By Briana Gomez
View City Council meeting: https://elcajonca.new.swagit.com/videos/122576
Photo: Vice Mayor Gary Kendrick, screenshot from Council video
June 11, 2021 (El Cajon) – At its June 8 meeting held in person at 50 percent capacity, El Cajon’s City Council addressed several major agenda items including encouraging transparency in elections by assuring that mayoral and council candidates live in the districts where they run. In addition, Council members present voiced unanimous support for using $100,000 from the city’s reserves to fund de-escalation training for police and a half million dollars of federal funds to launch a pilot program to outsource responses to non-violent emergencies to social workers.
Proof of residency for candidates
This proposed measure was introduced after complaints alleging that City Council candidate Humbert Cabrera was living in the Fletcher Hills community, while running in District 2. Cabrera was later ousted off the Planning Commission for reasons that included integrity issues related to his residency claims.
Mayor Pro Tempore/Deputy Mayor Gary Kendrick, who chaired the meeting in Mayor Bill Wells’ absence, spoke with ECM after the meeting.
By having this preliminary meeting regarding these items, it advertises it more to the community about what the City of El Cajon is doing, said Kendrick.
City Attorney Morgan Foley introduced the proposed ordinance, agenda item 4, explaining, “ “One of the city council’s identified priorities is the request that staff bring back what is referred to as an election integrity ordinance.”
Foley said that proof of residency is already part of the elections code in California and implied that the registrar of voters will require a proof of residency such as a driver’s license. However, Foley mentioned the dilemma of where a candidate is actually domiciled is a different issue.
“There are two different things that you need to consider… a person can have multiple residences, but you can only have one domicile, and that’s the critical analysis,” said Foley. He added that his report suggested not to adopt any new approach and to rely on the information provided by the Registrar when vetting possible candidates.
“This recommendation is to avoid burdening the City Clerk and City Attorney,” said Foley.
El Cajon is not a stranger to falsifying data in the election process.
“How would this have affected this last election cycle, because we had an incident where a candidate stated he lived one place and did not?” asked Councilmember Michelle Metschel, who defeated Cabrera in the race.
City Attorney Foley replied that it was speculative and that he could have resided in two different places. Foley noted that if a challenge was made, it still would not prevent that person from being a candidate. But if elected the candidate could face serious penalties if it were found that they falsified information on their domicile.
“I would hope that in the future we wouldn’t have to come up against this,” said Metschel.
Council member Steve Goble brought up the code specifying that each elected council member should reside in their respective districts, but Foley said that doesn’t apply to candidates who only have to be registered to vote in that city.
Foley mentioned that this rule for candidates is a state law which takes precedent over city regulations. Therefore, theoretically a candidate can live in a different location, be registered to vote in the city where they are seeking election and then move to that city once they win the election and are instated into their position as a councilmember.
However, some feel this undermines the whole point of moving to district elections, which was to assure representation of people living in each district including districts that have a majority of minority voters.
“I think someone that runs for a district that doesn’t actually live in the district or have their domicile there, I think that’s a direct attack on representative government,” said Kendrick, adding that, “Our voters overwhelmingly voted to break up the city into districts and I think we have to do everything we can to bring the truth to light.”
Kendrick also noted that in the last election there was “considerable evidence” that one of the candidates did not live in the district. “It’s just not right for someone to run that doesn’t live in the district,” Kendrick insisted.
The staff recommendation was for a voluntary release of proper documentation for potential candidates, as Councilmember Phil Ortiz clarified.
Kendrick hopes that a refusal to provide voluntary documentation would then raise questions with the public.
Goble said he would prefer to have an affidavit of residency to make things simple.
But Kendrick said, “We are the stewards of the public trust. The average voter doesn’t get involved in things at the depth that we do, and I think we have a responsibility to protect the integrity of the elections for the voters at the very least.”
Ortiz noted that a member of the public was actually the one who initiated this measure.
No motion was made, but the council moved forward to direct staff to introduce verbiage to make the release of documents proving residency a strong option for future candidates. A vote will likely take place at a future meeting once specific wording is created. City Attorney Foley promised to follow-up with a resolution later in the summer.
Stephanie Harper, the resident and former candidate who brought this to the Council’s attention, said, “I would like to thank the Council and Mayor for this agenda item, although it does little for those who were robbed of those votes counted for a non-resident of District 2 in this past election. But this new legislation to our election code brings new hope that our city government is willing and able to see where the change needs to be made.”
Police reforms and budget
Rather than defund the police, the city is pouring more money into programs aimed at minimizing the use of police force.
“The $100,000 dollars is actually a big deal because we very, very rarely dip into reserves,” said Kendrick, who thought it was worth dipping into reserves to provide police de-escalation training.
“It sends a message to the world on the position we take on all of this,” Kendrick added.
He hopes that El Cajon can be a leader to other cities to consider adding a budget for de-escalation training for their police departments.
“I would invite other cities to follow us,” Kendrick said. “I think time is of the essence on this because we might save somebody’s life,” said Kendrick, who noted that votes will be taking place at the Jun 22 meeting.
“It helps the police officers also, because it’s tough to be a cop these days,” says Kendrick of the $100,000 funding toward de-escalation and non-lethal weapons.
The police reform funding was part of a discussion on the 2021-2022 budget.
Clay Shoen, the Director of Finance for El Cajon, gave a presentation on the overview of the budget process, the economy, legislation, and reviewed the 2021 budget while introducing the budget for 2022.
Shoen brought up the Supreme Court Case South Dakota vs. Wayfair, which changed sales tax to destination from shipping. As a result, the city made approximately $1.5 million in additional sales tax as consumers in 2020 shifted their shopping to online, despite the loss of sales tax from local businesses.
There were eight comments on the city budget.
Daniel Bickford wrote, “With the unrest we’ve seen in the past year and a half, keeping El Cajon a safe place to live, work and play should be the number one budget concern.”
Bickford went on to cite an incident in Atlanta where a councilman who voted for defunding the police ended up calling the police while his car was being vandalized.
Other inquiries were also concerned with police funding. S. Osborne asked, “Is there a way to add funding to the police for use and additional training?” Osborne added, “I don’t want to see things that happened in other cities happen here because we didn’t train our officers.”
“I’m concerned about the cost of the police reacting to unrest,” wrote Michael Myler, “Do they have the financial resources ready in case the protests return this summer? If not, what is the plan?”
“One thing that I believe in is that the primary function of city government is public safety, given that, I would like to see a $100,000 increase in the police budget and that money can be spent as determined by the police chief,” Councilmember Kendrick responded.
The City Manager said that the addition would require finding a place in the budget to make that accommodation. The additional budget would potentially go to de-escalation training and less-than-lethal technology to enhance city technology,
Councilmember Metschel agreed with Kendrick but also agreed with City Manager Mitchell that finding the money in the budget may be a bit a challenge.
Councilmember Goble asked for a clarification of the increase in sales tax from Prop J.
Finance Director Shoen answered that Proposition J allows the city to capture more than with regular sales tax, although the two are very closely related.
“We anticipated higher growth when we adopted the budget with Prop J…I think this is reflective of not true higher growth but a difference in the assumptions…” Shoen noted.
Councilmember Goble asked to see a more comprehensive table at the next meeting explaining pension obligation bonds and said that eventually the city would get challenged on their reserves.
“I would say to Mr. Kendrick’s thing, $100,000 - let’s take it out of reserves because de-escalation training is not an ongoing periodic expense; it might be a one-time expense and then you can decide whether you want to continue it,” said Goble.
Metschel mentioned that the city should be proactive because citizens are asking for de-escalation training and non-lethal weaponry, and that $100,000 is a small investment in order to be proactive and listen to the public.
“I think that taking the $100,000 out of the reserves is good business,” Kendrick added. “De-escalation training could save lives, avoid lawsuits, we could save that in just the attorneys fees on lawsuits.”
City Manager Graham Mitchell said he talked to the police chief earlier that day, and that the chief, too, recommended the additional budget for de-escalation and non-lethal weapons.
Mitchell promised to bring back a package on this proposal for the Council at the next meeting on Jun 22.
Mitchell added that de-escalation training is already in progress and welcomed the Council to sit-in on some of the training.
The American Rescue Funding
A presentation addressed the Biden administration’s American Rescue Plan with a discussion of several topics: eligible uses of the federal funds, recommended criteria, current programs updates, and a suggestion on future programs.
COVID-19 response includes things like daycare centers and vaccination centers.
The broadest category is for households and businesses.
Mitchell said that direct emails were sent to people with business licenses in El Cajon and that the Chamber of Commerce was also utilized as a resource to help spread the word toward applicants. The city received 63 applicants for small business grants, approved 34, and has distributed $323,795 in grants.
A hotline was created to facilitate vaccine appointments for those who want a COVID-19 vaccine.
The city is also working with non-profit organizations like Meals on Wheels to spread the word to seniors that are homebound but would like the vaccine.
The community “Foodie Fest” will take place Sept 18 as a collaborative event between the city, the chamber of commerce, and St. Madeleine Sophie’s Center.
The staff has proposed to allocate the grant money as follows: 68% to mitigate economic impacts on households and businesses, 20% to replace public sector revenue reinvested into city infrastructure,8% invested in infrastructure, and 4$ for COVID-19 response and mitigation. (See chart below). Staff would appreciate community feedback on this proposal.
Mitchell noted the use of some of these funds toward community improvements like parks and recreation development.
The Use of Social Workers in Lieu of Police Officers
During this session, Mitchell addressed ideas from the community regarding deploying social workers instead of police officers for mental health crises and other de-escalation.
“There’s an opportunity, we hear a lot of folks say that we wish we would, that society should deploy social workers to people in crisis rather than police officers, and the reality is there may be some value there but it’s a big gamble and it’s an expensive gamble,” said Mitchell.
“Here’s an opportunity to spend a mere half-a-million dollars to run a social experiment, and see if that program would work,” said Mitchell.
Mitchell recommends spending half a million dollars to start this pilot program.
COVID-19 status report, reopening updates and public input for future meetings
Council also addressed the status of COVID-19 in the community as well as re-opening.
Active cases countywide are at about 1,000, with only 50 cases in El Cajon.
El Cajon entered into the yellow zone the same day as the meeting, meaning that restaurants can open at 50 percent capacity.
Indoor and outdoor events are acceptable, with certain limits.
Mega-events have different guidelines, requiring either a vaccine card or negative test.
Mega-events are defined as over 10,000 attendees.
The state is expected to fully reopen on June 15, with very limited exceptions.
For future City Council meetings, City Manager Mitchell proposed a hybrid setting with Brown Act limitations, but suggested ceasing public comments via webmaster once live meetings resume at full capacity.
Councilmember Ortiz wished to keep Facebook Live as a tool for the public to view meetings and suggested allowing public comment via webmaster up to a cutoff time.
Another issue was whether to continue Council attendance options to attend via Zoom if people are unable to attend in person.
At the request of clarification by Councilmember Metschel, City Manager Mitchell discussed CAL OSHA’s decision regarding facemasks, which has a ten-day review period that had not yet been determined as of the meeting date. Councilmember Goble questioned whether OSHA has people in El Cajon to enforce any decision in the event of a continued mask mandate.
State legislative updates
Assistant City Manager DiMaggio gave some updates on issues that are currently being reviewed in the California Senate or Assembly such as AB333, which removes acts like looting and burglary from being defined as a pattern of gang violence; AB339, requires councils to provide telephonic meeting options up to 2023; and AB989 state agency that can overrule decisions on conditional use permits; AB1402 which prohibits local governments from imposing minimum parking requirements in residential or commercial areas within a half mile of a train station; SB2 which eliminates qualified immunities for police officers; SB300 that would repeal provision for death penalty or life in prison for a person found guilty of first degree murder that did not commit the murder; and finally SB519 which would legalize psychedelic drugs.
The session closed after just over two hours.