By J.K. YAMAMOTO, Rafu Staff Writer
GARDENA — Gardena has been without a mayor since the departure of Paul Tanaka in June 2016. All of the current City Council members and two former members are competing for the position in the March 7 election.
A former mayor, Councilmember Terrence “Terry” Terauchi, is in the running along with Mayor Pro Tem Mark Henderson, Councilmembers Tasha Cerda and Dan Medina, and former Councilmembers Ronald Ikejiri and Rachel Johnson, along with compressor mechanic supervisor Warren Kronberger.
Terauchi and Cerda are giving up their council seats; Henderson and Medina will remain on the council if they lose. Eight candidates are seeking to fill the two vacancies.
A 29-year resident of Gardena, Terauchi served on the City Council from 1991 to 2001 and as mayor from 2001 to 2005, when he was defeated by Tanaka. Terauchi returned to the council in 2013 — winning the seat vacated by Ikejiri, who was termed out — and was mayor pro tem from 2015 to 2016.
Born in Honolulu and raised in a military family, Terauchi earned his law degree at UC Berkeley and has been on staff with the Los Angeles County District Attorney’s Office since 1986. He has worked on more than 170 jury trials and was named Prosecutor of the Month by his colleagues in 1994.
Terauchi has been representing Gardena as a delegate to the League of California Cities and the Inglewood Fire Training Facility Authority Commission as well as the city’s alternate to the Independent Cities Association and South Bay Cities Council of Governments.
His community experience includes serving as president of the Gardena JACL and Gardena Evening Optimist Club; an Executive Board member of Gardena Memorial Hospital; a board member of the Gardena-Carson Family YMCA, South Bay Honda Golf Classic, and Gardena Valley Japanese Cultural Institute; and a member of the Gardena Valley Chamber of Commerce, Gardena Elks Lodge 1919, and the city’s Planning and Environmental Quality Commission.
Having lived in Gardena for 29 years, he said he has seen many transitions. “The population has changed from a community of a large Japanese American base to one with a large Hispanic base. The Japanese nurseries are leaving our city and being replaced by housing developments. The Japanese gardeners who once were a large part of our population have generally passed on. The local Japanese/Hawaiian restaurants are now becoming Korean and Vietnamese restaurants, with regional and national food outlets replacing much of the mom-and-pop restaurants.”
Speaking as a former mayor, Terauchi said, “I believe that I can truly contribute to the welfare of our city during a turbulent time. Our current mayor is gone, our city manager has retired, and senior staff persons have, or will soon, retire. I believe that I can bring stability to our city during this period of transition, while we hire a new city manager and senior staff persons. I would seek to hire the best, most experienced and qualified persons to serve our city.”
Tanaka approved Police Chief Ed Medrano as City Manager Mitch Lansdell’s successor, but Terauchi told The Daily Breeze that Medrano has been too accommodating to new businesses and has worked with too little oversight.
In his interview with The Rafu, Teruachi — who has said he is uncomfortable with spending the majority of the city’s savings on police department and senior center improvements at the Civic Center — said, “I am also concerned about the financial stability of our city, to make sure that we do not take undue financial risks during this time of transition.”
During his time as mayor and councilman, he said, “our city has experienced tremendous growth of residential and commercial development, more than at any time during the previous 30 years. Some of the projects are Emerald Square, Albertsons, Smart & Final, CVS Pharmacy, Walgreens, Vons, Ralphs, Del Taco, and many others too numerous to name.”
Asked what sets him apart from his fellow candidates, he responded, “Honesty, with straightforward answers. Concern for the quality of life of the city’s residents.” At the same time, he said that the council members “all get along” despite the fact that they are political rivals.
The council has only had four members since Tanaka, former undersheriff of Los Angeles County, was convicted and sentenced on federal charges of obstructing an FBI investigation into abuse of inmates in the county jails. The council opted to wait for the next election rather than hold a special election or appoint an interim mayor.
“The council has functioned well after Mayor Tanaka stepped down, but has not taken any bold steps to move forward in any defining direction,” Terauchi commented. “I believe that it will take the new mayor to direct that direction for our city.”
Japanese Americans — including Ken Nakaoka, who has a community center named after him, and Mas Fukai, who has a park named after him — have been prominent in Gardena politics for decades, but that is changing, Terauchi said. “The Japanese American community is quickly shrinking due to the age of its residents. The younger generation has moved out of the city. This is also part of the transition of our city. The leadership and input of the Japanese American community may be passing on. That may be why there are so many current candidates for mayor and City Council.
“To appeal to Gardena voters, one must gain the support of more than one ethnic group. Much like the general population, one cannot win an election without a broad range of support from multiple groups.”
Regarding what lies ahead for the city, Terauchi said, “Gardena has always been unique for its balanced ethnic population and its unique restaurants … The future of our city seems bright with the growth of hotels and restaurants being boosted by the arrival of two football teams in close proximity to our city. We just must be careful to maintain discipline and balance in moving forward.”