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Tasha Cerda

At least one of the five candidates seeking a pair of seats on the Gardena City Council will be a new face on the dais after the March 5 election.

Councilman Ron Ikejiri is vacating his seat because he is termed out, making Councilwoman Tasha Cerda the only incumbent in the race.

The other four contenders are former Mayor Terry Terauchi, and political newcomers Rodney Tanaka, Kathleen "Suzy" Evans, and Mark Henderson.

Cerda refused to be interviewed about her election platform, claiming she had had a bad experience with a journalist recently.

Cerda, an insurance agent, has a long history of community volunteerism, and was first appointed to the council in 2009 shortly after she was elected city clerk.

Terauchi, 64, served as mayor from 2001 to 2005 as the city was beginning to recover from two failed city initiatives - a first-time homebuyers' program and a municipal insurance company - that left it near bankruptcy. Though he oversaw the city's progress from a $5 million operating deficit to a $3 million surplus, he left office while the city still faced a looming $26 million debt.

Terauchi works as a Los Angeles County deputy district attorney investigating white-collar crime and health care fraud. He said he decided to return to city politics because there is a large need for more senior and youth programs.

He hopes to negotiate a deal with the National Guard to convert its armory in Gardena into a space for city programs.

"The Nakaoka Community Center has a full calendar," Terauchi said. "The reason they can't increase programs is because they don't have space. I don't see any other use for (the armory) other than that they store stuff."

He also said he would draw from his experience in office to seek public funds to help clean some of the city's roughly two dozen "brownfields," or environmentally contaminated lots. He said he would connect with state and federal politicians to help get additional funding to clean the areas so that businesses will have more incentive to build there.

When he was mayor, Terauchi said he "started the city on the way to obtaining federal funds. That helped us with funds to upgrade our police station and get the latest equipment for police cars."

Tanaka, a 59-year-old case manager and chaplain for the Union Rescue Mission in Los Angeles (who is not related to incumbent Mayor Paul Tanaka), said he decided to run to keep the city going in the same direction it has been in recent years.

"If it's not broke, don't change it," Tanaka said. "I believe we have the finest Police Department. The technology we have is cutting edge. Citizens should be proud they can feel safe."

If elected, Tanaka said he would be most interested in working with school board members to improve safety. He would also advocate to bring an anchor retail tenant to the city.

"Something that draws people to shop here," he said. "I'd have to look at what my options are."

Evans, 59, works in Internet sales and video production and is a former financial controller. She grew up in Gardena, but moved away for several years before moving back recently.

"I left this area because it just wasn't the city I grew up in," Evans said. "It wasn't as nice, as pretty and beautiful. I wanted to see if I could do anything to change that."

She said she would prioritize tree planting - something that was reduced with recent budget cutbacks.

"Trees make a huge difference in the city as far as property values and quality of life," she said.

Evans would also like to attract new businesses to the city by courting frustrated Los Angeles businesses.

"Los Angeles has an adversarial relationship with businesses. If they're going to leave, why not come here?"

Henderson, a 44-year-old technology director, is on the city's Planning Commission and Rent Mediation Board. He said he wants the city government to be "more responsive" to the community, and to seek grant funds for public safety improvements. 

He said he would seek business partnerships to help remediate some of the city's two dozen environmentally contaminated brownfields. He also suggested that the city demolish some of them in order to speed up progress.

"I have a background in business as well as organizational leadership, and community organizing," Henderson said. "I understand budgeting, planning within the public sector."

sandy.mazza@dailybreeze.com

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