With only 11,000 residents, Sierra Madre may be a small town that is perhaps best known as the location of the first “Invasion of the Body Snatchers” movie, but that doesn’t mean troubles facing other Southland cities have passed it by.
State budget cuts to the tune of $5 million in four years have forced city leaders to find new ways to fund an array of basic city services, among them preserving the size of the city police force and upkeep of the volunteer fire department, library and youth center.
Perhaps the biggest concern on people’s minds, however, is what to do about developers looking to build new housing in this preservation-friendly town so close to Los Angeles.
On Tuesday, residents will make a referendum on this cities future when they decide who among seven candidates will fill three open City Council seats.
Sierra Madre Mayor Pro Tem Tanja Torres is the race’s only incumbent in a field of academics, attorneys and other professionals.
The race, at a glance —
Roger Keith is a college professor, former chairman of the city’s Parks and Recreation Commission and once served as chief of the volunteer fire department.
On what motivated his campaign: “I have the time to commit to serve the residents of the city. Being a lifelong resident of the city of Sierra Madre, I believe that I have the background, life experiences and desire to serve our citizens.”
Biggest issues: “Finding solutions to future funding of all city services; maintain local control through an approved downtown specific plan; control of future development of our hillsides through a revised hillside management zoning ordinance; and maintaining our unique quality of life while going through change. New revenues must be created to maintain our full-service city.”
Kurt Zimmerman is a federal prosecutor and a lifelong resident of Sierra Madre.
Campaign motivation and issues: “As a federal prosecutor, I believe that our safety is paramount and, if elected, will fight to save our local Police Department and Fire Department. As a preservationist, I favor slow growth and will vigorously oppose the Downtown Specific Plan and hillside development. As a father, I will work to keep our library and youth activity center open, and as the son of retired parents living here, I am sensitive to the needs of our seniors and will address their issues. As a concerned taxpayer, I will ensure a fiscal accountability to prevent an increase in property taxes.”
Joseph Mosca is an attorney and member of a Los Angeles neighborhood council land use committee member
Campaign motivation/issues: “I propose to solve the challenge of over-development by working closely with preservation groups to use preservation funds to purchase any open spaces that become available in our community to ensure that the open spaces will stay open and be held for the benefit of all the community. I also propose to change our zoning laws so that they represent our vision for our community and that they protect our vision to the fullest extent of the law. I do not want our community altered by high-density development projects or large buildings that do not fit into the fabric of our community.
“The fiscal challenges that we currently face are real. … In the short term, they can be met with a fair and equitable revenue enhancement measure and with sound spending, which means we need to locate and eliminate all waste through audits. In the long term, we can establish a reserve fund jus for capital purchases and capital improvements, creatively increasing our sales tax base without detracting from the small town atmosphere, and pursuing more vigorously grant funds from the state and federal government for improvement of our roads, library, water infrastructure, schools and public safety equipment.”
Ron Brandley is owner of the Leonora Moss florist and gift shop, a member and former chair of the Planning Commission and a past president of the local Chamber of Commerce and the Wisteria Festival.
Campaign motivation/issues: “The Downtown Specific Plan and EIR will be coming before the planning commission for public hearing and then on to the city council for more public hearings. There is another housing development coming and Hill Side Management Zone issues. There will be Mills Act requests, but the continuing problem will be financial. There are no easy solutions and not everyone will agree on any particular solution.”
Donald Watts is an architect, former Peace Corps volunteer and a 25-year resident of Sierra Madre.
Campaign motivation/issues: “Having seen the preliminary EIR for the downtown, I have come to the conclusion the concentrated density and greater building heights will forever change the quality and character of the town, and once implemented, it will not be possible to change it back. The current City Council is working to push the plan through, leading eventually to a quick vote, without the opportunity of the citizens to vote for or against in a referendum. We all have a choice, either to speak out against this plan or simply allow those who believe in this plan to allow it. Without immediate public pressure, we will lose our lifestyle to crowding, traffic, noise, traffic signals and overused facilities. This was tried by Yorba Linda and an initiative to stop it by the city’s citizens was necessary. This big a plan for such a small town should be put on a ballot, or we may have to organize an initiative as well.”
Bill Tice is a retired gardener who has lived in Sierra Madre more than 30 years.
Campaign motivation/issues: “My main purpose is to have the ambulance service upgraded to treat people in the ambulance for stroke, diabetes and coma because we don’t have that now, and those minutes are precious. Right now, even for stroke you have to wait up to four hours normally at the hospital, and that causes big problems down the line. The way to propose paying for it is to turn City Hall into a training college where employees will train people who pay to learn office work. Right now, we have an entry-level City Hall that does a good job but isn’t too busy, so they can do it, and if we don’t the county will order us to pick up the costs later. I also want to stop developers from coming in and developing the Heplin property, 120 acres that has been sold to business interests. We’ve had industrial leakage into our water supply before and had to buy water from Arcadia, so we need to be careful about what businesses can operate here.”
Incumbent Councilwoman Tonja Torres is an attorney.
Campaign motivation/issues: “I ran for City Council because of my deep love for Sierra Madre, along with my desire to preserve and protect the small-town village character that defines it. The values that defined my first campaign motivated me to run for re-election. Working with other government branches, we’ve secured county, state and federal funds for extensive improvements to our water system, completion of the new Youth Activity Center, and construction of the senior housing project.
“The biggest issue facing Sierra Madre relates to our ability to maintain a sustainable general fund budget in the face of continually rising costs and state takeaways. At the same time, we need to continue in our efforts to correct decades of deferred maintenance.
It is also essential that we work together to preserve and enhance our small-town village character. When property in the downtown began to change ownership, it was apparent that current development standards would not guarantee that potential new uses or development would be in keeping with the character of our city.”