Residents got a chance to meet their City Council candidates and ask them questions during a forum hosted by the Calabasas Park Homeowners Association at the Calabasas Library Sunday afternoon.
Nearly 100 locals gathered in the library’s Founders Hall for a two-hour session that was designed to “encourage community involvement” said Richard Sherman, president of the CPHA, which serves nearly 3,000 homes in the Calabasas Park area.
“I think it’s an exciting opportunity to meet the current members of the City Council and to meet all four people and talk to them individually,” said Sherman. “Three of these people will be involved in running our city for the next four years.”
With the general election looming on March 5, locals gathered to hear the views of four contenders running for three council seats in a race that has newcomer Jody Thomas squaring off against three incumbents: Mayor Mary Sue Maurer, and Councilmen James Bozajian and David Shapiro.
Candidates were allotted two minutes each to answer questions drafted both by board and audience members and which were moderated by CPHA board members, Michael Burak and Patricia Mardell.
While the board’s questions centered around pertinent community issues such as the environment, cell phone coverage, strengthening the local economy, schools, the senior center and security, chief among concerns raised by residents was code enforcement.
The issue brought up memories of the City’s contentious septic inspection program, which was repealed by the council last year after homeowners complained about costly repairs and the invasion of privacy it imposed, mostly on those residing in the Old Topanga and Mulwood neighborhoods.
“Everybody has to comply with the same laws, there’s no differentiating between different communities,” said Maurer. “However, once a code enforcement is initiated, there’s no role for an elected representative.”
Bozajian urged balancing code enforcement with the privacy of citizens while Shapiro supported sending out notices in lieu of what one of audience member called “Draconian measures” carried out against homeowners.
Thomas, who as president of the Old Topanga Homeowner’s Association is described as an advocate for Calabasas’s rural communities, criticized the council for its “heavy-handed approach” that included issuing an ordinance on the eve of Thanksgiving in 2011 and targeting older homes, which she said created a public safety problem.
While it was resolved, the enforcement of building codes is still a problem, said Elizabeth Stephens, president of the Highlands Homeowners Association and a Calabasas homeowner for 26 years.
“It’s an extremely important issue. We are the ones that are being targeted," said Stephens. "It just takes one building inspector to come in and cite you for other things.”
As for local business, Thomas championed the use of creative solutions in lieu of “writing checks” to approach the City’s problems, including encouraging business in the area by using tax incentives.
“I think that the success of city is clearly mirrored by the success of its businesses and as a small business owner... I think it’s important we support local businesses. Shop local, buy local, dine local, fuel local.”
Shapiro suggested designating a “Shop Calabasas” day each year and also cited the important role that auto dealers play in the community, as they “supply about one-third of the 63 percent sales tax revenue our city receives," he said.
A member of the Calabasas Chamber of Commerce, Maurer said, “we recently made a slight zone change to protect retail zoning... It’s important that we try to keep [businesses here]… so we can benefit from the sales tax.”
Bozajian, who helped create the Commons and worked to prevent Barnes and Noble’s departure from the popular shopping center, emphasized the importance of maintaining a close relationship with the Chamber of Commerce, as well as not having a business tax.
“We have no business tax in Calabasas, we never have, and I strongly support that because many neighboring communities do,” Bozajian said.
Bozajian, who has a 16-year history of serving the council, including four terms as mayor, incited laughter from the crowd with his response to a question about term limits. “Unsurprisingly, I’m not in favor of term limits,” he said. “...We have term limits and they’re called elections.”
“As the author of the Term Limits Initiative, obviously I’m a supporter... I’d like to present more opportunities for more talented local residents to serve on the council,” said Thomas.
On the topic of cell phone coverage, all candidates acknowledged the effect of the unique topography of Calabasas’s 14-square miles comprised of mountains, valleys and jagged edges.
Maurer mentioned areas such hard-hit areas as Bay Laurel Elementary, the Oaks and Parkway Calabasas and while she defended the moratorium the council approved as they worked on strengthening the Wireless Telecommunications Ordinance, (which passed last July) she said the moratorium has now lifted and “we’re wide open for business”.
Shapiro said the council may have to revisit the City’s strict laws governing cell phone towers in the coming year, adding that it’s “near impossible to put just up one antenna or two antennas and get sufficient coverage.”
Agreeing with Bozajian’s assessment that the ordinance represented a “balanced approach,” Thomas said that residents may be able to make a difference.
“Often the fault lies at the hands of the providers. Providers don’t want to co-mingle and combine their services together on one tower,” she said. “I think it’s important that now residents let their providers know because we need to have better coverage."
All candidates were in agreement on the importance of protecting the City's open space as well as the installation of a senior center slated for the Civic Center.
“It was really good to hear from all the candidates and the questions were very pertinent,” said Anita Rathee, a Calabasas resident since 1996. “It was very informative being here.”
The CPHA will meet ... to hopefully endorse three of the four candidates, said Sherman.
Two more debates are scheduled for the end of this month, including one hosted by the City of Calabasas at 7 p.m. on January 30 in the Founders Hall of the library, which will be televised for those unable to attend, and another one January 31 at 7:30 p.m., which is being hosted by the Greater Mulwood Homeowners Association in Chaparral Elementary School's auditorium.
To learn more about the candidates and their positions, click here.