By Miriam Raftery
October 29, 2020 (El Cajon) -- Letitia Dickerson, one of six candidates running for El Cajon City Council in District two, calls the area the “forgotten district” while other parts of the city have seen growth. She pledges to make district two “unforgettable” if elected.
She missed our candidate forum because the city had an error her email address. (View forum with the other five candidates). Fortunately, she’s reached out to ECM and conducted an interview via Zoom to talk about her goals if elected.
According to her website, Letitia has lived in El Cajon for over 22 years and says at least 18 of those have been in district two. She was born in Jersey and calls herself “a Jersey girl with a California heart.” She’s gone from homeless to owning small businesses including a smoothie shop and gym, and now works in telecommunications. She’s raised her children in the district and now has grandchildren here as well. She’s an ordained evangelical and a Republican who is the coordinator of SoCal Day of Hope, a program that provides outreach and resources to people in need. She’s also volunteered with community nonprofits including Rescue Mission, Salvation Army, San Diego Food Bank, San Diego Mentors, Promises for Kids and more.
Below are highlights from her interview.
Q. Tell us your strongest qualifications for serving on the El Cajon City Council and what motivated you to run.
A: I’m originally from Jersey. I’ve probably lived in San Diego about 26 years…18-22 of those in the second district [in El Cajon]. I’ve had children and grandchildren in this distict. I’ve seen tremendous turnaround in El Cajon, but not in this district…Me being a community organizer, probably for half my life I’ve been helping people, helping thousands who are not related to me…my desire is to help people and see them grow and get better, which is what SoCal Day of Hope is. We not only feed people but we connect them with resources so that people don’t have to stay in that situation…that’s my goal for the Second District…connect and come together so we can have dialogue and boots on the ground to get this district up…
Q: You’ve indicated that homelessness is a top priority. How would you address this problem?
A: I’ve been homeless and not just for a week or two…We need to deal with the root and not just the fruit. So thank God, we do need to provide resources, people do need resources and a hand up sometimes…But we need a day center where there are advisors who can connect people to resources and find out the root of why they are homeless…some people have mental illnesses, addiction…some people like me are just one paycheck away…some people got sick, I was married to a man who was injured, he was a quadriplegic…that changed our whole lifestyle….it was hard, losing that income…If we find out why you are homeless, then we can deal with it. I’m a boots on the ground kind of person. Everything doesn’t happen in a meeting room..the homeless don’t trust everyone and you have to build relationships.
Q: El Cajon has been the target of protests lately, along with many other cities, over racial justice and politicking concerns. How would you address calls for improving racial justice and shifting police budget priorities as well as concerns by those who believe El Cajon needs more funding spent on improving public safety?
A: I’m a black woman obviously, so I’ve experienced racial injustice and racism. I in no way, shape or form believe we should be defunding police. We need our police officers. We love our police officers. We need our protection…no matter what our demographic, we all need 911. When we call we need someone to respond. However we do need to build dialogue. I ‘m a part of the faith based action coalition...also community assistance service team and I used to be a part of the Lemon Grove Clergy…All of these things, we would bring the police officers, the Sheriff’s department, faith based leaders and the community together at a table and find out where change is needed…I believe in anyone’s right to assembly peacefully and people need to know that they are being heard (she added that burning buildings is not peaceful). A lot of times black people feel that they are not being heard. (She recalled being pulled over a few years ago after paperwork was not filed when her stolen car was returned). I had no idea why we were on the ground in handcuffs…had I responded differently…they didn’t know I was the owner…(Regarding the Alfred Olango shooting a few years ago in El Cajon) – We all have a fight or flight mode, I don’t think retraining but additional training would be the operative word. One of the things we talk about with the faith-based community is building an app, one for police and one for the community…so the police officer understands cultural and religious paradigm when you enter a situation..and also for residents, this is how you respond to police officers so that we do not create a situation. If we had not conformed when we were pulled over it might have been a different situation….At CAST, we had walking nights where leaders would partner with police officers and walk through neighborhood (asking residents if there is any help that they need.)
Q: Our state and region have a shortage of housing, especially affordable housing. What’s your strategy to increase affordable housing?
A: We definitely need affordable housing…We have to get people to reinvest. The investors that have poured into El Cajon, or the businesses or the people…we need to figure out how a way first of all to help the ones that are already here especially in the second district where it’s an extremely transient area because there are so many apartment complexes. So figure out where we are dropping the ball on upkeep…and figure out where we can get investment for opportunity zones that were already implemented in 2002…figure out where we can build so there is not a lack of housing and of course, we are always limited in the city by what the state is doing.
Q: The city has suffered loss of sales tax revenues during the pandemic and now Parkway Plaza has sold to a developer that may seek to building housing or offices on the site. Do you believe Parkway Plaza should remain a regional shopping mall, and what other ideas do you have to attract new businesses and support businesses that are struggling during the pandemic?
A: In no way, shape or form do I think that we should get rid of Parkway Plaza. However there is no reason we can’t do something like was done at Fashion Valley where they have built around it..there is plenty of room to build residential around it which would bring traffic to Parkway Plaza…I think 20 of El Cajon is Middle Eastern. If you can figure out how to market to them then you will have prosperous businesses in this area. We need to find the most positive aspects of El Cajon city and then begin to market them. Take advantage of opportunity zones where they do zero capital gains tax and begin to build education and training for businesses…like an El Cajon Small Business Administration that would keep mentoring and education up.
Q: You mentioned partnering with schools. What do you envision?
A: I would love to be able…to get an open door to see where we can help one another…see how we can engage with parents and begin to get an active role in children’s education and open up areas so children are not stuck, with my granddaughter, she’s on autistic spectrum, too far advanced to be in classroom but not advanced enough to be on her own….never seems to be enough finances (to get her the help she needs)…
Q: If there is another round of CARES Act funding, how would you prioritize those funds?
A: Definitely we need to get our businesses up and running…I believe we can do that safely and efficiently. As a former business owner, we want to be prosperous..I believe we can follow the mandates of whatever the state is mandating and still … find those that are struggling and make sure that money goes to the….I think we need to go to renters as well, those who have legitimately lost jobs…We do have renters, some, where both incomes were lost. We don’t want people evicted out of their homes. The landlords are struggling too…not receiving rents….(She recalls that the city program to help renters) had so many replies that it crashed.
Q: Our region’s performing arts center was closed for a decade before the city brought in Live Nation to manage it. It was profitable ahead of schedule before COVID-19 forced an indefinite shutdown. Will you back continued support of the Magnolia, formerly the East County Performing Arts Center, once it is able to reopen?
A: Absolutely, I like Live Nation, they’ve done it across the world…I believe we need to let them do what they need to do…Magnolia opens the door to whomever wants to come in…As more people come, that’s more people coming to the city and building up the reputation for the arts for the city.
Q: You’ve pledged to make the 2nd district unforgettable. How will you accomplish that?
A: The bottom line is …I have children in the district so I’m not going to forget about the children in the district. I’ve been homeless, I know how it feels so I’m not going to forget about the homeless. I’ve been a business owner, so I know how it feels concerning the inundation of the surroundings…the cleanliness and issues on the street that can come with people being homeless and waking up in front of your building, so I’m not going to forget about the businesses…I understand community organization. I know how to bring people and resources together….I know I’m the one who can connect this all together and make sure that we can fix the issues that we have and work together with the people…I feel like the mayor and city council are doing what they do, there just aren’t enough people to do it...Now we can get somebody in who can focus on the people in the district (the central north portion of the city).
Q: What else would you like our readers to know about you and your candidacy, any issues we’ve missed, endorsements, and where can people find more information on your candidacy?
A: My greatest endorsement is Jesus Christ. I believe I was called by God to do it. I’m ready to do it. You can go to my website, my social media…all of it is open, it’s not private..even if you disagree with me you can still understand my platforms and my paradigm. If you go to my website you can connect to all of my social media…and see all of the entities and organizations I’m connected with to this day, and that I was engaged in through he years….I’m running because for half my life I’ve been fighting for others, and now I want to fight for you.