By Jonathan Goetz
June 27, 2016 (El Cajon)—Last Tuesday, the City of El Cajon adopted a new annual budget, announced its participation in the East County Homeless Outreach Team and recertified its Property and Business Improvement District.
Fiscal year 2016 ends better than expected. Revenues were $2.9 million above the budget forecast and expenditures came in at $1.6 million under budget. Additionally, the City finished paying off both principal and interest to the bonds issued to build the planned new animal shelter, which has not yet been built.
When asked by the East County Magazine if fiscal year 2017 could see similarly strong results, Clay Schoen, El Cajon Director of Finance, responded, “Absolutely. So long as the economy stays strong. But we budget what we can be sure of. And in addition to the economy staying strong, a lot of this has to do with the economic development in this City initiated by the City Manager.”
Council Candidate Stephanie Harper a trained paralegal and Greg Romero a mechanical design engineer pulled three of the agenda items from the Consent Calendar.
Mr. Romero pulled item 1.6, which awarded a purchasing order to Apex Computer Systems, Inc. in the amount of $34,568.90 by offering free shipping from its facility located on Avocado in order to match the price of the New Jersey company. He mentioned that the other cities in the County that use their services have been very pleased at their customer service element. The item, awarding the contract to the out-of-town company, passed unanimously; Mayor Bill Wells was absent.
Mrs. Harper pulled item 1.7, which included raises for unrepresented employees and the City Attorney, saying “The revision I have a problem with is the revision giving raises to employees already making six figures…We have citizens that are homeless, not just men and women, but children.”
Vice-Mayor Tony Ambrose responded by saying “That was like saying how long is a rubber band? I don’t know how to respond to this.” The item passed unanimously.
Stephanie Harper also pulled item 1.8, a hotel agreement selling 100 Fletcher Parkway to Brixton Capital and Excel Hotel Group, Inc, insisting on a local hire component. “We have the highest unemployment rate in the county. Why can’t this agreement with the hotel include local hire?”
City Councilman Bob McClellan defended the plan. “I am a businessman. And if you force businesses to hire people who are unqualified, just because they are local, they will be out of business.”
Ambrose agreed, “They need to hire the most qualified people, regardless of whether or not they are local.”
Only Councilwoman Star Bales seemed to agree with Harper, but said that she trusts that the hotel understands that local hire is important to the Council. The item selling the City Land to a hotel developer, without any written local hire requirements, passed unanimously, with Wells absent.
During Administrative Reports, Jeff Davis, El Cajon Chief of Police, announced the City’s newly launched participation in the County of San Diego Health and Human Services Department East County Homeless Outreach Team. Earlier this month, the San Diego Grand Jury criticized the East County municipalities for their piecemeal approach to homelessness, suggesting a more regional approach to the issue.
Councilmember Bob McClellan responded by asking if the Homeless Outreach Team could administer breathalyzer tests given to motorists on the homeless population in order to cite them for public drunkenness, asking, “Is there anything you have for a homeless person to blow into to see if they’re publicly intoxicated?” to which the Chief of Police responded, “We can do that.”
Councilmember Star Bales had a different approach, saying “In this we’re actually going to be the first to help them. We’re not going to send them somewhere else, actually we’re going to take care of them.” to which the Chief of Police also responded, “that’s correct.”
Kim Forrester, Chief of Operations for East and North Central Regions with the Health and Human Services Agency of the County of San Diego (HHSA) told East County Magazine, “so it’s not just moving them up or down the river, we’re helping Veterans apply for the Veterans Administration Subsidized Housing (VASH), we’re even in some cases taking people to our offices to apply for Calfresh or MediCal, we’re doing what we can to assist these people.”
Barbara Rathbun, Human Services Operations at HHSA said, “We do a brief screening in the field with officers to educate those who don’t know [about services], both some chronic homeless… won’t accept information; we never want to give up.”
With progress being made both on the budget and homelessness however, the Council’s promised District Elections Commission seems to be stalled. During public comment, Wedad Schlotta asked, “With El Cajon being divided up into five districts, I want to ask for an update of where you are in the process? You told us you were going to have public hearings.” Ambrose responded “Yes, nothing’s been scheduled yet. We can’t talk about it because it’s not on the agenda.”
Ms. Schlotta asked, “Will it be on the next Council Agenda?” to which Ambrose responded, “I don’t know you’ll just have, to wait and see.” The Council relies on staff to set the Council Agenda, but provides an overall sense of direction to its priorities.