Random Lengths News
The eldest candidate in Carson’s special election believes he still has what it takes to serve
Thirty years ago, Michael Mitoma ran for the council seat left vacant by Councilman Walter J. Egan, who was convicted of receiving cash payments and political contributions from convicted political corruption figure, W. Patrick Moriarty, in exchange for supporting a plan to build a mobile home park in Carson. Mitoma won handily to finish the remaining 13 months of Egan’s term.
Mitoma was re-elected and he served a full term in 1988, then was re-elected a second time in 1992, and then became the city’s first directly elected mayor in 1994. He’s now back running in this year’s special election in Carson, to address the same problems he fixed then: year-after-year budget deficits and protect the bedroom community quality of Carson residents living in single family unit homes.
In the late 1980s it’s safe to say Mitoma wasn’t a mobile home park resident ally. Case and point — when the owners of the Imperial Avalon tried to close the park, the conservative faction of the board, who were in the minority, skipped the vote leaving a 3-0 council majority to block the sale.
When Mitoma’s term ended in 1998, he ran for city council a couple more times but failed. He turned his attention away from politics for a while and pursued various business ventures and got married. He started getting back into the thick of things when he joined the planning commission in 2018.
Still, in 1980s Carson, the political divisions of Democrat and Re
publican, liberal and conservative meant something a bit different than what they do in today’s hyper-polarized world. The political shorthand of Republican = pro-business, low taxes and fiscal responsibility and Democrat = pro-labor and government muscle in support of egalitarian ideas. At the time Mitoma was considered part of the conservative faction of Carson’s city council, which included Councilwomen Vera DeWitt and Kay Calas — DeWitt is one five candidates running for City Clerk this year.
The biggest difference about his candidacy today is that Mitoma is not running as conservative or a liberal, but as an independent. And as if to make a statement, he has not accepted donations from anyone, unlike his main rivals for the seat Arleen Rojas backed by Mayor Pro Tem Jim Dear and Mayor Lula Davis-Holmes respectively.
First foray into politics
Mitoma’s entry into Carson’s politics began when he founded Pacific Business Bank and attempted to get approval to build a Frank Lloyed Wright designed headquarters from the city planning department. Mitoma described the building as ahead of its time in terms of reducing its carbon footprint through use of skylights to light the interior and the use of tall landscaping and low slung roof to keep temperatures inside at a comfortable 72 degrees.
In Mitoma’s recounting of events, when he went to the city planning commission, his plans were rejected. When he asked why, he was told the city plan was to have Carson Street and all its buildings to be Spanish style, just like Newport.
“I said, ‘hey lady, this is Carson, not Newport Beach,’” Mitoma said, recalling the moment.
“[The building was] environmentally way ahead of any building in the city. Anyway, Calas said, Well, you’re a bachelor, right? Yeah. Well then if you want change, why don’t you run for city council? And I go, ‘Yeah, right.’ The last thing I wanted was to go into politics.
‘I run a business. It’s called Pacific Business Bank. You’re not very business-friendly the way your planning department is treating people.’
“I thought, if they were treating me this way, there are probably other companies that are being given a hard time.”
Mitoma recounted telling his board about his conversation with Calas and was taken aback by the board when it told him to do just that... Run for office.
Actually, the board said he had to do it.
“You can change the city, make it a business friendly city, instead of the way it’s currently run.”
Mitoma moved and rented an apartment in Carson and the board put up the money for him to run. “I actually enjoy being in politics because you could make the changes that you think are necessary in the city.”
The former mayor of Carson said one of the reasons he is running for city council is because of the half million dollars being spent on the special election.
“They had 40 people apply for the open seat that Davis-Holmes vacated when she became mayor ... She lives in the northern part of the city and they gerrymandered it.”
Mitoma was referring to the odd shape of the 4th district that randomly juts northward to group Mayor Lula Davis-Holmes’ residence with the rest of the district in south Carson.
“[The mayor] would have been representing southern Carson if she had not won the mayor’s seat. That irritates the hell out of me,” Mitoma said.
“She gerrymandered it because she didn’t want to run against Hicks and the two AfricanAmerican candidates running, because they all live close to each other. I was the last elected person from southern Carson for 25 years. Southern Carson should be represented by people who live in southern Carson,” Mitoma said.
Mitoma believes the city budget has been a disaster. The former banker noted despite having passed two tax increases, the city still hasn’t balanced the budget.
“During the 10 years I was in office, we balanced our budget every year and we had a surplus. We were probably one of the most financially sound cities in the county because I have a degree in finance,” Mitoma said.
Mitoma pointed to his stewardship as mayor as proof of knowing how to manage the city’s budget. The former mayor accused the recent administrations of Carson of not meeting with department heads on a regular basis to determine whether they are running a deficit.
“They don’t do that anymore,” Mitoma said. “They’re just handed all the budget and whatever happens happens. They don’t really study the direction of the city or where the money is being spent.”
Developments and unmitigated costs — who pays?
Mitoma was never a fan of the multiple-use sports complex Dignity Health Sports Park (formerly known as the Home Depot Center and StubHub Center located on the campus of California State University, Dominguez Hills).
“No, I wasn’t and I’ll tell you why,” Mitoma said. “I was on the board foundation [for CSUDH after he left office in 1998] when they were going through the approval of this.” He recounted asking his fellow members to understand how much land they were giving away to Anschultz. Mitoma noted that the original lease was only half a million dollars a year.
“Holy cow!” Mitoma said. “That’s the best deal in town. As a university, we never got any of that money. The city would probably get some money because of the sales tax, due to the purchasing of materials given that the point of sale is in Carson so we get sales tax.”
At a minimum, Mitoma believed the city or the school should have asked for 10% of the parking fees, the same deal Los Angeles got with the Staples Center. He recounted the reply he got when he suggested the idea.
“The answer was, ‘No. We don’t want to irritate him.’” Mitoma said. “This is crazy.” He said he left the board as a result. Looking back on it, Mitoma still doesn’t think the city or the school benefitted much from the sports center.
“From a prestige standpoint, it was good when we had two football teams, but the City of Carson doesn’t get anything out of it.”
But the city does bear the cost of such a stadium, just like it bears the unmitigated cost of warehouses and industrial parks with big rig trucks tearing up city streets and increased air pollution.
Mitoma points to the Watson Land Company as the biggest culprit behind the costs.
“They’re the largest warehouse owner and largest landholder in the city,” Mitoma said. “They have millions of trucks that are pounding on our streets. They pay virtually nothing because they are a land grant. So their property tax is significantly less than everybody else that’s comparable, but yet they’re using more infrastructure than anybody in the city.”
Mitoma noted that the giant landowning company has backed one of his rivals with donations.
“Watson Land Company just gave one of the candidates like $35, $40, almost $60,000,” Mitoma said. “They don’t support me because I don’t play that game. They and another group that has built all these apartments [complexes] and are trying to close down all our mobile home parks, they’ve donated, I think, $50 or 60,000 to Freddie Gomez [Mayor Davis-Holmes’ endorsed candidate].”
Mitoma noted that other major donor money went to Arleen Rojas [Mayor Pro Tem Jim Dear endorsed candidate].
“And you know what?” Mitoma said. “One of the reasons I’m running is that we’ve got to quit having these major companies influence the city council and ask them for favors and pass legislation that’s only in their favor.”
Mitoma noted that while he has been on the planning commission, the commission had been approving the permits for these new apartments because they’re supposed to be affordable housing.
“But when we find out after the fact, is that, guess what? Yeah, in the initial rents, they’re affordable, but they keep raising them up.”
Mitoma offered the Union South Bay apartments, which is across the street from Carson’s City Hall, as an example.
“A studio apartment goes for $3,300 a month. That’s crazy,” Mitoma said. “Those were supposed to be affordable housing initially. Now they require you to be making like $90,000 a year to be able to afford that kind of rent.” [Editor’s note: A studio apartment rents for $2,200 a month.]
Mitoma says that new developments going forward need to be scrutinized and monitored.
“One of the reasons I’m running is that we need to monitor all these new projects that claim they’re affordable housing,” Mitoma said. “As soon as you give them the permit and they build the thing, they then keep jacking up the rents to where it’s not affordable anymore.”
Mitoma noted that the developer behind the Union South Bay apartments is the same one behind the closing of Imperial Avalon park.
“[They] want to build apartment houses there [at Imperial Avalon]. Then he bought three out of four of the major lots at 157 acres to build apartment houses there too,” Mitoma said. “These mobile home park people have no place to go. You can give them money for what they paid for their mobile home. Blah blah blah, but there’s no place to put them. They’re going to have to go out to the desert in Arizona, but locally, they have no place to live. They’re like you and I. They love living in this area because this is the best place in the world to live climate-wise.”
Mitoma believes the key to affordable housing in Carson is accessory dwelling units (colloquially called “granny units”).
“For the City of Carson, we have got too many apartment houses now. It’s getting to be ridiculous and the apartment houses are not all affordable. They start out to be affordable, but the greedy landowners and the greedy apartment
owners are jacking up the rents to whatever the market will bear. And that’s what they’re getting from people. Carson is still a bedroom community and I want it to stay that way.”
Despite his issues with the lack of housing affordability amongst the spread of new apartment buildings, he admits to not having a permanent solution to mobile home park closures. He did suggest that the city could build a relocation park for a limited number of mobile home units and there’s still available land to do this. Mitoma also favored setting strict standards for the new buyers of the mobile home parks.
“Right now, they can go and build huge apartment complexes, just like the one on the corner of Carson and Avalon,” Mitoma said.
“There are a few parcels that if we accumulate the parcels, especially in the industrial areas that we can, we could probably do a relocation park.”
On the assertion that the city is overpaying for county services, Mitoma notes that when it comes to the contract services of the sheriffs and fire department, the city is probably getting the reasonable cost you can have across county services.
“Sheriff and County Fire is still the cheapest by far because we don’t have the pension plans and we don’t have the health insurance and all that. We pay a flat rate.
They have to deal with the cost of health plans and pensions. Other cities who have their own police and fire departments don’t know exactly what it’s going to cost them with the pension and the health and all the other costs that they have to absorb,” Mitoma said.
Mitoma agrees that the city’s mounting legal costs are out of control. He says the City Attorney and the law firm upon which the office relies has become rich off the City of Carson.
Mitoma reference a failed attempt to reign in the cost of City Attorney services during his prior time in office
“My plan was to have two kinds of attorneys. You have a City Attorney and one for litigation. Totally separate. If the City Attorney makes a bad decision, we have a litigator to correct the problem, or fight the problem.”
Mitoma said his idea never gained traction because of the strong personal relationship between former Mayor Kay Calas and Glenn R. Watson.
“The legal fees now are just outrageous. I mean it’s several millions of dollars because every time you turn around they want to sue somebody or they want to litigate something. There’s no control over litigation costs,” Mitoma said.
“What was once a small firm has now turned into a major firm based on what the city is paying them. Now everyone there is driving a Tesla,” Mitoma quipped.
Mitoma agrees with the city’s decision to settle the lawsuit brought by the Southwest Voting Rights Group over the city’s conversion to districts.
“I think districting is necessary in the city of Carson. For me to run again in the whole city for a city council seat, you’re talking about big bucks because it’s not cheap to run anymore. Especially when you get companies like Watson Land Company and some of these other companies that are putting in tens of thousands of dollars. So having districts makes it economically more feasible for people to run for office.”
Mitoma noted that the city settling the Southwest Voting Rights Group suit wasn’t a matter of being a good or bad decision. The city just didn’t have a choice. He said if the city hadn’t settled, Carson would have joined a number of other cities that chose litigation and ended up paying millions of dollars in fees and other costs.
Mitoma says he wants to stop the bickering on the council. But he couldn’t accomplish that the last time he was on the city council. He believes his past experience in Carson’s city government and background in finance makes him the best choice for the open seat on the city council. However, his argument that the 4th District seat needs to be filled by an independent is an attractive one. Freddie Gomez, who leads the money race in this special election, raised $73,000 from five sources. Twentythree-thousand dollars are donations from himself and his mother, Faith Gomez. The other $50,000 are from developers. Arleen Rojas’ $46,000 come from transportation companies, real estate developers and Watson Land Company. When housing affordability, mobile home park closures, quality of life and infrastructure degradation are the primary issues residents are concerned about, a representative not pulled in one direction or the other by monied interests is an attractive option.