If you drive north of it, you hit Long Beach. If you drive south of it, you hit Long Beach. In fact, drive any direction from Signal Hill, and you will eventually hit…Long Beach.
Most Los Angeles County residents are not too familiar with the City of Signal Hill and its location entirely contained within the outer boundaries of the much bigger City of Long Beach. While Long Beach has over 500,000 residents, Signal Hill’s population is roughly 11,500. It’s a small town within a big city.
The issues facing this small town, however, are all too familiar and very similar to those seen across the many cities of Los Angeles County. Issues that have led to four challenger candidates running to unseat one or more of the three incumbent candidates for the Signal Hill City Council this March. Incumbents Ellen Ward, Ed Wilson and Michael Noll have all served at least 12 years on City Council together. Vice Mayor Noll has already served five consecutive terms totaling 20 years. The four challenger candidates are Robert Mendoza, Lori Woods, Elizabeth Wise and Nancy Sciortino, one of the original founders of Signal Hill Community First, a citizens activism group that has openly challenged the city council on key issues and recently circulated a petition titled the “Right to Know and Vote”, which would hold the city council accountable and liable for lack of transparencies that should have been enforced under California’s Brown Act.
Sciortino has been a community activist and frequent attendee of city council meetings, witnessing firsthand much of the decision-making of the entrenched city council members, some of whom have boasted about its ability to raise property taxes and fees despite the protections of Proposition 13.
“The Right to Know and Vote petition (that) my neighborhood group circulated … received over 1,000 signatures of which 871 have been certified legitimate from Norwalk's records dept. The City made an amendment to our City Charter where they can raise our property taxes and access us fees without us voting on it. We want that right back!”
That number seems low until you look at the voter participation for Signal Hill. In 2011, fewer than 800 Signal Hill residents voted. The two incumbents were re-elected with only 660 votes and 569 votes, respectively. In 2009, the three incumbents currently running for re-election only needed 563 (Noll), 514 (Ward) and 478 votes (Wilson) to secure their re-election. Suddenly, 871 certified signers of a petition that can best be categorized as “anti-incumbent” carries significant weight, and petition signers tend to be active voters; if not before signing a petition, definitely afterwards!
This is likely why all three incumbents appeared at the candidate forum sponsored by Signal Hill Community First, along with the four challengers. Indeed, the only advantage that the three incumbents may have is the number of challengers exceeding the number of open seats, and the lack of endorsement by the citizens advocacy group. This requires challenger candidates like Sciortino to outperform both the incumbent candidates and at least one of their own. The incumbents appear content with running together as a slate for those happy with the status quo in Signal Hill.
“We have succeeded where other cities have failed,” Vice Mayor Noll stated during the forum last Tuesday. “Signal Hill has lived within its means.”
Incumbent councilmember Wilson, agreed: “… we are doing pretty well and viewed as one of the premier cities in LA County.
Sciortino points out that over $1.5 Million in legal fees is being spent for only 11,400 residents, while Long Beach pays a fifth of that amount for 500,000 residents, as well as building a $10 Million new Library when the state has demanded that the city pay back the $8Million it loaned toward the project.
During last Tuesday’s city council candidate forum, Sciortino issued a warning to residents: “These are difficult times for our city and our residents, and I want to get our city back on a solid economic footing, and we must start by changing the political status quo and the politicians in City Hall. I believe the core function of local government is to serve the residents, not the other way around.”
The incumbents have repeatedly won re-election in past years with only token opposition from one challenger or another. This year’s election may prove more difficult as a solid group of challengers pointing out the same issues and concerns have already forced the incumbents to attend events and address issues that had been easy to ignore in previous elections.
With two more forums to go, this year’s election promises to at least give the residents of Signal Hill a genuine opportunity to get straight answers from its elected leadership or let them run the risk of falling behind a united front of 871 petition-signing voters who want change.
As one of the leaders in securing those signatures, Sciortino can already feel the impact of the process.
“The neighborhood group I am actively involved with, Signal Hill Community First, has certainly awakened the Residents to some pretty frightening issues going on in the City that had the 3 incumbents trying to spin and defend their past 4 year terms.”, stated Sciortino.
The next forum is scheduled for Monday, February 4, 2013, hosted by Concerned Citizens of Signal Hill. It takes place at the Signal Hill City Hall Council Chamber, 2175 Cherry Avenue from 6:30 p.m. - 9:00 p.m. The final forum will be hosted by the Signal Hill Chamber of Commerce on Monday, February 25, 2013 at the Signal Hill Police Department, 2745 Walnut Avenue from 6:30 p.m. - 9:00 p.m.
The election is scheduled for March 5th. Absentee ballots throughout Los Angeles County are due to go out on or about February 5th.