attorney General Rob Bonta. These officers are on paid administrative leave.
These recent scandals, both candidates said, shape policies at the Torrance Police Department and affect the community’s view of public safety.
But the candidates differed as to how they would enhance the prestige of the department.
Chen described the allegations against police as worrying, but cautioned officers have a right to due process, which is in the works.
“The hard part is,” Chen said, “that people try to connect the dots (of homophobic/racial slurs) with the DeAndre Michel case.”
The case, in which officers fatally shot Michelle, a black man, had her day in court, Chen said — although Black Lives Matter continued to protest at council meetings long after that — and people Just need to be patient and let the proper process take its course on the other.
Numark, however, said such allegations of misconduct need to be dealt with sternly.
“We need to clearly and deliberately state that these behaviors are unacceptable,” Numark said, emphasizing city leaders need to do so “at the moment”.
He commended the recently appointed police chief, Jeremiah Hart, for his efforts to directly address the issues.
“I think it’s pretty clear that there is an increase in hate crime in our communities,” Numark said. We need to take a very strict stand against this.
Numark and Chen both said they were against an independent oversight commission, something Black Lives Matter activists have rallied to at nearly every city council meeting since Mitchell’s death.
Both the candidates said that the various internal committees that are already in place are best left for police oversight.
The 2020 Los Angeles County homeless number of people without permanent shelter in Torrance increased by 42%, with a count of 332.
Last year’s count was canceled due to the coronavirus pandemic and data from the January survey will not be available until the end of this year. But homeless officials have said they hope the pandemic has worsened an already bleak crisis across the country.
In Torrance, the 40-unit tiny-house complex in the Civic Center parking lot is to be completed in June.
But it will provide only a fraction of what is needed to provide temporary accommodation.
If elected, Numark said, he would first assess whether this is the right place for pallet shelters.
“I’m not wild about the location, and it’s considered temporary,” Numark said, adding the location may be too close to neighboring homes.
With the shelter’s approval, however, also came an amendment to the city’s anti-camping ordinance, which allows police to cite individuals sleeping or camping on public property. The police may start enforcing the ordinance from June 26, when the project is expected to be completed.
For Chen, they are an important first step in addressing homelessness in Torrance, he said.
Anti-camping enforcement, Chen said, would be left to the police, who would issue a citation before making an arrest. That said, there are always people who will refuse services.
“The way we understand the homeless community,” Chen said, “they don’t like to be harassed or harassed by law enforcement.”
So, eventually, anti-camp enforcement will act as a deterrent and people will leave, he said.
But Numark said there is a need for outreach to tackle homelessness, which can be done by expanding volunteer services. In the same way people voluntarily serve food in food banks, he said, they can – with proper training – do the same to help the homeless.
Numark said there should also be a lot of conversation, because the reasons for someone being homeless are complicated.
“There are issues related to housing insecurity,” Numark said. “But there are also mental illness and substance abuse and other issues.”
Ultimately, Numark said, he wants to see homelessness being handled at the county level, as cities lack access to many resources such as social workers and mental health specialists.
“Torrance is not an island,” Numark said, “and it needs to work closely with the county and other cities to try to address this issue.”
Both mayoral candidates supported the police enacting an anti-camp ordinance.
But Numark also said that officials need to be proactive in working with social workers and showing people that there are better solutions than just being on the road.