Local journalists draw fiery views from El Cajon City Council candidates at forum
On Oct. 5, candidates for the upcoming El Cajon City Council election were invited to Griffin Gate at Grossmont College by local journalists Miriam Raftery editor of East County Magazine, Karen Pearlman of the Union Tribune, Albert Fulcher, editor of The East County Californian and Marya Fani of MEGA network to participate in a forum discussion about the most concerning issues facing the city.
All 10 candidates were invited but candidates Stephanie Harper, Ben Kalasho, Humbert Cabrera, Steve Goble, Joseph Fountain, Vicky Butcher and George Glover attended the event. Missing the event due to prior obligations were Paul Circo and incumbents Councilmembers Star Bales and Bob McClellan. The Lincoln Club of San Diego and The Republican Club of San Diego County endorsed all three.
During the forum as the journalists acted as moderators and asked specific questions as audience members were also encouraged to write questions for the candidates.
A wide net was cast on the subjects of the questions. The candidates got to weigh in on various topics, from the construction of an animal shelter, marijuana, sales tax, police practices and the question of the separation of church and state.
The forum became unexpectedly feisty on practically every issue, especially between Fountain, Cabrera, Glover and Kalasho, who all had vastly different perspectives.
On the question of the animal shelter, most candidates agreed that the money to do it was there but the reason it had not opened was due to political gridlock.
Fountain maintained that that the problem was a regional issue due to lack of consistent leadership. Glover disagreed saying the root was the coordination efforts between cities to build facilities like the shelter.
“The only thing we are waiting for is whether or not we are going to get buy-in on contracts from the surrounding cities,” he said. “We didn’t plan to do contracts with other folks, so what we need to do quickly is look at the funds we have and see if it is even feasible to contract with these other cities.”
On the question of Proposition 64, which seeks to legalize recreational marijuana, the most nonconformist perspective was that of Fountain who drew applause from some audience members when he disagreed with other candidates who said they would try to keep marijuana out of the city with the use of conditional use permits.
“Conditional use permits are the worst idea that I have ever heard in my entire life,” he said.
He said it should be fully legal and regulated. “We should embrace it. We should allow growers to grow it in Gillespie Field.”
Butcher and Harper took on more moderate opinions. Butcher said she said she was intrigued by the possibilities inherent in its legalization and said if it passed, the community should deal with it using dialogue and discussion.
“We need to come to grips with it in an honest way,” she said. “We have failed to understand that communication, discussion and dealing with tough issues requires communication.”
Harper said the matter was one of personal choice but suggested that pharmaceutical companies were blocking legalization.
“Companies don’t want us to be able to put a seed in the ground and grow something that might take care of our illness,” she said. “They want us to spend hundreds and hundreds on their pills.”
ECPAC, taxes, police and poverty.
With regards to El Cajon’s high 8.5 percent sales tax, the opinions varied.
Goble said he was not in favor of raising taxes but said he was not sure how he would lower the existing tax. Glover said Propositions O and A were at fault for raising taxes. Prop A is a current county transportation initiative that would raise taxes by another half percent.
“Vote against measure A,” he said. Fountain and Kalasho said because the sales tax was too high, people went to neighboring cities to shop, affecting El Cajon’s economy. Fountain proposed not charging sales tax on clothing and food, to help out citizens in poverty. Butcher talked about the negative impact high taxes had on struggling minorities and said taking tax of food would help but was not the total solution.
“We need to look at the bigger picture,” she said.
Harper proposed that tax dollars should go into childcare and supporting citizens while Kalasho proposed switching to electronic pay to lower taxes that according to him, would save El Cajon around $48,000 dollars. He also mentioned installing city-owned billboards would help raise the city’s income.
Cabrera said excessive regulation and high taxes were merely burdens for business and proposed a tax reprieve for them.
On the recent issue of the shooting of an African American man by police, Glover said that although it was a tragedy, people needed to let the investigation run its course before being too judgmental. He also said a citizen’s review board was not necessary to deal with incidents like these. Fountain, Butcher and Harper said the problem was one of credibility and accountability.
“They (police) need to know the law and be about people,” Harper said.
Butcher and Fountain agreed that the number of complaints against local police spoke for themselves and lack of diversity was a factor
“Out police does not reflect the diversity in our city,” Butcher said.
Kalasho countered highlighting the difficult nature of the police’s job.
“It was everybody’s fault,” he said.
He did concede that racism might have been a factor.
“Of course, racism is real,” he said.
Goble criticized the police’s 50-minute response time at the shooting. He added that more officers with adequate training for these kinds of situations were needed.
The candidates were also asked about the reopening of the East County Performing Arts Center (ECPAC), whose renovation has been stalled for a long time.
Butcher and Goble said it was necessary to get moving on the issue because ECPAC helped bring the community closer together and the arts are an investment. Glover and Harper also agreed on the need to reopen the center but said it should be done completely, not in pieces. Kalasho mentioned the monetary benefits of reopening the center, as it could be rented out for numerous events. Cabrera defended the project’s stalled state and said the San Diego East County Chamber of Commerce was working on it also.
With El Cajon’s large homeless and poverty-stricken populations at high numbers, all candidates agreed that more had to be done for this segment. Kalasho also included the city’s large immigrant population as in vast need of assistance because of insistent stigma against some of them. Glover said a homeless task force was needed while Fountain said the community needed to feel empowered and take pride in their city to address the stigma.
Cabrera said to fix the city’s 29 percent poverty rate, more jobs needed to be available in the area.
Goble also advocated for the refugee population and suggested a nine-month assistance period for refugees so they can assimilate.
Glover and Fountain sparred on whether or not to invest more on education. Glover said education and partnering with corporation were the way for students to get jobs after school while Fountain disagreed and said more economical transportation in the community needed to be spent on, not education.
Butcher also said corporate partnerships would help bring more jobs.
On the ever-present threat of climate change, Glover said individuals should be responsible for themselves and make an effort to recycle while Fountain said that every single rooftop should have solar panels and said the city should switch to grey water systems, something all the other candidates jumped on and supported after Fountain mentioned it.
With such a wide array of opinions, El Cajon’s voters have the opportunity to change the face of City Council with such a diverse collections of candidates running for the three council seats available.