Around 100 people came out to hear what some of the candidates for the vacant 15th district city council seat had to say Wednesday night. The event, attended by eight of the 11 official candidates, was held at L.A. Harbor College. Former city council member Robert Farrell, now a write-in candidate, also joined the forum.
The candidates sat according to the order their names will appear on the Nov. 8 ballot. The evening was more of a discussion than a debate, an aspect that surprised a few people in the crowd.
"I was expecting it to be more contentious," said one attendee who did not wish to be named.
The question and answer style format had a different air to it than what has been seen during the national GOP debates. In fact, the most contentious comments of the night were directed at a candidate who was not in attendance -- former city council member Rudy Svorinich.
Republican candidate Rebecca Chambliss took a swing at Svorinich for collecting a half million dollars in lobbying fees from a company doing business at the Port of Los Angeles. Candidate Gordon Teuber added that the number was actually in excess of $600,000.
Chambliss got a chuckle from the crowd when she respectfully accused her fellow candidates of not giving real answers. "I'd like to actually answer the question that was asked," she said during a question about the candidates' ideas for addressing the housing market collapse.
The forum covered much of the expected: jobs, the environmental impact of the port and the diversity of the 15th district, which includes San Pedro, Wilmington, Watts and Harbor Gateway.
The candidates were in agreement on most issues. They all agreed that job creation was a big concern as well as the importance of cleaning up the air around the port, though they offered a different range of solutions on how to get there. Areas where there were differences in opinion: the role of neighborhood councils and the implementation of a pollution offset fee at the port.
While all the candidates agreed that the neighborhood councils offer a valuable link to the communities, most believe the councils should maintain their advisory role. State Assembly Member Warren Furutani, however, thinks the councils could go a step further.
"I think neighborhood councils could be part of a checks and balances system. They know the issues in their area and these councils could be a good example of democracy at work," Furutani said.
Local business owner Jayme Wilson would like to see the role of the neighborhood councils expanded. "It's a good system, but it is just a beginning. I'd like to see the councils have more involvement in setting policy and budgets for the city," Wilson said.
While write-in candidate Robert Farrell appeared to be basing his entire campaign on expanding the role of neighborhood councils.
The issue of a pollution offset fee at the port was a little more complicated.
"The port is more about profit," Los Angeles city firefighter Pat McOsker said. McOsker added that he'd fight to modernize and clean up the port and that he would support some kind of incentive for those who refuse to clean up their operation. "I don't want to drive jobs out of the harbor."
Driving jobs away was a concern for Chambliss as well. "If we increase taxes we will lose jobs. In a better economy, absolutely, but today, no, I do not support this tax," Chambliss said referring to the pollution offset fee.
Missing from Wednesday's forum were Rudy Svorinich, Frank Pereyda and John Delgado.
Christine Detz is a graduate student at the University of Southern California's Annenberg School for Communication & Journalism, which has partnered with KCET-TV to produce this blog about policy in Los Angeles.