SIGNAL HILL - Voters booted one of three incumbents running for reelection to the Signal Hill City Council Tuesday, though it may be too close to know yet which council member lost. | PHOTOS
Following an hours-long delay caused by ballot counting machine mechanical problems, the City Clerk's Office released unofficial final tallies that showed Councilman Mike Noll and newcomer Lori Woods in the top two spots for three contested seats. Noll received 573 votes, and Woods, a small-business owner, had 546.
However, only three votes divided council members Ellen Ward and Edward Wilson to gain the third seat on the council. Wilson had 475 votes, while Ward had 472.
That number could change in what seems a likely recount of the ballots.
Among the other challengers, Elizabeth Wise received 393 votes, Robert Mendoza had 377, and Nancy Sciortino had 351.
The incumbents, Wilson, a certified public accountant; Noll, a retired businessman and real estate agent; and Ward, a retired government worker, were hoping to keep the seats they have each held for at least 10 years
The council race focused on transparency, better communication and a call for new leadership.
Voter turnout surpassed some expectations, at least at one of the city's three polling sites.
"It's been a very hectic day. We weren't expecting such a large turnout of voters," said Ben Paniagua, an inspector at a polling location at Family Church on Cherry Avenue. "There were definitely more voters than the last municipal elections."
The challengers have frequently advocated for bringing new leadership to Signal Hill, noting that all of the council members running for re-election have been in office at least a decade.
Incumbents, however, said they hadn't outlived their usefulness.
Some voters in the tiny city of almost 12,000 people, which is surrounded by Long Beach, had other priorities when choosing candidates.
"Maybe I'm not being very nice, but I think we should have another woman in there, so I voted for one incumbent and two new ones. I hope they make it," said Sybil Fleming, a 25-year resident. "I wish more people would come out and vote. It's very important."
One of the biggest challenges facing Signal Hill is creating sales tax revenue to replace redevelopment funds after redevelopment agencies were eliminated statewide, something every candidate agreed to work toward if elected.
Various candidates prioritized public safety, infrastructure and attracting businesses in their campaigns.
Another issue that has divided incumbents and challengers is the Taxpayers' Right to Know and Vote tax initiative, which last month was officially set to be on the June 2014 ballot.
The ballot measure would require voters to approve all taxes, assessments and fees with a two-thirds majority vote. It would also require taxes and fees to expire within 10 years and assessments in 20 years, while bonds would have to be repaid within 20 years.
Incumbents said they oppose the initiative, while challengers said they generally support it.