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By Miriam Raftery

25, 2008 (Lemon Grove) -
Who has the best fresh ideas for Lemon Grove?   Which
candidate can squeeze the most benefits out of shrinking tax dollars?

What seeds
of future development should be planted for the city’s future—and
was the Council’s vote to raise its pay 40% a sweet or sour deal?

These are among the pithy issues for voters to consider in the Lemon Grove
City Council race on the November 4 ballot. Six candidates are running for
two seats; the top two voter-getters win.  East County Magazine contacted
all candidates through their contact information at the Registrar of Voters
site to help our readers pick the best of this year’s crop of candidates. 

Two (George Gastil, photo above, and incumbent Mary England) provided interviews
and a third (Ranger Dick Whitmore) responded to questions via e-mail.  The
other three (incumbent Thomas Clabby, attorney/business owner Paul Fine, and
businessman Michael Richards) did not respond.

George Gastil’s fresh ideas

“I bring fresh ideas and energy to our community,” said challenger
George Gastil,  a history professor at SDSU and Grossmont College.  He
believes his ten years on the Lemon Grove School Board demonstrates his commitment
to the community years.  His government experience also includes working
for State Senator Denise Ducheny. “The City of Lemon Grove needs to be
more in touch with the residents. We need to have neighborhood councils so
that people in each section of the city can talk about priorities for their
particular areas.”   For instance, neighborhood groups could
recommend whether or not sidewalks, speed bumps, or street repairs are needed
in their area.

Gastil believes residents should be consulted about the type of redevelopment
they want to see in Lemon Grove.  “What do we want downtown to look
like?  We need more trees and places to walk,” said Gastil, who
also wants to ask residents what type of retail they want in hopes of encouraging
residents to shop in Lemon Grove and also attract residents from neighboring
communities to boost the local economy.  A Lemon Grove resident for many
years, he and his wife have raised their children here.

“We also need to strengthen this community,” Gastil observed.  “Our
community needs some new energy. We used to do a parade. We don’t anymore.  A
multi-cultural festival is something that can pull this city together, show
off one of our greatest attributes, which is our diversity, and make us more
attractive to other communities.”  The festival could also celebrate
the city’s cultural and agricultural heritage, he added.  Gastil
also calls for creation of a farmer’s market as well as community gardens
for residents to grow their own fresh fruits and vegetables. 

Gastil criticized the current Council for voting to raise Councilmembers pay
by 40%.  The raise would take effect after the election.   “If
elected I will put a motion forward to cancel the pay increase,” he said,
adding that a more modest raise could be considered later if the City has more
money.  “How could we raise the pay 40% when we have streets that
are falling apart and we have a state budget crisis?  If we’re asking
our constituents to tighten their belts, we need to do the same.”

“Crime is up in Lemon Grove,” said Gastil, who also reports a
rise in graffiti, drug abuse and family violence.  “I want to bring
back community policing,” he said, adding that causes of crime also need
to be addressed.  Better lighting, help for the homeless  and after-school
programs for children can prevent these people from becoming victims of crime,
he believes.  “Why don’t we have a Boys and Girls Club?” asked
Gastil, who said one of his first actions if elected would be to try and bring
a Boys and Girls Club to Lemon Grove.  “Everybody says where is
the money going to come from, but there are people out there who care about
kids.  We need to get them involved.”

Lemon Grove School District has solar energy collectors on five of its eight
school.   “I think we should be pushing solar. That’s
indicative of the priorities I would seek for the City,” said Gastil,
who also supports energy-efficiency retrofits for older buildings and improving
energy efficiency for new buildings.   “Also we need to be
very aggressive about going after grants and special funds,” he noted. “For
example, there are funds available through Senate Bill 375, the Smart Growth
bill just signed. There is funding you can get for smart growth projects, like
making sure there is housing close to public transportation.” 

He supports smart growth provided projects are attractive, include shade trees
and pedestrian-friendly features, and are scaled appropriately for the community
(“no skyscrapers”).  Gastil also expressed concerned over
the trend among cities to bring in big-box retail stores to boost the sales
tax base.  He suggests considering a pooled tax base with neighboring
communities and regional planning. 

“What’s at stake is the energy level of the community,” said
Gastil, noting that many civic volunteers are aging.  “We need a
new core of involved citizens to make it vibrant again…We need to get
people of all ages and cultural backgrounds involved.”

Gastil is endorsed by Congresswoman Susan Davis, Congressman Bob Filner State
Senators Christine Kehoe and Denise Ducheny, the League of Conservation Voters
of San Diego County, the San Diego County Democratic Party,  Lemon Grove
School Board member Timothy Shaw, community leader Dr. Abdussattar Shaikh, and
Jim Duffy, candidate for Sheriff and past president, Deputy Sheriff’s
Association of San Diego County.

Mary England’s fruitful efforts

Mary England, owner of a public relations firm and chair of the La Mesa Chamber
of Commerce, has served on Lemon Grove’s City Council for eight years.  She
has served on the redevelopment panel and helped shape the downtown specific
plan for Lemon Grove.   Redevelopment is a top priority for England,
who notes that Citron Court, the city’s first mixed-use redevelopment
project in nearly half a century recently broke ground on Broadway.  It
will include 2,500 of commercial space and 26 residential units.  “We’re
very proud of that,” said England, who looks forward to seeing the fruits
of her labors take shape.   Citronica, a second mixed use project
currently in the planning stages, will have 3,400 square feet of commercial
space and 54 apartment units in its first phase.

She believes in working closely with developers on redevelopment projects.  “We
know the higher you go the more expensive it is, so we allow developers to
come in to drive, and then the marketplace will drive,” she observed.  “We’re
not going to hold any developer back.  We’ll go with the [strategic]
plan, but if a developer has something different, we are very willing to look
at it.  There is a financial issue.  We have to remember too, where
we are building and who we are building for.  The developer takes all
of that into consideration, because they are the risk taker.”

Asked to name the biggest issues facing Lemon Grove,  England replied, “To
continue to provide the services that the citizens want at the same level without
raising taxes.  We are into a budget revise. We always run lean.  We
must, because we don’t have as much retail as other cities; La Mesa and  El
Cajon have more.”

Maintaining police and fire services are also priorities, she added.  “One
of the big issues is our fire department,” England noted, adding that
a high percentage of experienced firefighters will retire soon.  “We’ve
invested some of our money for onsite training…We have to make sure
our people get the experience.” 

Last year, England chaired the city’s 30th anniversary celebration,
a public celebration that cost $30 a person.  “I garnered money
from the private sector for things citizens of Lemon Grove could participate
in and have fun without spending taxpayer money,” she said, citing a
flat-screen TV drawing through Lemon Grove cleanup days as an example.  “we
enhanced concerts in the park and had free birthday cake.  “I’ve
been a professional fundraiser for political candidates for the last 12 years
and for nonprofits for probably 20 years.”  When the city faced
budget cuts eight years ago, she asked to go to the private sector to fund
concerts in the park and a bonfire.  “For the last eight years we
haven’t had to lose taxpayer money and citizens didn’t lose anything
that they loved due to lack of money,” she said, noting that the December
2007 bonfire, which included a canned food and toy drive, was the city’s
last public event.

England would not support a tax hike at this time, but added that the city
does not yet now what the “hit” from Sacramento will be in terms
of funding cuts following the state budget’s recent adoption.  “Never
say never,” she cautioned.  “The state has just been so unpredictable
and volatile.  No city is on an even keel.”  

Asked about energy, England said she would support solar if it made economic
sense, but added that some organizations have invested in converting infrastructure
to solar and “it didn’t pencil out.”

England believes the City must be proactive to prevent crimes ranging from
robberies to identity theft, a key problem currently, along with elder abuse.   As
growth and redevelopment occurs, more sheriffs will likely be needed, she observed.  “If
we increase the number of people and businesses, we have to increase safety
for them.”

England stressed the importance of electing or reelecting “people who
will do the job for the people.  Many of my opponents have not attended
a council meeting,” she said.  “Citizens are best served by
people who are aware of the issues and have their best interests at heart.”

Asked about the pay raise, England replied that councilmembers have not had
a pay raise for many years.  “We voted that it would only be accepted
in this election cycle,” she added.

A Lemon Grove resident since 1963, England said she’s been honored to
serve the community and hopes to continue. “I’m very excited about
continuing redevelopment and seeing change,” she concluded. 

England is endorsed by Supervisor Dianne Jacob, the Deputy Sheriffs Association
of San Diego County, Lemon Grove Firefighters Local 2728, the Lincoln Club,
Assemblyman Joel Anderson, San Diego County Apartment Association, and the
San Diego County Republican Party.

Ranger Dick Whitmore’s seeds of change

Challenger Ranger Dick Whitmore, a playground director, wants “more
community involvement in Concerts in the Park, parades and having town hall
meetings.”  He added that citizens need to be able to meet with
Councilmembers before meetings and faults Council for often voting for staff
recommendations without listening to citizens.

He believes that before the City asked for funds for Broadway improvements,
it should have brought landowners, tenants, Chamber of Commerce representatives
and shoppers to a town hall meeting.   

He also hopes to work to be more supportive of the Lemon Grove Chamber of
Commerce and to give voters more input into decisions on “which streets
should be repaired first, when parks are to be sold, traded or land swapped.”  Sidewalks
should be “where students are walking to school in the street,” he
said, citing Palm Avenue and Washington Streets specifically.

Whitmore has walked door to door to register voters and encourages people
to attend planning and council meetings and become involved in youth sports
and school activities.

He pledged to continue working with the League of California Cities in “holding
the line on the state taking more money” and to try and get some funds
returned to Lemon Grove.

Whitmore advocates requiring helmet and safety equipment at skate board parks
and believes students who ride bicycles to school should be required to wear
helmets and have a place to lock up bikes at school.  He also wants to
see a program or event that would involve churches, service groups, the Chamber
of Commerce, youth teams, schools and the library.

In addition, he wrote, “I would like to know if anyone is interested
in a war memorial for Lemon Grove servicemen.”

Whitmore did not list endorsements in his e-mailed response.

For additional coverage of this race, see:

George Gastil is the only candidate who provided a website to ECM, Smart
Voter or the Registrar of Voters:   

Candidate Michael Richards provided responses to the League of Women Voters:

For details on the Council pay raise vote, see:

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I note that anyone who has managed to remain in office for any length of time has no difficulty getting endorsements from the various agencies and departments he/she has been rubbing elbows with during his/her stay in office. Frankly, I don't know what specific value an endorsement from the Deputy Sheriff's Association or the Firefighters Local 2728 has for any candidate. These are public service departments whose endorsements have no more weight or value than those of other citizens. Are we to assume that members of these departments find the candidates they endorse to be great supporters of whatever these departments want, say like better pay packages, or maybe 40% pay raises?
Personally, I look on endorsements, especially from other public service agencies, as akin to lobbyists, who are about as useful to the general public as lawyers. As well, you can see more partisanship in who is doing the endorsing than any objective evaluation of the candidates. In other words, just more political wrangling folks. It is also why people will continue to get more of the same, because it will always be a contest between the two major parties, as if only their candidates can speak for the people.
Although I don't belong to Mr.Gastil's party, I was pleased to support him for his "progressive" ideas, in particular, his view on the need for more solar collectors within Lemon Grove. I've tried without success, to interest the Council on the installation of solar panels on the municipal buildings. Mayor Sessoms could not agree that the venture was cost effective and I see that she was joined by Council Member England, if I'm to be guided by what she included in her resume. England states that "some organizations" have tried investing in solar conversion and it didn't "pencil out", which I presume to be conservative lingo for "no immediate profit". England's position would have more impact if she identified those "organizations". May we assume that she didn't investigate the benefits of the various solar installations at the five Schools in Lemon Grove which have functioning solar arrays? For that matter, Gastil's argument for more solar installations, would be enhanced by producing some figures supporting the value of these systems in dollar terms (for England's conservative viewpoint) just to see if they "pencil out".

Mr. Gastil's civic awareness appears to top that of the current Council Members when he states that given the drastic economic conditions of the times, when people are losing jobs, savings, and even their homes, it is hardly the appropriate time for the consideration of a pay raise for Council Members, much less a 40% raise. I'd have to conclude that present Council Members are drastically out of touch with the people and their condition. How alert does one have to be to determine that now is the worst possible time to be voting themselves a pay raise? I wish Mr. Gastil luck during his term in office.