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By Janis Russell

Photo: ECPD Chief Jeff Davis is sworn in.

December 13, 2015 (El Cajon)-El Cajon’s City Council had a busy agenda last Tuesday, including the East County Performing Arts Center (ECPAC), SDG&E’s  plan for vehicle grid integration, a beekeeping buzz, and issues faced by residents ranging from a home overrun by rabbits to a residence where residents were displaced due to flooding and a collapsed roof.  The City also swore in a new Police Chief and appointed a new Interim Mayor.

First up, Council heard a presentation on SDG&E’s Vehicle Grid Integration program. SDG&E has been giving this presentation to many other cities. Kevin O’Beirne, customer solutions manager, gave a PowerPoint presentation.

SDG&E is proposing to install electric vehicle grid territories. The utility company has exceeded the goal of  33% of its power from renewable energy sources and hopes to decrease greenhouse gas emissions. The goal is to increase the amount of electric vehicles, focus on multi-family housing communities and workplace, decrease greenhouse gas emissions, and also double the amount of miles on the electric side of hybrid cars.

SDG&E’s customer base is more residential focused, encouraging electric vehicle adoption, where people charge their cars at the right time when there’s the right amount of energy.  Peak hours are early evening and the middle of the night. O’Beirne also brought up Governor Brown’s “zero emission vehicle action plan”, which projects over 1.5 million zero-emission vehicles on California roads by 2025. (See the plan here.) O’Beirne added that charging overnight is ideal.

SDG&E hopes to have 550 facilities throughout each region. This will be a five year program with each region having 10 chargers each. Read more about this program in this article: http://www.metering.com/sdge-announces-pilot-for-increased-ev-integration/. There’s also a press release from SDG&E. To learn about the benefits of electric vehicles, visit: http://www.sdge.com/clean-energy/benefits

Wells wanted to know how long it takes to charge a car. O’Beirne replied, “About 5-10 hours.”

Pro Tem Mayor Bob McClellan asked how this is paid for. O’Beirne said, “When you plug into an outlet, the charges are credit-type memberships.” In other words, it will be charged on the utility bill. No action was taken on this item.

Next, Wells pulled a consent item for discussion on a resolution regarding the city rejecting the only bid received for ECPAC improvements. Developer Art Ballantyne was the first to speak from the public. He talked about the amount to bid on ECPAC having gone up. “Now it’s a $4,200,000 bid,” he said. He also  wondered about the Rock Church’s lease. The other speaker, Stephanie Harper, a resident of El Cajon, echoed Ballantyne’s question.

Doug Williford, city manager, gave Council an update on ECPAC, which remains closed years after a "temporary" shut down for renovations.

Several months ago, there was a bid on the interior improvements. The city hired its own architects, and  bids went out in October. The first  and only bid received which was $1 million more than the architects’ estimates. The recommendation for this item was to reject the bid, authorize re-bidding the project with revised specifications, and authorize the Assistant City Manager and Director of Public Works to approve revised final plans and specifications prior to bidding. Williford told Council that staff will have conversations and will give an update. “The project has been pushed back a couple months,” he added. Also, there’s no agreement with the Rock Church. McClellan moved to adopt staff’s recommendations, Councilmember Star Bales gave a second, and the vote was 5-0.

In public comment, Monica Zech, public information officer, talked about the fourth annual holiday toy drive, which “benefits patients at Rady Children’s.” The drive expanded in recent years, to Ronald McDonald House and the East County Transitional Living Center. This year, the city has partnered up with Ladies of Hope, a Chaldean-American charity. On Wednesday December 16, Santa will read “The Night Before Christmas” to the kids at Carly’s Gardens at Rady’s. Books will then be passed out.

Sunshine Horton also gave a bouquet of flowers to the wife of El Cajon’s Police Chief Jeff Davis, who took an oath of office at the beginning of the meeting.

Then, there was a public hearing on the abatement of substandard conditions at 2356 Nielsen  Street, where over 50 rabbits were found in November being kept in unsanitary conditions. Dan Pavao, building official and fire marshal for the city, gave the report to Council. The house had poor living conditions for the rabbits and it’s “unlivable.” The house will need to get cleaned up. “There’s a lot of work left to do,” Pavao added. The animals have been relocated to the Humane Society, and they are up for adoption. Many were in cages in the house, and some were not. The place is expected to be cleaned up in 30 days. Assistant City Manager Majed Al-Ghafry, suggested they  could give the owner an additional 30 days as long as there’s progress, if necessary.

John Fee, who’s been living as a resident for the last 10 months, has been helping the owner clean up. “We expect it to get cleaned up in good living conditions in about 2 ½ weeks (about 17 days),” he said. They’re also getting outside help, and they would like an inspection once completed. He praised the owner of the house for volunteering her time with the Humane Society, and personally taking the rabbits over there. There, the rabbits were spayed and neutered, fed and received medicine when needed.

McClellan noted that there are other properties in similar living conditions He suggested contacting the East County Living Transitional Center if they needed additional help. Wells wanted to know if the owner had a realistic time frame to meet the deadline, and he offered two full months if needed. Fee agreed on the two-month timetable.

The owner of the house, Hope Brush, acknowledged that the house is a mess. She lost her partner 12 years ago and was depressed until she met Fee. She’s been cleaning up the house and appreciated the extra time. Staff approved giving her the two months to clean up. Williford said if this was fully solved, they won’t bring back to Council. Otherwise, Council will get an update in two months.

Next, a Mayor Pro Tem was chosen for 2016. Wells praised McClellan for all he has done in the past year, and made a motion to appoint Ambrose as the new Mayor Pro Tem.  Councilmember Gary Kendrick gave a second, and the vote was 5-0.

Councilman Kendrick then talked about his proposed amendment to a municipal code to legalize residential beekeeping. The recommendation was that Council direct staff to investigate and recommend options for the amendment. “A number of cities across California have legalized beekeeping in the last few years” such as Los Angeles and San Diego County, he noted.

“Bees are critical to the success of agriculture around the world,” Kendrick continued. There’s been a problem with mites that contribute to the collapse of bees. He brought up how he and Councilmember Bales took a tour of a person’s home that contained three bee hives. Sometimes, the hives aren’t actually visible at the person’s home. He’s heard concerns that the neighbors will get stung. He also said that he’s tried honey from a bee hive, and it’s delicious. The bees that are in El Cajon now are largely the African bees.

Mark Kukucheck (photo, right), president of the Bee Keeping Society, talked about the benefits of beekeeping, and how the society has worked to come up with an ordinance for safe bee keeping.

Bales commented how scared she was of bees, but she loves the honey. She has learned a lot. “This is a good idea to bring back bees,” Bales said. She was surprised that she was a few feet away from the hive she visited with Kendrick, and she didn’t get stung.

Kukucheck mentioned how bees won’t bother anyone if no one bothers them. A chain link fence is a requirement. “It’s important to have a water supply for the bees,” he added.

Kendrick wanted staff to get back to them with a grid, so Council can see what Lemon Grove and the city of San Diego have done, and also come up with an ordinance.

Ambrose was concerned about the density. He wanted to know how many bees on a lot makes the most sense as well as the number of hives.

Kendrick moved to direct staff to come back with a proposed ordinance, and present a grid of what neighboring counties do, as well as work with the Bee Keeping Society to come up with an ordinance. All Councilmembers voted in favor.

At the beginning of the meeting, Police Chief Jeff Davis took an oath of office while his wife looked on. Davis thanked the City Manager and City staff for this opportunity. He was grateful for the support of his wife and family, and the rest of the police department.

Chief Davis jokingly told his wife that  now would be a good time to tell her he wouldn’t be home for dinner that night. Mayor Wells said Davis has had a 30 year career, and expressed how proud he was of the new Chief. “He’s the right man for the right job at the right time,” the Mayor concluded.

Editor’s note: During public comments later at the 7 p.m. meeting, the East County Coalition joined with residents displaced from an apartment at 1050 Lexington after flooding during a reroofing project that reportedly caused major damage.  Some complained they had lost everything.  Residents contend the property owner has not done enough to settle up for the damages.  Some allege harassment, also complaining that the City’s code enforcement officer had visited only once.  Council offered no easy solutions, though Councilman McClellan suggested small claims court. (For more details on this issue see Reporting San Diego’s in-depth report.)