By Miriam Raftery
January 22, 2021 (El Cajon) – The January 26 agenda for the El Cajon City Council includes a proposal to remove Planning Commissioner Humbert Cabrera over alleged conflicts of interest and ethical concerns.
According to a report by Mayor Bill Wells and Mayor Pro Tem Gary Kendrick, the City Council has received complaints about Cabrera in emails and public comments. The report raises three main areas of concern.
“First, Mr. Cabrera on several occasions has treated and spoken to project applicants appearing before the Planning Commission in a way not reflecting the business-friendly values of the City Council and the community, and in a manner inconsistent with the City Councill’s Code of Ethics & Conduct,” the report states, adding, “Based on recordings heard from Planning Commission meetings and comments from the public, we do not believe that Mr. Cabrera reflects the values of the City Council, and fails to abide by the City Council’s Code of Ethics & Conduct policy.”
The second concern focuses on real or perceived conflicts of interest involving Cabrera’s business, which among other things, represents applicants seeking permits. According to the report, Cabrera was asked about this during his 2019 interview before his appointment. “In response, he indicated that he would be willing to not represent clients in El Cajon,” the report states. However, based on comments from the City Manager on January 12, 2021 during a Council meeting, it was disclosed that in the year before his appointment Cabrera represented four clients in El Cajon. “The year following his appointment, he represented or continues to represent eleven clients – this is a 175 percent increase in El Cajon-related business,” the report states.
The third issue arose over statements made by Cabrera during a videotaped candidates’ forum hosted by East County Magazine in 2020, when Cabrera ran unsuccessful for a district 2 City Council seat. The report notes “several inconsistencies in Mr. Cabrera’s answers of questions concerning his actual residency,” a matter that staff spent considerable time researching. “These claims raised ethical questions regarding Mr. Cabrera as a City Council candidate” as well as “his ethical behavior as a Planning Commissioner,” according to the report.
In the candidates’ forum, Cabrera initially stated, “I’ve lived in the district since I was four years old.” His voter registration is listed at his mother’s home on North Mollison Ave. since 2012, a residence which is in the 2nd district. But his business license renewal in May listed his home address on Falcon, which is not in the district. His wife,Angela, own the home on Falcon and has claimed a homeowner exemption with the County Tax Assessor there.
Asked in the forum to explain these discrepancies, Cabrera claimed he and his wife had moved into the North Mollison house, where they are caregiving for his mother. “I’m wondering who is trying to pull a fast one by saying we registered a business outside the district?” he added. “We never did that. However, this document obtained from the city shows Cabrera listed the Falcon Ave. address as his home when he renewed his Cabrera & Associates business license on May18, 2020.
Cabrera said he’s lived at the Mollison address “my whole life” but then clarified that his wife “does have a condo” (on Falcon).” Asked about her homeowners’ tax exemption there, he replied, "We did stay in that for the allotted time to be there when we first purchased the condo.”
Jordan Marks at the County Tax Assessor’s office told ECM that Humbert’s wife has owned the home on Falcon since Dec. 2016 has filed a renewal on the homeowner’s tax exemption stating under penalty of perjury each year that it is her primary residence. “If she changed her voter registration, she could lose her homeowner exemption,” said Marks. Registrar of Voters Michael Vu advised ECM that while Humbert Cabrera has been registered at the Mollison address since 2012, his wife just changed her voter registration from Falcon Street to the Mollison address on July 24, 2020, along with updating her name, Angela Grindley, to Angela Cabrera.
A city source told ECM that Cabrera was offered an opportunity to resign rather than face ouster, but refused.
ECM has reached out to Cabrera for comment and thus far no response has been received. However, Cabrera did speak with the San Diego Union-Tribune. He reportedly stasted that he had not seen the agenda item proposing his removal but has received contacts from “a lot of people thanking me for what I do on the Planning Commission” and who appreciate his understanding of the city’s codes. “I take this post on the Planning Commission to heart I take it very seriously,” he added.
Regarding the specific allegations made by Wells and Kendrick, Cabrera claimed, “It’s the good old boys club. This is political payback for running against the person they wanted to see on the City Council.” (The winner in the six-candidate district 2 race, Michelle Metschel, was endorsed by Wells.) “I heard that they were going to say a lot of nasty things about me unless I stepped down” from the City Council race. “The people that know me know what the real story is. They know I am a positive and good person.”
In an interview with ECM prior to his swearing-in as a planning commissioner in 2019, Cabrera cited his 35 years of experience in the field and indicated support for cutting regulations, adding that he wanted to “keep things moving forward for the citizens of El Cajon.”
The son of Mexican immigrants, Cabrera was named El Cajon Citizen of the Year in 2015 for his efforts on behalf of the East County Chamber of Commerce, Rotary, Salvation Army and Elks. He has also volunteered on the East County Homeless Task Force. “We’ve seen a lot of good things in El Cajon, and there’s a lot more to do,” he said during his opening statement in the candidates’ forum.
Cabrera was appointed to the Planning Commission in 2019 and his term runs until January 31, 2023. The proposal would immediately terminate his service and begin the process to fill the vacancy by appointment.
Planning Commissioners serve as at-will appointees of the City Council and can be removed by a Council vote. If Cabrera is voted off by a majority of the five Councilmembers, the staff would seek applicants to fill the vacancy. The City Council would then conduct interviews of applicants on March 9, 2021 at 7 p.m.