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Council also heard reports on the district election process and new animal care facility 

By Janis Russell

Photo: assistant city manager Majed Al-Ghafry

July 27, 2016 (El Cajon) - At yesterday’s El Cajon City Council meeting, council members heard more about the East County Performing Arts Center (ECPAC) bids and comments on East County Transitional Living Center (ECTLC). They also got updates on the new animal care facility and the district election process. Councilmember Bob McClellan was absent.

Council voted to accept the bids for a new roof for ECPAC 4-0 with McClellan absent. This item was one of the consent calendar items pulled by the public’s request for discussion.

Art Ballantyne, formerly with the El Cajon Historical Society, was the first to comment.

“ECPAC has a refurbished roof…there are some additional improvements that will apparently be re-bid on that,” he noted. “I think the solution is to establish an East County Performing Arts Center Advisory Commission.” This commission could “advise on all things related to the center” including offering advice to the City Council for new theatre management.

Next, Stephanie Harper, an El Cajon resident, said, “I have asked Council to please put ECPAC on the agenda.” She said when she saw the agenda on Friday, “I felt as if I was slapped in the face…council made a poor choice,” she said of the bid selections.” She recommended that Council should “consider putting a solar roof.”  She then asked why Council won’t get ECPAC up and running yet. The theatre has been closed for several years.

Mayor Bill Wells explained, “ECPAC is moving forward. They’re concentrating on the roof now…ECPAC will reopen.” It just takes some time. Assistant City Manager, Majed Al-Ghafry, mentioned that $173,000 will be spent on the new roof.

Photo: a picture of what the new animal care facility would look like from the PowerPoint presentation.

Next in public comments, a few people spoke on the East County Transitional Living Center (ECTLC), a faith-based organization that provides help for the homeless including short-term housing through a secular program that receives government funding. (See the controversy behind it in this recent article: http://www.eastcountymagazine.org/node/22055.)

J.D. Loveland, who works at the center, first thanked Council for their faithfulness to ECTLC. “Every month, our center gets thousands of calls from organizations…Those agencies have had trouble with temporary housing, and “the assumption we provide long-term housing is erroneous,” he added, saying the different housing options range from 28 days to 18 months. Any request for longer days must get approved. “We never push anyone to join our faith-based program… Each morning, my colleagues and I get up… we’re enthusiastic about helping our community,” Loveland concluded.

Lavada Jennings came up with her oldest daughter Harmony. The Jennings have been through ECTLC. Harmony first commented on the fact that she enjoyed being at the center because there were different activities to do. “ECTLC is fun,” Harmony said. Her parents have also gotten back together. Lavada praised ECTLC and director Crystal Scott for how they have helped her.

Next, Michael Marchetti came up with his wife, Jenna, and their 4-year-old daughter. He said they have gotten back together after being former drug addicts. Now they’re sober and Jenna expressed her gratefulness to Scott. The Marchettis are able to raise their daughter together and Jenna has a full-time job. She now feels “like a productive member of society.”

Crystal Scott rounded out the last of the speakers who spoke on ECTLC. She clarified that the center is not an association of church and state. Her program has 85 adults and 112 children. Before coming to ECTLC, the families were poor and the children were struggling with mental health etc. The center is also not “a religious club or set.” They accept people of all religions, and the center provides services specifically to homeless people. Scott gave some statistics, including, “Last fiscal year, we provided 213 beds for 28 days for men, women, and children.” Scott has 24 years of expertise in the field of mental addiction and health.

Then City Manager Douglas Williford gave a status report on the shift to holding City Council elections by districts, instead of at-large elections. There will be a public meeting on Thursday, August 4 at 7 p.m.at Lexington Elementary School’s auditorium. After the Council meeting, Deputy Director of Administrative Services Brett Channing and Al-Ghafry told ECM that the public would be informed about this process, the California Voting Rights Act, and why the city of El Cajon is considering this process. “This is an amendment to introduce the ballot measure,” Al-Ghafry told ECM, adding that it will be included at the August 9 City Council meeting. This will eventually go on the November ballot.

Mejgan Afshan from the IRC in El Cajon commented, “Thank you for making these meetings a priority next month.” Afshan asked Council to create an independent commission for redistricting.

Wedad Schlotte, an El Cajon resident, told Council, “I was born in Iraq. I came to the U.S. 36 years ago.” She promised her family she would return to Iraq. Then, she said, “I fell in love with the educational system at San Diego State…I decided to stay.” She added, “I’m here on behalf of the Iraqi community…I urge our Council to include the following in the ballot- that the independent commission is chosen at random by the City Manager… Our beautiful city should have four seats with a Mayor at large…”

Robert Clark, El Cajon resident, was concerned about “outside consultants [and] someone running against the incumbents.”

Mayor Wells clarified, “We’re trying to avoid costly legal battles that the other cities have gotten themselves into.”

Antoine Bennett, El Cajon resident, said, “I’ve been here 4-5 years. The district election would allow for more district representation.”

Mayor Wells also added there would be lots of opportunities for people to be heard. He also commented earlier that there will be several meetings for the next few months on this process if people can’t make the one on August 4.

Councilmember Star Bales stated how important it is for a minority to have a voice. “I will do my best to represent the minorities.”

No action was taken on this item.

Then Al-Ghafry gave a progress report and PowerPoint presentation, on the new El Cajon animal care facility.

The existing animal shelter is at 1285 North Marshall. “[It] was constructed almost 50 years ago… It is aging and decaying.”

There have been different site visits to see where the new facility would be. $10.5 million has been allocated for this project. The new facility will be at 1351 North Marshall. It will be 11,000-12,000 square foot building. There will be updated construction materials, a community room, indoor and outdoor spaces, separate entrances for adoption and admission, and functions of a modern animal care facility among other features. Construction is expected to start early spring 2017 and end early 2018.

Pro Tem Mayor Tony Ambrose asked if the construction will be done in phases or all at once, and if the animals will need to be moved while construction is going on. Al-Ghafry replied, “All at one time.” Also, he clarified the animals will stay in the current facility for the time being.

Mayor Wells asked if there would be any veterinary facilities. Al-Ghafry answered, “There will be.” The facility will include surgery among other veterinary services.

Bales commented on how beautiful the new facility is, and how much it is needed now since there are new animals coming in.

No action was taken on this item.

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