Update October 27, 2010 -- This story has been updated to include comments provided by Councilman Jerry Jones, who was not available when the original story ran.
By Emily Anderson
(Oct. 8, 2010) The City of Lemon Grove, home to a little more than 24,000 residents, is nestled south of Highway 94, east of I-15 and mostly west of Highway 125 in city boundaries that resemble an animal with two ears and a tail. Incumbent councilmembers Jerry Jones (currently serving as Mayor Pro Tem) and Jerry Selby face re-election in the nonpartisan November 2 race. Their challengers are Tom Clabby, Howard Cook and Lou Melendez.
Each candidate that we reached offered seeds of plans to improve Lemon Grove, though with very different visions for the future.
Whether the incumbents remain seated or are ousted by challengers, the two winners will be elected to a four -year term, joining councilmembers George Gastil, Mary England, and Mayor Mary Sessom to run the city.The council meets twice a month and councilmembers are part-time positions.
If Jones is re-elected, he will become a councilman after his year- long Mayor Pro Tem position ends. Each council member has been rotated in as Mayor Pro Tem in the past, each having served one year. When acting as a Mayor Pro Tem, the individual can act as mayor when the mayor is out of town, according to Councilman Selby. The phrase pro tem or pro tempore is Latin to describe a temporary position.
Selby feels his experience in the public and private sector will help him continue to govern Lemon Grove. He enthusiastically explained that his experience in the public and private sector, involvement in local sports via his daughters and his willingness to work with the given budget as best he can are things he wants his voters to know. Selby is also a representative of the City/School District Collaboration Committee.
“I believe that the purpose of a city is to provide organization for the safety, health and general welfare of the citizens. Today, this pledge or promise is beleaguered by a variety of challenges that include fiscal uncertainties of state and federal funding to the prevalent pessimism of the 21st Century,” he said in a statement at www.smartvoter.org. “The mandate for a member of the City Council must be to bridge the gap between the ideal and the real or more simply to determine the greater good for the community.”
With a Bachelors' degree in Public Administration and a Master's in City Planning, Selby has extensive government experience. In graduate school he worked for the City of La Mesa, Port of San Diego, and San Diego Association of Governments. After graduation, he worked with the Centre City Development Corporation and the Community Development Commission of National City. Currently I am the Redevelopment Coordinator at the City of Imperial Beach.
Selby wants to make sure residents know that when city hall is closed, employees are not paid for those days off. This is due to budget constraints that the city faces, in part due to state budget cuts. Selby is glad that city hall is now able to remain open every other Friday, rather than being closed for furloughs every Fridays.
Selby feels his experience as councilmember, his long-time Lemon Grove residency and the fact he cares about Lemon Grove would appeal to voters. He also feels proud of supporting The Skate Spot skate park which was built in 2008. He favors traffic light synchronization and the improvement of downtown, which includes fixing sidewalks, including the “undulating” part of School Lane fixed in July 2010.
Jones is a vice chair person of the SANDAG regional planning committee, a chair of the San Diego Area Wastewater Management District, a representative of the Metro Commission/Metro Wastewater Joint Powers Authority, and an alternate representative of the SANDAG board of directors. (SANDAG is the San Diego Association of Governments which makes decisions at the city and county level of government throughout San Diego County.)
Jones realizes residents of the city value streets, sidewalks, police and fire departments. He said financial sustainability and stability are at the top of the Council's goals. He noted that the budget for fiscal year 2010-2011 is $12,356,000 and that so far this fiscal year, Council has reduced the number of employee furlough days taken.
"Rather than eliminate programs, the City has looked for ways to scale them back or (has) found ways to continue the programs with non city-funded sources," he said. For example, the City is taking longer to tackle graffiti clean-up and is working to develop a volunteer program to handle some park maintenance functions that have been cut. "We are also exploring outsourcing recreational services and are currently talking with the Boys' and Girls' clubs," he ntoed. Other cuts have included the Old Time Days events, the city's small business grant program, and commercial real estate finder aspect of the City's website. Lemon Grove no longer funds law enforcement for school campuses, he added.
However downtown redevelopment's plan is well underway with regard to fixing sidewals and streets. "The private development will be done in phases, with the first phases done parallel to the trolley station at Broadway and Lemon Grove Avenue," said Jones. "It will be done on the block between Olive, Main, Broadway and North Avenue at the north end of the block." Development will include two mid-rise condos, including one for senior housing, and closing of Main Street along the trolley line for building of a strip park funded by a $3.5 million Smart Growth grant from SANDAG. A new $10 million freeway off-ramp and street alighnment for Lemon Grove Avenue are also planned to help ease traffic congestion.
Smart growth is term generally used to describe population sizes increasing at a rate that has as minimal an impact as possible on the environment and lives of residents. Jones said that when he chaired SANDAG's regional planning committee, it completed a smart growth incentive map and grant criteria. He also said downtown redevelopment plans tie into AB 32 (California's law mandating greenhouse gas reductions), saying the plan targets a link between development and transportation.
"Implementation of those programs has meant a great deal to Lemon Grove and the region," Jones said, adding that state requirements dictate that a city make provisions for expanding population. "The trick...is for a community and city to find ways to do that with minimal impact to existing neighborhoods and quality of life." He said Lemon Grove's trolley station projecct wil fulfill its housing share and provide a park for the whole community.
I've demonstrated that I am respected among regional leaders and that I can represent Lemong Grove's interest with a high degree of professionalism," said Jones, citing his 15-year-record of community service that includes leading organizations from the P.T.A. to regional reogvernment. "I have the experience, drive, ability and desire to lead Lemon Grove through these troubled times and a track record to prove it."
He wants voters to know taht budget problems were created in Sacramento, on Wall Street and in Washington D.C. and that since the City Council is only part time, he works hard to commit his time to work many jobs, including governing Lemon Grove with limited resources, while balancing his time commitments. "My record shows that I know the balance and can get the job done."
Challenger Tom Clabby is a former Lemon Grove councilmember from 1994 to 2008. He spoke about his priorities to help Lemon Grove improve. He said he tried to have a city library built within the last ten years, but realizes the Lemon Grove economy is horrible.
“The city is cut down to the bare bones,” Clabby said.
According to Clabby’s web site, www.tomclabby.net, economic health is his main priority. While the economy and the budget of Lemon Grove seems like giant fiscal monster the council and opponents have to tackle, Clabby feels Lemon Grove can get back en route to fiscal improvement by using public transportation.
Clabby spoke of Windmill Park, saying it’s adjacent to the downtown trolley station. If money came from SANDAG, a walk-able community could be created that generates business for Lemon Grove.
“There is a developer that is negotiating to buy the property adjacent to Windmill Park,” Clabby said. “They want to put in low cost housing and senior housing. It would be a multi-story facility. It’s definitely a step going in the right direction.
“The economy has slowed that down,” he said. “The state has taken away a lot of our redevelopment fund. I think that’s absolutely terrible.”
He said that Californians are too unwilling to use public transportation, which should be like the transportation in Europe and Canada.
“Unfortunately the people in California are car crazy and they have mixed feelings and mixed emotions about using public transportation,” he said. “That’s really sad…It is the way to go.
Regarding the lack of sidewalks in the city, he noted that people used to ride horses many years ago and sidewalks were uncommon, but that today’s society requires sidewalks. He believes the city should pay for sidewalks, and that the sidewalk problem is on-going.
Why does he want to run again?
“I have a lot of roots here in San Diego,” he said. “(I) have a great passion for the city and (I) have a greater passion for Lemon Grove. I want to see this little city survive and enjoy the fruits of our labor.”
While Clabby wanted to build a library in the past, challenger Howard Cook feels the library would have been a bad idea.
Cook is the owner of Lemon Grove Deli & Grill located on 7860 Broadway. The library would have cost around $5 million to build and $180,000 a year to staff. He supports simple, functional libraries, not “elaborate” ones. He feels that if the city built it, they’d now be wondering how to keep it open.
Cook strongly feels the city employees are being paid too much money and that city employees are only newly beginning to pay for a small part of their pension (and feel they should pay more of it), and that money being collected isn’t being put back into the city. Cook served as treasurer in the early 2000s for two years for the now-closed Lemon Grove Chamber of Commerce. He resigned because he felt fundraising money was only being spent to keep employees on payroll, rather than helping the residents.
Earlier this year, a petition circulated to garner signatures for a half a percent sales tax increase measure to appear on the June ballot. Cook said the city spoke to the fire department and urged them to collect signatures because the city might have cut fire department services if signature-collecting didn’t occur. There weren’t enough signatures for the half a percent sales tax increase to occur, so the city council members voted on it, expect for Mary England.
Cook knows that Lemon Grove needs money, but didn’t like how the city approached the situation. He was glad the tax increase didn’t occur.(Clabby also said he told the council that the sales tax increase idea was a mistake and that it should have been the decision of the people.)
“Every council member thought this was an easy way out,” Cook said.
“We don’t have a whole lot to offer,” Cook explained. “We don’t have a mall. We don’t have one restaurant that’s a chain restaurant. My theory is, why raise the sales sax…if there isn’t much to offer.”
Cook said the general fund is around $1.3 million, and he is nervous for this. Cook said Old Time days existed and he would love to bring fun events back into town.
“Car shows were on Broadway,” he said. “People would come in my place and eat. It would increase business for me. We had a facility for people to eat it. We can’t afford this no more.”
Cook has been in business on Broadway for 10 years. To help him stay in business, he has had to reduce employee hours, but hasn’t laid people off from work. He said he picks up the extra hours and takes care of his employees before himself.
Cook would make sure sales tax increases wouldn’t occur, he wouldn’t cut fire or paramedic services, and he wants to get keep the city safe – to him that means streets would be fixed, and more sidewalks would be constructed, especially for the elder residents. He is afraid the city might become unincorporated due to lack of money. If Lemon Grove became unincorporated, it would no longer be a city and would instead fall under the governance of the County of San Diego.
“The city needs to learn to live within its budget,” he said. “I don’t know where this city is going to be in two or three years when they only have $1.3 million…We’ve never had a city disincorporate…the way it’s going, it might be the first.”
However, regarding the Skate Spot skate park which was built in 2008, he feels the city did invest wisely in this, since kids have a place to hang out. “It was a wonderful thing.”
Why does he want to be a councilman?
“I’m only one piece of the puzzle and I can’t stop it by myself, but it’s a start. The city is not on track,” Cook concluded.
As for candidate Lou Melendez, he was not available to comment due to a busy schedule this week. He did provide a statement of his accomplishments, with questions and answers. The five goals he will work toward are as follows:
• No sales tax increase
• Preserving the reserve fund and making it grow
• Pursuing grants
• Pursuing a “pro-business and pro-growth” stance while acting in an environmental manner
• A safe community
His statement says he will pursue the avenue of using more grant money, but also wrote that he would pursue “a less than aggressive pursuit of grants and partnerships with others in others to come up with …ways to help us pay for services.”
Challenger Wayne Love, a former Marine, could not be reached for comment.
This race is nonpartisan, however the San Diego Democratic Party has endorsed Jerry Selby and the San Diego Republican Party has endorsed Howard Cook.