BELLFLOWER - Candidates running for the City Council criticized incumbents' economic development record during a forum Tuesday night.
Luis Melliz, Usbaldo "Alex" Munoz and Gloria Willingham said the council hasn't done enough to attract new business to the city, especially to the empty storefronts along Bellflower and Artesia boulevards.
Candidate Ron Schnablegger said he thought the city was doing a "pretty good job" with everything, but agreed with Melliz and Munoz that the Bellflower needs to streamline its process for issuing conditional use permits and lower some start-up business fees.
"It takes three or four months to get a conditional use permit," Schnablegger said during the forum attended by about 50 people in the youth center at St. Dominic Savio Church. "There has to be an easier way to get an answer for people."
Munoz, a contractor, is challenging councilmen Dan Koops and Scott Larsen for two four-year council seats in the March 5 election.
The other candidates - Melliz, a freelance campaign organizer; Schnablegger, a real estate appraiser; and Willingham, a college professor, are competing for an open seat vacated by Randy Bomgaars, who resigned last summer. A fourth candidate for that seat, who has only been identified as R. Yahye, didn't attend.
Koops and Larsen didn't address the ideas of simplifying the permit process or lowering some business fees, but said they're fully aware of the numerous vacant buildings dotting the boulevards and want to fill them with new businesses.
"We see what you see. We're not proud of Bellflower Boulevard. It's deplorable," Koops said. "We could fill Bellflower Boulevard with tattoo shops, check cashing stores and judo studios, but that's not the best for the city.
"We've spent hours trying to put a plan together, and we're close to having a good project in that area," Koops said, but wouldn't elaborate, saying the deal isn't confirmed yet.
With 68 percent of homes being rental properties, that makes it difficult to attract businesses because business owners consider renters unstable customers, Larsen said.
But the upcoming $8 million Belmont Court project, a mixed use development of 30 townhomes and two restaurants, scheduled to open by July at the intersection of Belmont Street and Bellflower Boulevard, should be a magnet for other development, Koops said.
Apart from economic development, quality of life was addressed Tuesday.
The incumbents were asked why the city doesn't have an off-leash dog park.
Koops and Larsen said the idea has been discussed for a couple of years, but the city doesn't own the land where new parks opened, and the property owners wouldn't allow it.
However, Koops said the city will have an off-leash dog park within five years, but he didn't elaborate.