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By Elijah McKee

September 26, 2022 (Lemon Grove) — “I’ve always felt that if you want to make a difference, you need to get involved,” said Jennifer Mendoza, a Lemon Grove City Councilmember currently serving her second four-year term. “You don’t just sit back and complain, and wait for other people to do things the way you want them to do it — you need to get involved.”

Mendoza, who has announced her bid for re-election, is one of five candidates vying for seats on the Lemon Grove City Council this election year. She officially qualified for the ballot last month, and according to her she has been endorsed by the Mayors of Lemon Grove, Chula Vista and San Diego, as well as her own representatives, Assemblymember Dr. Akilah Weber and Congresswoman Sara Jacobs. 

Given the four-year term lengths for councilmembers in Lemon Grove, Mendoza is the only current official whose seat could be challenged this year. However, Councilmember Jerry Jones has also decided to retire after nearly 20 years as a councilmember, creating an open seat and the possibility for two new faces to join the dais. 

For elections within San Diego County this year, every active registered voter will automatically be granted a mail ballot. They will begin being sent out on October 8, and early voting via ballot drop boxes will begin October 10. All in-person poll centers will be open from November 5 through Election Day on November 8. 

In the Lemon Grove field, Councilmember Mendoza is the incumbent in the race. The other four candidates are Blanca Brown, Jessyka Heredia, Stephanie Klein, and Alysson Snow. 

East County Magazine sat down with all five women for in-depth interviews in order to learn more about them and their campaigns. For spotlights on each of the candidates, visit our Lemon Grove communities section.


In her conversation with ECM, Mendoza reflected on her 20 years in Lemon Grove, including her time on the Planning Commission and the eight years on the City Council that followed. Back before her first campaign, her initial motive to run was out of dismay that the recreation department had been eliminated. Today, the Recreation Center doors are open to the public on Saturdays under a pilot program, momentum that has Mendoza excited about what may come.

Before her public office career, Mendoza was a litigation paralegal at a law firm in downtown San Diego. After some arduous years, she became the research librarian for the firm, which gave her more time to run for City Council. She managed both jobs during her first term and into her second, up until three years ago when she retired from the law firm.

Over her years in public office to date, Mendoza has contributed her voice to an array of projects, grants, and key decisions in collaboration with her colleagues. Yet certain moments stand out to her now as more individual accomplishments. 

“A city council is a collaborative effort. So it’s not genuine to take a lot of credit for some projects because we all worked on them together,” she said, noting both the City’s Vision Zero Plan and Climate Action Plan as examples of collaboration she has supported. “But, there are some things that I really pushed.” 

For instance, she wanted to help decrease the sale of tobacco to underage kids in hopes of lowering adult smoking rates, so she worked to boost the training and licensing given to local retail outlets. Similarly, she led the effort to outlaw alcohol at local parks so that more families with children would attend them. She jokes that while she may come off as the temperance leader of the City, she feels proud of both initiatives. 

“These are parks. What’s more important, people being able to have a drink at the park or our kids being able to feel comfortable playing at the park,” reasoned Mendoza, who was glad to see the issue resolved once children’s play was centered in the park rules. 

She also notes her work in bringing back the Planning Commission after it was voted out in her first years as a councilmember. She believed in its value for local politics and spearheaded reinstating it in Lemon Grove, alongside then Councilmember Raquel Vasquez (now Mayor). . 

Looking ahead at a potential third term, Mendoza is excited at both the direction the City is trending in and about the projects she knows she could continue to assist. 

“We have several sources of new revenue,” she explained, citing a recent increase in funds coming from a digital billboard media contract and taxes on marijuana and gas sales. Mendoza predicts the revenue trajectory is likely to remain positive for the time being, and feels that the funding is a win. 

“There’s been some good plans moving forward, and we’ve got the money to do it,” she asserted. 

If re-elected, Mendoza is excited to see the Connect Main Street project through to completion, which is a new park being developed that will run along the railroad tracks between trolley stations. It will feature a walking and biking path, and a potential skate park. 

She also hopes to continue serving on the SANDAG Transportation Committee, where she has seen a critical moment emerge as the region moves away from freeway expansion. 

“I’m looking forward to staying involved in that process as well,” she said. 

Read on for more highlights from our conversation with Jennifer Mendoza.


Are there things you learned in your prior campaigns that you are bringing to this election?

My big thing has always been to get out and meet as many people in Lemon Grove as possible and actually talk to them, so that they can put a face behind who they’re voting for. The first time I ran for City Council, not a lot of people ran in elections. A lot of the folks who were already in office were really surprised. They were used to just putting yard signs up and having people vote for them and not actually having to work for the vote. And I just said yeah, I really want to do this so I’m going to put a really strong effort into it. That’s what I’m going to be doing this campaign. 

I keep a positive message, and I think that’s what people want to hear. As an incumbent, I have to account for what I have already done for Lemon Grove, but also talk about what I plan to do for Lemon Grove and why I think I’m the best person for the job. My message has always been, “This is why you should vote for me,” and I never talk about why you shouldn’t vote for someone else. 

What drew you into local politics when you first ran for office, and why are you running for re-election now? 

I never in a million years thought I would get into politics. Even though I’d helped other people with campaigns, I never really saw myself as a political person, and had never really been involved in county politics. 

We needed a new library, and the City turned down a grant for a library. And I just remember thinking, “Are you kidding me?” And they had their reasons. I just thought, you know what, these people need some help and there’s an empty spot on the Planning Commission so I’m going to apply for it. 

Then, I’m going along perfectly happy, and I’m working a full time job, and then they voted to eliminate the recreation services. At that point, I just thought to myself, “Alright, now I need to step up my game, the Planning Commission isn’t good enough. I really need to get involved.”

I started going to City Council meetings. And I think this is common with everyone who runs for office, and probably the people who are running right now. You look at all the city councilmembers, and see the job that they’re doing — and I know that I’m being scrutinized in this way myself, and I’ve done this myself — and I did think, you know what, I think I could do a better job, and it’s time for me to get involved in my community. So now I’m on the other end of that, of people scrutinizing me and thinking, “Oh, I think I could do a better job than her.” It kind of puts me in a weird position. But I do still think I have a lot to offer my community, and that some continuity is important at this time.

How might you approach a sales tax to bring more funding to the City?

I did propose that the Council put a sales tax measure on the ballot before the citizen measure went on. And my proposal was for a half-cent sales tax. My reasoning for that was that we’d still be below other cities’ tax rate. We’d still have the lowest tax rate, and I felt like it was something people would go for. The reasoning of my other councilmembers was, “That’s not enough, that’s not going to get us the money we need.” 

Well, I kind of look back on that now, and I think you know what, if we had put that on the ballot two years ago when I was pushing for it, where would we be right now with that half-cent sales tax over the last two years? We’d be looking pretty good, we’d be looking pretty great. So that was really discouraging to me.

Once the election is over, and we see who is sitting in the other seat — because I’m hoping I’m going to be sitting in one of those seats — I think it’s a good time for the Council to look at putting a sales tax measure on the ballot. And I’m still sticking with a half-cent — and I had proposed a sunset clause–that it end in ten years, a half-cent for ten years, and then we could go back on the ballot to extend it further if we thought we needed to, and people would have an opportunity to vote yes or no. You don’t want it to be in perpetuity, you want to give people the opportunity to say, “Yeah, go ahead, extend it,” or, “No, I’m done paying this and I don’t want to pay it anymore, we don’t need the money anymore.” 

So yeah, I proposed it before and I would be willing to do it again, but I haven’t done it because the same people are still sitting on the Council. This is the thing — it takes four people. I did not know that, I thought it was three-two, but it takes four councilmembers. So right now, I wouldn’t have Liana’s vote, and I don’t think I would have Jerry’s vote, so it didn’t make any sense to put it on there right now. I had three votes, I didn’t have four. I was very disappointed, but that doesn’t mean we can’t try again with new people. 

What is your vision for the future of Lemon Grove’s zoning and development?

I’m a big proponent of mixed-use development, because we need to bring more moderate-priced housing to Lemon Grove. I mean, Lemon Grove is moderately priced for the County of San Diego. But I’d like to see housing opportunities where a young person just starting out could get a studio apartment at a reasonable price. And then have commercial space on the ground floor. 

The other big thing is we need more parks. As developers are coming in, the trend seems to be to build more dense projects — that’s what is being brought to us, is these very dense projects. I think we need to have them kick in, in a bigger way, to some funds where we could bring some more park space to Lemon Grove. That’s kind of my vision. The state requires us to build more, or at least plan for more housing, and it’s going to be denser housing because we don’t have a lot of open space. We also need to plan for more park space for our citizens. 

What do you think about disincorporating the City of Lemon Grove?

It’s quite a complicated process. The first thing is you’ve got to get it on the ballot, so that means you’d have to get enough people in Lemon Grove to sign an initiative to put it on the ballot. Then you’ve got to get people to vote for it. There you’ve got to get the county to agree to it. What if the county said no, we don’t want you? And then, the City has financial obligations, like pension obligations, contracts, bills — I mean pension obligations alone are pretty huge. The county would not take those on. They’re not going to say, “Oh yeah, give us all your bills and we’ll go ahead and pay them.” So there would have to be maybe some kind of assessment to each property owner in Lemon Grove to pay off those obligations. Our property taxes would go up. 


So I think there’s just too many “ifs” and I really don’t hear a huge segment of the population calling for disincorporation. I don’t think it is a viable avenue for us.


If re-elected, how would you feel about collaborating on the City Council?  


We’re losing Jerry Jones, which is a double-edged sword. It’s kind of time for him to go — he knows it, and I give him a lot of credit for stepping down at this time. But we’re also losing some amazing institutional background with Jerry Jones. So I don’t think that now is a good time for two brand new councilmembers to come on board. I think it’s a great time for one new councilmember to come on board, and I relish it, I look forward to it. But I think two new councilmembers, along with Councilmember LeBaron — who’s still relatively new — regardless of who the two new people would be, I think that could be a very difficult time for the City, especially at this moment. So that’s kind of what’s pulling me to stick with it, is I think I have the continuity and experience that the City needs for now. 


I would say of the other four people who are running, I think they’re all people that I could eventually work with and collaborate with. 


What is something about Lemon Grove you wish more people knew?

I went out recently and knocked on some doors, and talked with a few people. It’s interesting, I felt that everyone I talked to was very positive. As opposed to when you go on social media, I feel like everyone’s really negative. Everyone tells me the negative voices on social media are the minority, but they’re the louder voices, it seems. So then that’s what you start to go with. So it was very encouraging to actually get out and talk to people in the community and find out that they’re not as negative as the loud voices are on social media. I think that’s a positive. 


For more details on Mendoza’s campaign, visit her website. A full list of relevant dates from the Registrar of Voters can be viewed here, and for information on when, where and how to vote in the Lemon Grove election and other local offices, explore

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Lemon Grove

I'm not saying Ms. Mendoza isn't nice. She is. Maybe too nice for getting things done. Lemon Grove City Council is supposed to be Non Partisan, but it's not. Many, including the Mayor, do what the Party wants without taking into consideration what residents want. The Clubs within the City are very partial. Cliques abound, Soroptomists, Churches, Lions Club, LG Improvement Council, and we should think, who are the people who participate in these clubs? City Council should not be about who you know, it should be about what one knows and does. When LG City Council majority chose not to vote for a reprimand for a Council Member for acting badly, it showed everyone they have not have the backbone. That they will talk, but not walk the talk. Because of this inaction, we lost a lot of executive city staff members. They felt that the City Council did not back them up when they were harassed, slandered and had a toxic and hostile work environment. Allowing the placement of ugly storage building on the Broadway corridor showed no future direction. It brings in no taxes, invites more homeless, and doesn't allow the increase of the Broadway Business District (which they don't even have). Allowing a 5 story residential building to be built without enough parking for each unit next to struggling businesses without changing parking signs. Where do you think those people will park? They will park in the struggling business spots. They won't have less cars, like they're wishing for, they'll just have less parking spots. Why the unwillingness? Why? I just don't see the change that we need.