Rafu Staff Report
James Toma became mayor of West Covina on Dec. 1 when he was sworn in by his father, Walter, in the council chambers.
Toma was accompanied by his wife, Minerva, their son, Cruz, and their daughter, Paz, as he took the oath of office before a crowded chamber filled with friends and relatives.
Elected to the City Council in 2013, Toma was named mayor pro tem last year. Under the city’s mayoral selection process, councilmembers’ names move up in the succession order as outgoing councilmembers are moved off the list. Newly elected councilmembers are added to the bottom of the list in an order determined by the number of votes received in the election.
During the meeting, the council welcomed new members Lloyd Johnson and Tony Wu and said goodbye to outgoing Mayor Fred Sykes, who lost his bid for re-election last month, and Councilmember Ben Wong, who was appointed to fill a vacancy on the council earlier this year.
Councilmember Corey Warshaw was named mayor pro tem. Also serving on the council is Mike Spence.
“It’s a pleasure for me to see the standing-room-only crowd here tonight … It’s really nice for us to see our council chambers filled with people with smiling faces,” Toma said. “It is a rare event, so we’re going to treasure this evening very much …
“The first person I want to thank is my wife Minerva. I met her 20 years ago almost to the day and she is just as lovely today as she was back then. I couldn’t even begin to think about engaging in this kind of public service without her full support and advice.
“We have two wonderful children who are just amazing and they teach us a lot of lessons every day. And I hope that someday they will grow up and appreciate what all this means.”
He thanked his parents — “for raising my brother and I to appreciate the importance of integrity, of service, and of gratitude, not just for the things that we have but the people in our lives” — as well as his in-laws and other family members. “It’s a school night for some of you who are parents, and I very much appreciate you being here. I would not be here today without your friendship and your support.”
Toma also recognized the city’s commissioners and staff. “These are the people who protect our homes and our businesses, they safeguard our roads, our parks, and they make sure our city is running, and they don’t always receive a lot of thanks for the work that they do and for their public service.”
Summing up his two years on the council, he said, “We requested the state controller’s audit, and based on that report and other reports, we made some changes to our city. We created policies and procedures to ensure that we don’t have waste or fraud in our city. We have created an award-winning community service group working with our local service groups … to improve our city.
“We had a very successful Special Olympics host town event with Team Japan. We also started and implemented our annual Community Service Day … We’ve also financed our veterans’ memorial, a long-standing project that the city has wanted to do, and now we have funded it and it will be unveiled next year.”
The new mayor listed accomplishments and ongoing challenges in various areas:
Business — “We paved the way for the reopening of a number of auto dealerships in our city to bring in much needed and desired sales tax revenue. Our commercial vacancies have been cut more than half. They’re down from 7 percent to only 3 percent now. And in the last couple years we’ve … seen 600 new businesses come into the city … including the much anticipated Portos Bakery, which will be coming to West Covina soon.”
Water — “We have instituted a number of water-saving measures in response to the historic drought … We cut our water use in the city by 40 percent, and for our efforts we’ve received an award from our regional water district.”
Public safety — “We increased the number of police positions, but we still have a long way to go to meet our city’s goal with respect to staffing … We have aging Fire Department safety equipment that needs to be replaced and updated, and we need to address the staffing issues in that department that the city has dealt with for many, many years.”
Transparency — “We want to have a more open, interactive budget process. We need to make our City Council more accessible through listening sessions and town hall meetings, and we need to implement greater technology to make sure that public information is more readily accessible and interactive with our public. We’re also going to implement an audit committee to make sure that there’s some independent review of our city finances.”
Transportation — We … want to make sure that our streets, our roads are more bike-friendly and pedestrian-friendly. We’d also like to see a bus transit facility that’s long been in the works, and which the commuters and the people who take public transportation in West Covina have long wanted to see here in our city.
Community services — “We’re happy that we’re going to break ground on our new soccer field at Orangewood Park … We’re going to have a new playground at Cameron Park for people with disabilities, and we’re very proud that we’re doing those things.”
Civic engagement — “We only had 14 percent of our registered voters vote in elections, and we have to figure out ways to better engage our residents and our voters … figure out how we do that, what’s missing that they’re not interacting with our city and they’re not voting. We want to target our youth and our seniors and our vets to see how we can interact with them.”
Toma concluded, “The success of our city will depend greatly on how we as a council work with each other, how well we listen to each other, how well we listen to you to collaborate and find areas of common ground to improve our city.
“We have a very diverse city — people of all races and ethnic backgrounds. We have residents who are newly moved in, and we have residents … who have lived here for 60-plus years. What they all share in common is that they want our City Council to succeed. Because if our City Council succeeds, that means our city will succeed and prosper.
“I look forward to working for you. It’s a privilege to be your mayor.”
Toma is also a deputy attorney general in the California Department of Justice, where he works on consumer protection issues. He is a member of the East San Gabriel Valley Japanese Community Center and the National Alliance on Mental Illness and has served as president of the Friends of the West Covina Library and the Japanese American Bar Association.