Printer-friendly versionPrinter-friendly version Share this

By Miriam Raftery

Photo: Zack Gianino, Laura Koval, and Lynda Marrokal

November 4, 2018 (Santee) – There will be at least one new face on Santee’s City Council soon, since District 3 is an open seat with no incumbent.

Three candidates are running in a race where development issues, traffic, and the city’s looming deficit are key issues.  They are Zack Gianino, a community college district liaison, Laura Koval, parks and recreation director at Santee Lakes, and Lynda Marrokal, a retired manager. 

Hear our in-depth interviews with all three candidates by clicking the audio links (Gianino, Koval, Marrokal) and scroll down for highlights.

Zack Gianino says he’s noted a “disheartening” trend at Council meetings of developers “having their way” with the Council and the public’s interest put on the back burner.  He says the Fanita Ranch proposal has “enough red flags for anyone looking at it to thinkl otherwise” including fire danger and water concerns. 

Traffic concerns are a regional issue, he says. “The 52 coalition is a great way to start addressing this issue,” he says, adding that he also wants to see traffic lights synchronized to improve traffic flow with smart technology.    

He helped circulate the citiizens’ initiative to give residents a vote on development projects that call for greater density than the general plan allows.  The council majority voted to delay putting it on the ballot and study it. “I went door to door and spoke to citizens about the initiative…they already understood that there is something happing in Santee where the people are not having the final say on these things,” he says, adding, Santee residents enjoy the open space, hills and wildlife. “A lot of that has to do with making sure we are not overrun with sprawl development,” he adds.

He says a housing crisis is being used to justify sprawl development, but that state mandates can be met by deadlines without massive housing developments.

On the deficit, “We need to stop turning our commercial parcels into residential parcels.” He also backs promoting the city’s new entertainment district complete with movie theatre, major brewery, and a community center proposed.  He wants to be sure the environment stays inviting to these companies.

He also supports a community choice alternative to SDG&E for Santee to produce its own power for residents, an option rejected years ago by the Council.  “After getting hit with the gouging prices” this summer he supports looking at “other ways to sustain ourselves for the long run,” much as the City of San Diego has now voiced intent to do. 

He is running as a no-party-preference nonpartisan candidate who says he has support from people in both parties.  He is endorsed by Councilman Stephen Houlahan.  “He has been someone that has put himself right in the target of where the people’s sentiment is,” he says adding that votes are often 4-1 on development projects that people have spoken against.  He believes the process should be “in the hands of the people, not the highest bidder.”

Currently a liaison to high schools for the Grossmont-Cuyamaca Community College District, he has also served on a district governing board as a student representative in the past.

“We’re at a really huge self realization as a city,” he says. He wants to life-stream city council meetings for greater transparency. 

His website is

Laura Koval has lived in Santee’s district 3 for 26 years.  She says in attending council hearings on redistricting, “I learned about the deficit the city is facing. I have 30 years of executive experience, leadership and I thought, why not me?” adding “I felt the need to help.”

She wants to increase revenues. “I don’t mean increasing taxes.”  Former director of Santee Boys and Girls Club, she says, “I learned at an early age that regardless of what you have in front of you, there are ways to increase revenues by being creative.”  She increased revenues through creating a basketball league that saw revenues quadruple, she says.

She also worked for the San Diego Padres for over 25 years, where she was in charge of season ticket renewals—a challenge when the team wasn’t winning.  She says she was successful at meeting that challenge.  She likens the residents of Santee to “customers” and says the city needs to look at which customers are bringing in revenues.

She wants to reinvest in the community and local businesses by “making government more efficient.”

On traffic gridlock, she says she’s been involved with the San Diego East County Chamber of Commerce for many years. “This is a regional problem…72% of the traffic commutes out and commutes back” from East County.  She is a member of the Highway 52 coalition, a mayor’s initiative which has hired a lobbyist to go to Washington D.C. to lobby for more funds to fix traffic problems on 52.  She also faults SANDAG for not making this a priority and for proposing to charge for parking as a “fix.”  She disapproves of that.  “It’s going to take a regional approach to this,” she adds.

On Fanita Ranch and the citizens’ initiative delayed by council that would give citizens a vote on projects requiring upzoning from the general plan, she says, “I want the voters to have a voice on Fanita Ranch,” she says. “Let the voters decide in 2020.”  She says the biggest misconception among voters is on her views on Fanita Ranch.  But she faults the report on the initiative for not discussing commercial development as well as residential. 

She is endorsed by the San Diego County Republican Party, the San Diego East County Chamber of Commerce, Santee Firefighters, San Diego County Deputy Sheriff’s Association and Mayor John Minto, as well as Bruce Bochy, former Padres manager.

Koval says she wants voters to know that “I’m a mom who cares” and wants to “help Santee thrive.”

Her website is

Lynda Marrokal is a former photographer and manager who ran businesses from medical offices to a taxi company.  She says she’s running to pick up where her mother, Mildred Marrokal, left off. Her mother formed a group in 1968 that led the city’s successful effort to incorporate.  She was  born and raised in Santee on Mission Gorge Road, where her parents were the first to donate property for the road to be widened in the city’s best interests.

“I believe we need smart development and we have to be careful because once something develops, we can’t take it back.”  Traffic has been an issue for many years, she notes, but now with freeways a lot of traffic comes from adjacent cities.  She is concerned about large-scale projects such as Fanita Ranch which has been on the books for 30 years.

“I haven’t yet seen anything which I feel is acceptable to put in,” she says of Fanita Ranch. “Thirty years ago, we did not have fire storms. We did not have fire tornados. Now we have that, so we really have to develop smart, and putting people’s lives at risk,” she says, voicing concerns that if Fanita Ranch with 3,000 homes were to be built, “with 52 the way it is, if there is a fire nobody would be able to escape.”

On the citizens’ ballot initiative to give citizens a vote on projects that exceed the general plan’s allowance, which the council voted to study and delay for two years, Marrokal says “I was in favor of putting it on the ballot” but that “the problem was it didn’t give council enough time to do an impact study before putting it on the ballot.”

The “good part” of doing the study, she says, is that it showed our “industry is lacking.” She has proposed putting an industry park where Fanita Ranch would have gone “and put residents in the area zoned now for industry where they will be safe (from fire) inside the city of Santee.”

To improve the economy and reduce the deficit she says, “We’re going to have to cut back a lot. With an $800,000 deficit hitting in 2019 this is a very serious problem for our city.” She fears the city could have to unincorporate, as Lemon Grove is discussing, which she does not want to happen.  This will mean cut backs but also ‘”we really have to focus on our commercial property.” She wants to see a rethink of zoning since the fires to update the general plan with “climate change and the current challenges that our city is facing.”

She recalls Santee before it incorporated, as the “stepchild of San Diego, we were the Cinderella….there was no plan, things weren’t done right….It was not a good situation for Santee.”  Unincorporating would  be “tragic,” she says, adding, “We would have no voice on what San Diego does and we would have no control.”

Marrokal is endorsed by the San Diego Democratic Party.  “I also want Santee to have a senior center,” she says.

Marrokal concludes, “I feel this is a very crucial election for the city of San Diego.” With the deficit about to hit, she says, “I feel that experience counts…I really want the citizens to get out and vote smart.”

Her website is


Zack Gianino interview
Laura Koval interview
Lynda Marrokal interview

Error message

Support community news in the public interest! As nonprofit news, we rely on donations from the public to fund our reporting -- not special interests. Please donate to sustain East County Magazine's local reporting and/or wildfire alerts at to help us keep people safe and informed across our region.