By Mary O’KEEFE
A forum was held at Pasadena City College recently that highlighted the two candidates for the seat on the Los Angeles County Board of Supervisor District 5. The League of Women Voters Pasadena, the Pasadena Chamber of Commerce and the Associated Students of PCC sponsored the event.
Candidates Kathryn Barger and Darrell Park answered questions that came from the organizers and audience members.
In their opening statements each introduced themselves, Barger as a person who was “born and raised in the [fifth] district” and Park as a former budget specialist in the White House complex.
For the past 15 years Barger has been the chief deputy supervisor and has worked for the healthcare and mental health systems in the County.
Park served two Presidents in the White House Office of Management and Budget and was with the department that balanced the federal budget four times.
“We had surpluses [in the budget] not because we cut, cut, cut. We had surpluses because we actually solved problems,” he said in his opening statement.
Barger stated the County faces many challenges including homelessness, jobs, foster youth and development.
“These are the issues we need to tackle,” she said in her opening statement.
She added she felt her experience with the County will allow her to “hit the ground running” if elected.
Moderator Felicia Williams opened the evening by reminding people that this seat has not been in play for over 30 years. Michael D. Antonovich has held the seat for over three decades but is termed out this coming year. And then reminded the audience how big LA County is.
“Ten million people live in L.A. County,” she said. “One third of all residents in the county live in the fifth district.”
Barger added that L.A. County Fifth District is the most diverse and what is right for Antelope Valley may not be right for San Gabriel Valley.
The first question concerned the high rents in the County.
“Pasadena was recently identified as having the highest rent in the region,” Williams said. She asked what the candidates would do to help residents who are facing increasing rents, and if rent control would be an answer.
Park felt that income equality played a major role in the matter.
“We have to change the income so people have the money to [pay] for rent,” he said.
He spoke of the future of green technology, a theme for his answers throughout the evening.
“We are going to have a solar boom that is going to create [at least] 100,000 new jobs,” he predicted.
Park said that green technology will be the jobs of the future and some of those jobs would not require a college degree. He estimated the average wage for a solar installer to be $25 an hour and that an electrician for solar could be upwards of $40 an hour.
“[People are paying] 50%, 60%, 70% of their income on rent or housing … that doesn’t leave money for anything else.”
Barger felt that rent control would make the problem worse. She agreed that the County has to create more jobs but also had to look into what causes the rents to be so high.
“We need to look at what is keeping the costs of housing so great,” she said.
When asked what the biggest challenge facing the L.A. County economy, Barger said it was homelessness, which leads into mental health issues. Another issue that will weigh down the economy is the need for clean water with the County needing billions of dollars to retrofit old systems.
“I have serious concerns about that,” she said.
Park said the greatest economic issue is income equality. He cited how many residents 18 to 34 years old are living at home after completing college because they cannot find jobs that can cover the cost of living while paying off huge college debts.
“We need economic opportunities right now,” he said.
For that he referred again to the green energy industry as an answer to creating jobs in the area.
Both Park and Barger agreed that something needed to be done to keep businesses not only in L.A. County but also in California.
“The governor of Texas said he wasn’t coming here to steal jobs but we were giving them away,” Barger said.
Both agreed that the almost insurmountable amount of red tape that entrepreneurs face when starting and maintaining their businesses is a deterrent. Barger wanted business owners to have a seat at the table when business decisions or regulations are being discussed, not just in the County but also in Sacramento.
Park said the red tape is disorganized and that it could be streamlined to make it easier for business owners to understand.
Both candidates weighed in on body cameras for the L.A. Sheriff’s Dept. Both agreed that the cameras needed to be worn all the time with exceptions for privacy.
Park added that he wants there to be an independent committee or group that would control the footage if needed for review, while Barger said the department should have the chance to view the tape themselves first.
The next forum will be held between State Senate Seat 25 candidates Michael Antonovich and Anthony Portantino on Oct. 11 at the PCC Creveling Lounge from 7 p.m. to 9 p.m. PCC is located at 1570 E. Colorado Blvd. in Pasadena.