By J.K. YAMAMOTO, Rafu Staff Writer
TORRANCE — Leilani Kimmel-Dagostino has high hopes for June 7.
In 2014, as one of 16 candidates for four seats on the Torrance City Council, she came in fifth, falling short by just 765 votes.
Then-Councilmember Pat Furey’s election as mayor created another vacancy on the council. Kimmel-Dagostino was one of 12 applicants for the job, but there was no requirement to choose the next-highest vote-getter, or any of the 12 unsuccessful candidates. The council seat went to Mike Griffiths, who had finished in eighth place.
In the upcoming election, Kimmel-Dagostino, a member of the Torrance Commission on Aging, is running for one of three council seats, this time against only five opponents — incumbents Griffiths and Geoff Rizzo, Planning Commissioner Milton Herring (who finished seventh in 2014), Civil Service Commissioner Asam Sheikh, and Genghmun Eng of the Torrance Refinery Action Alliance.
Compared to two years ago, “I do believe that I have greater name recognition,” said Kimmel-Dagostino, a registered financial consultant and small business owner. “I can attest to this because in walking precincts, many people have said they remembered me and voted for me in the last election and were happy that I was running again.
“Fewer candidates is always an advantage because in the candidate forums we can give more complete answers to questions.”
So far, six candidate forums have been held, sponsored by the Old Torrance Neighborhood Association, Torrance Chamber of Commerce, League of Women Voters, Riviera Homeowners Association, North Torrance Homeowners Association, and Torrance Aviation Association. The next one will be held on May 15 by New Horizons, and the one after that, which is sponsored by Southwood Homeowners Association and open to the public, is set for May 18 from 7 to 9 p.m. at Anza Elementary School, 21400 Ellinwood Dr.
“The forums are not actually debates,” Kimmel-Dagostino explained. “The questions come from a panel and may be a compilation of questions that have been submitted by an audience. There is always a moderator. If there is time, the audience can ask additional questions, but they must be submitted to all candidates to answer and not just one specific candidate. We are not allowed to verbally attack another candidate.”
Issues discussed at the forums include infrastructure, streets, traffic, development, an increase in crime that Kimmel-Dagostino and others have blamed on the passage of AB 109 and Proposition 47, Toyota’s move from Torrance to Plano, Texas, and the explosion at the ExxonMobil refinery and its aftermath.
“California is not the easiest place to do business because of all the regulations placed on business,” Kimmel-Dagostino commented. “It was sad that we could not offer any incentives for Toyota to stay. Texas offered them tax breaks and a lower cost of living, plus no state income tax.”
At the same time, she expressed confidence that another business will be found to take over Toyota’s campus.
Toyota CEO Jim Lentz has been quoted as saying that as many as 75 percent of the company’s 4,000 U.S. employees may make the move to the new North American headquarters in Plano.
“The only thing I am concerned about is that it is going to be a real culture shock for some employees because all of the stores that they were used to in Torrance are not yet available to them,” Kimmel-Dagostino said. “Plus the weather is completely different with four seasons as opposed to Southern California.”
Regarding the refinery, she said, “ExxonMobil had announced plans to move several years ago because this operation on the West Coast was very removed from their base of operation in Texas and the Gulf of Mexico. It was unfortunate that this accident happened when negotiations to sell were in progress. I do believe that ExxonMobil had started to slack off on their maintenance in order to maximize profits and knowing that a sale was in the works.
“Then when the explosion happened, new questions started to arise about their use of hydrofluoric acid in the production of gasoline. It doesn’t help their case that they have been less than transparent and less than cooperative in answering subpoenas and distributing accurate information.
“I believe that once they are up and running again safely and the sale to PBF [Energy Inc.] takes place, we will have a closer relationship with the new company, who has an excellent record.”
She is familiar with residents’ issues involving the refinery, having served on the ExxonMobil Citizens Advisory Panel.
Born in Honolulu when her father was stationed at Pearl Harbor, Kimmel-Dagostino was raised in Chicago. A graduate of Northern Illinois University, she has an MBA from Pepperdine University and a registered financial planner certificate from Kaplan College.
She grew up believing her mother was dead, but as a college student she began an exhaustive search that led her back to Hawaii for a reunion with her mother along with a new extended family, and she has maintained those ties ever since. For a detailed account, visit www.leilaniforcouncil.com/finding-my-mother.
Kimmel-Dagostino has lived all over the U.S. due to her 40 years in the airline industry and her husband John’s career in the military and federal law enforcement. The couple settled in Torrance 18 years ago.
She says she wants to maintain the things that drew her and others to Torrance — “safe neighborhoods, a vibrant economy, and great city services.”
Kimmel-Dagostino, who became involved with the Republican Party while living in Houston, says that she believes in the GOP’s tenets, such as small government and a balanced budget. While there are both Democrats and Republicans on the City Council, she said, city politics are ultimately non-partisan. “Party affiliation only matters when there is a presidential election and the effects filter down to the local level. Each party may subscribe to a different ideology, but in the long run decisions have to be made that are best for the city.”
Representation on Council
The council is less balanced when it comes to Asian Pacific Islander representation, said Kimmel-Dagostino, whose maternal grandparents came from Japan. “I think it is important to have an API on the City Council because there hasn’t been one … since Ted Lieu left, and before that it was George Nakano.”
Lieu was on the City Council from 2002 to 2005 before serving in the Assembly, State Senate, and, currently, Congress. Nakano became the first person of color elected to the City Council in 1984 and served more than 14 years before being elected to the Assembly.
“Our city is trending 40 percent Asian and our City Council should reflect our population base,” Kimmel-Dagostino said. “In talking to API business owners and residents, their feeling is that they have no representation and no one is sensitive to their needs. The local students have told me that they have no role model to aspire to. When our exchange students from our sister city of Kashiwa come to visit, they see no one on the City Council that reflects their culture.”
Although May is nationally recognized as Asian Pacific American Heritage Month, she added, “our City Council has never had a recognition or proclamation to this effect. Also, there has never been an Asian woman on the City Council in the entire history of Torrance.”
Kimmel-Dagostino, a board member of the South Bay JACL, volunteers with the Torrance Sister City Association and its annual Bunka-Sai as well as the Gardena Valley Japanese Cultural Institute and its Matsuri Carnival. She has also been involved with the Torrance Area Chamber of Commerce, Torrance Memorial Hospital, Torrance Airport Association, Women in Aviation, Cultural Arts Foundation, Torrance Education Foundation, Torrance Rose Float Association, Torrance Art Museum, and Torrance Theater Company.
She has served on the Torrance Commission on Aging since 2009, including six years as chair or vice chair, and fought to keep the commission from being eliminated in 2012.
“We have an aging population and I will always be cognizant of their needs,” she said. “I will make sure we have the funding available for our senior programs, like the Senior Tour Program and the Senior Taxi Program. Both these items were on the chopping block three years ago during budget discussions.
“I will try to foster more joint programs between our Youth Council and the Bartlett Senior Center. Both age groups seem to enjoy the experience when we have tried programs like this before. I also will continue to work with the Torrance Police Department to continue the Seniors Don’t Be Scammed Programs.
“When new developments are in the works, I will make sure there is adequate handicapped parking, restrooms, and ease of mobility. Being a senior citizen myself makes me more aware of what other senior citizens experience.”
Organizations that have endorsed her include the Torrance Police Officers Association, Torrance Firefighters Association, Torrance Municipal Employees (AFSCME Local 1117), Laborers’ International Union of North America Local 1309, Ironworkers Local 433, and International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers Local 11.
Kimmel-Dagostino has the support of many of her fellow Torrance city commissioners: Aging — Kathleen Davis, Paul Cohen, Lynda Kramer, Benito Miranda; Airport — Melvin Glass, Steven Hsiao; Cable Advisory — John De Rago, Dan Feliz; Cultural Arts — Anil Muhammed; Environmental — Kathryn Endo-Roberts; Parks and Recreation — Ray Uchima; Social Services — Charlotte Svolos; Water — Kent Kawai, Linden Nishinaga, Rick Marshall, Alex See.
In addition to Mayor Furey, elected officials who have endorsed her include State Sen. Ben Allen, Torrance City Councilmember Tim Goodrich, Torrance Unified School District Board member Terry Ragins, former Redondo Beach Mayor Mike Gin, Hawthorne City Councilmember Olivia Valentine, and Gardena City Councilmember Dan Medina.
To see the candidate’s three-minute platform speech, go to: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=eyoIP6xz63c