Local frustrations reached a boiling point when La Verne residents filled the community center last Thursday night to meet the candidates running for city government positions this election season.
The most controversial issue of the night was the fire department. The community expressed anger and frustration over a lawsuit against the city that ended in a $5.5 million settlement.
The forum was led by San Bernardino Superior Court judge Stan Reichert and included all 10 candidates running for election.
On the ballot for mayor are current mayor Don Kendrick, city councilman and small business owner Tim Hepburn and filmmaker Zach Gibson.
Running for a position on the city council are Rick Crosby, Keny Chang, Wally Emory, Wendy Lau, Jeremy Milici, Rich Gill and Mario Esqueda.
During the forum, Kendrick was questioned about the suit, which occurred during his time in office.
“It certainly wasn’t my fault,” he said. “And I certainly did not turn my head away in trying to address this issue.”
The fire department issue has risen to the top of the do-list for many of the other candidates.
Hepburn said, should he win the election, the first issue he would like to resolve is the on-going conflict between the fire department and the city.
“I want to immediately work on restaffing,” Hepburn said. “Immediately get the group together, open discussion and resolve the issues that have been going on for the last three-and-a-half years with the firefighters and the administration.”
Not only has the fire department caused trouble for the city as a whole, but the issues involving Sierra La Verne and mobile parks along with slanderous rumors being spread about candidates to residents has made this election a controversial one.
It is also why Gibson, a newcomer to the local political scene, said he wants to focus on rebuilding relationships within the community.
“It seems right now the biggest struggle we’re having is between the citizens trusting the government because of what happened with the firefighters,” Gibson said. “It comes down to how can we build the trust, I think it’s a long process but I think it’s one that just starts with a phone call.”
Another candidate who hopes to repair the frayed relationships in the city is Lau, a risk manager and attorney who is also a member of the University of La Verne board of trustees.
“If we’re going to represent the people and we’re going to lead this city into a better place, then we can’t be so busy worrying about if we trust each other to move forward,” Lau said.
Lau is not only one of seven candidates running for a city council chair, but she is the only woman running in the entire election – a statistic she hopes she can help change for the future.
“It makes me a little sad because all too often I’ve been the first or the only one in a boardroom, in a meeting, you know, sitting at the table for planning commission, whatever that might be,” Lau said. “I will be damned if I am the last and the only one much longer.”
Another underdog candidate is 21-year-old Milici.
He is the youngest of the candidates, but his age and lack of experience when compared to his older running mates are not holding him back in the race.
“I always get the ‘wow are you 15?’ because I look young for 21. But you know, I just thought why not get involved and start early,” Milici said. “I’ve seen that there needs to be changes made and I want to improve this community in any way I can.”
The last day to vote is March 3. Voting centers will be open that day from 7 a.m. until 8 p.m.
For more information, visit cityoflaverne.org or call 909-596-8726.
Brianna Estrada can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.