SIGNAL HILL - Amid discussion of strip clubs, taxes and a new library, tones were respectful but tensions were high as seven candidates made their case Monday night for three open seats on the City Council.

The candidate forum in the Signal Hill Council Chambers included incumbents Mike Noll, Ellen Ward and Edward Wilson, who each defended council accomplishments during their tenure.

Challengers Robert Mendoza, Elizabeth Wise, Nancy Sciortino and Lori Woods, meanwhile, spoke of the need for new leadership.

Gary Dudley, who served as moderator of the forum sponsored by Concerned Citizens of Signal Hill, presented on-the-spot questions from the audience to each candidate. Each candidate was asked about their thoughts on necessary changes within the city.

Sciortino questioned the need for two strip clubs within the 2.2-square-mile city. She also raised concerns about the city's tax system.

"I'm fighting for our Signal Hill residents," she said. "This election is about protecting the citizens and our rights and freedoms while creating a transparent government."

Meeting the city's needs has always been a council priority, said Wilson, referencing the recent completion of the city's new police station.

"We are always working to improve the city. That's the goal of the council, to set the vision and make sure the staff and those that work here are improving the city," he said. "I think we need to make sure that we invest in our infrastructure."

He said the city is also looking into the possibility of a new library.

Taking advantage of the city's history, and building strong relationships with the oil industry, businesses and residents would bring about a much-needed change, Wise said.

"I believe that we need to integrate our fine industry here that has made us world famous," she said. The more businesses on the hill, the better, she added.

Mendoza also said the city needs to get behind its businesses.

"I think (the council) needs to partner with the Chamber of Commerce," he said. "I think we need to use the cable channel we have. I think the city should finance the chamber so that the businesses in this city can advertise at no cost to them - because we need the tax money and we need the city of Signal Hill to excel in business."

Ward shared her hopes of using abandoned oil well locations for future properties.

"The one area I think we need to really improve on in order to do all these things is the abandoned well problem we have in this city," she said. "We have over 100 abandoned wells. We need to develop some properties in order to bring in businesses."

When asked about the Signal Hill Taxpayers Right To Know and Vote initiative, a ballot measure that would force a public vote for any new or increased Signal Hill taxes, fees or assessments, Woods said she gave it a "B- plus."

"I think there are a few elements that need to be better understood, but I think it is written to the degree of 90percent of accuracy of what can be done in this city," Woods said.

"It doesn't grandfather in all fees and taxes and assessments that have already happened. It's talking about new things."

Despite the argument for the need for new council, incumbents assured residents they are relevant.

"We have not outlived our usefulness," Noll said.

pam.hale@presstelegram.com, 562-499-1476, twitter.com/PamelaHaleBurns