Mayor promises more community forums; mandates City Council members to reach out to constituents with similar community forums
By Paul Kruze, Contributing Editor
February 12, 2019 (El Cajon) - El Cajon Mayor Bill Well faced a mostly friendly crowd of some 250 people at a community town hall meeting on January 20th in the Sports Plex facility at Cajon Valley High School. While the Mayor touched on various topics during the two-hour meeting, El Cajon’s chronic homeless problem and crimes perpetrated by homeless individuals took center stage.
The meeting began with Wells providing an overview of his State of the City address, which hepresented on Dec. 19th to the City Council,outlining the city’s major accomplishments and challenges.
Several times during the evening, Wells asked members of the city staff including Police Capt. Rob Ransweiler, City Manager Graham Mitchell, Assistant City Manager Vince Vince DiMaggio, and Heartland Fire Chief Steve Swaney, as well as City Council member Steve Goble to answer some questions posed by the audience.
While he said he sympathized with the crowd’s concerns on the city’s homeless problem and ongoing struggles shutting down marijuana dispensaries, he also used the event to express his often-repeated disdain for the state legislature and laws enacted in recent years which he characterized as over-reach such as prison re-alignment, Proposition 47, which converted some felony crimes to misdemeanors, and loosening of shoplifting laws. He also criticized a 2015 Supreme Court case limiting a city’s ability to criminalize panhandling.
(Wells recently penned an op-ed piece for the San Diego Union Tribune criticizing the statewide voter approval of Proposition 64 legalizing recreational marijuana use and a recent decision by the state Bureau of Cannabis allowing delivery of marijuana into cities that have expressly prohibited sales. “This has been done with no vote of the people or the Legislature or even a judge. This was done by nameless, faceless bureaucrats, and I predict there will be a harvest of unintended consequences,” Wells opined in the editorial.)
“Like most cities in the State of California, decided that the cost of the dispensaries were more than the benefit,” Wells said. “There are a lot of problems with that. A lot of criminal activity with that. So we decided not to have dispensaries.
Since the law was enacted, the city has closed 57 dispensaries, made 18 arrests, and seized four million dollars in marijuana products from those who have defied the city law and opened dispensaries within the city limits.
But the main concern of residents attending the town hall was the city’s homeless problem. Wells said that El Cajon is continuing to work with social service agencies such as East County Transitional Living Center, Crisis House, and The Salvation Army in an effort to bring the problem under some sort of control.
When the police have been able to take action, 143 arrests have been made and 190 shopping carts have been confiscated. Ransweiler admitted that while the city’s clamp down on homeless people using shopping carts has been successful, these same people are now stealing baby strollers to carry their belongings.
At another point during the meeting, Wells said, “Everyone is working on the problem of the homeless in El Cajon. I get the sense that some of you are thinking I have a button on my desk and if I was willing to push the button, the problem would go away.”
“The State of California is fighting to protect homeless people,” Wells said, saying that the city is required to store the belongings of homeless individuals arrested.
Graham Mitchell pointed out that a majority of El Cajon’s homeless population consists of individuals who have been previously living in the city’s abundance of low-income level apartments. “These are our neighbors,” he said.
Wells said that he would be scheduling more community town hall meetings in the future. As the city transitions into district governance, he will mandate members of the City Council to also engage with their communities similarly.
Below is a summary of the other issues brought up by the residents attending the town hall event:
Panhandling – Capt. Ransweiler said that panhandling is a misdemeanor for which little can be done except to tell the individual to move on, unless the act happens in front of public safety personnel.
Hiring More Police Officers – Wells said that while the El Cajon Police Department does have vacancies, so do other San Diego County cities.The city ends up qualifying and interviewing 100 individuals for every officer that it is able to hire. The city could resort to more aggressively digging into its estimated $45 million dollars in reserve revenues in its recruiting efforts, but for now is now more apt to concentrate on preserving its reserves.
Better and More Police Patrols – The mayor suggested that if local businesses want more protection, they should rely on hiring private security. “That’s the reality of the future. I know it’s not popular, but you want me to be straight with you,” Wells said.
Widening of Bradley Street – Most of the construction work is being done by the County of San Diego. Director of Community Development Anthony Schutte says that it hopes to work closer with the County to improve notifications of proposed work.
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