By Leon Thompson
Photo, left to right: John Minto, Rob McNelis, Maggie Acerra, Ronn Hall, Keshav Damoor
September 11, 2014 (Santee) – Santee City Council candidates introduced themselves to the Santee Mobile Home Owners Association on Saturday, drawing sharp distinctions betweenchallengers who seek to represent citizens, youth, and smart growth vs. incumbents on a council long dominated by business and development interests.
Mobile home owners make up more than 10% percent of registered Santee voters and they turn out to vote in huge percentages. Mobile home owners tend to be engaged and well informed, leading to some very pointed questions.
Two incumbents and three challengers are running for three seats on the Council. Council member John Ryan will not be running for reelection, leaving one seat open.
John Minto is the best known, having served on the Council for 12 years. He is a former San Diego detective. John is proud of the work the Council has done and pointed to the balanced budget, new development and safety of the community as part of his accomplishments. Minto is Chairman of the Santee Economic Development Council, yet he showed independence in voting against the wakeboard and cable ski park project at Santee Lakes that was favored by the other pro-growth members of the Council. He joined the rest of the Council in voting for a resolution opposing the Quail Brush Power Plant proposed for Mission Trails Regional Park, calling it a “public nuisance.”
Critics say the Council moves forward on many matters with little concern for public opinion. When confronted, Minto said “Our job is to fill the potholes and keep the public safe.”
When questioned on treatment of the homeless, he showed little compassion for their plight. “Let them move to El Cajon or Lakeside – I don’t care just as long as they aren’t in Santee,” he said. “We used to have laws to prevent this.” Minto has a campaign Facebook page here.
Rob McNelis is the other incumbent. He was first elected in 2010. McNelis is from humble beginnings and has done well for himself in the Real Estate industry. He is the owner of One Stop Lending and Realty in Santee. In 2013 McNelis was selected as Vice Mayor of Santee.
The UT reported that Councilman McNelis was so fed up with shopping carts fouling the landscape that he proposed a law that would require retailers to track their carts.
McNelis favors new development and replacing the old with the new. He is a strong advocate for the Fanita Ranch housing project and vocal in expressing his disdain for the “transient population.” He said, “You can tell who they are because all their belongings are in the shopping cart. They won’t accept help because they would have to remain clean and sober.”
Among the three challengers Ronn Hall, is backed by pro-business and development forces that have supported the council majority. Hall has been groomed for the position and is endorsed by everyone from Congressman Duncan Hunter to Grossmont Union High School District’s Jim Kelly to community leaders and nonprofit foundations. Hall was introduced to the Santee Mobile Home Owners Association members at their August meeting by Mayor Randy Voepel.
Hall is a familiar face in business circles in Santee. He is the past President of the Santee Chamber of Commerce and an active member of the Chamber for 10 years. He has an Insurance Business and his wife is a realtor. He helped establish the Santee Street Fair and is a member of Shadow Mountain Community Church congregation in El Cajon.
He says he believes that building a sense of community, having a positive attitude, genuine concern for others and a hard working character are qualities he brings to the Council and the City. His campaign website is http://ronnhallcitycouncil.com/ .
Maggie Acerra is a crusader for democracy and an advocate for the people. She is a budget specialist in financial and budget management. According to her website, electmaggieacerra.com she believes in sound fiscal management of the City.
“Balancing business growth with quality of life issues is the challenge for the City moving forward,” she states. “The current Council has compromised our town with big business development without regard to those who live here.”
While the current Council succeeded in attracting big business by cutting fees, regulations and taxes, “the taxpayers of Santee pick up the slack,” Acerra told the homeowners in the audience.
One audience member commented “It’s not just pot holes, whole roads are cracked. We need sidewalks, curbs, gutters and lighting.”
Acerra said that without a dissenting voice on the City Council, citizens’ concerns cannot be adequately heard. “An example of the way citizens’ concerns are not heard is the handling of the Quail Brush Power Plant. Remember, the information about the plant being built and final plans were already on their way to the San Diego Planning Commission with little public knowledge,” she said. “Both Pinnacle Peak and the Omelet House were run out of business by re-zoning to high density multiple residency without input from the people impacted by the already congested roads and services.”
Acerra plans to have all Council meeting videotaped and published on the City Hall website for citizen review. “We need more transparency and accountability” she said.
Last but not least, an impressive newcomer, Keshav Damoor answered questions with confidence backed by a command of the history and statistics of Santee. He made a compelling case for smart growth within Santee as the City reaches its maximum growth potential. “Forty percent of Santee residents are between 15 and 45 years of age,” he noted. “We should encourage a variety of voices and views on the Council.”
Damoor grew up in Santee “before the Mast Street Bridge” when “the Trolley Center was a vacant field.” “I’ve seen Santee grow and I have a vision for the future where high-tech industries like Biotech find a home in Santee with all its fine amenities,” he said. “We must continue to treasure our natural spaces and take good care of our elder population.”
Damoor was a coordinator for Circles USA, a San Diego nonprofit that addresses poverty issues. He is the Chairman of the Salary Setting Advisory Committee and Commissioner of the Mobile Home Fair Practices Commission. He says he works well with the current Council and sees himself as the transition candidate as the baton is passed to the next generation.
Many in the audience were understandably concerned over rent control. As one mobile homeowner remarked, “Unlike apartment dwellers, we can’t just pick up our mobile homes and move.”
After a 17 year battle, the city of Santee will preserve rent control protections, but the 20 year agreement will also ensure against further lawsuits. Rob McNelis answered that the city spent over $2.4 million over 17 years over rent control, adding, “At least we won’t have to worry about it for the next twenty years.”
Maggie Acerra remarked that the city has to take a pro-active position and keep pushing on rent control. “Only 51% percent of mobile homes in Santee are covered, a lot more needs to be done,” she said.
For more information and to meet the candidates in person all five candidates with have booths this weekend at the Santee Bluegrass Festival from 5:30 to 9:30 pm this Saturday at the Town Center Community Park East, 550 Park Center Drive in Santee 92071.