View a videotape of the forum now posted :
By Miriam Raftery
Photo, left to right: Councilman Jerry Jones, Kamaal Martin, Mayor Racquel Vasquez, Chris williams
September 5, 2020 (Lemon Grove)—On Monday, September 14 at 7 p.m., all four candidates running for the Lemon Grove City Council have agreed to participate in a candidate forum. The forum will be virtual via Zoom. You can watch it live via livestreaming at https://www.facebook.com/EastCountyMagazine, and send in questions to firstname.lastname@example.org now through up to 2 p.m. the date of the forum.
For those unable to watch live, a video will also be posted later on our news site at www.EastCountyMagazine.org and audio will be aired on KNSJ 89.1 FM radio at a date to be announced.
(Lemon Grove's City Council candidates will be in a separate forum on Sept. 16 at 7 p.m.)
East County Magazine thanks the #FacebookJournalismProject for a grant to help support our virtual candidate forums during the COVID-19 pandemic.
The four mayoral candidates are Mayor Raquel Vasquez, Councilman Jerry Jones, financial professional Kamaal Martin, and businessman Chris Williams. Below are more details on each candidate and links to their websites, as well as highlights of key issues.
CANDIDATES (listed in alphabetical order)
JERRY JONES has served on Lemon Grove’s City Council for many years. He chairs the Metro Wastewater commission and formerly chaired the regional planning committee for SANDAG. He serves as Lemon Grove’s liaison to the East County Chamber of Commerce. His is also past president of the Lemon Grove School District Board, has been a PTA president at Lemon Grove Middle School, president of the local Kiwanis Club and served on communities for events including Lemon Grove’s Bonfire and Old Time Days.
A mechanic and business owner for over 25 years here, he says he’s running to “fix” Lemon Grove’s key issues. He wants to balance the budget and find new revenue sources, review and increase law enforcement, improve the business environment to attract new businesses, improve streets, parks, sidewalks and lighting, and have direct communication between the business community and mayor’s office. https://www.jerryjonesformayor.com/
KAMAAL MARTIN says Lemon Grove needs new leadership to stabilize, sustain and strengthen Lemon Grove. His experience includes running a financial planning business, serving as a firefighter, college professor, taxi driver, automobile salesman, non-profit leader, legislative assistant in the California State Assembly, government relations specialist at the San Diego Airport Authority, and father of two teenage daughters.
He strives to make Lemon Grove the cleanest and greenest city in our region, a safe and thriving place for his daughters and local working families facing uncertainties. He wants Lemon Grove to build its way to the 21st century. His priorities include public health and safety, investing in infrastructure to improve residents’ quality of life, supporting local businesses and working to attract new businesses in the community. https://kamaalmartinformayor.com/
RACQUEL VASQUEZ has served as Mayor of Lemon Grove since 2016. She is the first black mayor elected in the county of San Diego. A senior public relations officer with the city of San Diego for over 20 years, she has also been active in Lemon Grove community groups, associations and city task forces. She served as a City of Lemon Grove Planning Commissioner and was a graduate of the Resident Leadership Academy. She is the wife of a retired military officer and mother of two daughters.www.Racquel4Mayor.com
During the past four years, she says she has prioritized public safety, economic development and infrastructure improvements. She is currently working to prioritize the budget and bring back community services, support infrastructure improvements and local businesses, reduce crime and increase public safety, and encourage redevelopment while preserving Lemon Grove’s unique community character. https://www.facebook.com/Racquel-Vasquez-242143892480791/
CHRIS WILLIAMS is the founder and managing partner of Pick Axe Holdings LLC, a real estate holdings business, with a background in investment capital. He is also the co-owner of Lee's Automotive, a long-time Lemon Grove business. He's volunteered in nonprofits, primarily youth programs and aiding young offenders to get a fresh start in life. He says his mission is to lead an inclusive community where everyone has a voice in choices to improve Lemon Grove and improve quality of life for all. He has worked to form a business improvement district and supports cannabis legalization.
He wants to improve government accountability, enhance downtown expansion, reduce taxes, and prioritize issues such as public safety, business support, health and the environment, mobility, and enhancing cultural and lifelong learning opportunities in Lemon Grove. He also wants to address homelessness, ,mental health needs crime reduction, affordable housing, and sidewalks as well as post-COVID-19 support. https://chriswilliamsformayor.com/ .
This is a pivotal election in the history of Lemon Grove. The city is facing a budget crisis that predates the pandemic. COVID-19 has made the financial situation worse. Some key services have been sharply cut and if the city cannot generate new revenues, there is a possibility that Lemon Grove could cease to be a city at all. Unincorporating and going back to county control is a possibility.
While many have visions for a more vibrant Lemon Grove including restoring recreation programs, adding more sidewalks and lighting, redevelopment of downtown to be more attractive to new businesses and reflect the city’s historical heritage, as well as adding more festivals and cultural events, money is a key constraint.
Options to raise revenues range from increasing the sales tax to attracting new businesses to boost sales tax revenues, taxing cannabis and potentially approving recreational cannabis sales, building more housing to boost property taxes, or other creative solutions, such as the electronic billboard the council recently approved.
Another issue is how to revitalize Lemon Grove including the downtown business district and blighted areas, while retaining the character of the community and recognizing budget challenges.
Housing and homelessness are also regionwide issues. Lemon Grove has approved more affordable housing in recent years than most other local jurisdictions, but there is pressure from the state and county to provide even more amid a regionwide housing shortage. How a cash-strapped city can do more to get shelter and services for the homeless is also a challenge in an era when more people are facing housing insecurity as unemployment benefits run out amid the pandemic.
Calls for racial justice, particularly in policing, have arisen across the nation and our region. Lemon Grove is a diverse city with our county’s first African-American mayor; three of the four candidates are also African-American. The city spends around 85% of its budget on public safety including police protection provided by the San Diego Sheriff’s department as well as fire protection. While some residents voice concerns over the crime rate including human trafficking, a serious issue in this area, others have pushed to shift some law enforcement resources into social services.
Ethics and transparency may be concerns for some voters. The city and a councilmember are facing a lawsuit alleging that City Councilman David Arambula, who is seeking reelection, assaulted Christopher Williams, who was treated at a hospital. Williams is running for Mayor. The two were at Arambula’s home when the incident occurs. Williams alleges he was invited there to discuss a cannabis dispensary application he had before the city. Arambula claims he believed the evening was intended to discuss bringing new business to Lemon Grove but was unaware a dispensary would be the topic; he says that he struck Williams in self defense. Mayor Racquel Vasquez was present earlier but left before the physical altercation.
The suit contends that neither Arambula nor Vasquez informed other councilmembers of the incident until after the suit was filed. Williams declined to file criminal charges and the civil case has been stalled in court due to the coronavirus shutdown; it is not expected to be heard until after the election.
COVID-19 relief for residents and businesses is also a concern. If the federal government approves any future rounds of relief funding for local cities, how those funds would be distributed to help impacted Lemon Grove renters, business owners, or others would be a decision for the Lemon Grove City Council.
Miriam Raftery, editor and founder of East County Magazine, has over 35 years of journalism experience. She has won more than 350 journalism awards from the Society of Professional Journalists, San Diego Press Club, and the American Society of Journalists & Authors. Her honors include the Sol Price Award for responsible journalism and three James Julian awards for public interest reporting from SPJ’s San Diego chapter. She has received top honors for investigative journalism, multicultural reporting, coverage of immigrant and refugee issues, politics, breaking news and more. Thousands of her articles have appeared in national and regional publications.
East County Magazine gratefully acknowledges the Facebook Journalism Project for its COVID-19 Relief Fund grant to support our local news reporting including impacts on vulnerable communities during the COVID-19 pandemic. Learn more: #FacebookJournalismProject and https://www.facebook.com/fbjournalismproject/.
You can donate to support our local journalism efforts during the pandemic at https://www.EastCountyMedia.org/donate.