For James Hill, good city government has a secret ingredient: “representation.” After recently serving four years on the La Cañada Flintridge Planning Commission, he concluded that City Council members could learn a thing or two about the word.
Hill, 60, has made a career of representation. As deputy county counsel, he speaks for the Los Angeles County Department of Children and Family Services in juvenile dependency court.
“As a lawyer I know how to represent a client. As a City Council member I’d be representing a constituent, which is a little bit different, but representation is representation,” Hill said, “and we need more of it.”
Hill first moved to La Cañada Flintridge in 1973, and for 28 years volunteered as a reserve deputy for the Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department — “until I became too old and fat to chase bad guys around,” he joked.
Though not actively seeking endorsements or campaign contributions, Hill was one of three candidates to get a thumbs-up from the La Cañada Flintridge Republican Committee.
Making a point of publishing his home phone number in the city’s sample election ballot, Hill touts openness to communication with residents and experience in both county and city governments as strengths that will help him deliver a more user-friendly City Hall.
Valley Sun: Briefly explain why you want to be on the council and your top priority if elected.
James Hill: While I was on the Planning Commission I saw that the City Council isn’t doing what they should be doing, which is representing the people. There is a lot of split-the-baby [a compromise reached in lieu of a decision for the convenience of the decision-maker, he later explained]. Agreement is wonderful, but if it doesn’t happen then the council has to make a decision. Representation is one thing we haven’t seen a lot of, and that’s what I really want to change.
What would you describe as the city’s most important accomplishment over the past several years?
The city has maintained its character as a wonderful place to live. We’ve seen a lot of problems in other cities that we just don’t see here.
What would you identify as a missed opportunity?
I see where they’re using [federal] stimulus money to repave streets and think, “big deal.” We have a real need for sewers south of Foothill Boulevard, and Washington is begging for shovel-ready projects.
Which personal qualities that you posses are most relevant to being a council member?
I know how the city works. I know how the county works. I know where to go to get problems solved, and that’s what the city needs — a more user-friendly City Hall.
If the city experienced unanticipated and significant revenue loss in the near future, where would you look first to make cuts?
We don’t really have any frivolous waste. Rather than just pick one program and throw it out, taking a certain percentage off the top of many city expenditures makes more sense.
So how isn’t City Hall user-friendly?
The current City Council is unapproachable, like a good bureaucrat is a good bureaucrat by laying low and not asking hard questions. I was told by a fellow I met after the rainstorms a year ago that his brother had contacted City Council about the K-rails not being attached to the ground. He got no response whatsoever, and sure enough when the mud and water hit them they became battering rams. My interaction with city staff, though, has been primarily with the Planning Department, and they are just class-A folks.
How strong is the city’s general plan?
The general plan is being worked on now, and from what I’ve seen it looked fairly good. My larger complaint is we have residential design guidelines — I’m sure nobody wants a Design Review Board — but the guidelines aren’t all that helpful. What does it mean, “Does the house fit the neighborhood?”
All candidates have opposed the 710 tunnel, but what should a council member be doing about it?
The first thing is to let it be known with straight talk that we’re totally opposed to it. We’ve got to be very proactive.
Any thoughts on sewers?
South of Foothill is going to be horribly expensive. We’ve got to find some source of money to assist the people there. It’s not fair for me to pay $12,000 or $18,000 where I am, but they would have to pay $100,000. We’re one city, and we’ve got to do what we can to get sewers through the whole city.
What about peacocks?
This is a classic issue the City Council has been dodging. My instinct tells me a decision has got to be made one way or the other.
And property tax breaks in exchange for historic preservation agreements?
If I had a piece of historic property, I’d think long and hard before accepting the strings that are attached to it. I’m not against [the city] offering, but I don’t know why any property owner would want to partake.
Why should voters choose you?
No. 1, I can do the work. I understand how to represent a client, and I understand how to do the work. No. 2 is I will do the work. I’m not looking to make this a bullet point on my resume or a stepping stone to something else or because I want to be a big shot around town. I just want to do what I can to help the business, the schools and the people of this community.