By Mike Allen
January 17, 2017 (Santee) -- Santee Mayor John Minto says he’s big on creating deals to share the costs his city must bear for essential services such as police and fire, as well as community meeting places.
Speaking at a Jan. 17 meeting of the Santee Chamber of Commerce, Minto announced he’s working to get a new public safety center that would house both a Sheriff’s Department station and fire station near the Polo Barn, off Magnolia Avenue.
“I think it’s a good idea to put those two things together,” Minto said. He noted Fire Station No. 4 is more than 50 years old, and in great need of repair. Instead of spending money for repairs, a better way to go is building a combined public safety center.
He said San Diego County, which owns the land, is interested in being a partner on the arrangement.
Minto also announced the city has purchased a seven-acre parcel just north of Trolley Square Town Center for a movie theater complex.
“We’re buying it from San Diego County for $1,” Minto said. “We have at least two theater operators who are already interested in it, and we just have to decide which one to go with that will give us the most bang for our buck.”
While the building will include a restaurant, it’s not as inclusive as city officials were hoping,” Minto said.
As to the Karl Strauss Brewery complex slated for a nearby parcel off Cuyamaca Street, Minto said that project has all its permits and just needs to resolve an environmental issue before construction can begin.
The Santee City Council approved the project more than a year ago, and Karl Strauss purchased the property last year. The brewery plans to build its headquarters offices, along with production facilities, a restaurant/ tasting room, and warehouse on a 10-acre parcel.
Next to the hoped for public safety center near the Polo Barn, Minto said he’s working on a concept for a combined community center and library building.
Minto said he’s been in discussions with a private company to build a community center that would serve a number of clients, including the county library, seniors, teens, and service organizations such as the Chamber, Kiwanis and Rotary Clubs.
Later, he said the private party that city officials have been talking with on this project was San Diego Christian College, which has a campus north of Trolley Square Town Center.
The talks are in the very early stages, but the concept is to create a building that would entail both public and private investment, Minto said.
The Friends of a New Santee Library, a local nonprofit, has been advocating to get a new library here since 2014. The group says the current facility on Carlton Hills Boulevard with about 9,000 square feet is woefully inadequate to serve a city of about 58,000 people.
Santee’s horrendous traffic problems, especially during commute times, is also something Minto said he’s working on.
He said he’s been talking with Congressman Duncan Hunter about getting funds to expand Highway 52 between Cuyamaca and Mast Boulevard. Another idea Minto said he’s trying to push is widening SR 52 on the bridge going west past Mast Boulevard to accommodate trucks, and thereby increase traffic speeds by 25 percent.
That solution wouldn’t make friends with bicyclists who would lose the dedicated bike lane, but Minto said that’s too bad.
“I’d rather see thousands of cars going over the hill than a few bicycles,” he said.
Minto said the city will soon be rolling out a new improved web site that will be more user-friendly and informative. It will also allow residents and businesses to obtain licenses more easily, and file for permits and other documents that go to the correct city official. “It will speed up the process and make it a whole lot cheaper,” he said.
To fund all these ideas and more, Santee is in relatively good financial shape, Minto said.
While many California cities have been struggling to meet their budgets because of excess payments to their pension funds, Santee got out in front of the issue by making accelerated payments to its pension fund, Minto said.
“That’s given us a much healthier bank account so we can afford the things we’re paying for,” he said.
To a question on Fanita Ranch, a residential project of about 1,400 houses north of Santee Lakes, Minto said there wasn’t any news.
However, in a 2015 public workshop, a HomeFed Corp. official told the City Council it was moving ahead with the project. HomeFed purchased the 2,600 acres in a foreclosure sale in 2011, paying $11 million for the land.
According to Santee planner John O’Donnell HomeFed has been talking with both the U.S. Department of Fish and Wildlife and the California Department of Fish and Wildlife concerning mitigation measures in advance of submitting plans to the city, but he wasn’t aware when such submittals would occur.
Having served on the Santee Council since 2002, Minto projects an affable, easy-going demeanor, but he insists just because he’s now mayor, it’s changed how he’s approaching the job.
“I’m going to do just what I’ve done all along, and that’s keep working,” he said.