Monday, May 16, 2022

The Daily Breeze Comments on Election 2022 Torrance Mayor's Race

The Daily Breeze has finally weighed in on the Torrance City Council elections, specifically the Mayor's race.

Election 2022: Torrance to choose a new mayor for the first time in nearly a decade

This title is sitcom flat, and in a sense it's incorrect. Torrance voters can choose a new mayor every four years if they choose to. What happened in 2018, though, is that two challengers split the vote (again), and Creepy Pat Furey got re-elected.

Perhaps it's time for Torrance voters to invest in a run-off process for city council districts and mayor's races.

George Chen and Cliff Numark, both with city council experience, have slightly different approaches for handling budgets, public safety and homelessness.

One correction needed: Cliff Numark quit when he was on the city council because he wanted to climb up to a higher office. George Chen has been elected twice in the last four years, and if he gets elected mayor, that will be his third election win in four years.

Councilman Chen did not abandon his council seat to seek another office.

For the first time in nearly a decade, Torrance voters will choose a new mayor.

Mayor Pat Furey, who has held the top job since 2014, has termed out as leader of this city of 147,000.

Thank God!

But the two candidates vying to succeed Furey during the June 7 statewide primary are not political newcomers: current District 2 Councilman George Chen and Cliff Numark, who served on the council from 2008 to 2013, before Torrance was divided into districts.

Councilman Chen was elected to the city council when the seats were elected at large in 2018, and then he was elected to a city council district in 2020. He has won in both forms of terrain. In fact, he was the #2 vote-getter in 2018, even though he was a complete political newcomer at that point.

Numark received $47,000 in contributions during the last reporting period, which ended April 23, according to the most-recent campaign finance documents, and had $102,000 in cash on hand.

Chen, meanwhile, raised $25,000 during the same period and had $79,000 in cash on hand.

The next elected mayor faces myriad challenges, including a projected budget deficit of more than 12.5 million; ongoing controversy over police officers accused of exchanging racist and homophobic text messages; the call for an independent police oversight commission; and the ongoing homeless crisis.

There is no deficit, there is no budgetary crisis, either. All of this is smoke and mirrors now, since the current city council has made a number of necessary cuts.

The city’s finances, public safety and homelesness were, in fact, the top-three issues facing Torrance, according to both candidates,

They differ, however, in their proposed solutions for each.

Financial solvency

The city’s retail and tourism industries faltered during the pandemic — including at its crown jewel, the Del Amo Fashion Center, and unemployment rose from 3.3% to 16.5%.

The city should have never locked down. The city should have rebuffed the county and rejected the mandates from Governor Newsom.

The city’s fiscal year 2021-22 General Fund Operating Budget was adopted with a structural deficit of $16.8 million. Torrance balanced the budget, as required by state law, with $12 million from the American Rescue Plan Act and about $4.8 million in planned salary savings from unfilled positions.

But city staff have anticipated a recurring structural deficit from $12.5 million to $14.1 million each fiscal year until 2030-31 year.

The city’s poor financial state — which current Torrance officials will try to correct by asking voters to approve a sales tax increase this election — is what motivated each to run for mayor, the candidates said.

Chen, a 30-year resident and a retired aerospace engineer, said the council should consider the “wants” versus the “needs” of the city.


The wants — such as annual contributions to the Rose Parade Float ($127,000) and the Torrance Cultural Arts Association ($74,400) — should be examined and possibly cut, he said.

The city could also consider a reorganization, Chen said, reducing the number of mid-level supervisors.

Indeed, the city civil staff is too top-heavy. There is too much middle management, and it is more than appropriate to cut the extra positions out.

“There may be some staff reductions,” Chen said, “and maybe people who retired and we don’t necessarily have to replace them.”

That's a good approach. No one has to be fired, and the city can save money.

Chen said his overall fiscal approach would be to have department heads come up with ideas for cost cutting and revenue growth in their own areas.

Agreed. Put the onus on them first. They have the most information about

Current officials have already said that without the sales tax increase, the city could face 5% cuts to each department.

So be it!

But putting cost-cutting and revenue growth in the hands of department chiefs, Chen said, would mean those managers would have some skin in the game.

“It’s not just cuts we need to make,” Chen said. “We have to work on the top line. I want to pay people to think, to challenge them and to work hard for our residents.”

Numark, a senior vice president/chief of marketing who moved to Torrance 23 years ago, said he has a 90-day plan to address the city’s fiscal crisis. The plan calls for suspending health benefits for the mayor and City Council and ending city-paid dinners before council meetings.

That is nothing. Cutting the pay of the city council is virtue-signaling, since city councilmembers only take in $200 a month.

Newmark’s plan would also create a zero-based budget, which would require the city to develop a new spending plan from scratch each year, as opposed to basing the budget on prior years’ numbers.

Torrance ranks fourth among cities facing the most severe financial risks, behind Compton, San Gabriel and Blythe, according to a report by the Auditor of the State of California.

This is very deceptive. The analysis was published before the savings allocated to the general fund were considered. There has been some creative accounting done by some of the city council (mostly the mayor) to give the impression that the city needs the tax increase.

The city’s depleted general fund reserves figured prominently into that audit, along with pension obligations and revenue projections. During the pandemic, the city lost about $15 million in general fund revenue, according to a report from the city manager’s office. Reserves were nearly exhausted.

The upcoming ballot measure is meant to beef up reserves Measure SST would raise the rate by one-half cent, to 10%, generating about $18 million annually.

Reminder: every candidate, even those who support the sales tax increase, have acknowledged that the extra (projected) revenue will not be enough.

Torrance voters rejected a similar measure in 2020, though that one would have raised the sales tax from 9.5% rate to 10.25%.

It's really amazing how the local paper seems determined to push this sales tax increase. What is it with the corporate press wanting to raise costs on everyone?

Chen, who voted against putting Measure SST on the ballot, said raising the sales tax is a flawed solution.

He compared the city to a real estate agent who wants to make more money. The simple solution, Chen said, would be for the agent to raise commissions. But this would leave the customer unsatisfied.

“If a real estate agent needs to make more money, a real estate agent needs to sell more homes,” Chen said. “So in a similar way, the city of Torrance needs to think and work harder on making more sales.”

Yes, the city council needs to come up with better solutions and innovate ideas, rather than merely squeezing the residents for more money.

To bring more people and businesses to the city – especially foreign companies – Chen suggested hosting international youth summer games leading up to the Los Angeles 2028 Summer Olympics and creating more sister city relationships.

Numark, however, said Torrance needs the additional revenue stream from an increased sales tax.

“If SST does not pass,” Numark said, “given where the city’s finances are today, in some way shape or form, there’s going to be very ham-fisted choices that the city is going to make.”

Not true. Cliff Numark is in the business of spending more. He was elected to the El Camino College Board by all the special interests tied in with the college district because he has no problem floating more bonds and squeezing taxpayers for more money. LAUSD tried to raise property taxes in 2019, and the measure failed by 54%! Remember that most of these bond measures need a two-third majority vote to pass in the first place, and the property tax increase failed!

Public safety

If the city needs to further trim the budget, public safety would be one of the top sectors facing cuts, according to literature Torrance has sent out to residents.

Not necessarily. There is funding now to hire more police officers.

The fate of the Police and Fire departments budgets have not yet been decided. But those budgets — which make up 62%, or about $8 million, of the city’s general fund expenses — could see cuts during this month’s budget hearings.

Chen said he wasn’t happy about the city mailers, which he said equated a need for more sales tax with a loss of essential services, such as policing and fire. The city used “scare tactics” he said, to market the tax.

I just received two campaign flyers this week, at the same time! Whichever interests are behind the push to raise the sales tax, they are getting desperate! I don't think there is an appetite in the city for a tax increase, considering the fact that the city has not done its due diligence to cut excessive spending and reduce or decomission redundant services or agencies in the city.

The councilman said, for him, public safety is always his No. 1 priority.

“Just because I’m against the sales tax increase,” Chen said, “doesn’t mean I’m against public safety.”

A “21st century policing” model is needed, Chen said, where the department relies more on modern technology.

To reduce the number of personnel and vehicles called to an area, which could potentially reduce overtime costs, police could designate “hot spots” throughout the city for live video camera surveillance, Chen said.

That way, he said, dispatch would be able to better gauge the severity of a 911 call.

Numark also said he put a high value on public safety and also touted setting a “culture of cost reduction.”

He talks about cost reduction, but he wants to raise the sales tax? Really?!

“We need to be serious about scrutinizing how every dollar is spent in the city,” said Numark.

The Police Department, he added, needs a comprehensive assessment over its core processes and use of technology.

But finances and efficients aren’t the Police Department’s only challenges. It’s also faces ongoing controvery over police conduct stretching back years.

The police force has been under scrutiny since the 2018 killing of Christopher DeAndre Mitchell. The department also faced accusations late last year that up to 15 Torrance officers were involved in sending homophobic and sexist text messages.

Though two officers who were accused of painting swastikas on a victim’s car were fired from the department, 13 others remain under investigation by California Attorney General Rob Bonta. Those officers are on paid administrative leave.

These recent scandals, both candidates said, shape policies at the Torrance Police Department and impact the community’s view of public safety.

But the candidates differed in how they would look to bolster the department’s reputation.

Chen called the allegations against the police alarming, but cautioned officers have a right to due process, which is in the works.

“The hard part is,” Chen said, “people try to connect the dots (of the homophobic/racial slurs) to the DeAndre Mitchell case.”

That case, in which officers fatally shot Mitchell, a Black man, had its day in court, Chen said — though Black Lives Matter continued protesting at council meetings long after that — and people just need to be patient and let due process take its course on the other.

Numark, though, said such accusations of misconduct need to be dealt with head-on.

“We need to state clearly and deliberately that these behaviors are unacceptable,” Numark said, emphasizing city leaders need to do so “in the moment.”

The city council has already done that. The fact that Cliff Numark seems determined to pander to the woke, social justice warrior crowd automatically should shut him out of consideration for the mayor's office. The city of Torrance needs strong leadership. We need someone in the mayor's seat who will restore order to the city council meetings and not put up with the abusive, illegal disruptions by hate groups like Black Lives Matter.

He lauded the recently hired police chief, Jeremiah Hart, for his efforts in directly addressing the issues.

“I think it’s extremely clear there has been a rise in hate crime across our communities,” Numark said. “We need to take an extremely hard stance against that.”

Both Numark and Chen said they are against an independent oversight commission, something Black Lives Matter activists have rallied for at nearly every City Council meeting since Mitchell’s death.

Both candidates said various internal committees that are already in place are best left to handle police oversight.


The 2020 Los Angeles County homeless count found a 42% increase in the number people in Torrance without permanent shelter, with 332 counted.

Last year’s count was canceled because of the coronavirus pandemic and data from January’s survey won’t be available until later this year. But homeless officials have said they expect the pandemic worsened the already bleak crisis across the county.

In Torrance, a 40-unit tiny-homes complex, in the Civic Center parking lot, is slated to be completed in June.

But it would provide only a fraction of what’s needed to provide temporary dwellings.

If elected, Numark said, he’d first assess whether that’s the right spot for the Pallet shelters.

“I’m not wild about the location, and it is supposed to be temporary,” Numark said, adding the location might be too close to neighboring homes.

With the shelter’s approval, though, also came an amendment to the city’s anti-camping ordinance, which allows police to cite individuals sleeping or camping on public property. Police can start enforcing the ordinance as soon as June 26, when the project is expected to be finished.

For Chen, those are the first critical steps to addressing homelessness in Torrance, he said.

Anti-camping enforcement, Chen said, would be left up to police, who would first issue a citation before making arrests. There are always, he said, people who will refuse services.

“The way we understand the homeless community,” Chen said, is that “they don’t like to be bothered or bugged by law enforcement.”

So, eventually, the anti-camping enforcement would act as a deterrent and people would leave, he said.

But Numark said tackling homelessness requires outreach, which can be done by expanding volunteer services. In the same way people volunteer to serve meals at food banks, he said, they could — with proper training — do the same to help with the unhoused.

There also needs to be lots of ongoing conversations, Numark said, since the reasons for someone being homeless are complex.

“There are issues associated with housing insecurity,” Numark said. “But there’s also mental illness and substance abuse and other issues.”

Ultimately, Numark said, he’d like to see homelessness handled at the county level, as cities just don’t have access to as many resources, such as social workers and mental health experts.

The county can't handle anything right. The county is so dysfunctional. Once again, Numark is ignoring what is best for the city of Torrance, and wants to work with the same people who have rolled out the same failed policies over and over.

“Torrance is not an island,” Numark said, “and it needs to work collaboratively with the county and other cities to try to solve this issue.”

Both mayoral candidates favored police enforcing the anti-camping ordinance.

But Numark also said officers need to be proactive in working with social workers and demonstrating to people there are better solutions than living on the street.

More hand-outs and services are not going to get people off the streets. Enforcement and interventions are essential to make this effort work.

Cliff Numark is more of the illiberal folly that the current city leadership has imposed on the city. Numark has the backing of the same frail, failed political establishment which got the city into its funding problems in the first place.

The city of Torrance does not need more of the same. We need new leadership, bold initiatives, a willingness to consider better strategies that will bring in more revenue to the city, without demanding more from the taxpayers.

George Chen has already been elected twice to the Torrance City Council in the last four years. He won a city-wide election, and he won a district-wide election. He has connected with many leaders and community activists in the city. He has worked closely with his church and other communities of faith to do good for the city of Torrance.

I also trust him to take a stronger lead in city council meetings and restore order. Weak liberals like Pat Furey and Cliff Numark will capitulate in the face of hate groups like Black Lives Matter because they are so worried about what other people will think of them, instead of doing what is right for the city, for everyone in the city.

Councilman George Chen has remained committed to serving the city of Torrance, while Cliff Numark ran off to a "higher" elected position on the El Camino Community College Board. And now, if he were to get elected to the Torrance Mayor's office, he would be abandoning yet another seat that he was elected to.

Cliff Numark cares about ... Cliff Numark. What's to stop him from seeking another higher office in the next two years? His ambition is more important than the well-being of the city of Torrance.

Torrance residents, Make Your Mark for George Chen for Mayor!

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