By Angela Kurysh
June 6, 2021 (Lemon Grove) – Lengthy Lemon Grove City Council meetings conducted remotely have come to an end. As of Tuesday, May 18 Council meetings have returned to being held in-person and virtual options to attend the meetings have been eliminated.
Those who miss meetings can access the recordings on the Lemon Grove City website 24 hours after the initial meeting, via a SoundCloud link. But that doesn’t provide an opportunity to speak on agenda issues for those who are not able to participate in person, including those who have COVID or are quarantined due to exposure.
Conducting efficient meetings has been a struggle for the Council members, who recently approved new protocols to manage their time including limiting how long members may speak.
According to the San Diego Union Tribune, Council Member Liana LeBaron was the only one opposed to these new protocols. “We don’t agree this is normal, yet if we continue to create these kinds of policies, we’re going down a very slippery and anti-democratic slope,” she said, adding, “Limiting public conversations on (various) topics is not beneficial to the people that we represent.”
In April, LeBaron stated on the ‘Shine On Lemon Grove’ podcast that she reached out to every city in San Diego County to ask if their meetings are conducted with time limits, and she was told it was rare, but it happens. When asked about readiness for meetings, LeBaron emphasized that she comes to meetings fully prepared and that the questions she asks are important. LeBaron stated.
“I’m asking questions of substance and my council mates are trying to limit a Council member from asking questions of substance and questions that would inform the public on city business and how we are doing business.”
Residents had criticized what some characterized as unprofessionalism between Councilmembers during virtual meetings and called for a solution to maintain order, professionalism and efficiency. Though all other city councils in East County held virtual video sessions, Lemon Grove had audio-only meetings during the pandemic.
The first resident to speak at the meeting this past Tuesday made a request: “Now that they (meetings) are in-person, they should also be on Zoom simultaneously, so that people who are not allowed or can't make it to the City Council meetings can listen to Zoom from their cars, their personal phones, and wherever they may be.”
Another issue on the agenda that residents were adamant about addressing, was the approval of two new medical marijuana dispensaries in Lemon Grove, which had been denied. Proposed by former mayoral candidate Christopher Williams (who previously filed a lawsuit against former City Council member, David Arambula and the City of Lemon Grove) was denied by a 3-1 Council vote to continue any further planning for these dispensaries. Although Mayor Raquel Vasquez previously denied having any conflict of interest between Williams and the City, she abstained from voting on this matter.
Lemon Grove resident Carol Green submitted a public comment expressing her concern over the commercialization of marijuana in her hometown. Green is aware that the idea of opening dispensaries would benefit the community financially, but at what cost? She asked the Council, “Please do your best to hold the line against the big businesses that market to our children and benefit themselves and not residents, communities or neighborhoods.”
Lemon Grove is one of two cities in East County to allow medical marijuana dispensaries and allow for the sale of recreational marijuana, generating tax revenues. Several residents that made public comments at the meeting were unhappy with this being a solution for financial gain.
The last public comment, made by resident Juana Wilcox, addressed an altercation between her daughter and Councilmember, Liana LeBaron at the most recent food distribution event, on May 15. Lemon Grove holds food distribution drives to help feed community members in need. Wilcox and her daughter volunteer at these events, but left upset when LeBaron made an appearance.
“According to my daughter, Councilmember LeBaron demonstrated no team effort of working together, a lack of respect for the title of being a Councilmember and a lack of basic human decency,” said Wilcox.
LeBaron allegedly told Wilcox’s daughter she was ”doing it all wrong,” distributing the food incorrectly. Mayor Vasquez stepped in and countered LeBaron. Seeing the way LeBaron interacted with the Mayor and her daughter, left Wilcox upset and disappointed by the lack of professionalism from LeBaron, who showed up to the event with 20 minutes left.
With the meeting already running past the time limit, aside from the new policies being put in place, LeBaron was not able to address the altercation publicly at the meeting.
With a 4-1 vote, Councilmembers approved an amendment to The San Diego Transportation Improvement Program Ordinance and Expenditure Plan (TransNet Extension Ordinance), approving the accommodation of pedestrians and bicyclists.
Some other reports to the City Council included: Sewer System Charge for Fiscal Year 2021-2022, Approval of a Draft of Fiscal FY 21-22 and Other Funding Budgets, and the Award of a Contract for the FY 2020-21 Street Rehabilitation Project to PAL General Engineering, Incorporated. All were approved with a 4-1 vote. Council Member George Gastil was absent.
Mayor Vasquez gave Councilmembers two opportunities to ask two questions each on agenda items throughout the entire meeting. Vasquez then wrapped up the meeting by giving Councilmembers two and a half minutes to address anything else. Councilmember LeBaron objected to the meeting’s time constraints.
In spite of Vasquez’s efforts, the meeting went 17 minutes overtime. However, this was a vast improvement over the usual 3-5 hour meeting lengths.