Cites accomplishments, addresses city's homeless problem and criticizes Sacramento for governing mandates
By Paul Kruze, Contributing Editor
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December 16, 2018 (El Cajon) --“I am proud to report that the State of our City is outstanding,” said El Cajon Mayor Bill Wells on Tuesday to a nearly full council chamber. He added, “I believe that the City is moving in a positive direction. We have relied on innovation and creative thinking to tackle difficult issues and we have maintained the City’s strong fiscal health, at a time when other cities have struggled.”
Wells said that the City has been able to preserve its strength in spite of what he cited as over reach by Sacramento due to the enactment of SB 54, California’s sanctuary state law and a recent street vending law which according to Wells, “threatens our ability to regulate how our streets and parks are used.”
El Cajon Homeless Crisis
In terms of El Cajon’s homeless issues, the Mayor said that voter-approved legalization of marijuana use and lowering of felony crime standards have undermined the City’s efforts to address the problem.
He also called for more help for the mentally ill. “The lack of virtually any financial assistance to local governments to address mental health [issues] have all contributed to a dramatic increase in homelessness, not only here, but statewide.”
Despite setbacks, the City has continued to work diligently with non-profit partners, County social services, the East County Homeless Task Force and other agencies to what Wells characterized “to find real solutions the homelessness issue,” Wells said, adding, “While taking on this challenge, the City has strengthened its partnerships with the East County Chamber of Commerce, East County Transitional Living Center, Crisis House, the Salvation Army, and the County of San Diego.
Working with Crisis House and the Salvation Army, we are proactively seeking homeless individuals who want housing,” Wells said. “Through the housing navigator, housing assistance funds, and the “Way Back Home” program, the City has helped over 90 individuals find permanent housing—individuals that were recently homeless in our community.”
Wells called on the County of San Diego to invest more of its Federal homeless funding to construct supporting housing and to help those with mental illness, and drug and alcohol addiction. “While we provide extensive options for anyone that wants housing, we are also doing everything we can to ensure our City is safe. The City has taken a zero tolerance stance on violations such as trespassing, consuming alcohol in public, and illegal drug use. Unlike other cities, we do not tolerate tent cities on our sidewalks or encampments in our parks. I believe that our parks are for families and children,” Wells said.
Public Safety and Neighborhood Improvements
Over the past year, the City of El Cajon police and fire departments responded to nearly 100,000 calls. “I find myself humbled and inspired by the acts of heroism and willingness of our staff to put themselves into dangerous situations. The mayor recognized the men and women of both agencies who “many times acting outside of their job duties, help educate our youth, serve as role models, and help when nobody else will.”
Wells cited as a major accomplishment the City’s implementation of an innovative approach to responding to medical causes through its “Fire Squad 6” unit. Rather than sending a heavy fire engine or truck into situations identified as medical issues, the specially outfitted pickup truck is sent to the scene.
2018 saw the completion of the City’s new 14,000 square foot state of the art animal shelter at 1373 N. Marshall Avenue. The project cost was about $10 million and came in under budget utilizing public safety bond.
Mayor Wells also acknowledged El Cajon citizen, Kathy Pillman and Councilman Goble and their group of dedicated citizens who over the past year removed 12,000 pounds of trash.
This past year was the first full year that the city’s apartment inspection program was in full force. Through this program, the City inspected 180 apartment complexes and over 3,000 apartment units, to ensure that basic housing standards are being met.
The mayor was not shy to acknowledge the city’s enforcement of strict laws regarding marijuana dispensaries. He said that during 2018, the
El Cajon Police department, along with the City Attorney’s office, shut down several marijuana dispensaries by engaging in five raids and making 18 arrests. “The City served five search warrants and impounded 1,409 pounds of marijuana, and almost $70,000 in cash. The confiscated marijuana, along with 1,000 pounds of edibles, is valued over $4 million in product that was being illegally sold. Since 2014, the City has shut down 57 illegal marijuana dispensaries,” Wells said.
ECPAC and Other El Cajon Economic Developments
One of the more troublesome projects for the Mayor and the City Council has been the East County Performing Arts Center, which has been shuttered for a decade due to management problems, decreased event revenues, and general disrepair issues facing the 40-year old building. Early in 2018, the City finalized an agreement with Live Nation to manage the theater. Renovation began last summer. Construction is expected to finish in late spring/early summer 2019, with Live Nation events beginning to be scheduled starting in September 2019. In spite of this troubled past, the city anticipates the new theater to be a performing arts destination not only in San Diego County, but across Southern California for high-caliber live concerts and performances.
In 2018, after years of negotiation, the former police station on Fletcher Parkway across from the Parkway Plaza Mall was sold to a developer issued permits to redevelop the site with a new Hampton Inn by Hilton Hotels, an In-N-Out Burger, and other casual dining outlets (such as Blaze Pizza, California Fish Grill, and Urbane Café). Wells said that the first phase of construction is anticipated to conclude next summer with the entire project completed by summer 2020.
A reception in City Hall followed the Mayor’s speech. Mayor Wells, who was re-elected with a nearly 66 percent mandate over his challenger, Joel Scalzitti, was subsequently sworn in to office by El Cajon City Clerk Angela Aguirre.
Also sworn into office was incumbent Councilman Gary Kendrick, who was elected to a four-year termin the first district election with an 87 percent mandate over his challenger, Councilman Ben Kalasho. Kalasho challenged Kendrick in a new district representing Fletcher Hills but despite his loss, will retain his existing at-large seat for two more years, after which he must step
Although he had been seen in the council chambers prior to Mayor Well’s State of the City address, Councilman Ben Kalasho was absent during the address but was present during the City Council meeting.
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