Vincent M. Franco
Candidates for the La Verne City Council participated in a town hall debate on May 12 at the La Verne Community Center on D Street. This event marked the first debate since the city of La Verne took on a five-district election system with a rotating mayor, in response to the state’s new redistricting law to increase representation in cities. Election day is June 7.
The candidates for District One are Steven Johnson, a former city council member who is currently an insurance broker, and Muir Davis, a senior projects manager for the City of La Verne. District Three candidates are Meshal “Kash” Kashifalghita, an Army reserves major and police officer; and Joseph Gabaldon, who is currently a CEO for a coding curriculum company.
For District Four, the candidates are Tim Hepburn, current La Verne mayor; videographer and photographer Richard Gill; and Estella V. Maldonado, who has been working in the tech industry for over 30 years.
Districts Two and Five are not up for election this cycle. Those seats are held by city council members Rick Crosby and Wendy M. Lau.
The candidates sat shoulder-to-shoulder in sections designated by their geographical districts, on the Community Center stage before an audience of approximately 50.
The debate, hosted by the San Bernardino County Superior Court Judge Stanford Reichert, was broken down into five phases.
The first phase consisted of three minutes for each candidate to introduce themselves and give their opening statements. In these opening statements some candidates expressed their dislike for the five-district system.
“We will be voting less often and have less representation than we have now,” said Johnson in his opening remarks.
Among other topics brought up in opening statements were public safety, specifically surrounding the Gold Line construction and the fear of vagrancy it could bring into La Verne, and financial stability.
In phase two of the debate, candidates were asked two questions and had two minutes to answer each question. Every candidate had the same question, which regarded the Gold Line and what they plan on doing when it comes to the unhoused community expected to come with it.
“We have a state that is friendly to inviting and funding these kinds of lifestyles, then, we are definitely up against something that is much bigger than La Verne, but what can La Verne do for itself?” said Gabaldon, who is running against Kashifalghita for District Three. “We can look to each other and anticipate where it is these problems will exist.”
Gabaldon proposed the idea of an app that allows residents of La Verne to post the location of a house-housed person so other residents and officials can be alerted.
Emphasis was put on public safety when it came to this question and Kashifalghita brought up how there are only three law enforcement officers and one sergeant on patrol at a time in La Verne.
Aside from public safety, candidates also mentioned mental health and drug abuse issues and the services provided to help with these problems.
“The problem is that the homeless issue as Mr. Kesh had stated, is the fact that we have mentally ill revenues, and they have more rights right now than we do, as a fact that they do not have to go if they don’t want to,” said Hepburn, who is the La Verne Mayor and part of District Four.
In phase three, candidates were given the opportunity to list out the top three most important issues that they plan on solving if elected.
Maldonado, who is running for District Four against Hepburn and Gill, brought up the Gold Line again but from a different perspective.
“I think the city needs to start thinking and designing and managing that growth in order to make sure it’s effective. And it still doesn’t create any additional problems for the city,” Maldonado said.
As someone who has worked in the tech industry she also mentioned bringing more innovation to the City, like charging stations for electric cars.
In phase four, the audience had the chance to ask questions for the candidates, followed by the final phase five which consisted of closing statements.
Candidates were asked how they planned on making the city more inclusive or how they plan on improving communication between La Verne and its residents.
Candidates reiterated many of the same issues in their closing statements like the change to a five district system, and public safety.
Vincent M. Franco can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Vincent Matthew Franco is a senior journalism major with a concentration in print and online journalism. He has been involved in journalism and print media in high school, community college and is now at the arts editor of the Campus Times.