Candidates for Assembly District 41 seat encompassing the San Gabriel area outside of Los Angeles met at a candidate forum on Tuesday night at Pasadena City College in Pasadena, offering a preview of the primary election in March.
While there are three major candidates running for the seat, only two made it to the forum – Claremont City Councilman and former Claremont Mayor Jed Leano and former State Senate candidate and District Director for Assemblyman Chris Holden (D-CA) Dr. Phlunte Riddle. The third, California state commissioner and former Sierra Madre City Councilman and Mayor John Harabedian, could not make it due to a prior engagement.
Homelessness and a lack of affordable housing were the big issues of the night, with several questions by PCC students involving those issues. In an interview before the debate, Leano told that Globe that homelessness was the main reason why he decided to run.
“In 2018 I was elected to Claremont City Council and was reelected in 2022,” said Leano. “I didn’t think about running for Assembly at first. I was busy serving Claremont and the reelection. I was a COVID Mayor. But the new year hinged on one basic fundamental question – can I reduce homelessness?”
Leano added during the forum that regional homeless efforts tend to work best and plans for regional solutions to homelessness and that affordable housing works hand in hand with alleviating homelessness in the district and state.
“It’s the most important question of not only the night, but in the district and state of California,” added Leano. “We need leadership. What we are doing is not working, and we need to ask ourselves why it isn’t working. It’s because we are not building enough housing to keep up with demand. There is a lack of political courage.
“After I was elected, I realized that homelessness and housing were one problem in the same. To solve it, we need set metrics. We need to keep pace with population and economic growth. There is a lack of political courage to double the amount of housing.”
In response, Riddle said that “Part of the housing shortage is by design. People can’t afford to live here anymore. Most cities decided to not have low income people and stabilized rents. Pasadena alone must have 9,000 units to fill for affordable and moderate income housing. And we need to focus around transit areas and utilize empty school lots. We need progress.”
Riddle’s main focus of the night, and the main reasons why she is running for Assembly, was on education and mental. In an interview with the Globe after the debate, Riddle said that “We need bills on early childhood education. We ask why they start acting out after grade two or three, and then we find out that they can’t fully read. We find that they didn’t have access to everything they needed.”
“Working with Holden, I found that both local and statewide bills give the access and resources needed for better schools and mental health programs.”
District 41 forum shows previews tight race in San Gabriel district
In a forum question targeted at mental health, Riddle argued for the normalization of mental health and added that “We’re at a crisis with mental health. Everyone is dealing with mental health. My youngest son is a mental health specialist at a high school because they realized that students are coming back from COVID with problems.”
“Last week, 4 LA County deputies committed suicide. That’s a crisis that’s been in the shadows for too long. Most people won’t seek help for that. We need to expand mental health services for middle school to high school to the workforce and make mental health more accessible.”
“I know there is a path for everyone. All you have to do is stick in there and fight and persevere. Our district needs leadership. 79 other Assemblymembers are in the legislature, you need 49 to be best buddies to get anything done. Working for Mr. Holden, we had to collaborate on many bills to get them to the Governor’s desk.”
Both candidates also noted that they have experience with mental health. Leano touted his position as a board member of Tri City Mental Health Services with Riddle noting her over 30 years experience in the Pasadena Police Department and her Doctorate in psychology. Leano retorted by saying, “We were at a mental health tipping point before the pandemic, and it only got worse. We don’t send law enforcement in Claremont. We send psychiatric specialists instead. We need to expand that program even more. We can’t say we’ll expand it without saying why we need to. We need to reduce stigma. We need culturally competent mental health care throughout state.”
Transportation was also a key issue for both candidates, with both expressing the need for greater public transportation and a lesser dependency on cars.
Leano answered first: “If we are to get serious about climate goals, the number one thing we need to do is limit vehicle miles driven. We need to envision a California where we aren’t reliant on cars. We need 20 minute cities, where you can walk, cycle or take public transpiration to get anywhere in the city. We need to envision future infrastructure that doesn’t involve everyone driving, one where kids can walk safely to school.”
Riddle: “This is what I worked on extensively with Holden. We need to recognize that we have a climate emergency. We need to increase the use of a reliable Metro. We are expanding the metro line, and we just need federal funding now. You know the trouble they’re in.”
“When we place housing around public transit, people will take it as long as it is safe. We should not be able to shop based on zip code. We need businesses to be safe and people to feel safe and to avoid food deserts. We see businesses in Oakland and San Francisco leaving because they don’t feel safe. If you think businesses are leaving communities because they don’t want to make money, you’re wrong. It’s because they don’t feel safe.”
Finally, the candidates addressed criminal justice reform.
“We learned in summer of 2020 we have an uneven criminal justice system,” said Leano. “It is impacting young men of color. I don’t have the answers what to do, but I can shine a light and make it all transparent as possible. We took a real hard look in Claremont, made common sense reforms, and looked into who we hired. We did all of that through a citizen led police commission who were able to ask the critical questions.”
Riddle added “As a retired police officer, I can share with you it is one of the major topics of why police and people who don’t follow a lawful order. If elected, I would be a bridge between law enforcement. Everyone doesn’t belong in the profession. But for those that do, it is an honorable profession. Those in the leadership positions want to see change. Mayor Karen Bass took a bold step in approving $1 billion to recruit, train, and get the right officers for LA. I’ll follow that lead.”
Other debates in D 41 and other districts statewide are expected to continue on over the rest of the fall and winter going into the March 5th primary.
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