Interviewing a candidate for a City Council race in a small city of 43,000 people in the middle of Los Angeles County is about as granular as it gets in election coverage. But this interview turned out to be a lot more interesting than I thought it would be.
When the screen for the Zoom meeting first opens and you see the kindly, smiling face of a woman who teaches Spanish, you don’t expect that you are about to have a conversation that will lead you deep into issues facing the entire state of California–and beyond.
But as you will see in this 20-minute interview with Barbara Ferraro, the independence of incorporated cities throughout the landscape of the state quickly comes into sharp relief, as the conversation turned to the issues she faces as a City Council person seeking reelection.
To begin with, Ferraro is up for reelection because the state mandated that the city of Rancho Palos Verdes had to realign its election schedule with new rules imposed by the state. So, in the third year of her current term, she must run again to keep her office.
But this was far more fascinating: when I asked her what issues she believes she faces if re-elected, she dove into the rights of her city to have control over its destiny in the face of demands being made by the county, state, and federal government. “It’s about local control,” says Ferraro in the interview.
She mentions an example of an issue I have been working on separately, as part of task forces– sponsored by federal and state agencies–on housing availability and affordability in the state of California. Ferraro filled me in on the dilemma of Rancho Palos Verdes seeking to comply with California SB9, which seeks to increase the number of affordable housing units throughout the state, and high population centers like Los Angeles County in particular.
She noted to me that RPV has been trying to figure out how to comply with building over 600 new housing units, in a city that is already technically fully built out given the limitations of the steep terrain dangers that prevent construction of housing in areas that are endangered by both fire and earthquake.
She spoke to me about the struggle of the city to find ways to accommodate concepts like affordable housing development and permitting accessory dwelling units (ADU’) in the city, given the limitations of streets, many of which are narrow and difficult to get large pieces of fire apparatus into under the current circumstances, to fund infrastructure improvements like widening roads, as well as adding more electricity, water, sewage, and parking to the tiny city. She notes that her City Council has been trying to figure out how to accommodate the state–with some difficulty.
And then she dove into the difficult topic of municipal financing of large public works projects. In RPV’s case, remediating an eroding cliff that is falling into the Pacific Ocean. She describes both the complexity of the engineering and the cost of the project, with the ease of an old hand at looking into such matters.
Deeper into the local control issue, Ferraro notes that the city, when it was incorporated 50 years ago, was one that emphasized low density open spaces because of the unique features of the terrain. She knows that the city, when originally chartered, had 40,000 residents and today has 43,000 residents. She notes that in the 1970s when it was fashionable to do so, the city began investing in purchasing properties as conservation space within the city limits, a program which has now reached 1,500 acres of city land under conservation.
All of this is now under pressure because of overarching state and federal policies that are impacting the self-determination of this single incorporated city.
But Rancho Palos Verdes is not alone in this dilemma of complying with larger agendas. Speaking from her own experiences, Ferraro relates how she, as a city official, has worked with other cities in California to deal with the problem of local control versus compliance with state and federal mandated programs.
This aspect of governance in America is not one that you normally run into when covering elections because, from the view of big news priorities, these races are a tiny little thing. But when you look at it from the quality-of-life issues that face ordinary Americans, it may in fact be the biggest issue of all.
I hope you enjoy this interview. It really was a diamond that I wasn’t expecting to find — but did.
You can find Barbara Ferraro’s campaign website at, https://votebarbaraferraro2022.com/.