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Photo (top left to lower right): Howard Cook, Jerry Jones, Jennifer Mendoza, and Stephen Browne


By Jordan Schaffner

October 31, 2014 (Lemon Grove)—Five candidates are in the running for the Lemon Grove City Council: incumbents Howard Cook and Jerry Jones, along with challengers  Anna Sessom Baker, Stephen Browne, and Jennifer Mendoza. Baker did not respond.

The other candidates’ responses are posted below, highlighting their goals on issues ranging from transportation to public safety.



Councilman Howard Cook


What is your highest priority when you are reelected?

“Since safety is my number one priority as City Council member after being reelected,” he said “I want to hire one more traffic cop.” Cook has served on the City Council for four years. He stated that Lemon Grove has a lower crime rate than La Mesa. “I would devote 75% of the budget to police and the fire department,” he says, adding that there is not enough police presence, because “many law officers have moved to Rancho San Diego.” 

Cook remarked that he would like to see changes with Lemon Grove’s mass transit.  He uses mass transit himself and noticed that it needs to be better protected. There are currently two trolleys that run in Lemon Grove, but he feels that the system would be better served with a push ticket system like in Oakland so everybody must buy a ticket before they can ride. Cook believes that Lemon Grove needs more infrastructure, but not financed through massive tax dollars. The creek is an environmental issue that he’d also like to fix without imposing more taxes.

What have you done to improve Lemon Grove?

“One day, I noticed the crosswalks were faded, so by 4 p.m. the same day I sent on an e-mail to get them repainted.”  Cook wants Lemon Grove to be a friendly, walkable city and where people can go to the park. As a council member, he has also walked kids to school to insure their safety. 

Besides City Council member, what is your other profession?

In addition to being a Lemon Grove City Council member, Howard Cooke is

the Sales Manager at Tarantino Wholesale Foods.  He also owns Lemon Grove Deli and grill.  He was born and raised in Lemon Grove 60 years ago, and he owned the deli for 12 years. Although being a City Council member pays a small salary of $700-800 a month, Cook stated he “didn't run for City Council for the money. He said he's running because he loves this town and wants to help improve it. As a matter of fact, he stated that he's turned down the car allowance for the three years he’s been serving as a City Council member. He doesn't have any other political aspirations.  But he would like to serve a few more terms.

Though he is a Republican, he quoted Mayor Falconer in saying that “It doesn't take a Democrat or a Republican to fill a pothole.” Cook has been endorsed by the Mayor. He echoed a slogan that has been said in many other politicians’ commercials.  He said he is a “Republican for the people, not the politics.”

What qualifies you to win?

 “Lemon Grove’s budget now has three and a half million dollars in reserve,” said Cook. Before he was elected, the City was talking about bankruptcy.  Now, he added, Lemon Grove has had a balanced budget for the last four years.

 Some local business success stories for Lemon Grove are Harbor Freight, Shoe McGoo, Santana’s and a few burger places opened since he was elected.

How do you stand out from your competitors?

He is a bit perplexed by the fact that one of his best friends, Jennifer Mendoza is now running against him. 

Who do you see as your top competitor?

“As a Council member, you're only one piece of the puzzle and you need to learn to work with colleagues,” Cook concludes.


Mayor Pro tem Jerry Jones


What is your highest priority when you are reelected?

“Running a city is never about one issue or one priority. Distilled to a singular concept, the encompassing definition would have to be `maintain a proper balance in our spending priorities, within our existing revenues This will be extremely important as we move out of this Great Recession,” Jones says, adding that revenues increase with the economy. “If we do this right there will be opportunities in the near future for one-time surges in spending on infrastructure like streets and sidewalks as we restore suspended services or add others. There is also an opportunity to re-evaluate historical spending priorities as we expand services from the base levels we've been at since 2008.”

 What have you done to improve Lemon Grove?

“In my 21 years of community service I've been active in many organizations including Chamber of Commerce, PTA, PTA Council, Lemon Grove Music Parents, Kiwanis and Thrive Lemon Grove. I've served as president of several of those organizations including PTA, Lemon Grove Music Parents, and Kiwanis. I rolled up my sleeves several times when the City did the Paint Lemon Grove and Paint Downtown events. I attended council meetings as an observer and advocate for 9 years before being elected to the Council. I also attended Planning Commission meetings for a year and a half as legislative chair of the Chamber as they worked through changes to the sign ordinance.”

Jones adds, “My first direct advocacy with government started when I helped the middle school marching band get permits to close School Lane for practice in 1994. That led to my being elected to the School Board in 1996. I was part of the effort that brought class size reduction, modernization, and nationally recognized advanced technology to the classroom. During my first City Council campaign I made the bold promise to streamline the city's development code and eliminate the over use of the CUP (conditional use permit) for business licensing. These changes would save many new businesses the 30 to 60 day waiting period for the permit to be processed. Big changes were made within two years and the scrutiny has been ongoing. With much help from staff and my colleagues that promise is evidenced today by the fact our planning commission has only met 11 times in 33 months,” This is pointed out in the staff report on the agenda of October 21, 2014, he notes.

“I can't take full credit for things that belong to all of Council and staff, but I have been an important part of improving Lemon Grove,” Jones states. “There are so many improvements I've been part of in my 12 years on council and many to come. The most recent have been the dog park at Barry Street Park, the Promenade Park at Broadway and Lemon Grove Ave, and senior housing at North and Olive. Next year we will start the realignment of the Lemon Grove Avenue Off-ramp at State Route 94. The most exciting future project will come from “Connect Main Street” now in the planning process. If we can find the funding this will be a walking/biking trail along Main to the southern tip of the city.”  

Besides City Council member, what is your other profession?

“After attending classes at Southwestern College I began my professional career as a mechanic in 1973. My professional titles have included mechanic, business owner/operator, and manager. In 1981, we opened our family business in Lemon Grove and closed it in 2006. After closing our shop I went to work for the Marine Corp Exchange and was the shop manager when they close up in 2012. I am currently self-employed, running a home occupation business with my wife,” Jones stated.

How do you stand out from your competitors?

“An elected body is strongest when there is a mixture of experienced and new members. Our City Council has had a new member at each of the past three elections. With 12 years on Council, I represent that essential element of experience and the community's memory while remaining open to new ideas and a changing world,” Jones stated. “Though my volunteer time, community service and time on School Board and Council, I bring a long and experienced connection to the community. In addition to my 12 years on council I have the history of the 9 years years I attended council meetings and 1 ½ years I attended Planning commission meetings for the chamber as a community advocate. As a long time representative on regional boards I have served as Chair and Vice Chair on several. I've earned the respect of many regional leaders, ensuring Lemon Grove a strong voice at the regional table.”

 Who do you see as your top competitor?

“Anyone in an elected office sees any competitor as a top competitor.”

 What qualifies you to win?

“I have an extensive history of community involvement and have demonstrated an ability to put service before self. I possess an extensive knowledge of the City, planning at a regional level, and wastewater issues and operations. My history will be especially important in three areas. The region is currently preparing it comprehensive plan. I am a past chair of planning and the longest sitting member with the most history. For wastewater I am the current vice chair and second longest sitting member. My history here will be key as San Diego begins the re-permitting of the Point Loma treatment plant that we use to process our wastewater. Finally, in the next few years Lemon Grove will begin the process of our General Plan update. I am one of two members on council that were actively involved in our last update.”

 What is your political and educational background?

“I graduated from Hilltop High in Chula Vista in 1972. I attended classes at Southwestern College through 1974,” Jones stated.

“I began my community service in 1993 when a proposed zoning change impacted my business. As I began to attend council meetings others began to ask my help knowing that I was familiar with the system. My work in obtaining permits for the marching band lead to a successful run for a School Board office in 1996. I served on the School Board until 2002 when I was elected to City Council.”

He added, “For my council committee assignments I was appointed to the Planning Committee at Sandag and Metro Wastewater Commission my first year. I was also assigned at Sandag to serve on the REPAC (Regional Energy Policy Advisory Committee). From that assignment I was able to convince the Sandag Board to form the Regional Energy Working Group and was assigned my first vice chair for the steering committee. I served as the Sandag Regional Planning Chair for two years and Vice Chair two years before and after that. I am the current vice chair of the Metro Wastewater Commission/JPA and have served in that position for four years.”


Jennifer Mendoza


What is your highest priority when you are elected?

“The majority of our citizens have told me that they are most concerned with the condition of our streets, the lack of sidewalks or walking paths, unsafe intersections and excessive speed on residential streets.  So this will be my biggest priority,” said Mendoza. “The City Council has not prioritized street repair as a budget item for many years, stating that the city lacks the funds to make these much-needed repairs.  If that is indeed the case, then we need to explore alternative means to make these improvements.” 

What have you done to improve Lemon Grove?

“As a Planning Commissioner for the last 10 years, I have provided input on all aspects of the City's General Plan.  I have reviewed and revised close to 100 projects and developments, both small and large, including the Honda dealership, Citronica One and Two housing projects, Citron Court, Food 4 Less gas station, the Lemon Grove library, Promenade Park, dog park, etc.  Among other things, these projects have helped increase the city's tax base, added to our quality of life, and brought more residents or visitors to our town.  As an active volunteer in Lemon Grove, I have personally supported programs that support our needy residents, in particular the Holiday Food & Toy Drive and the St. John's Food Pantry.  Most recently, I have been an active steering committee member of the Lemon Grove HEAL zone, which through a grant from Kaiser, is working towards a healthier community for our residents.”

What is your profession?

“I have been a paralegal and a law librarian for the same law firm for over 32 years.  Before that I was a social worker at a Senior Center.  I also help my son run a small car detailing business,” Mendoza said.

How do you stand out from your competitors?

“My community service is what sets me apart from the other candidates.  For the last 12 years, I have worked with a wide variety of Lemon Grove residents,” Mendoza stated. “I'm a proud and active member of the Lemon Grove Soroptimists.  This club has been active in Lemon Grove for over 55 years.  We support the Lemon Grove Food & Toy Drive, provide scholarships to young women in the community, support the Mt. Miguel Latina Conference, local food pantries, the YMCA after school program, just to name a few.  I am also active in Lemon Grove Thrive, the HEAL Zone Steering Committee, Lemon Grove Academy Site Council, Lemon Grove Relay for Life and manage the St. John's Food Pantry.  Through this community service, I have been able to make connections with other community leaders, school administrators and parents, seniors, business owners and neighbors.”

She added, “Once elected, I plan to stay connected to the community.  I feel strongly that a council member must interact regularly in the community in order to stay in touch with the needs and desires of its citizens.  I am most qualified to represent the citizens of Lemon Grove because I am currently so active in the community.”

Who do you see as your top competitor?

“It's always difficult to run against incumbents.  Sometimes voters will vote for the incumbents without really knowing who they are or what their positions are on certain issues.  I'm hoping that the voters will look carefully at all of the candidates and choose the two people who will best represent them and not just vote for someone because they are an incumbent.”

What qualifies you to win?

“I come into this race with a unique blend of civic experience, leadership qualities and community service.  My ten years on the Planning Commission has given me the necessary background in city planning and projects.  I work well with our Mayor and City Manager and have a good relationship with the other council members and city staff.  I regularly attend City Council meetings.  I have long been a leader in my community and over the years served on the boards of Little League, PTA, Boy Scouts Council, the Soroptimists and am currently the Chair of the Planning Commission.  My community service is described above. The combination of these three qualities makes me the most qualified candidate,” Mendoza concluded.

What is your political and educational background?

“This is my first time running for political office.  The Planning Commission is appointed by the Lemon Grove City Council and I am proud to have had their support for the last 10 years.”

She added, “I graduated from Chico State University in 1978 with a degree in Social Welfare.  My graduate studies were in Political Science and I received a Paralegal Certificate from Chico State University in 1981.”

Anything else you'd like to add?

“I grew up in this area, attending local schools. I graduated from Helix High School and finished my general education classes at Grossmont College before transferring to a 4-year university.  I worked at Sears in El Cajon before there was a Parkway Plaza.  My family went to the Ace Drive-in on Saturday nights, dined at Lido's on a regular basis and bought our weekly lunch meats at the Lemon Grove Deli.  My husband worked for Lucky Stores in both Lemon Grove locations for over 30 years.  It was only a matter of time before we permanently made our home here.  In 2002, we bought a 1904 farm house and have been lovingly restoring it ever since.  Our granddaughter attends school in Lemon Grove.  We love this community and want to see it become a vibrant, active neighborhood, where people desire to live and work.”


Stephen Browne


What is your highest priority when you are elected?

“Neighborhood and community safety is my number one priority.  Public safety is critical to the well-being of our families, especially our children and seniors.  Lemon Grove must be a safe place to live, work and play,Browne said.

What have you done to improve Lemon Grove?

“As a 20 year local youth director I am devoted to the well-being of our youth, our future leaders.  I support programs and activities that teach our children how to live successful lives.  I am also a member of downtown redevelopment committee, member of the Street Improvement Task Force, member of the Heal Zone Project, chair of annual meal programs for seniors.”

What is your profession?

“For the past 30 years I have owned Courtesy T.V.   I have developed a relationship and served thousands of customers.  In addition to my business I have devoted the past 20 years to the youth of our community as a youth director of St. John of the Cross.  My roots run deep in my community.  I am proud to serve in these two areas.”

  How do you stand out from your competitors?

“Leadership is all about results and a proven track record,” Browne stated. “ A good leader has the following strengths:

1.   Strong communication skills.

2.       Ability to build partnerships.

3.       A desire to work with people.

4.       A can do spirit.

5.       Develop creative solutions.

6.       A passion to serve.

“I have throughout my life applied these strengths in my business and when fostering the youth of our community.”

Who do you see as your top competitor?

“Running against incumbents is always a challenge.  However voters are tired of career politicians and are eager for a new leader that will take action and listen about their well-being.”

What qualifies you to win?

“As a member of this community for the past 32 years I recognize the challenges we face and I am prepared to make the decisions necessary to move our city forward.   It is time for leadership that is accountable to the people of Lemon Grove,” Browne concludes.

What is your political and educational background?

“As a first time candidate I am navigating the political arena.  I am a high school graduate and have taken numerous technology courses in my field.”

Anything else you’d like to add?

“I ask for your vote on November 4th and I would be honored to serve the people of Lemon Grove,” said Browne.




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The Streets of Lemon Grove

Lemon Grove is a poor, broken little town, barely a city. My street has inch-wide cracks in the asphalt from curb to curb. I called and spoke with a City Engineer several years ago to ask if repairs could be done. He politely said no way. No money. The street sweeper used to come by every two weeks and now it's only once a month, when I called the Streets Dept. I was told "I'm surprised that he does it at all, as little as we pay him". I haven't seen a Sheriff car in my neighborhood in a long time, that's a good thing, right? I hope the Council can find some funds from grants to improve the town. Tom(not)Lemon Lemon Grove