District 8 forum

Candidate Tunua Thrash-Ntuk answers a question during the candidate forum for the Eighth District City Council seat Wednesday, Feb. 12. The forum was sponsored by the Los Cerritos Neighborhood Association. 

Three distinct visions for Long Beach’s Eighth District were laid out before voters on Wednesday evening, Feb. 12: continue the same progress that’s been seen for the last eight years, get corporations and special interests out of local government, and make City Hall more accessible to residents.

Those were among the divisions on display during a candidate forum hosted by the Los Cerritos Neighborhood Association in the Masonic Lodge on Locust Avenue. All three candidates vying for the District 8 seat in the March 3 election participated: incumbent Councilman Al Austin, who is seeking a third term, small business owner Juan Ovalle and nonprofit director Tunua Thrash-Ntuk.

The event was moderated by LCNA President Bob Gill, who asked the candidates questions on a range of topics, including public safety, homelessness, infrastructure, small business and city finances.

Austin, in response to a question about whether District 8 received the resources it deserved, defended against accusations that not enough progress has been completed during his tenure.

“Prior to me getting on the council, we did not have any infrastructure investment for many, many years,” he said, “so we’re playing catch up in many respects.”

Austin pointed to investments in Davenport Park and planned resurfacing for many of the district’s major streets as evidence of the ongoing work. He acknowledged that some of the improvements are still underway, but he assured attendees that they will happen.

“When I tell you we are moving in the right direction,” he said, “please, trust me.”

While his challengers agreed with him on certain points — Ovalle emphasized the need for more police officers, for example, while Thrash-Ntuk said she would support the ballot measure to extend the Measure A sales tax that voters approved in 2016 — they also pointed to what they saw as deficiencies in the district’s leadership.

One of Ovalle’s sharpest critiques was about how he believed not only Austin, but the entire council have been inefficient and irresponsible with the city’s money.

Ovalle pointed to City Hall’s support — Austin included — of the Measure A sales tax extension on the March 3 ballot, which would keep the local sales tax at 10.25% indefinitely to fund infrastructure and public safety improvements.

“What I call for is an audit of this city from head to toe, from right arm to left arm, and stop the wasteful spending that we’ve had these last few years,” he said. “So the issue is not whether we need more money, but it’s about managing what we have.”

Ovalle said special interests could be at the heart of some financial waste, and he would be the candidate to root it out.

Thrash-Ntuk, meanwhile, said the current council office has not been responsive enough to its residents.

“One of the reasons why I’m running is because I feel like we haven’t had the responsiveness that we deserve,” she said. “I’m running because we should be having a two-way conversation.”

Thrash-Ntuk said she would have more meetings with residents and neighborhood leaders, as well as “an unprecedented amount of constituent services.”

“We don’t always have to agree,” she said, “but I am always open to hearing what is on your mind.”

Although the three contenders agreed on many of the key issues: public safety, infrastructure and homelessness, they disagreed about how much progress has been made on those issues and the best paths forward.

But it will ultimately be up to the voters to determine the future of the Eighth District.

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