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VOX POPULI: An Eventful Tenure on the Council

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James Toma with wife Minerva and children Cruz and Paz.

By JAMES TOMA

Editor’s note: West Covina City Councilmember James Toma attended his last council meeting on Dec. 4. Following is his parting message to his supporters.

I want to thank you for all that you did to help me in my campaign for re-election to the West Covina City Council. Unfortunately, I came up short in my bid. My term comes to an end on Tuesday, but the experiences I’ve had as a councilman and mayor have been remarkable and the memories unforgettable.

I am especially grateful to my loving family: my children Cruz and Paz, who understood that what I was doing was important, and Minerva, for her wisdom and support. It was never her desire to be the spouse of an elected official, but she let me pursue my dream of serving the public and wholly supported me.

Since Day One as a councilman, I have looked out foremost for our residents and have always tried to do what was in their best interest. I plan to stay involved in city affairs, but I also plan to spend more time with family and friends, start running again (the exercise kind), and read more.

I want to touch on some of the accomplishments from my term, and let you know what happened in the election, since many were surprised by the outcome. That’s further down below if you care to read more. But for now, one last “thank you” from the bottom of my heart.

Accomplishments

Downtown. We created a downtown plan that is bringing in attractive development, including Porto’s Bakery, Gaucho Grill steakhouse, and new housing. The Plaza West Covina plans to do a significant remodel, with new businesses, entertainment, housing, public transit, and a hotel.

Parks. We opened our first soccer park and our first all-inclusive playground for kids with disabilities. We banned smoking. We received funding to repair trails at our nature parks.

Community. We started an annual community service day and many other partnerships with community service groups, churches, and schools.

Public Safety. We increased police officers, purchased new police cars, three new fire trucks, and made needed repairs and upgrades to our police and fire stations.

Business. We reopened three new car dealerships, and nearly doubled the number of new businesses.

Transparency. We implemented public town halls and open budget workshops, published city expenditures, made all city contracts public, and created reporting procedures for fraud and waste.

Health and Sustainability. We made possible the expansion of our hospital, won a regional award for water-saving measures, upgraded city facilities for energy efficiency, installed new electric car chargers, made bus stop improvements, and created an active transportation plan to encourage walking, biking, and safe routes to schools.

Homelessness. We were the first city in San Gabriel Valley to adopt and fund the county rapid rehousing program, implemented a regional mental health unit, a bike patrol team at parks and commercial areas, and passed an ordinance to remove public health hazards.

Campaign Finance. We reduced the donation amount for businesses to equal individuals. We barred city contractors and developers from making campaign donations. We required dark money special interest independent expenditure campaigns to disclose their top donors.

We had a divided council and I was frequently in the minority. I was the only councilmember who denounced the anti-immigrant, paid provocateurs whom the mayor invited to City Hall; I sought to reduce electricity rates and increase use of clean power; I voted against an exclusive developer agreement for a huge development on 122 acres of open space; I spoke out against promoting a colleague to mayor after his DUI conviction for meth; I voted against unjustified trash rate increases; and I opposed the NRA proposal to require our police chief to issue gun permits to virtually anyone who wanted to carry a gun.

I supported bonds to upgrade our community college and local school facilities; I voted to give our residents the option to tax themselves for higher levels of public safety; I made responsible cuts to balance our budget; I voted for measures that saved millions of dollars; and I voted against an irresponsible spending plan that cost over $1 million in overtime, and nearly $2 million a year.

The Election

The reasons I lost? First, the firefighter association, unhappy not to get the pay raises they demanded, and wanting to preserve their overtime pay, sent flyers saying I was responsible for cuts to police and fire and increase in crime (we actually increased officers from 90 to 99 positions and violent crime is one-third less than a decade ago). I voted against their multi-million-dollar staffing plan that would put the city on the road to bankruptcy, so the firefighter association spent tens of thousands of dollars against me, telling voters in a final weekend hit piece that I was “dangerous for public safety.”

Second, this was our first election voting by district (instead of citywide) and our first even-year election. This meant a lot of new voters who had never voted in a city election who didn’t know me or my entire record.

Third, homelessness increased in the city over the last few years.

Fourth, due to decisions made in 2000, we’ve had to pay $20 million more in pension payments since I was elected, which created a tough budget. I was the only councilmember up for re-election willing to balance last year’s budget with responsible cuts. I was attacked for voting to put a sales tax measure on the ballot to support public safety. While 12 local cities passed tax measures, we could not get one on the ballot.

Fifth, my opponent grew up here, is the best friend of the most prominent developer in the city, works for his father, a doctor who serves many local patients, was supported by the two conservatives on the council, and ran a negative, misleading campaign.

Ties With Japan

Among the memorable events was having the City of West Covina, working with the East San Gabriel Valley Japanese Community Center, host Team Japan for the Special Olympics World Games. We also sent a delegation of local officials, community members, and students to our sister city Ohtawara, Japan. Both were enriching experiences in cross-cultural exchange that brought our communities together and which I will never forget.

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The Rafu Shimpo’s management and staff continually strive to maintain high editorial standards for professionalism as well as accurate and balanced news coverage. The inclusion of a particular piece, including columns and op-ed submissions by contributing writers in print and/or digitally, does not necessarily reflect the policy or position of the owners, management, individual staff members, and editors. The Rafu Shimpo welcomes responses to any article published in print or digitally. Responses may be sent to author directly or emailed to [email protected]

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