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By Jessyka Heredia


August 18, 2023 (Lemon Grove) – Approximately 50 people were in attendance earlier this month at the Lemon Grove Library to hear what Mayor Raquel Vasquez, the city council and staff has accomplished this past year and what is planned moving forward for Lemon Grove.

Mayor Vasquez started off her State of the City Address by saying, “Now are you ready for the State of Assembly?” then giggled with the audience and corrected herself and said, “That was a little slip there.” There was some chatter in the audience as if the mayor were hinting at running for State Assembly in the future.

She told the crowd that when she was elected in 2016, “My foremost objective revolved around fostering unity among our elected leaders, ensuring a clear and strategic vision for the future of our beloved city.”

Vasquez stated, “Year after year, we have joined forces to guarantee the city’s financial stability and to make significant infrastructure improvements and prioritize the safety and wellbeing of our residents.”, She added, “This vision, under my leadership, meticulously crafted our strategic focus areas, allowing us to allocate resources purposely. Our unwavering commitment to strategic action has yielded remarkable outcomes.”

The mayor reiterated that, “We have repeatedly demonstrated that when our elected leaders work in unison, this unity translates into tangible substantial results.”

Working in unison has been a challenge for the current Councilmembers. The Mayor did not address controversies among Council members that have raised tensions. Those included a proposal to censure Councilmember Liana LeBaron over outbursts during meetings and alleged harassment of staff, which sparked a lawsuit  by attorney Cory Briggs against the city to obtain public records to document the alleged harassment.  An investigation stemming from a former employee’s complaint had the investigator conclude that LeBaron engaged in conduct reasonably perceived as "aggressive and tarageting" though the report didn't include details of some allegations. Earlier this year, Councilmember Jennifer Mendoza obtained a temporary restraining order against LeBaron over alleged harassment, but a judge earlier this month refused to make the restraining order permanent. LeBaron filed an anti-SLAPP suit contending she had been targeted for political reasons; a hearing on who will pay legal fees in the anti-SLAPP suit remains pending. There was also a lawsuit filed against the City and former Councilman David Arambula by businessman Christopher Williams alleging assault during a meeting at Arambula’s home that Williams contended was to discuss his dispensary application; a jury ruled in favor of the City and Arambula.

The city has paid $35,000 for a team-building series, but it hasn’t seemed to help unify the Council.

As for tangible results that occurred when the Council did work together for the public good, Vasquez cited several, including making “street repairs, and maintenance a top priority.” She indicated that the City Council and staff enhanced the community by bringing more exciting activities and created a safer environment by moving forward with safer streets for everyone.” One of those exciting events was Trunk or Treat, where families can safely collect Halloween candy while meeting neighbors. The city also combined arbor day with earth day at Treganza park to celebrate being a Tree City USA participant for the last two years.

Mayor Vasquez also spoke about the city’s Gifty program; 33 Lemon Grove businesses participated in a gift card program that initially gave a  buy one gift card get one free promotion that later was scaled back in round three of the program to a buy one, get one half off version (up to $100) that is still currently available online. Vasquez said that with this program they were able to “inject $400,000 into the local economy. The funds used to match the funds of the shop local gift card came from ARPA funds (American Rescue Plan Act), a federal Biden administration program designed to help cities rebound after COVID-19.  

Other improvements cited by the mayor were the addition by the city of a designated motorcycle police officer to enhance street safety and successful completion of the sidewalk master plan and pavement management plan. “The sidewalk and pavement master plans will enable the city of Lemon Grove to allocate our tax dollars more effectively, efficiently, and strategically,” said Vasquez. The city completed a sidewalk and streetscape enhancement at Golden Ave and that funds from last year, this year and $1.2 million in additional ARPA funds were being allocated to repair streets, making a total of $3.5 million investment.

Vasquez said that the city is using “federal grants towards repairing our public storm drain system and resolving the pending backlog of sidewalk repairs.” Back in July of 2022 two neighbors sued the city of Lemon Grove and won over a failing storm drain that ultimately created  large sink holes on their property. There is another resident expected to go to court with the city for a failed storm drain on their property as well.

The mayor praised city staff, stating, “even though they are small, and mighty and that they go above and beyond for the residents we proudly serve.”

Looking to the future, the mayor was optimistic that Council and staff would increase street repairs and walkability with the Connect Main Street Project that was approved back in 2016 with the goal of creating walking and biking paths while connecting the Lemon Grove Avenue trolley station with the Massachusetts trolley stop. In 2020 the city was able to secure a $1.47 million dollar grant to complete phase 3 of the project from the California Natural Resources Agency aimed at helping “disadvantaged communities in reducing their carbon footprint and enhancing natural spaces throughout the State.”

The Mayor also spoke about the city’s plan to put a sales tax increase on next year’s ballot. Vasquez said, “Even though the city is currently in a financial stable position today, we must take action to create the future we envision for this community” and to look for new sources of revenue. Vasquez says that a committee has been formed to “recommend further action” on the sales tax initiative, adding, “If we set aside our personal ego’s we can join forces to make our future aspirations a reality and lay the foundation to build a Lemon Grove we can all take pride in.”

Vasquez told the audience that soon the city will receive “a new state of the art fire truck.” The city also received a grant for a bicycle patrol through the Sheriff Department as well as a commitment to continuing to serve the unsheltered population. This year’s point in time count that is conducted by the county showed that Lemon Grove’s homeless population nearly doubled from 31 individuals last year to 60 individuals in January of this year. Lemon Grove has joined forces with the three other East County cities and the unincorporated areas to tackle the need for more emergency shelters in the region.

Vasquez also spoke about a collaborative effort between the school board and the city council to “strategize and optimize our resources, our assets, our public sites to elevate the quality of service offered to our residents.” The joint meeting between the school board and city council will be held at the Roberto Alvarez Auditorium on Wednesday August 30, 2023, located at 3121 School Lane at 6 p.m.

She concluded, “The triumph of our community hinges upon our unity and a shared vision for a prosperous Lemon Grove. Let’s unite making our visions a reality.”

This story was updated August 24, 2023 to clarify the investigator's findings on an employee's allegations of harassment.

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