NORWALK - The city's double-digit homicide rate and an out-of-date sewer system in need of repair are top issues for most candidates in the March 5 City Council election.
Incumbents Cheri Kelley and Mike Mendez will face challengers Darryl Rodney Adams, a Norwalk-La Mirada School Board Member; Enrique Aranda, a marketing director with the Los Angeles Catholic Archdiocese; and Candy Martinez, a small business owner. They will compete for two open council seats.
Bryan C. Mesinas Perez withdrew from the election, but his name remains on the ballot.
One of the biggest issues for those running is rising crime. In 2012, 11 people were killed in the city, up from five killed in 2011.
Most of the homicides were gang-related; police arrested suspects in nine of the incidents, officials have said.
Adams and Aranda say the city needs more outreach to residents and neighborhood watch groups to have an ongoing dialogue about safety and have more collaboration with the Norwalk Sheriff's Station.
"The South Side (where many of the shootings took place) feels neglected," Aranda said. "They feel they don't have a voice on City Council."
Aranda said the city also needs more after-school and recreation youth programs, but didn't specify what types of programs. They could be paid for with corporate sponsorships, not taxes or service fees, Aranda said.
Kelley, now serving as mayor, and Mendez say that dialogue is already underway. The city is in constant communication with the Sheriff's station and has held several community meetings with residents. The city also has reached out to various churches and clergy to help.
"We're trying to break down barriers," said Kelley, who was first elected to the council in 1997 and is in the midst of her third term. "We need to gain trusts in the community so people know each other.
"We're sharing resources with churches," she said. "Sometimes they have contacts we don't and vice versa."
Mendez, who was first elected to the council in 1988 and is in the midst of his fifth term, says two public safety department employees are assigned to work with at-risk youth.
Several of the candidates say public infrastructure also is a priority, particularly the city's 151-mile sewer system. The lines have not been updated nor repaired since being installed before 1957.
The city is in the process of surveying all the lines to prioritize what needs to be repaired first.
"We're a busted pipe from being a city nobody wants to visit for a long time," Adams said.
It's estimated to cost $40 million to upgrade and repair the system; that figure might rise or fall as the surveying continues, Public Services Director Gary DiCorpo said.
WANT TO GO?
What: Norwalk City Council candidate's forum
When: 11:30 a.m.-1:30 p.m. Monday
Where: Norwalk Arts and Sports Complex, 13200 Clarkdale Ave.
Tickets: $15 presale; $20 at the door
Norwalk pays for its sewer system with general fund money, but that amount of capital isn't available, Kelley said.
One option to pay for the repairs is a ballot measure putting a tax on homeowner's water bills, Kelley and Mendez say.
"We don't have the money now," Kelley said. "But sometime very soon there will be a lot of work that has to be done or we will have an issue.
"If we don't do this, people won't like what ends up in their front yards."
The five candidates are scheduled to attend a forum Monday from 11:30 a.m. to 1:30 p.m. at the Norwalk Arts and Sports Complex, 13200 Clarkdale Ave. The forum is sponsored by the Norwalk Chamber of Commerce.
Tickets are $15 presale and $20 at the door.