A LIVELY CANDIDATE FORUM IN LEMON GROVE FOR COUNCIL AND MAYORAL CANDIDATES

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Jonathan Goetz

October 20, 2016 (Lemon Grove) -- Housing,  homelessness,  business issues and marijuana were among the topics ata candidates’ forum Wednesday in Lemon Grove moderated by the League of Women Voters. Candidates present included Theresa Rosiak, George Gastil and Racquel Vasquez running for Mayor, along with City Council candidates Jerry Selby, David Arambula, Glenn Thornton Jr., Steve Browne and Charlene McAdory.

Each candidate received a two-minute opening and closing statement with the order picked in a random draw. Questions came directly from the audience and were screened to make questions comprehensive by category.

Mayoral candidate Theresa Rosiak and Council candidate Steve Browne were exceedingly oppositional, questioning city policy whenever the opportunity arose. Rosiak is a healthcare professional and Browne a small business owner and local youth director.  Rosiak said she wants to attract businesses and people to ”reinvigorate our city.”  Browne says he has the “pulse of the community.”

Mayoral candidates George Gastil and Racquel Vasquez, along with City Council candidates David Arambula and Jerry Selby. tended to support City policy. Gastil is a professor and Vasquez a communications director for the City of San Diego, both in addition to being on the Lemon Grove City Council. Selby is a former City Councilmember and Arambula a former Marine with an MBA.

City Council candidate Charlene McAdory said her goals include economic development and bringing more restaurants to town.  She avoided taking firm policy positions as she first wants to learn more from residents. McAdory is a Ph.D. candidate and has been a small business owner for four years. McAdory serves as President of Thrive Lemon Grove, a group founded by Councilmember Vasquez.

Glenn Thornton Jr., also a Council candidate, wants to see different types of businesses, such as medical. He offered thoughtful responses to many questions.

Browne said that the Broadway realignment to avoid crossing over railway tracks should have been a project to build an off-ramp at Broadway. “We need to open an exit at Palm.”

Rosiak said “Realignment is not going to work, at all, it’s not going to alleviate the traffic that you and I will go through each and every day…Everything needs to be re-looked at and if we had a group of concerned residents we would be able to take the input that you have and put it to work. I agree that Palm needs to be re-opened.”

Thornton suggested revisiting re-opening Palm Avenue and Arambula agreed.

Selby said that Palm Avenue is still a possibility thanks to Mayor Mary Sessom, adding, “There were many people who looked at this. It was passed. Our engineering consultants told us there would be enough queue space for cars to line up…We have many other things we can do.”

Selby emphasized his experience in the community, from serving on the school district’s bond oversight committee to being active in housing and community development issues.

Gastil replied, “This is one of the reasons why I’m hoping the people of Lemon Grove will re-elect Jerry Selby. Do you want people who are learning about what goes on in Lemon Grove? Do you want people who are talking about scrapping the things that we’re working on? I want to encourage you; send back people who managed to get grants that are not easy to get. The realignment will make a huge difference because it means people won’t have to cross the trolley tracks twice.”

Gastil emphasized his own experience on the City Council and the Lemon Grove school board.  “We’re really doing a lot of good things.”  He cited the Connect Main Street project to make the city more walkable as an example.

Vasquez stated, “It’s your quality of life that is my special interest.” Applying for grants was a recurring theme for Vasquez, who encouraged people to remain hopeful. “I would like to have a traffic study commence on an annual basis so we can take a look at the peak flows and adjust our timing according to those peak flows.”

All candidates said improving roads is important but several noted that funding is an issue.  Arambula noted that ballot Measure A would bring money for infrastructure in Lemon Grove; he supports it.  Gastil and Selby also support Measure A. Rosiak opposes it.  Vasquez isn’t sure where the funding would go. Thornton said he opposes taxes, period.   

Rosiak called for more police protection.  McAdory wants more Neighborhood Watch programs. 

On Measure V, which would allow up to 15 medical marijuana dispensaries in Lemon Grove, most candidates opposed or took no position. Gastil seemed open to allowing dispensaries only if it was part of a regional effort to ensure no single city has to bear a disproportionate number of them.

Selby opposes Measure V and says it has too many loopholes. Rosiak also opposes.  McAdory didn’t state a stance but said she wishes the state health department would administer dispensaries.  Vasquez wants the people to decide.

  Brown thinks pharmacies should distribute medical marijuana. “I don’t want to see them [dispensaries]up and down Broadway,” he said, adding that he has complained about a dispensary next to his business. 

Thornton says he’s from Colorado and that marijuana legalization “ruined the state” but agreed the people should vote and decide.  Arambula thanked the Sheriff for shutting down pot shops.

One question that seemed to show a stark contrast between candidates was their position on multi-family housing, in regard as to how it affects the tax base.

Arambula took the question first with the answer of “it doesn’t” help the tax base.

Selby discussed the issue intelligently but didn’t take a firm position.

Gastil said “I think it is appropriate to build multiple family housing near transportation corridors. The county has been creating more jobs than it creates housing, which creates expensive home prices.”

Vasquez, who communicates with developers daily on construction projects for her day job with the City of San Diego, said “SANDAG anticipates 30,000 people to locate to San Diego County annually so there is a need for housing. Our downtown village specific plan it allows for the types of buildings that you see going up.”

Rosiak spoke strongly against such development, saying “We are past build-out. We cannot afford to have any more housing down there. Plain and simple. We have 25,000 residents on 2,502 acres.”

McAdory disagreed. “I believe that there is a need for the multi-family housing and that is because we are growing. By having the multi-family development, not so close to each other of course…it allows for less traffic congestion from people driving to and from work” by building near transportation corridors.

Browne took a similar anti-development tone to Rosiak, as the two of them generally agreed on most issues throughout the evening.

Thornton said, “It’s not going to help property values I don’t believe. We’re going to need to expand our education structure. I’m not necessarily against growth, I’m actually very pro-growth but you have to expand the services.”

On homelessness, Gastil stated, “First and foremost, I want to deal with the permanent homeless in our City.”  Vasquez would partner with the County and McAlister Institute to find places for the permanently homeless.  Selby notes many have mental illness and that outreach to providers is key.  Rosiak wants to bring services for homeless especially veterans to Lemon Grove. “Last night alone I counted 137 homeless.”  Browne wants to educate everyone on PERT teams to help the mentally ill.  McAdory wants to look at what other cities have done.  Thornton would work with religious and community groups. Arambula says it’s a complex issue but that people should be treated with “dignity and respect.  It’s not as simple as law enforcement cuffing them and taking them down.”

It was a lively debate, but in terms of alliances, Gastil supports Selby, while Rosiak and Browne have a similar anti-establishment, anti-development tone, and Vasquez is grooming McAdory through Thrive Lemon Grove.

Lemon Grove Councilman Jerry Jones and Candidate for Helix Water Board Mark Gracyk were also present, but did not speak.