CERRITOS – The two candidates competing to replace outgoing Los Angeles County Supervisor Don Knabe displayed sharp contrasts on issues of transportation and homelessness during a debate in Cerritos on Tuesday night.
Rep. Janice Hahn (D-San Pedro), a former L.A. city council member, is running against Steve Napolitano, a former mayor of Manhattan Beach and Knabe’s senior deputy, for the Fourth Supervisorial District seat.
Hosted by KPCC at Cerritos Library, the nearly 90-minute debate highlighted the differences between Hahn and Napolitano who shared similar goals for L.A. County, but proposed separate paths to get there.
Perhaps the greatest difference arose over transportation and Measure M, the county initiative to instate a permanent half-cent sales tax to raise $840 million per year to fund transit operations and traffic decongestion efforts.
Hahn offered her support for the measure, while acknowledging it needed oversight to ensure the funds go towards the cities in the Fourth District.
“I’m very upset about the ballot language, but this will provide $120 billion, create good jobs, and fast track these transit projects,” she said.
Napolitano opposes the measure, citing the 43 cities that have petitioned against the tax proposal.
“This is a city of L.A.-driven measure. It’s shortchanging the Fourth District. I’m standing with my cities and voting no on Measure M,” he said.
The candidates also addressed homelessness, which increased by 5.7% in L.A. County since 2015.
Napolitano proposed creating private/public partnerships to tackle the issue by increasing more low-income and transitional housing options. He even floated the idea of a quarter-cent sales tax dedicated entirely for homeless services.
“Our non-profits are overwhelmed -- we need help to fund these programs,” he said.
Hahn agreed that more money should be earmarked for homelessness prevention, offering her support for rapid re-housing and the “Millionaire’s Tax,” which could raise $250 million from increasing taxes on wealthy residents of L.A. County.
Both candidates agreed that addressing mental health was also key in the conversations around homelessness.
The tensest moment of the debate came when Hahn was asked to defend reports that her campaign accepted nearly $440,000 in illegal donations from political action committees, which can only donate $150,000.
Hahn said she has since paid the money back, calling the excess donations a misunderstanding of campaign financing rules, which did give Hahn’s campaign higher fundraising limits on personal donations since Napolitano self-funded his campaign with $2 million.
“I am not a millionaire so I had to raise every dollar,” said Hahn accusing Napolitano of trying to buy a seat on the board of supervisors.
Napolitano maintained that the excess money Hahn collected in the primary helped buoy her campaign.
Nevertheless, Hahn and Napolitano agreed closely on a number of other issues like business-friendly policies and fiscal solvency.
Hahn touted her record brokering contract deals with union workers as a city council member and spoke of her time on the small business committee in Congress.
Napolitano cited the difficulty for businesses to get permits and licenses at the county level, promising to streamline the process, reduce fees, and launch a business summit to bring government and the business community together.
Responding to an audience question about education, Napolitano doubled down on his call for early childhood education programs as well as expanded arts education county-wide.
“I am supportive of every ballot measure that supports our schools,” said Hahn, who proposed pushing for smaller class sizes and investments in before and after-school programs as well as vocational training.
The winner on Nov. 8 will represent nearly two million people in the county’s Fourth District, which stretches from the South Bay, down to Long Beach, and up through the Gateway cities like Downey and Norwalk to Diamond Bar.