October 10, 2010 (El Cajon ) – Gary Kendrick has served on El Cajon’s City Council since 2002. He takes pride in his efforts to “bring peace to a once volatile Council” and says the Council is “very much in harmony now; it’s much calmer.” His platform includes safe streets, sensible redevelopment, rights of property owners, and getting tax dollars back from Sacramento.
He led the battle to ban smoking in public places and shut down drug paraphernalia/smoke shops. “It’s not very often I cheer when someone goes out of business,” he said of the latter, “but they promote drug use and cause a lot of misery in our society.”
Kendrick says tobacco licensing is another of his major accomplishments. “I think it will save a lot of kids.” Retailers in El Cajon must have a tobacco license to sell tobacco products and fees are used to pay for sting operations. “We went from about 43% of stores selling tobacco to children, down to 5%. That’s a huge success by anyone’s measure and we were the first city in the county to do that.”
He cites lowering crime as one of the major accomplishments during his tenure. Early in his first term, the Council passed the strictest anti-prostitution ordinance in the U.S. and sold off cars used in solicitation. “That took away all the crime that goes along with prostitution, the drug-dealing and petty theft,” he said, adding that such crimes dropped “probably 95% along Main Street.”
Today, police resources are stretched thinner due to budget constraints and despite redevelopment strides, many storefronts remain boarded up on Main Street. Kendrick wants to see Council be “more flexibility with redevelopment. That means more mixed-use development downtown where we have retail on the bottom floor and residential on top—condos, not apartments.”
Despite El Cajon having the highest poverty rate in the County, Kendrick feels that “we have plenty of affordable housing for renters right now; 51% of the city is apartments. That’s out of balance.” He wants to encourage more conversion of apartments to condominiums to create affordable homes for first-time buyers. “Now the key to this is that we will require the developer to completely refurbish and upgrade the apartment,” he added. “Some cities just allow them to put on a new coat of paint.”
Combining El Cajon’s fire department with those of neighboring La Mesa and Lemon Grove saves taxpayers millions of dollars, Kendrick said, noting that the City won a Grand Golden Watchdog award from San Diego Taxpayers Association for the effort.
Asked to name an issue where he’s disagreed with the Council majority, he said, I went against the Mayor on a 4-1 vote recently. I believe police officers should pay 2% of their income into their retirement; they were paying zero and that’s not sustainable.”
Kendrick voted to put a sales tax increase for voters to decide, but was neutral on whether citizens should vote for it. Since it passed, however, he reflects, “If we wouldn’t have done that we would have had to do pretty severe cutbacks on police and fire. We already have 25% fewer employees working for the City now than 10 years ago. We’ve really cut City services to the bone.” Cuts are due partly to the recession, but partly due to the state taking money from local jurisdictions.
Kendrick differs sharply from other candidates in his views on the East County Performing Arts Center. He notes that the Arts Center Foundation required a subsidy of $500,000 to $800,000 a year when it ran the theater, and even Christian Community Theater needed about $160,000 a year in subsidies. “We reached a point where we couldn’t afford it. It was either put police on the streets or put Glen Campbell on the stage,” Kendrick said. “What we’ve done now is budgeted money to put a new roof on so the building doesn’t deteriorate; we’re waiting for developers to look to see if they could work out possibly putting a hotel next to it.”
He called the building functionally obsolete and said it’s too large for most shows. Although the theater has been praised by artistic experts as having the finest acoustical qualities of any theater in San Diego County, Kendrick suggested, “They could make it smaller and make part of the interior conference rooms.”
The theater currently is closed, much to the dismay of arts patrons and some downtown businesses who were promised a theater to entice them to move in and revitalize the City’s heart. But as for remodeling plans, Kendrick said, “As far as I’m concerned, it’s on hold until we come out of the great recession. But we’re talking to investors and developers right now to see if we can do something with the land around it that would enhance the viability of the theater.”
For example, buildings on Rea Street, which the City owns, could be razed and converted to multi-use, such as businesses on the bottom floor oriented towards performing arts and either a hotel or residential space above. “we’re trying to develop a master plan where we have a synergy, where one thing works with another,” Kendrick said.
Some opponents have criticized the $1.3 million spent on remodeling Prescott Promenade, suggesting those funds might have better been spent on the theater. But Kendrick said, “Prescott Promenade is the heart of El Cajon. We’ll see a lot more events going on and if we do it right, we’ll have a synergy going on with the Performing Arts Center and the restaurants there.”
Recently, Kendrick has balked at fully funding the El Cajon Center City Development Council (ECCDC) after a report raised questions on financial accountability. He has called for an investigation commission to analyze whether the organization is run efficiently “so that taxpayers are getting their money’s worth.” ECCCD, now under new leadership, has countered that withholding funds would put some redevelopment plans on hold and make it harder to bring new businesses to the area.
Kendrick holds a bachelor’s degree in business management from San Diego State University and a master’s in business from National University. He taught business, finance and real estate at Southwestern College for nine years and works as a real estate appraiser. He has sered on the Heartland Fire Training Authority Comission and on the Heartland Fire Communications Authority Commission. “I’m a big believer in cooperation among governments,” he said.
He is the father of three sons, all homeschooled. The oldest is a junior at UCLA. A 15-year-olds attends River Valley Charter School, while and 11-year-old is in a public charter taking courses online. But when faced with a choice between irrigating Renette Park or spending money on food for the needy, Kendrick recalled, "I said food for people needs to come before green grass at the park."
Kendrick praised efforts by Set Free Ministries, which the City has directed federal funds towards to help the growing number of homeless in El Cajon. “We allowed Set Free Ministries to open up in a former drug and prostitution infested motel,” he said, noting that one-third of the motel is used to house homeless women and children, with school and day care on the property. Another one-third is used as a motel, while the rest is used for rehab services to assist those with substance abuse issues. Participants may opt for a secular program or a religious-oriented Set Free program in which they are sent to a six-month boot camp program in Dulzura or Boulevard, then later serve community service. Government vouchers fund the secular but not the religious program, he added. “They can make their choice.”
Kendrick is active in a local food ministry and says he’s helped lobby fellow council members to provide about $10,000 to the food bank. “It’s quite another thing to hand out food to people who are using it and look them in the eye. It makes it a bit easier to convince my fellow council members,” he said. “Sometimes I walk out of that place trying to hold back the tears,” he concluded.
A conservative Christian endorsed by the San Diego County Republican Party, Kendrick draws one distinction from some in the party. “I’m a Republican with a heart,” he concludes.
Kendrick is one of four candidates running for the El Cajon City Council. The challengers are Drum Macomber, Duane Swainston, and Anthony Chuisano.
For more information on Gary Kendrick’s candidacy, see www.kendrick4council.com. (Note: the website appears not to have been updated since his last election, and still lists endorsement by the late Wendell Cutting.)
For information on Macomber and Swainston’s candidacy in our Spotlight El Cajon series, see:
Council candidate Drum Macomber drums up big plans for El Cajon: http://eastcountymagazine.org/node/4429
Council candidate Duane Swainston wants to “add value to the box” http://www.eastcountymagazine.org/node/4428
Anthony Chuisano has not responded to requests for an interview.