By Briana Gomez
January 28, 2021 (El Cajon) – On Tuesday, the El Cajon City Council voted 4-1 to remove Humbert Cabrera from his position as a Planning Commissioner.
The meeting also included other items impacting the community, including an update on COVID-19, a proposal to outlaw protests at individual homes, and a proposal to limit the city’s investment in alcohol, tobacco, and marijuana.
Removal of Planning Commissioner Cabrera
The proposal to oust Cabrera was made by Mayor Bill Wells and Vice Mayor Gary Kendrick. A staff report cited conflicts of interest by Cabrera in violation of the city’s ethics policy, since his company has numerous clients seeking city permits. Other reasons included his allegedly demeaning treatment of applicants before the planning commission and questions over his integrity based on conflicting residency statements that he made during a candidate forum hosted by East County Magazine. (See our prior coverage.)
Cabrera did not respond to requests to appear at the meeting via Zoom, but wrote via text to El Cajon City Manager, Graham Mitchell: “Send my prayers to the Council and the city and you. And i wish I could have humbly told them i could attempt to sincerly (sic) correct whatever they deamed (sic) was the issue in order to bring us together for the good of the citizens of the city.”
The Council is exercising its right to reverse the appointment of Cabrera, explained City Attorney Morgan Foley.
Sixteen public comments were submitted.
“He is a good citizen and an asset to the city of El Cajon,” said John David.
Osama Ghasrawi, a Chaldean immigrant, also wrote on Cabrera’s behalf saying that Cabrera was the first to extend help when Ghasrawi newly arrived from Iraq.
“I have known Mr. Cabrera for years and he goes out of his way to help immigrants and [the] Chaldean community, where I belong,” said Ghasrawi.
Mike Aqrawi, a local business owner, also wrote on Cabrera’s behalf. “I am very thankful to have had his knowledge and expertise…he has served as a useful tool to our community and we are very thankful to have him,” said Aqrawi.
The Latino American Political Association claimed that Mr. Cabrera provides insight as a Latino small business owner and advocated for his position on the committee as reflective of the population of El Cajon.
Others were vehemently against Cabrera.
“I personally watched him badger a private citizen trying to do a development that I personally thought would’ve made a fantastic impact on the city,” said Nathan Cornette, “He belittled him almost like he was making fun of him.”
Darrin Mroz, current Planning Commissioner wrote, “I have seen many projects come in, some good, some not-so-good, but with that being said one thing the planning commission has always done is respect all applicants. I wish I could say the same for Humbert; he has been very condescending.”
Ross claimed he had to apologize multiple times to applicants due to Cabrera’s behavior after a 12-year streak of not needing to apologize.
Ross attached a video of Cabrera’s hostile interaction with Robert Garmo.
Garmo wrote to the Council, stating, “During the planning commission hearing Mr. Cabrera was quite insulting and demeaning, stating on many occasions that the owners were greedy in asking for the fourth floor.” The dispute was over the properties on 620 and 640 S Marshall Ave, El Cajon.
“The owners had retained a very reputable architect to represent us in the hearing and despite all of the evidence produced showing the need for the additional story… Mr. Cabrera resorted to language that was inappropriate and frankly counterproductive to attracting development,” claimed Garmo, a Senior Attorney at the Garmo & Garmo firm located in the heart of El Cajon.
Stephanie Harper stated, “Mr. Cabrera’s business has profited from his position on the commission which seems like a conflict of interest.” Harper ran against Cabrera in the Nov. 2020 City Council race won by Michelle Metschel.
Harper also claimed that Cabrera lied to the county tax assessor about his residence to obtain a discount as a business owner.
However Melissa Green contended, “This motion is obvious political backlash from Mayor Bill Wells and others… Humbert is born and raised in the City of El Cajon and he truly does reside on Mollison in El Cajon.”
ECM has previously published documents submitted by Cabrera to the city that have two different addresses, both in El Cajon but in separate districts. He claimed in the forum that he and his wife now live with his mother at a residence in the district in which he was running, renting out their earlier home. However, his wife has claimed a homeowner’s tax exemption on the other home, which is only allowed for one’s primary residence, not rental properties.
Councilman Kendrick stated, “He promised that he wouldn’t represent any more clients that have applications with the city of El Cajon, and he almost tripled the number of clients he has in El Cajon. He broke his promise to us. Some of the Councilmembers may have voted for him because he made that promise. It’s a clear conflict of interest.”
Mayor Bill Wells said, I want to point out that even though people have called me racist and made other allegations about my motives for this, I want to point out that I was the one who lobbied to put Humbert on the planning commission." He added, "One the problems we didn’t talk about was my most concerned problem and that was conflict of interest. When you are on the planning commission it is not right if your business or you personally gain financially from your position on the planning commission and I was concerned that that was happening."
The Council voted 4-1 to oust Cabrera, with Councilmember Steve Goble the only “no” vote. Goble motioned to censure Cabrera instead of ousting him, but there was no second to the motion.
The City is now accepting applications until March3 to fill the vacancy, with interviews scheduled for March 9 via Zoom. The application can be found at: https://www.cityofelcajon.us/your-government/commissions
Divesting from vices
Council also heard an administrative report involving investment policy update, which limits the city’s investment in alcohol, tobacco, and marijuana.
The recommended action was to make included language changes clarifying that no investment unless otherwise authorized has or would be made in any of these industries.
Steve Goble made a motion to adopt this policy. It was a unanimous agreement by all Council members.
The Council received a COVID-19 status report. Data reflects that San Diego County is on the decline in cases, and that El Cajon data reflects a similar trend. However total new cases are still substantially higher than before the holiday season.
Whether that trajectory may change after a mass worship service outdoors in downtown El Cajon last week remains to be seen. Most participants were unmasked and crowded together. Mayor Wells spoke at the gathering and has openly defied county health ordinances, refusing to enforce rules regulating masking or business closures.
Governor Gavin Newsom recently lifted the stay-at-home order, a decision that is supported by the City of El Cajon which allowed otherwise prohibited businesses to remain open during the statewide shut down.
Restaurants are allowed to reopen outdoors and are also now allowed to have entertainment, with added social distancing for performers.
The county has started to distribute vaccines; 1.3 percent of the population of San Diego County has had both doses.
Council seeks to ban protests at homes
Council requested that staff bring back an ordinance to prohibit demonstrations that target a residence – therefore protesters would not be able to protest in front of a Council member’s home, for example, or for that matter any resident’s home.
The motion was carried by a unanimous vote.
ECM has reached out to the American Civil Liberties Union to inquire about the constitutionality of this proposed action.