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By Miriam Raftery

Photo, left to right: Mayor John Minto and challenger Stephen Houlahan; City Council candidates Samm Hurst and Dustin Trotter

September 5, 2020 (Santee) – East County Magazine will host a forum on Thursday, Sept. 10 at 7 p.m. for candidates running for Santee Mayoral and City Council races. To date, Mayor John Minto and mayoral challenger Stephen Houlahan have both agreed to participate.  In the race for an open City Council seat, Samm Hurst has confirmed she will participate; Dustin Trotter said he had a scheduling conflict for the forum. All candidates in both races have also now done separate interviews with ECM reporter Mike Allen, which will be posted soon.

The forum will be virtual on Zoom. You can watch the livestream at and send questions to A videotape of the forum will be posted later on and the forum will also be broadcast at a later date on KNSJ radio.

East County Magazine thanks the #FacebookJournalismProject for a grant to help support our virtual candidate forums during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Below are details on the candidates (listed in alphabetical order for each seat) and key issues:


STEPHEN HOULAHAN is a member of the Santee City Council, a registered nurse and a third-generation Santee native. He says he is running to put neighborhoods first and prevent traffic gridlock from overdevelopment. He says he does not accept developer contributions and opposes sprawl development. He worked to put an initiative on the ballot to give the public the final vote on large developments such as Fanita Ranch. He led efforts to defeat the Quail Brush power plant and backed a climate action plan and community choice energy for Santee.

JOHN MINTO served on Santee’s City Council before he was elected Mayor. A retired San Diego police officer, he chairs the Highway 52 Commission and has chaired the East County Economic Development Council. He also served on the boards of the League of California Cities, San Diego Association of Governments, (SANDAG), Metropolitan Transit System(MTS) and more. He believes his greatest accomplishments have been creating the Sports Plex USA and Town Center Park. His goals if reelected include assuring a balanced budget, helping businesses stay viable in a post-COVID-19 environment, widening/realigning Highway 52, infrastructure improvements, smart growth an affordable housing, creating local jobs, and supporting law enforcement in reducing crime.



SAMANTHA “SAMM” HURST is a long-time East County resident who has spent two decades as a teacher and research at UCSD, where she has worked on projects to improve lives of combat veterans. She is a member of the Santee Collaborative and Santee Historical Society, and attended the FBI Citizens Academy. She wants to better the quality of life in Santee and says she is fighting to reduce traffic, support small business, preserve open space, and ensure that development projects are in line with the community’s vision.

DUSTIN TROTTER is s Santee native and the owner of a general contracting company.  He says he will work to have a business friendly environment , cut red tape and get government out of the way of small business. He also  supports infrastructure maintenance, improving public transportation and putting dollars into crumbling streets, as well as encouraging more parks and completion of a community center.  Although ECM reached Trotter by phone to invite him to our forum and also sent emails, he did not respond to requests for him to participate in the forum or do a separate interview.  Trotter previously ran for the Santee City Council and was defeated by  Stephen Houlahan.



Housing and development:  Whether or not to allow major housing developments such as Fanita Ranch that exceed general plan allowances has long been a point of contention in Santee among those who want to preserve open space.The Council may weigh in on the project before a ballot measure on November’s ballot, which would give the people the final say on large developments that exceed general plan requirements. Other key projects include creation of an Arts and Entertainment district and redevelopment of the Carlton Oaks Country Club golf course. The state has pushed for cities to build more affordable housing. But in Santee, large developer donations flowing to some candidates have raised concerns.

Traffic and transportation: How to reduce gridlock on Highway 52 and surface streets is a hot issue, along with safe evacuation during wildfires, particularly since Fanita Ranch’s developer, HomeFed, announced plans to eliminate a planned Magnolia extension access route. Increasing public transit and widening Highway 52 are too long-discussed options.

Businesses and jobs: Local businesses and the city budget have been negatively impacted by the COVID-19 pandemic. Candidates will weigh in on ideas to help local businesses, attract new businesses, and bring more jobs to Santee.

Racial justice and public safety:  Santee has had multiple protests over national racial justice issues and drew national media attention over racial incidents including shoppers wearing KKK and swastika masks, as well as defender groups seeking to protect property from looters but also resulting in racial taunts and physical altercation. Santee has faced calls to address systemic racism and oversight of police, while others have called for steps to increase public safety.


East County Magazine gratefully acknowledges the Facebook Journalism Project for its COVID-19 Relief Fund grant to support our local news reporting including impacts on vulnerable communities during the COVID-19 pandemic. Learn more: #FacebookJournalismProject and

You can donate to support our local journalism efforts during the pandemic at


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