TORRANCE — Torrance resident and businessman Jon Kaji, was runner-up as the Torrance City Council selected former Councilmember Heidi Ashcraft on Tuesday to fill a vacant seat on the council.

Jonathan Kaji (Rafu Shimpo photo)

Kaji was one of 12 candidates seeking to fill an opening on the Torrance City Council. Ashcraft received four votes while Kaji received the support of Councilmembers George Chen and Aurelio Mattucci.

The vacancy was created when Councilmember George Chen was elected to a new four-year term in Council District 2 (West Torrance) and vacated his at-large seat.

Ashcraft, who will serve the last two years of Chen’s at-large term, was appointed to the council in 2013 and elected in 2014, but did not run for re-election in 2018.

Other candidates for the vacancy included former Councilmember Bill Sutherland and four city commissioners.

Kaji noted that the city faces a $45 million deficit to its operational budget for the 2019 and 2020 fiscal years. “The pandemic has exposed structural weaknesses in the Torrance economy. Business as usual in Torrance relies on an outdated 1960s business model. Del Amo Fashion Square, big-box retailers and auto dealerships generated a steady stream of sales tax revenue supported by defense and aerospace jobs.”

Over the ensuing years, Kaji said, high-paying jobs created by the defense and aerospace companies, along with others like Toyota Motor Sales USA, have fled Torrance, and the high cost of doing business in California, including unaffordable employee housing and high tax rates, has created an ongoing exodus out of state.

Kaji believes that the size and expense of city government, saddled by a large unfunded pension obligation, will lead to cuts in services and could push the city towards financial insolvency.

“The pandemic will accelerate municipal bankruptcies throughout the United States,” he said. “Torrance is not immune. Hopefully, the City Council and staff will have the courage to make the tough calls. I wish them the best.”

As for any future political plans, Kaji was noncommittal. “Since Torrance now has six council districts, the cost of running for office has significantly decreased. With the 2020 Census, it is likely that the population of the city is trending towards a 50% Asian Pacific Islander majority. Let’s wait and see where Torrance is in 2022.”

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