Listen to our interview by clicking this link
East County News Service
October 26, 2018 (El Cajon)—Mayor Bill Wells sat down for an in-depth interview with East County Magazine Show’s producer Miriam Raftery.
You can hear the full interviewed aired on KNSJ Radio at the audio link, or scroll down for highlights as he discusses his achievements as Mayor and his goals for the city if reelected.
Wells served on the El Cajon planning commission and City Council before being elected and reelected as Mayor. He holds a doctoral degree in clinical psychology and also owns a business.
“A lot’s been happening in El Cajon,” says Wells, adding that one of a mayor’s most important functions is keeping the city fiscally sound. He takes pride in turning around the city’s finances without raising taxes. That includes started Valley of Cars, an organization to encourage car dealerships to stay or move to town.
“We also wanted people to come in and build more houses now. A big part of having a nice community is having pride of ownerships,” so El Cajon eliminated building impact fees, the only local city to do so, also streamlining other issues. “We started running the city like a business and we took a lot of pride in focusing on good customer service,” he adds.
The city has brought in a Marriott Courtyard hotel. “Everybody said that was impossible; people laughed and said who would come?” Now the hotel has 85% occupancy. Hilton is also building a hotel in what Wells calls a “cycle of building on success.”
The city is required to have $13-14 million in reserves, that Wells and the Council has built up to $44 million. “We have a very healthy reserve” in case of a future recession and won’t have to lay off police or park employees, Wells says. Two years ago, El cajon was the only city in California to actually lower taxes, he adds.
A key challenge in El Cajon is homelessness. “Homelessness is the most pressing problem that our city and frankly most cities are dealing with right now,” says Wells. “El Cajon has about 35% more homeless on the streets than we saw two years ago,” he adds, noting that the rate has jumped even more in swanky neighborhoods such as Del Mar and La Jolla.
The city has focused on treatment options including East County Transitional Living Center, which he says is both effective and cost efficient. The city supports a non-faith based short-term emergency shelter component at the center, but long-term programs are faith-based (without city dollars). Asked about how to serve homeless of all faiths, he says, ‘There should be different kinds of programs for different kinds of people…My goal is to help people get better and get off the streets.”
That said, as someone who has spent 20 years working in emergency rooms doing psychiatric evaluation, he states, “The said reality is…there are a lot of people who are homeless because they want that lifestyle” and refuse help. He says he’s had many times where he offered help to get people off the street but they refused for reasons ranging from drug use to concern over a dog. El Cajon has a program for homeless to check a dog into the new animal shelter while seeking services. “It would be really hard for me to go get help for myself and leave my dog on the street.”
The city also hire da homeless navigator to help navigate people into proper home settings, as well as a reunification specialist to help reunite those with family willing to take them in. “All of those things are important.” On the other hand he also supports the city’s ban on tents on city streets, or “shantytowns.” He justifies this because the city does offer alternatives for people to get off the streets.
A success in his administration has been saving the East County Performing Arts Center, which will reopen in the next few months under management by Live Nation, the world’s largest concert promoter in the nation. “It’s kind of like trying to get Donald Trump to come and run your Motel 6,” he quips, praising former city manager Doug Williford for having a vision and going to visit the company in New York. “The arts have always been a big part of my life; I really kind of credit the arts for saving my life to some degree…It’s really going to change the culture and feeling of El Cajon,” he says, adding the revamped theater will have not only headline acts from around the world including some to appeal to the city’s local immigrant population, but also neighborhood entertainment groups.
“One of the things that I’m very proud of is we did negotiate time for the community,” such as dance recitals and community Christmas shows.
The mayor drew praise and criticism from both sides for his handling of the Alfred Olanga police shooting. More recently, some have criticized El Cajon Police for not taking action against Councilman Ben Kalasho after multiple complaints alleging he threatened people with an attack dog (including or reporter Paul Kruze) as well as allegedly harassing his opponent’s son on the campaign trail. Mayor Wells says while the decision to prosecute comes from the District Attorney after a police report is sent to the D.A.
“Let’s not dance around it Ben Kalasho should resign. He is a disgrace. He is an embarrassment. He does not have the best interests of the citizens of El Cajon,” he said, adding that it is difficult for the city to get business done. “There is so much smoke…we’ve already seen what the judges have been saying in the civil trial,” referring to findings of sexual harassment. “I would be very shocked if I didn’t see a recall effort early in the next year,” he adds. “This is a unified front…we may be one of the few cities in all of America right now where Democrats and Republicans and Independents are all holding hands asking him not to represent us.”
Two other candidates are on the ballot. Robert Weaver has withdrawn from the race. The other candidate is Joel Scalzitti, a member of the Helix Water Board. Both Wells and Scalzitti are Republicans; Wells is endorsed by the San Diego County Republican Party.
Scalzitti declined to be interviewed by ECM, claiming he didn’t have time over several weeks Wells says Scalzitti would have to give up his seat on the Helix Board if elected. Neither Helix nor the Registrar of Voters.
A background check on Scalzitti found numerous tax liens filed against him by the city of el Cajon for unpaid sewer and tax bills over several years; they were paid off in October. Scalzitti did not respond to an email asking him how his record of repeatedly not paying his own bills on time squares with his party’s fiscal conservative doctrine.
Scalzitti was previously removed from the Helix Board for non-residency in a prior election, but later moved into the district and won his seat. Scalzitti told ECM’s editor in a recent phone conservation that he is running for El Cajon Mayor to bring his expertise on water issues to the city. He has been involved in some lawsuits including one against his mother.
Wells accused Scalzitti as running on a “hail mary slate” with Kalasho “in an effort to take over the city.” Scalzitti has been friends with Kalasho and served on the board of a Chaldean Chamber of Commerce. Scalzitti did not respond to our questions on whether he continues to be allied with Kalasho or not.
Wells faulted Scalzitti for a 166% increase in water rates during his tenure, though Scalzitti voted against at least one major rate hike and was absent on another key vote.
Our background check on Wells came up clean, with the exception of a legal dispute over medical bills that was settled.
On energy issues, we asked Mayor Wells his views on a community choice energy option. He says he’s looked to others with expertise but that the general consensus is it would be too risk for a small city to do the plan. If a regional plan were proposed he says, “I’d be willing to look at it. I’m no fan of SDG&E, in fact I’m really angry that the citizens of East County are being persecuted, and I believe they are being persecuted by SDG&E,” he says. He voiced opposition specifically to new tiered rates that penalize East County residents who need to use air conditioning as a necessity in hot weather. “Now all of a sudden they’re spending times 7, 8, 15 times more for electricity than someone in La Jolla. That’s not the American way. It’s just not right…There’s a lot of people out here on tight incomes who just can’t afford the energy bills that they are getting.”
He is endorsed by the El Cajon Police Officers Association and the El Cajon Firefighters Association, as well as Supervisor Dianne Jacob “a person that has been a champion for East County.” He is also endorsed by other Councilmembers in El Cajon (except Kalasho) and other GOP officials. “I see myself doing this job for maybe another four years,” he says, adding that after that he may visit Europe or play music or get involved in politics in some other way.
He says he feels he’s already accomplished most of what he wants to do, but still has goals including building a new hospital. “I’m seriously aggrieved at the suffering that goes on with the homeless in EL Cajon and I’d really like to see that relieved before I leave. That could means some pretty radical things like building some collaborative transitional housing” in partnership with other cities in the region. “It’s got to be an organized effort and I want to be a part of that effort.” While he may run again, he says, “I think I can get done in the next four years” the things he believes are important and worthwhile.
He’s also focused on his new consulting business working with federally qualified health clinics to provide psychiatry and psychology. He’s not providing mental health programs in 27 clinics from San Ysidro to Barstow.
“I’m glad that people know who I am,” he says. “I’ve really enjoyed being the Mayor of El Cajon. It’s been the greatest privilege of my life. I love El Cajon, and it hurts my soul when people I think unfairly say bad things about the city because I see so many great things happening here, so much great community. It’s not like we’ve seen our best days,” he says citing new housing and hotels, places to live, play, do sports and raise kids. He encourages people to come to community events such as the Mother Goose Parade, America on Main Street and Friday night concerts that the city offers for its residents. “What I love most about them is that we don’t charge money…If you come to America on Main Street you can all the same kinds of rides as…the county fair at Del Mar. We think that’s all part of providing good service to the community.”
You can visit his website at MayorBillWells.com or on Bill Wells for Mayor on Facebook.