2016 Santee mayoral and city council candidates speak out on the issues

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Santee candidates are gearing up for the 2016 elections. With Councilmembers Rob McNelis and John Minto going head-to-head in the mayoral race, this leaves two council seats ready for newcomers. On the ballot for City Council are Dustin Trotter, Mason Herron and Stephen Houlahan. Although Louis J. Wylie filed, according to his Facebook page he declined submitting his candidate package by Aug. 12 and took himself out of the running.

Santee candidates are gearing up for the 2016 elections. With Councilmembers Rob McNelis and John Minto going head-to-head in the mayoral race, this leaves two council seats ready for newcomers. On the ballot for City Council are Dustin Trotter, Mason Herron and Stephen Houlahan. Although Louis J. Wylie filed, according to his Facebook page he declined submitting his candidate package by Aug. 12 and took himself out of the running.

All candidates were given equal time to prepare for the questions and all are represented with the exception of Dustin Trotter who did not submit his statement by press time. Each was given a maximum of 1,000 words. Candidates are listed in alphabetical order by first name.

Mayoral Candidates

John Minto

Tell us about yourself, work that you have with the City Council and why you are running for mayor.

I grew up in City Heights, attended all the local schools and have only had three jobs in my life. Like most teenagers, I worked for McDonald’s and then went on to work for San Diego Gas and Electric Company. I joined the San Diego Police Department in 1980 where I went on to have a 29-year career, retiring as a Detective. I met my wife, Laura while working as a police office, married in 1991 and moved to Santee in 1992. We immediately fell in love with the people and the area. I became involved in the community by joining the Kiwanis club and performing a variety of public services. I even served on the Santee Park and Recreation Committee until I was elected to the city council in 2002.I have worked on a lot of projects since being elected. However, my favorite is the creation of a public/private partnership with SportsPlex USA to build and operate the sports complex at town center. I enjoy riding my bicycle around town and keeping an eye out for infrastructure needs. Such as: pot holes, broken gutters, raised sidewalks, overgrown bushes and etcetera. I am running for mayor because after 14-years on the city council I have the skills required teach and mentor current and new council members in a way that will lead the city into its next generation of prosperity, responsible growth and potential. 

With the annexing of the Castle Rock community and the ever growing development in Santee, what mitigations do you have in mind for traffic control including State Route 52?

The problem is not specific to the Castle Rock development or State Route 52. The solution requires a variety of strategies. Such as: 

City wide traffic signal synchronization

Traffic signal timing should correspond to the current traffic patterns. In many cases, traffic signals are initially set. However, they are not re-adjusted when traffic patterns change. This results in inefficiency and unnecessary delays. New policies can be created to address the continued monitoring of the signal timing.

Collaboration with Cal-Trans

A new look at ramps providing ingress and egress to the freeways must be looked at and when possible they should be redesigned.

City street and freeway traffic incidents

Statistics show traffic incidents cause about 25% of the slow down on streets and freeways. A few strategies can include turn only lanes, better signage and education. 

With the international refugee crisis are you in favor of welcoming more Middle Eastern refugees into Santee? Why or why not?

This issue generally is dealt with at a higher level of government. I will welcome anyone that wants to live in Santee and any refugee that is located here will be treated well. 

However, I am not in favor of creating refugee sanctuaries. In my experience, I found the federal government will locate refugees in communities that do not have the resources or infrastructure to support them.

If California Proposition 64, Marijuana Legalization passes what steps would you take to allow or disallow sales of marijuana in Santee?

The Santee Municipal Code currently bans marijuana dispensaries, delivery services and cultivation. The City Council took action on September 28, 2016 to adopt an interim urgency ordinance to close potential loopholes in the City’s marijuana ban in the event the proposition passes.

Under the new law, municipalities have a range of options for implementation and I would encourage further discussion to draft a response to the proposition.

Free Zone

A Mayor is the leader of the council and representative of the community. The Mayor must have a variety of experiences that have prepared them to be able to lead, listen, teach, a mentor. The Mayor must be able to problem solve through collaboration and consensus. 

As I walk door to door on the campaign trail, the one thing I hear most often is people love living in Santee. They believe the city is moving in the right direction. I have also heard that Santee is not the sleepy bedroom community of days gone by. I learned through these conversations that people here want the city to move forward in a responsible manner and I agree.

The city will begin looking at a new budget for 2017-2018 and I have proposed the budget be opened and discussed at a public workshop. It is important for our tax payers to know exactly what is being paid for and how much.

As with any city, there will always be issues to address. Santee needs a mayor that can face critical issues and develop resolutions. My 29-years as a Police Officer prepared me well to resolve most issues. 

I am the only candidate in the race with the experience and qualifications to continue leading us forward.

Rob McNelis

Tell us about yourself, work that you have with the City Council and why you are running for mayor. 

I am running for Mayor because I want to continue to develop a city that my children, and (God willing someday) my grandchildren will be proud to say that they were born and raised in. This means considering what every vote I cast will mean 20-30 years down the road. If I truly believe the decision will stand the test of time, then it is the right one. If it is for short-term gain alone, then I just can’t do it. 

With the annexing of the Castle Rock community and the ever growing development in Santee, what mitigations do you have in mind for traffic control including State Route 52?

The City of Santee unfortunately cannot mandate that any highway get expanded any sooner than SANDAG, and or CalTrans and the Federal government are ready to pay for. Just about half of the funds required to add lanes to our highways come from the state and feds. If they do not have the money to match what is raised in the county (through SANDAG), then we do not get to build. What we can do however is handle a number of the issues that cause delays within our city limits. The first of which is getting all of the traffic signals in Santee speaking the same language so they can finally be synchronized. Currently we are utilizing three different types of technology and they do not have the ability to communicate with each other.

This causes many unneeded breaks in our overall city traffic flow pattern. This is something we have the ability to fix and I will see that it happens. The next is to press our right to change the hours of operation at the land fill. In the settlement of our law suit against the landfill expansion, one of the settlement agreement issues was an agreement to alter hours of operation. This could allow Santee to mandate that there is no acceptance of commercial dumping during peak traffic hours (in trade of allowing the landfill to operate later in the day). That would remove all of the dump trucks from trying to make a left hand turn into the landfill on Mast Blvd., further breaking the flow of traffic towards Hwy 52 in the mornings. Furthermore that would also remove all of those same trucks from getting back on the 52 west bound going up the grade at 25 MPH slowing the flow of traffic there.

I am sure everyone in Santee has been caught behind one of these vehicles going up the summit, or even worse when they want to pass another truck because they want to go 2 MPH faster and now you have two lanes bogged down. We can get rid of all of that. The rest quite frankly will not be resolved until we have the ability to do something with adding more capacity to HWY 52. 

With the international refugee crisis are you in favor of welcoming more Middle Eastern refugees into Santee? Why or why not?

I neither support nor oppose documented and background checked refugees moving to Santee. What I do oppose however is providing villages within Santee where all of the signs are written, and all business is conducted in a foreign language and there is no need to learn to assimilate. All this type of behavior does is encourage dependency on a federal or state aid system. Learning how to assimilate into the American culture does not mean that you must forget your roots, it just means that you must learn how to adapt so that you don’t just survive in, but rather thrive in your new surroundings.

If California Proposition 64, Marijuana Legalization passes what steps would you take to allow or disallow sales of marijuana in Santee?

Until the day that Marijuana is legal at the federal level I cannot allow the sale of it in my community. Many think that the tax revenues are going to save the day, but they do not pay attention to the fact that if it is illegal at the Federal level, than that means no FDIC insured bank (basically every single bank in the country) will accept deposit of those funds. That makes that business a CASH business and nearly impossible to track volume of sales. If you cannot track sales, you cannot track sales tax either. The “possible” income does not come close to making it worthwhile to offset the negative impacts in a community of this kind of business model. 

Free Zone

I have citizens that call or email me every day with a request for a number of things they want to see more of in Santee, from more Sheriffs Deputies, to better parks to cleaner streets to safer roads. Well I agree, these are all things that local government is supposed to do. The problem is that if a city is wasting money in one department, it makes it difficult to spend that money in other departments. That is why I am dedicated to reforming the out of control spending in our Fire Department. Don’t get me wrong, I want our Fire Fighters to have a salary that is in the top third of the County as we are a top third City. It is the overtime that is beyond belief. To put it into perspective, Santee has 80 employees that are non-firefighters (HR, Accounting, Park and Rec, etc.) and their combined annual overtime cost is just under $60,000.00. Now we have 48 Firefighter and the annual overtime cost to the City of Santee is $1,400,000.00 (yes, $1.4 million). This is something that the City Council can easily reduce by as much as half while at the same time adding more active Firefighters to the team, but I have been one vote short each time. As someone that has been self-employed his entire adult life, I do not understand how the majority of the Council will not stand up for what is best for the City and change the system so that we can better serve the safety needs of our City while at the same time dramatically reduce our annual payroll budget so we can better utilize those funds for all of the other services we are supposed to provide. It may cost them a political endorsement from the Department, but it would make them better servants of the public’s trust! If you agree, please vote for me, Rob McNelis as the next Mayor of Santee on November 8th 2016. 

Thank you

City Council

Mason Herron

Tell us about yourself, work that you have done in the community and why you are running for City Council.

I have had the opportunity to work for State Assemblymember Brian Jones, running his district office. This required me to work directly with constituents to solve problems, engage in the legislative process, and serve as a liaison between our community and the state.

In addition, I also have had my own consulting business for several years. Owning and running this business has allowed me to work directly with elected officials, law enforcement professionals, small business owners, and community leaders to address complex issues in local government. As a result of this experience, I know what it takes to manage seven-figure budgets, effectively allocate resources, and manage a team of people.

Finally, I am a member of the Santee Kiwanis, Santee-Lakeside Rotary, serve on the Santee Parks and Recreation Committee (SPARC), and am a former board member of

Santee Santas. I’ve had the chance to work directly on projects, events, and initiatives that help enhance the quality of life we enjoy here in Santee.

With the annexing of the Castle Rock community and the ever-growing development in Santee, what mitigations do you have in mind for traffic control including State Route 52?

The most critical and impactful step our region can take to resolve current and future traffic problems is the expansion of SR-52. Even if Santee didn’t ever build an additional house, our neighbors in Lakeside, El Cajon, La Mesa, and other communities would continue growing, only making the problem worse. Widening the 52 by utilizing regional and state grant funding, local resources, or funding from local stakeholders will be the key to getting that job done.

As someone who has worked for the state legislature and other local officials and organizations, I believe I am best equipped to build the coalition and harness the funding needed to get this done.

With the international refugee crisis are you in favor of welcoming more Middle Eastern refugees into Santee? Why or why not?

I do not think it’s wise or feasible to accept additional refugees into East County.

If California Proposition 64, Marijuana Legalization passes what steps would you take to allow or disallow sales of marijuana in Santee?

Recently, the Santee City Council passed an ordinance to pre-emptively address potential consequences of Proposition 64 and to extend the city’s ban on marijuana cultivation, dispensaries, and delivery. I believe this was a sensible decision. We’ve seen already that other states like Colorado and Oregon are having difficulties adapting to the legalization of marijuana.

For instance, Parkview Hospital Emergency Room in Colorado has seen a 51% increase in children 18 and under that test positive for marijuana. In addition, organized crime filings have skyrocketed in Colorado, as new organizations have sprouted to take advantage of these new laws.

What makes Santee great is its family-friendly character, driven in part by its low crime rate. Should we allow the many negative impacts of Proposition 64 to seep into our community, we’ll lose the family-oriented character of our community. If elected, I would ensure this ban was made permanent.

Free Zone

While I am the youngest candidate in this race, I am also the candidate with the most to lose if Santee no longer has the family-friendly community character that has made this city such a great place to live, work, and play. Many people my age are moving into Santee with the hope of owning a home, starting a family, and sending their children to good schools, while knowing they’re living in a low-crime community with plenty of activities for ages young and old.

As someone who would someday like to start my own family in Santee, I can assure you I will be committed to protecting and enhancing the quality of life we currently enjoy.

That means I’ll focus on ensuring public safety remains our top budget priority; that we continue to be helpful and accommodating for small businesses who wish to open, re-locate, or expand in Santee; that we protect our community from any inappropriate development and ensure any future major development provides infrastructure improvements that relieve our traffic congestion; that we prioritize fixing our streets and upgrading our sewers; and that we continue to provide recreational amenities to children, adults, and seniors.

As someone with experience in both the public and private sectors, I believe I have the experience and qualifications to help guide our city toward a bright future. I am proud to be endorsed by our Santee Deputy Sheriffs and Firefighters, Mayor Randy Voepel, Supervisor Dianne Jacob, the San Diego Regional Chamber of Commerce, and many other elected officials, organizations, and individuals.

Stephen Houlahan

Tell us about yourself, work that you have done in the community and why you are running for City Council.

I have a proven record of leadership that places Santee residents first. As President and Co-founder of Save Mission Trails we defeated the ugly Quail Brush power plant and won designation of SR-52 as a Scenic Highway. I believe in fiscal restraint. I am a Registered Nurse; hold a Master of Science and Master of Business Administration.

I am a West Hills graduate, a third generation resident, a father and a husband who loves Santee! Like most of you, I must drive on SR-52. 

I will fight for police and firefighters, strong local businesses, excellent schools and parks while protecting our neighborhoods. I want to protect our community values and our quality-of-life.

With the annexing of the Castle Rock community and the ever-growing development in Santee, what mitigations do you have in mind for traffic control including State Route 52?

Unlimited population growth is not realistic and is not acceptable land use policy. Traffic solutions must be in place before allowing more large traffic generating subdivisions. I will oppose General Plan Amendments that provide windfalls to developers, but leave residents saddled with costs, such as increasing traffic gridlock with high water and high electric rates. I will support economic growth and prosperity that does not require increasing Santee’s population inconsistent with Santee’s General Plan.  Sustainable economic growth is far superior to boom and bust.

Local streets must be purposed for primarily local destinations, not as escape alternatives for regional traffic gridlock caused by regional overdevelopment. I will support innovative traffic calming improvements that improve traffic flow, signal synchronization, improvements that reduce conflicts between vehicles and alternative modes of transportation and new project designs or redevelopment that emphasizes walkability. I will not use the promises of future freeway improvements as rationale for overburdening them with new developments before the improvements can be completed. My opponents’ preference for the L.A. style development process has proven to be a failed model.

With the international refugee crisis are you in favor of welcoming more Middle Eastern refugees into Santee? Why or why not?

I am not in favor of widespread admission of refugees from the Middle East or any region. I am in favor of private and public efforts to address the roots of refugee crisis where they occur – roots that include lack of local self-determination and democracy combined with declining environmental sustainability. Without this approach, war, economic and climate refugees will exceed any capacity to alleviate the growing crisis. Families that have already immigrated should be respected and supported in their endeavors to address roots of international crisis. “Here on earth, God’s work must truly be our own.”

If California Proposition 64, Marijuana Legalization passes what steps would you take to allow or disallow sales of marijuana in Santee?

If Proposition 64 passes, I will support a measured approach that regulates local distribution as safely as possible consistent with the law.

Free Zone 

Cleaner Power at Lower Rates

Santee can and should be a leader in the transition to clean affordable energy. Numerous communities in Northern California are providing their residents with cleaner power at lower rates by deciding to procure energy from local clean power projects that reduce or eliminate transmission costs. They have formed Community Choice Energy Procurement Districts (“CCA”). Energy savings then circulate in and bolster local economies.

SDG&E has been an obstacle to this transition in San Diego communities while charging some of the highest rates in the nation. SDG&E political contributions are strategically distributed to maintain their monopolistic advantage. I am the only candidate in this race that will stand up to SDG&E and work for cleaner power at lower rates. Furthermore, unlike too many of our elected officials in the region, I will not accept campaign contributions in exchange for special interest political favors that are contrary to the public good.

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