EL CAJON CITY COUNCIL UNANIMOUSLY APPROVES HOMELESS AID PROJECT; KALASHO AGAIN SPARKS CONTROVERSY OVER DISPUTED COMMENTS TO LOCAL ECONOMIC DEVELOPMENT GROUP

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By Paul Kruze

July 7, 2017 (El Cajon) -- In a unanimous 4-0 vote (with Councilmember Bob McClellan absent), the El Cajon City Council has approved a major measure to address homelessness in El Cajon as part of an initiative developed by the East County Homeless Task Force (ECHTF.org). The measure includes an expenditure of $168,000 by the city.

Council has considered the work by the East County Homeless Task Force the past couple of sessions.  A presentation given by El Cajon Assistant Manager Graham Mitchell summed up challenges faced by the homeless in the region and the recent proposal made by the East County Homeless Task Force to the city. Mitchell pointed out that there has been a 7 percent increase in the number of homeless individuals in El Cajon over last year, which translates into a 32 percent increase in a five year period.

In El Cajon, one in three persons of homeless individuals are “chronically homeless;” 73 percent are male. Of those, seven percent are military veterans, 39 percent have serious mental illness and one in four are either on parole or on probation after being incarcerated.

“The regional statistics on homelessness very much reflect the homeless situation in El Cajon,” he said. The overall plan includes funding an anti-panhandling campaign, access to homeless services, and community and regional cooperation. Included in the budget would be nearly $4,000 allocated to a homeless services app compatible with smartphone and “flip” phones, animal shelter kenneling and monies directed to a homeless outreach team (staffed by law enforcement) and $70,000 towards an individual designed as a “housing navigator.” A “housing navigator” is an individual who has an extensive background working with individuals that are chronically. homeless and/or homeless veterans, and has knowledge of working with public housing authorities and housing subsidies. Money would also be directed to develop and convert local motels into temporary housing facilities.

Mitchell said the total commitment the city would be making would be in the amount of $168,000. Before the vote, El Cajon Mayor Bill Wells asked that communication be made with the County of San Diego on the amount of subsidy that the city could receive for its efforts to deal with its homeless population. “We hear a lot about this ‘vast amount of money’ the county has. I know how that is. Sometimes it is not as much people think.”

Councilmember Ben Kalasho questioned Mitchell about the inherent costs of a person hired as a “housing navigator.” He concluded the questioning by saying, “There are things I like about this [plan], there are things that concern me. I think when you’re dealing with this issue you’re on a knife’s edge and you have to be very careful. The more services we provide… to the homeless, the more homeless you’re going to get in the city,” he said. “Especially with the conversion, I wouldn’t want that. I’m just sharing my opinion.”

Councilman Steve Goble expressed his support for the funding. “This is a no brainer to me,” Goble said. “After listening to many of the stakeholders – as I’ve previously mentioned – the people of El Cajon are telling us that, ‘We can’t wait for somebody to take action.’ Is it supposed to be the County? Is it supposed to be the federal government? Is it supposed to be a private agency? Somebody just do something. We have before us a great opportunity today to do something and to do something smart,” he said. “Funding this through Crisis House, we are not creating a larger city bureaucracy. We are working with people who are much more expert than we are. We have to leverage that,” he added.

Earlier in the Council session, embattled Councilman Kalasho again waded into controversy over remarks he had allegedly made during the previous week when Councilman Goble asked Kalasho to represent the city at the June 23rd meeting of the East County Economic Development Council (Goble, the city’s representative on the ECEDC, was not able to attend due to business obligations.) Kalasho is accused of making offhand comments that the city of El Cajon is in financial peril, which according to Goble and El Cajon City Manager, Doug Williford, is not the case. (East County Magazine has approached the East County Economic Development Council about a reported existence of an audio recording of Kalasho speaking at the meeting.)

“It is not unusual on City Council to have different opinions how things should be done. That’s okay that we have different opinions. Differences can result in a sharper outcome at the end,” Goble said at the beginning of this three-minute statement. “I’m told through three sources that Mr. Kalasho’s viewpoint was, with respect to the city budget at that meeting, [he] stated, ‘Unless we do something dire to change our current circumstances, the city is going to be bankrupt in a few years,” Goble continued. “That comment concerns me. So I have a different opinion on that. There is no doubt that we will be paying out $23 million dollars over the next five years – more than we’re paying today – for CalPERS (California Public Employees' Retirement System). The reason we are paying more is because El Cajon is like many of the 482 cities in California. All of these cities are facing the same CalPERS challenge because the CalPERS board lowered its rate of return. That means the cities have to make up the difference. That’s more out of pocket. It is a challenge – there is no doubt about that. And we will face difficult decisions. However, the city of El Cajon has $6.5 million set aside specifically towards this $23 million. We also have a reserve that’s unspoken for of $8.4 million dollars. Together, today we have $14.9 million dollars to meet that $23 million big bite we have to take in the next five years.”

Goble continued, “El Cajon is open for business. El Cajon is a safe community. El Cajon is a growing community. El Cajon has been responsible with the people’s money.”

Kalasho responded, “Well Steve, I wish you had spoke to me privately before you said that … I never said a `couple of years.’ Check your sources. I do have a different opinion than you, respectfully,” he added. “My opinion is that although it is not in a couple of years, my understanding of reading the budget is that if we don’t find new revenue streams. In 10 or 15 years we could face serious problems. I stand by those comments. It’s not ‘a couple of years’ – I never said that. For a point of clarity, you know what they say about opinion -- everyone has got some. It doesn’t mean yours is right.”

(Read complete statements from Councilmen Goble and Kalasho here)

Fact check:  ECM compared El Cajon’s total reserves to reserves in Lemon Grove, La Mesa, and Santee.

According to El Cajon director of finance Clay Schoen, El Cajon presently has over $35.5 million in its total reserve, which is 50 percent of the city’s $71.3 in projected expenses. (Projected revenues are $69.8 million, which do not include the likely revenues from taxes off two new hotels being constructed, a new luxury car dealer or the potential revenues/costs of reopening of the East County Performing Arts Center.)  The city did shift $1.5 million from reserves this year to help offset the rising pension costs, but still have half of projected expenses in reserve.

El Cajon has substantially healthier reserves than Santee ($8.1 million in reserve, which is 20% of its $40.6 million in expected expenditures) and Lemon Grove ($4.6 million in reserves, or 35 percent of its $13.1 million general fund budgeted). La Mesa has a slightly higher reserve ratio of 57 percent of its $47.5 million budget set aside, though a lower dollar total.

El Cajon’s rate of reserves may also be higher than most cities in California.  Back in 2000, California City Finance conducted a survey of California cities which found that of 51 cities which responded, only six had 50 percent or more of their operating expenditures in reserves, and only 9 had 25 percent.  10 had percent, 11 had 15 percent, and 15 had just 10 percent.  Of note, California cities generally maintain higher reserves than cities in other states due to Proposition 13 restricting cities from raising property taxes, a key revenue source elsewhere.

At the end of the Council session, East County Magazine approached Kalasho and once again attempted to set up an interview with him to discuss the latest controversy and learn what he based his comments on regarding the city’s financial situation, as well as ask about ageist comments that he posted on social media regarding fellow Councilman Bob McClellan. (That issued raised ire of several constituents in the previous session). Kalasho declined, stating, “No…no…we’re good,” then walked to the other side of the dais. East County Magazine called out to Kalasho, “Why are you avoiding talking to East County Magazine about your allegations and other questions?” Kalasho once again refused to answer questions, stating, “No, no, we’re good.” Kalasho also did not respond to a phone request for an interview to clarify his views.

Kalasho has so far had a tough summer, since the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office in June issued an order cancelling his trademark for the “San Diego-East County Chaldean American Chamber of Commerce” name. The office held that the trademark was in conflict with the “Chaldean American Chamber of Commerce” in Detroit which has been using the name since 2001. Kalasho founded and served as President of his organization before stepping down earlier this year to avoid conflicts of interest after his election to the El Cajon City Council.  Kalasho’s wife, Jessica, currently serves as President.

A week earlier, Zhala Tawfiq, a previous winner of Kalasho’s “Miss Middle East Beauty Pageant USA Inc.” filed suit against the pageant and Kalasho personally. Tawfiq claims the pageant is fraudulent, the promised prize money was not fully paid and that after she objected to giving up passwords to her social media accounts, photos of her face photoshopped onto someone else’s nude body were posted on an Instagram page named “Zhala_Tawfiq_Fanpage” with a post reading, “Leaked images of Miss Middle East Beauty Queen.”  Kalasho soon thereafter removed Tawfiq as pageant winner, and the title was given to the runner-up contestant. Kalasho has denied wrongdoing in a prior interview with ECM and vowed to fight the case, not settle.

Comments

The Intent and Where are the Results ?

The writer of the article seems to have it out for Kalasho. The second half of this article is dedicated to making the Councilman look bad, and it seems very intentional. Yes, he is young, and he is challenging the current system, that has for many years operated without much question. It looks like that may be changing, and it appears that they are some folks, perhaps some working for the paper, that have an issue with it. El Cajon has had the "old boy" network thing going for decades, and without acknowledging it, it has hurt the city. Economic opportunity and growth have passed this city by, and other places in our region have prospered by welcoming change, something El Cajon seems to be fighting tooth and nail. If the paper wants controversy to chase after, why not question those "bonuses" that were handed out by city officials to themselves and all city workers, without public knowledge or approval ? Recently read that El Cajon is in trouble financially, because of the massive pensions being paid out. But all no mention of that or the bonus dollars being passed out, but why ? That is an issue many local folks would like answered and challenged, but I guess the paper might not have wanted to question that, and ruffle feathers of some friends at City Hall. And last, but not least, the Homeless issue in town seems to be just standing still, with no real plan or direction to tackle the matter. How many years has this been an issue ? It is very evident in El Cajon, and with little attention other than, moving them along, when they attempt to set up camp, in some of the more "quiet" areas of town. Having police in charge of the issue, also seems misdirected. Since when have police had the training to deal with these individuals ? Keeping it in the "old boy" network, will not get the action needed to thoroughly address this rising problem. If some of the folks out there are veterans, why not have the Feds or military deal with these folks, especially since they come out of their system ? I also noticed one big concern that was not mentioned is drugs. I cannot help but think that problem has caused this problem to soar, so what is going to be done about cutting off the supply, which might help in limiting the numbers of individuals on our streets ? As for the money being allotted for this, about 170k, just seems to small to get any real action. Putting it all on one individual, to somehow come in and lessen the numbers, just seems unreal. I feel the solution is to get tougher on the individuals. And by tougher, I mean limiting the reasons why they will not seek treatment. Having an individual not accept help because of a girlfriend, pet, or possessions, appears to be very passive. Homelessness is not a crime, but loitering is, and other concerns occur, because of the circumstance some of these individuals find themselves in. Having a shelter is a start, but is just the start of a long process, of getting the individual back to being a productive citizen. Mandatory care is what is needed. Yes, they do have rights, so those are not to be ignored, but the other citizens also have rights, and those are not to be ignored also. Quality of life matters. A helping hand sometimes comes in the form of tough love, so that is something the city should consider, and not just endlessly discuss. Some city officials make the big buck$, so the time has come for them to earn them. The locals need to see results, not just hear about another discussion and disagreement on the issue.

Ian,

Nobody at our pubication "has it out" for anyone in public office. We did not "dedicate" an article to making a councilman look bad.  If he looks bad, it's only because he was intemperate in suggesting the city could go broke without any evidence to back that up.  We did our due diligence and fact checked such an important statement; that could affect businesses coming to El Cajon or whether a major management company takes over the theatre, for instance.  The material is at the end of our story on the council meeting, not a blaring headline or separate story, as we could have done.

Our fact checking found that the city's reserves are healthy compared to other places. Had the opposite been true, we would have printed that, too. I couldn't imagine NOT reporting on that!  I do applaud young, new councilmemberse on any board for asking questions and not accepting the status quo.  But it's also important to be sure you have the facts before speaking intemperately on a city's fiscal solvency.  Some things Kalasho has done are healthy for the community, notably holding town halls outside of normal council meeting times, which we've also reported on. 

Ironically, last week we had readers accusing us of being biased toward Democrats for reporting controversies involving Donald Trump and proposals to take healthcare away from many Americans, and this week we're accused of pandering to Republicans because we fact-checked a questionable claim made by a Democrat.

This week we ran stories on lawsuits involving a lawsuit against the superintendent of a school district controlled by conservatives and a claim by Cox that SGD&E  lied about the cause of a major fire.  It's the job of media to report on important controversies that impact the public or the city or jurisdiction they serve, regardless of what party they belong to, or whether they have ever been a donor or sponsor (as SDG&E has been with our fire alerts in the past.)  Our obligation is to report the truth, not protect any person, party, or company.

You do raise some valid points on homelessness, however.  You are correct that drugs are one of the important factors responsible for homelessless,.  I agree with you that more should be done to encourage addicts to seek treatment.  I also think more should be done to crack down on doctors who provide drugs at abusive levels, as just occurred with a La Mesa psychiatrist losing his medical license because he'd been providing excessive narcotics to addicts and homeless people, allegedly. 

I agree that homelessness is a compex problem with many causes and a variety of approaches needed based on those various needs. No single program will solve all of the issues, but at least El Cajon has taken a major step forward and that's commendable.  Contrast this to Santee, a richer city, that ignores it's homeless problem, and La Mesa and Lemon Grove, which also have virtually no homeless services and certainly no shelter at all.  Shelter is a place to start, but it also takes getting help for mental illness, drugs, alcohol, job training, sometimes medical needs, and more.

I was not aware of bonuses handed out without oversight.  If you have details on when that occurred and the specifics, please send them to me at editor@eastcountymagzine.org.

 

 

HOMELESS/HELPLESS

Please close or relocate the American Recycling at 210 El Cajon Blvd. This establishment (and most all similar facilities) caters to the folks who rummage our trash and steal from our recycle containers; and later tramp proudly through our neighborhoods with filled carts looking like swelled tics. The homeless use this place as a cash cow and removing the resource will remove a good portion of the "outdoors men". It's just too darn convenient. Perhaps relocating the recycle centers to an industrial area would be better suited than near residential zones.