East County News Service
November 1, 2018 (Santee) – This is the first election in which Santee residents cast votes by district. In District 1, Councilman Rob NcNelis, a market leader with a mortgage banking company and former Chamber of Commerce president, is running against Evlyn Andrade-Heymsfield, a software engineer and business owner who worked at U.C. Berkeley’s school of public health as a program manager and chair of the staff advisory council.
Key issues are development vs. quality of life, as well as how to address the city’s budget deficit. Andrade-Heymsfield claims her opponent puts developers’ interests over those of residents; she pledges to oppose Fanita Ranch. McNelis says he’s voted against some developer donors’ projects and votes for what's best for Santee. He pledges to keep government small and out of people’s pockets; Andrade-Heymsfield says she has ideas for new revenue sources to address the city’s deficit without raising taxes.
Evlyn Andrade-Heymsfield says she’s running because she’s spoken to many residents who feel the current council is not listening to their voices. “I want to put the needs of district one first, “ she says, adding that she wants to put quality of life first and protect against over-development.
“I think it’s important that we get development that our infrastructure can support, development that’s not going to add to traffic gridlock and that can be protected from fire dangers. “We need to prioritize alleviating traffic. Building 3,000 homes on Fanita Ranch will not do that, so I oppose that project,” she says. She calls it a “fire risk” for current and future residents.
She prefers housing closing to public transit and that’s walkable to commercial areas. “We also need to establish community choice energy” to bring in revenues and help meet state mandates for clean energy.
Asked about the Santee General Plan Initiative, which would give people a vote before amendments to the general plan for large developments could be approved, she says, “I support the initiative. I have spoken in favor of the initiative at city council meetings. I think it is appalling that they voted to waste $40,000 of taxpayers’ money when our city is facing defecits to delay the initiative. I think it was a ploy so that they would have a possible option to vote on Fanita Ranch.”
She adds, “We have a chance this election to send a message to the city council that if they’re not going to listen to our voices and represent the people of Santee first above developers, then we will vote them out and we will elect people on council who are actually going to represent the people of Santee.
On the budget deficit, she says she wants to raise revenue but does not want to raise taxes or cut expenses. She proposes bringing a “community owned municipal fiber district in the city that would bring high-speed gigabyte internet to our residents at low cost with the prospect of bringing high wage jobs and competition for Cox and AT&T. This would generate millions of dollars in revenue by using revenue that is already built in our city.”
She also supports community choice energy to bring in revenue and wants to advocate to help small businesses open in Santee. She says the permitting process is too long and that small business owners feel large companies are prioritized over them. But she also supports the movie theatre project to increase tax revenues.
Her financial support is primarily from Santee residents as well as family and friends elsewhere “with no ties to development.” She criticized her opponent, Rob McNelis from taking a substantial amount of his donations from the development and real estate industries. She says she has returned donations to avoid any developer money. She is endorsed by Councilman Stephen Houlahan “the one councilman who actually cares about our quality of life and cares about saving our city.”
She says she wants to represent average citizens struggling with long commutes and high utility bills. “ I will be someone who will fight against big corporations, big developers in our city,” she concludes.
Rob McNelis says his biggest accomplishment has been keeping Santee’s sales tax the lowest of any East County city. “Although there’s been a number of attempts to increase it, time and time again, I’ve been able to convince the other councilmembers that you cannot tax yourself into prosperity and we have actually performed better than some of our surrounding East County communities that did increase their sales tax,” he says.
He says traffic congestion is a “regional issue” adding that State Route 52 is overcapacity. A SANDAG study early this year “showed us that 71% of the traffic that’s at the most congested part of Santee and Mast and 52 doesn’t even come from Santee residents.” He say a regional collaboration is needed to solve the freeway traffic issue.
As for the Santee General Plan Initiative, which he voted to delay putting on the ballot and study it, he says he key problem is that it include not only housing but also commercial projects “or anything which is a big part of the problem…As an elected councilmember you have a fiduciary responsibility to your community. That is not my pocketbook, it’s the city’s pocketbook…Anytime you have an initiative that has a potential to change how your income is coming in by making amendments to our general plan we have to know what those costs or impacts are going to be” before putting a measure on the ballot or approving it outright, as was done with another initiative. That information needs to be out to the voters as well instead of just killing Fanita Ranch.”
He says as an elected official, he can’t have a stance, just as judges don’t take positions. But he adds, “I am absolutely in support of the citizens of Santee having their own vote on this. Taking it out of the hands of the Santee City Council, have the citizens vote on this.” He adds that if this had been proposed as only “to kill Fanita Ranch, I think it would have been done right there by all members of the City Council.”
Asked about the deficit, he says it’s due to increased pension costs since CalPers is not receiving the predicted rate of return, plus insurance costs have gone up dramatically. But he adds, “I was actually the one that brought in HG Supply into town which was a sales-tax sharing program” that created jobs and new income. “Thinking outside the box is what we need to continue to do…not just approving things for the sake of approving things, where we make money on one side but lose on the other side.”
His major endorsements are the Republican Party of San Diego County, the County Deputy Sheriff’s Association, three of the four Santee Councilmembers, as well as conservative members of the La Mesa and El Cajon City Councils and Assemblyman Randy Voepel, Santee’s former Mayor.
Asked about his donations from development interests he says that’s an industry he grew up in and these are his friends. He objects to being characterized as “bought and paid for by developers….The reality is three of the top developers that have contributed to my campaign, I declined projects for them –after they gave me checks….If it’s good for Santee, as I sit up there, then it’s going to be approved. If it’s not, then it’s not. If they gave me money or didn’t give me money, it’s still going to be the same outcome.”
He says he feels blessed to have run two successful past campaigns and if elected, “I will continue to fight and make sure we do not have cannabis dispensaries in Santee, especially recreational. I will make sure that we keep our sales tax the lowest in the county. I will continue to fight to make sure that we keep government small and out of your pocketbook.”