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LGBTQ community could see historic win in Signal Hill City Council election

This bronze-cast sculpture at Sunset View Park shows two oil workers, Signal Hill Petroleum chairman Jerry Barto and Shell Oil employee Bruce Kerr, installing pipe into an oil line, symbolizing the rich history of Signal Hill and two of its key contributors. Three openly gay candidates are on the ballot for Tuesday’s City Council election. If they all win, it would be a historic win for the LGBTQ community. Photo: City of Signal Hill.

SIGNAL HILL — The City’s election on Tuesday could be historic for the LGBTQ community.

Three openly gay candidates are on the ballot for Signal Hill City Council (Tom Benson, a city planning commissioner; City Treasurer Larry Blunden and Keir Jones, an insurance agent), and if all three win, they would join Councilman Larry Forester who also is gay, meaning four out of the five council members are gay — A first for Signal Hill.

At one time, two gay men and one lesbian served on the council. From 2001 to 2013, Forester, Michael Noll, who is retiring from local government after more than 30 years, and Ellen Ward, who lost a re-election bid in 2013, were on the council.

Apart from Benson, Blunden and Jones, six other contenders, including incumbents Ed Wilson and Lori Woods, are running for three open council seats. Council members serve four-year terms, so the three candidates who receive the largest number of votes will serve until 2021.

The other challenges are Jason Aula, a political consultant; Carol Churchill, an attorney; City Clerk Robert Copeland and Maria Harris, a retired professor.

Blunden and Copeland were both appointed to their posts in 2014 and elected in 2015. If either of them win a council seat, the city must decide how to fill the the vacancy.

Q Voice News interviewed Blunden and Jones about their visions for the city. Benson was scheduled twice for an interview, but canceled both times. He didn’t return Q Voice News’ calls to reschedule.

City Treasurer Larry Blunden is one of candidates running in Tuesday’s Signal Hill City Council election. Photo: Larry Blunden.

LARRY BLUNDEN

A 32-year resident of Signal Hill, Blunden, 66, is city treasurer. He volunteers as president of the Signal Hill Historical Society, is treasurer of the Friends of the Signal Hill Library, president of his homeowners association and treasurer of the California GLBT League Officials.

Why are you running for city council?

“As the elected city treasurer, your duties are pretty limited. You sign the checks and oversee the finances, but you don’t participate in helping the city grow. As city treasurer, I am doing as much as I can. I want to become more involved,” Blunden says. “Mike Noll and Larry Forester encouraged me to jump in and continue Mike’s legacy.”

What are your top three issues?

Safe neighborhoods

“Safety of neighborhoods and making sure we keep is always at the forefront of people’s minds,” Blunden says. “The community would like to see a presence of police driving around more often.”

Fiscal responsibility

“Our city is fiscally responsible. We have strong reserves, the Economic Uncertainty Fund. We have enough reserves to sustain city services for 10 or 11 months if we had no revenue,” he says. “Everybody’s goal is to get the fund up to a year. We were at 20 percent in 2011 and now we are close to 90 percent.

“Most of revenue comes from sales tax,” Blunden says. “We have to diversify to secure that revenue, but we don’t have the answers yet on how to do that.”

Sustainable development

“We only have so much space left. I want to look at the future. I have solar panels on my roof. How can we be more energy wise and sustainable development? What will our city be like in 100 years? I would like to see us be ahead of the state, take it up one step,” Blunden says.

“A city ordinance is the only way to do it. It’s a smart move,” he says. “I want us to be a leader, not a follower.”

Why is it important to have an openly gay council person?

“I don’t have any gay agenda. I have a city agenda. I have a passion for the city,” Blunden says. “It’s important to show we are everyday people who do everyday things. It shows we are a diverse city.”

Small business owner Keir Jones is one of nine candidates running in Tuesday’s Signal Hill City Council election. Photo: Q Voice News.

KEIR JONES

A previous board member of the Legal Aid Foundation and past president of the Long Beach Gay and Lesbian Chamber of Commerce as well as a member of the Signal Hill Chamber of Commerce, Jones, 44, is a small business owner with his insurance agency. Jones has lived in Signal Hill with his husband, Thomas-Michael Dileva, almost a decade.

Why are you running for city council?

“We moved to Signal Hill in 2009. The development stopped in 2008. The energy and excitement stopped. We need to finish local projects, local retail projects,” Jones says. “We have commercial, industrial and retail pockets, but no identity. We need to connect these parcels in a special way with trails.

“I have run a successful small business and made connections in chambers of commerce, with political leaders and with nonprofits,” Jones says. “I’ve made these partnerships and collaborations.”

Safe neighborhoods

“We’ve had some property crime in the city,” Jones says. “Residents would like to see police making more rounds so we can eliminate thefts and break ins.”

Economic development and quality of life

“We could have a town center near the site of the old Fresh and Easy, a mixed use project with condos, retail, restaurants and public space,” Jones says. “The city already has a letter of intent from Mother’s Market. There’s a historic neighborhood next to that area. We could brand the area and connect it with trails.

“We need a vision and master plan for the area,” he says. “These projects need to b relevant to people and multi-use.”

Why is it important to have an openly gay council member?

“It’s bigger than Signal Hill. It’s important to have an openly gay leadership because we need visibility and to share our point of view,” Jones says. “Visibility keeps you relevant and keeps you at the table. You need to be part of the conversation.”

About the author

Phillip Zonkel

Award-winning journalist Phillip Zonkel spent 17 years at Long Beach's Press-Telegram, where he was the first reporter in the paper's history to have a beat covering the city's vibrant LGBTQ. He also created and ran the popular and innovative LGBTQ news blog, Out in the 562.

He won two awards and received a nomination for his reporting on the local LGBTQ community, including a two-part investigation that exposed anti-gay bullying of local high school students and the school districts' failure to implement state mandated protections for LGBTQ students.

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