As part of an ongoing series with local elected officials, editor-in-chief Madison White sat down with Whittier Mayor Joe Vinatieri to discuss good governance and issues in the area. Vinatieri served on the Whittier City Council from 2008-16, and since 2016, has served as the Mayor of Whittier. The following interview is part one of two with Vinatieri. For more from the Mayor on oil drilling, public safety, and the future of Uptown Whittier, check back next week.
Madison White (MW): Can you give me a little bit of background on how you got into public service?
Joe Vinatieri (JV): I was born and raised here in Whittier. My mom was kind of the head of the Whittier Republican Women, and they were involved in electing candidates. I grew up early talking about politics; policy; elections. It was all about a grassroots type of thing. I grew up in that kind of household. I always, Lord willing, thought I would run for office.
In 2006, I ran for an open position on the council and it was a two year position. I ran again in 2008 for a full four year term, I served from 2008-12, and then from 2012-16 when we switched to district elections and I was out in 2016 unless I ran for mayor, which is a city wide position.
MW: What is your most proud accomplishment in your time in elected office?
JV: Establishing the new police building. I’ve been told we had the second-worst police station in LA county, because it was built back in 1955 for like, twenty officers, and staff, and, of course, we were up to 100 officers, let alone staff. That was one of the things I ran on in 2006. Public safety for me is number one.
MW: What is the most significant change you’ve seen in the time you’ve been in office?
JV: I think probably going to the districts [elections]; we’re still new into it. It’s kind of a new day, the dynamics are different, and you get new people on the council, so there’s a whole bunch of change going on. We’re trying to make sure the council works as a team. We all have our differences of opinion, but the people of Whittier expect us to give it our best to work together, understanding that we will have differences of opinion.
MW: You were not a supporter of districts prior to the lawsuit. How do you feel about it now?
JV: I didn’t really care for the districts. It’s not black and white, like most things on the council. You have to find the balance. The good thing about districts is that it can allow people in a more defined area to have input in an elected representative. The bad thing about it is that, if you don’t watch it and keep it in balance, it can devolve into fiefdoms. What happens when you have four fiefdoms, [is] you can lose what’s best for the city overall.
MW: All the districts have now had an election. Do you feel like that’s happening?
JV: No, I don’t think it’s fiefdoms. The council has always been pretty responsive [to concerns] wherever they may be. I think we get more of that now because you have defined areas. It’s good representative government, but it has to be in balance because there’s overall initiatives for the city that we must go forward with.
MW: Speaking of city initiatives, what is the city’s biggest project moving forward at this time?
JV: The biggest project is The Groves at Nelles right now —making sure they follow through and do what they’re supposed to do according to the specific plan, and then, there’s things that come up that you never could foresee that you have to go back — it’s an ongoing process.
MW: I’m glad you bring that up, when I spoke with Councilmember Warner she indicated that there was an affordable housing mandate from the state, saying that for every X amount of houses, there needs to be Y amount of affordable housing.
JV: There’s some truth to that, but the whole affordable housing thing went topsy-turvy after the [state] Legislature took away Redevelopment funds. The money that we had for Redevelopment plugged the gap, to some extent, for affordable housing. A really great example of that is the housing development at Whittier Boulevard. and First Avenue that we did several years ago. And we had actual Redevelopment money [and] we worked a relationship with the developer where we said a number of these units need to be, quote unquote, affordable. They were market rate units, so we provided silent seconds. We targeted public safety members, teachers, and healthcare workers with some background in the community and we said, “If you meet those requirements we’ll give you a silent second.” I think it was like 50,000-100,000, and that money was from the Redevelopment fund we had set aside before it was taken away. I don’t know how it is now, but there are a number of people who are “affordable housing people,” and they’re sprinkled throughout the development so no one knows.
At the Groves, there is no Redevelopment money so those are all market rate and the people who will be buying them will be people who can afford them.