By Elijah McKee
September 28, 2022 (Lemon Grove) — “I really want to talk to as many people as possible, and find out how I can best represent everybody, not just one group or what people think I represent,” reflected Stephanie Klein, in the middle of her first political campaign.
She is one of five candidates vying for open seats on the Lemon Grove City Council this election year. After officially qualifying for the ballot last month, she was endorsed by the East County Chamber of Commerce.
“We can show other cities that we’re capable, and to lean into Lemon Grove as an opportunity,” she continued. “Not as some afterthought, or maybe a town that they go through to get to Home Depot.”
Given the four-year term lengths for councilmembers in Lemon Grove, Jennifer Mendoza is the only current official whose seat could be challenged this year. However, Councilmember Jerry Jones has also decided to retire after nearly 20 years as a councilmember, creating an open seat and the possibility for two new faces to join the dais.
For elections within San Diego County this year, every active registered voter will automatically be granted a mail ballot. They will begin being sent out on October 8, and early voting via ballot drop boxes will begin October 10. All in-person poll centers will be open from November 5 through Election Day on November 8.
In the Lemon Grove field, Councilmember Mendoza has announced her bid for reelection and is the only incumbent in the race. The other four candidates include Klein, as well as Blanca Brown, Jessyka Heredia, and Alysson Snow.
East County Magazine sat down with all five women for in-depth interviews in order to learn more about them and their campaigns. For spotlights on each of the candidates, visit our Lemon Grove community section.
Born in Escondido with family roots in Ramona, Klein grew up in a military family on a naval base. She moved to Lemon Grove in 2018 with her husband and lived a fast-paced lifestyle with a busy work schedule and lots of travel — until the pandemic, when she started spending more time locally and paying closer attention to her city.
"I think we thrive when we’re together,” she explained. “We are not supposed to be here in life alone — I think we all experienced that in COVID,”
It was at this time that a career change from customer service professions to real estate opened up more free time in Klein’s schedule. She began volunteering in full swing, spearheading trash pick ups that inspired her to extend her roots with the existing non-profit and clergy leaders of Lemon Grove who enrich community life.
While making a bid for council was not on her radar until recently, she now feels fully committed to building her campaign and seeing what may come of it.
“I’m honored to be on the ballot and have this opportunity,” said Klein, who noted it was the people now on her campaign team who first pushed her to run for an open seat in the city they all call home. “This is really our family and we’re embedded in it uniquely, and we just hope to represent Lemon Grove with pride every day.”
“People are watching,” she continued. “And it’s inspiring people to, hey, toy with the thought of voting for Stephanie Klein for Lemon Grove. They can see that change is not going to come from more resistance, change is going to come from doing the work.”
Klein describes the potential she sees in a civic leadership role to help plug people into their community in ways they are individually passionate about, as well as break down the walls between them and their government. Moreover, she sees herself in that role as a councilmember.
“I know that I do have the skillset,” she said, drawing parallels to her past work experience. “I am qualified to do this position.”
Klein’s most favored skills are communicating and connecting for problem solving. These served her well in her past roles as a volleyball coach, a sales representative, a customer service department founder, and an account manager with hundreds of employees. Her work has spanned across industries including insurance benefits, medical laboratory testing, home equity and auto repossessions.
Klein also has a Master’s in Business Administration and at one time ran her own client relations business. Yet she began to question where she was at in her career, and decided to take a step away.
“Community service is the void I was looking to fill,” she realized. “I started getting to the point where I didn’t really care if you purchased our services, I wanted to get to know you and who you are and how I can personally help you move forward in life.”
She hopes to gain more of that perspective through a role on the City Council. If elected, she would also prioritize several key areas.
Klein knows there is homeless outreach in Lemon Grove through Home Start, and wants the program to be better supported with more staffing and healthy volunteer partnerships.
“It really tears my heart apart to see a veteran sitting on the side of the road, looking at the ground with no other options,” explained Klein, who has had many family members serve. Her ideal approach is to go in-depth with people and build a naturally paced relationship on trust and understanding, to eventually help them get services.
Other top priorities for Klein include safer streets, enforced traffic, more sidewalks for kids walking to school, better government communication, rapid new business development and success, lowering city staff turnover,
and fostering a community culture that encourages the sharing of unique experiences and values. She aspires to better her decision-making process by always finding common ground and mutual respect.
Although Klein knows a switch to a government job can alter some relationships, she does not anticipate the election changing her volunteering efforts.
“Our life’s so short here,” she said. “What we can change is what we do today, and do it again tomorrow so that we become better people to each other and to our community.”
Read on for more highlights from our conversation with Stephanie Klein.
Why are you running for elected office? What drew you in to this race?
This started a long time ago; this started during COVID. There was a lot of unkept areas of our City and a lot of concerned citizens, and what we decided to do was just build our own little volunteerism program to include trash pickup, static and dynamic homeless outreach, a fundraiser for power washing. Because what we saw was, as the government was stepping around the obstacles that they had to go through in COVID, it really left an opportunity for the community members to also join forces and get involved. That big push — we met every morning at the Hamlett near the big Lemon to pick up trash, and really what it turned into was relationship building, learning and understanding the needs and wishes of our community. And it’s still going strong today.
I was stuck in the workforce, and had also transitioned out of my full-time job. My husband and I had a tremendous amount of time on our hands to give back to the community, and so that’s what we did together. After about a year and half, I was approached with the question: “You have an opportunity in 2022, what do you want to do?” And man, I thought about it for quite some time, because it’s a huge commitment, and I understand there are very qualified other human beings that are also running for the same position. I thought about it long and hard, and I felt a move in my soul, so to speak, a move in my spirit. Call it God, call it what you believe in. This is not a choice for my own personal growth at all — this is for the community, for the greater good of all people. I’m just the person in front. This is really strength in numbers, and the momentum has caused me to raise my hand and be the forefront.
How might you approach bringing more funding to the City?
Our City is spending hundreds of thousands of dollars where they could have just filled a sinkhole, to fight the residents over whether or not they think it’s their fault. That hard-earned money that our taxpayers pay for our City should be going to better use. What it’s currently going to is team-building events at 30,000 dollars a pop. Unfortunately, that’s just a waste of money, when we have access to free services at our fingertips.
And then the grant funding, which is very low-hanging fruit. We have community grant writers. And also the East County Chamber of Commerce — they support my campaign, and they also have access to community improvement funds and are willing to partner with Lemon Grove. If somebody is not, I guess, screaming for the money and saying, “Hey go ahead and bring it here, we could use it,” it’s going to go to other places. And so finding out what’s available and applying for those in a timely manner, we have an opportunity to do that here.
What is your vision for the future of Lemon Grove’s zoning and development?
I don’t know if it’s favoritism, I don’t know if there’s something behind the scenes that I’m not privy to, but it seems as though some businesses get the green light quicker than others. Mind you, every day that a business sits unopened is money lost by the City and by the person who’s waiting on development plans to be approved. There’s a lot of vacant properties that seem to have gone in that state for years.
We are approaching 27,000 residents — that’s a lot of people, cars, road wear, and maintenance. So I’d really like to take a pause and figure out what is the City’s priorities when inviting more residents to live here, because I really think we can accommodate that. We’re in a unique area where we are so close to the freeway and public transportation — however, this is a very rural area still. We have a lot of space, and a lot of residents who want to keep that space the way it is.
We need better answers for what it means when it comes to parking and influx of people who are going to be living here. I think it’s great to have a business on the bottom and resident on top, but we need to have some adult eyes on these businesses, the owners and developers. I’m just taken aback at the growth that our City is experiencing with limited infrastructure improvement in mind. Nothing’s changed when it comes to the health of our City but we get more people. I would love to address that with the other dais members.
What do you think about disincorporating the City of Lemon Grove?
No decision’s truly the wrong decision. As being incorporated, we have a little bit more flexibility of what we can do here as a government. If you feed us back [into the county], we become the lower person on the totem pole, for lack of better words.
We have an extreme opportunity if we have the right people in charge to grow our city economically and not have to toy with the unincorporated decision. If at the time, we think it is from an economic behavioral standpoint the right move, I think that maybe that would be a good move. But I don’t think that we should just adopt that theory without trying to become successful with what we already do have. Anything can be improved.
If elected, how would you feel about collaborating on the City Council?
Everybody is very unique on the dais right now. I have tried tremendously to forge relationships and strengthen my perspective on their decision-making, on where they come from.
Wherever the cookie crumbles, if I’m up there, I look to work well with what we have. I’m not a fighter, I’m a lover, I’m a hugger. I don’t like the angry part of everything, I think there’s always a solution for better. We need the right people to work together, and maybe I’m the solution to getting people to work together better.
What is something about Lemon Grove you wish more people knew about?
We have a lot of residents that take pride in garden and nature. And I started our garden and nature swap club. We meet once every couple months, and it’s grown into this very healthy, loving, relationship-building experience where people of all ages, all genders, all walks of life come and share their tips, tools, tricks, plants, everything. Eggs, how to build chicken cages, how to keep everything healthy. Just sharing that wealth of knowledge. I feel that those little things in Lemon Grove that people may not know exist — they exist! It’s [about] getting the information out.
We have a lot of different personalities here in Lemon Grove. We have the best climate on earth, we have the best neighbors on earth, and marrying those two, I think we can get pretty creative of how we’re going to improve the quality of life here.
For more details on Klein’s campaign, visit her website. A full list of relevant dates from the Registrar of Voters can be viewed here, and for information on when, where and how to vote in the Lemon Grove election and other local offices, explore www.sdvote.com/.