La Cañada City Council hopefuls meet at public forum

Residential break-ins, power outages and the looming threat of a 710 Freeway tunnel were up for discussion on the evening of Feb. 8, as three candidates running for two open seats on the La Cañada Flintridge City Council squared off in a public forum.

Longtime Councilman Dave Spence was joined on stage by fellow incumbent Mayor Jon Curtis and Keith Eich, a newcomer to La Cañada's civic scene. Held at Flintridge Preparatory School and sponsored by the La Cañada Flintridge Coordinating Council, the debate marked the first joint appearance of all three candidates before the March 7 election.

Spence, 80, who's served on the council for 24 years, recounted benefits wrought by "experienced leadership," including the installation of several stop signs throughout town, the use of federal grant money to rebuild the Jessen Drive bridge and the decision to use part of a resident's bequeathment to the city to improve sidewalk and road conditions around Paradise Canyon Elementary School.

"It's humbling to think of all we still have to do," the six-time mayor said.

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A former La Cañada planning commissioner who joined the council in 2013, Curtis, 57, said his professional background as an attorney specializing in corporate real estate and land use, and his involvement on regional panels like the Southern California Assn. of Governments, has given him a solid understanding of issues affecting residents. He put promoting an open and transparent local government and partnering with local schools at the top of his list of accomplishments.

"We have accomplished many of our goals, but our work is not complete," Curtis said. "Our city constantly faces new challenges."

Eich, vice president of online tech company LegalZoom and the father of three young children he plans to enroll in La Cañada Unified Schools when they are of age, said he would use data analysis and metrics to improve customer service and get results. He put safety, services and technology at the center of his campaign platform.

"I did not grow up in this great community, but I also feel that reflects a majority of the population here," said Eich, 37, who moved to La Cañada from Sherman Oaks in 2014. "I'm looking at our future, not just the past."

Forum moderator and Flintridge Prep Headmaster Peter Bachmann posed pointed queries crafted by audience members. No issue was off the table, and themes ranged from public works and education to transportation and public safety.

The trio agreed on emphasizing the importance of seeing all properties connected to a sewer system, expressing support for the transfer of Sagebrush homes from Glendale Unified to La Cañada Unified school district, stating their preference for a single trash hauler in La Cañada and advocating against a potential 4.5-mile tunnel being considered by the Metropolitan Transportation Authority to connect the fragmented 710 Freeway.

While all candidates advised residents to continue working with the sheriff's department to prevent burglaries by increasing education and security, each had different ideas about additional efforts the city could take.

Curtis said some cities are using affordable, motion-activated wildlife cameras to help capture images in the event of a crime.

"They take pictures and focus only on streets, as opposed to people's houses," he said. "Then if something happens, you download the information."

Eich wondered if the city might collaborate with independent businesses whose technology lets users see and interact with doorstep visitors from their smartphones.

"Homeowners associations are getting great deals with (manufacturers) to try and get a reduced price — it's technology to actually identify and report crime," he said.

Spence said the city manager currently has funds at his disposal for crime prevention efforts and increased sheriff's patrols.

"The issue of crime in homes and businesses is going to depend on the people who are more closely reviewing how the neighborhood watch group works," Spence added.

When asked what was the greatest issue or need in the city today, the candidates again distinguished themselves.

Eich called the county's plans to remove 2.4 million cubic yards of sediment from Devil's Gate Dam by truck along the 210 Freeway "unacceptable," and said the city should support a slower, smaller and more environmentally friendly removal program.

Spence settled on three issues — identifying a single trash hauler, crime prevention and reduction and determining how to most effectively occupy and operate from the former Sport Chalet headquarters building purchased by the city for $11.23 million.

Curtis said finding the funds necessary to address important infrastructure issues like the installation of sound walls and sewer connections is a constant uphill battle and would continue to be a priority.

Voters will be asked to select two candidates on election day, March 7.

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Sara Cardine, sara.cardine@latimes.com

Twitter: @SaraCardine

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