Jacqueline Harris would like to have a word with you.
Since announcing her bid for City Council last year, the longtime volunteer Girl Scouts leader, mother of three and 19-year La Cañada Flintridge resident has worked to build a grassroots campaign one conversation at a time.
Foregoing the usual campaign signs, mailers, ballot statements and fundraising efforts, Harris said she has instead spent her time going door-to-door to more than 2,000 homes.
Her effort is one to bring politics back to the people, she explained, believing current council members and city government as a whole have become disconnected from residents.
“I think they need a better feel of the pulse of the community,” said Harris, 48, who in her professional life is a registered nurse specializing in organ transplants. “I haven’t seen anyone at my door since Tony Portantino was running.”
Though she plays up her people skills, Harris, whose husband works as a geologist, is clearly also a multi-tasker.
Harris has a son and daughter attending La Cañada High School’s 7/8 campus and her oldest graduated from LCHS in 2005, but somehow she’s also found time over the years to take to the skies as a recreational pilot.
Valley Sun: Briefly explain why you want to be on the council and your top priority if elected.
Jacqueline Harris: My top priority would be communication. Some of what the City Council is doing is good, but it can be built upon tremendously. The council needs to be more in touch with the residents it serves. I can be out and talk to people instead of sending out mailings and making the occasional phone call.
What would you describe as the city’s most important accomplishment over the past several years?
I’d have to give more kudos to the Sheriff’s Department and the Fire Department with the mudflows. You don’t see City Council unless it’s a parade or there’s something traumatic going on.
What would you identify as a missed opportunity?
Better communication with the county and the state. I think they missed the boat in calling in resources from the state level sooner [to fight the Station fire].
Which personal qualities that you possess are most relevant to being a council member?
Being a people person. I don’t necessarily agree with everybody, but I listen. I empathize with their side of whatever it is, and hopefully I can paint both sides of the picture for them.
If the city experienced unanticipated and significant revenue loss in the near future, where would you look first to make cuts?
I’d have to look at the whole spectrum. I’m not a big increase-taxes person, and we’ve got some reserves, but I don’t think there’s that big of a cushion to dip into. I don’t think we can make any cuts to [helping] the schools.
Is City Hall user-friendly?
Not at all. They’re very guarded. The receptionist is fairly warm and welcoming, but past that…it’s like a secret society — a need- to-know basis, and you don’t need to know.
How strong is the city’s general plan?
The Foothill corridor, the Town Center itself, I think, was a big miss rather than being pedestrian-friendly as it was proposed. There are a lot of disgruntled business owners along that corridor, and I don’t think they’re going to get the foot traffic that the initial plan had promised. And the way signals are aligned, traffic’s either stopped so long you could serve hors d'oeuvres, or you’re whizzing by so fast you can’t even see a shop’s sign.
All candidates have opposed the 710 tunnel, but what should a council member be doing about it?
Much like letters from residents go unanswered by City Council members, where are City Council’s phone calls and letters going? They need to get out in the community and talk to people, be very vocal with county, state and federal officials.
Any thoughts on sewers?
We lived on Crown [Avenue] 10 years ago. The Crown area paid about $10,000 per home. Come over to this side of town, south of Foothill, I’m hearing upwards of $100,000. Why? This was one of these signed, sealed, delivered — here’s your area and here’s how much sewers are going to cost. It’s a big, big sore spot.
What about peacocks?
I don’t agree with the current thinning of the peacocks. I think they’re over-thinning, and over-thinning could completely erase them from the community. My concern is the damage they can do, but I would be against completely getting rid of them.
And property-tax breaks in exchange for historic preservation agreements?
In exchange for tax breaks, [owners] should have to maintain the property within parameters and make it accessible to residents. I’m not saying someone should be able to traipse through your house, but the outside should be viewable. If you’re getting a break, there’s got to be a win-win in there.
Why should voters choose you?
Living here and with kids in the school district, I’ve got the pulse of the community, and I feel I can represent it best out of the candidates who are running.