Lemon Grove has two seats open in the upcoming November election, with Council member Jennifer Mendoza running as an incumbent, and an open seat being vacated by Mayor Pro Tem Jerry Jones.
Blanca Lopez Brown is running for Lemon Grove City Council. The 60-year-old Democrat has been a small business owner her entire adult life. She said that came from her parents who came to the U.S. and were commissioned as cobblers. Brown works in childcare, with two locations in Lemon Grove.
“I think watching your parents work hard in business, children can then follow suit,” she said. “I think that can be said for my siblings and myself, as we are all small business owners as well. My children have taken it on themselves and all own small businesses.”
Brown said she has a “passion” for education and that education is the foundation that can catapult young people to become “anything and everything they can dream of.” Another thing that her parents instilled in her and her siblings.
Brown has been a Lemon Grove School District trustee for 15 years.
“I have been part of the community for the past two decades,” she said. “Everything can be worked on to be improved from where we found it. Coming off the school board, I would like to continue service to the city of Lemon Grove.”
Brown said when she began working as a trustee, there were challenges, but she believes that when you are seated as an elected official as a part of a body, which is how it should serve, as a whole.
“We should be one unit always,” she said. “I took pride in learning to work with my colleagues, figuring out ways to come together, even if we were on opposite ends of an action item. What we did well was we knew how to pull together after the vote and figure out how do we help our children and serve our community. We became known as one of the most cohesive boards in the state. We did some amazing things and I truly believe it comes from that understanding as an elected official that we are servants, and we have to figure out how to serve the entire community.”
Brown said she has a “big list” of items when it comes to being on City Council, but her top priority that must be attended to is the budget.
“Take the budget. Tear it apart. Look at all the revenue streams. See if we are maximizing it. And once it is maximized, is there anything we can do to stretch that dollar,” she said. “What I have practiced for quite a while is to understand where philanthropic, state, federal money, where was there a part where we as an entity as a school, could partner, tap into, understand where it is, then build the relationship to become a partner. Building partnerships is how we have that beautiful library sitting. It is now an iconic building in Lemon Grove.”
Brown said public safety comes next for her.
“That means bringing in additional resources,” she said. “But for our police officers/sheriffs, more of a proactive role rather than reactive.”
Brown said one of her visions is to build a business improvement district, very similar to the one in Little Italy.
“When we look at other BIDs, that function well, it is a way to pull one business owner in, and if they invest in our community, the must have the autonomy to say what works for their group, but also to have peace officers be part of it, so there is communication going back and forth, and also residents join in on that conversation. That would bring our business community together and put more public safety officers out on our streets with a proactive role.”
Brown said encampments in front of businesses, and homes needs to be addressed.
“We need to look at it,” she said. “As I have walked and spoken to residents and businesses, it is everybody’s number one. I know that the city of Lemon Grove alone cannot do it, but we must look at it regionally, what we can do together to solve this. If not, we are just moving the encampments and the unsheltered from one city to the next, and to the next. It will be full circle again before you know it. That is not a solution.”
Brown said she does not support the LGSD’s $27 million bond measure.
“Having served on the school board, the biggest issue I take with it is, the items in the measure, there has already been an investment in in the recent past,” she said. “I do not understand why we would ask taxpayers to invest in what we have already improved upon. The big one for that is the preschools. I sat on Preschool for All Taskforce before we got any money in to the city of Lemon Grove and part of my dream was to have a preschool at every site in every neighborhood. We have that. Part of this bond says that preschool will be centralized in one location. I disagree with that. This goes back to before I served on the school board. It is based on our average daily attendance count and if we take a look at preschool. If they start preschool in the school in their neighborhood, they are likely to attend that school from pre-k to sixth grade with the same school district.”
Brown said the school district has everything to provide these school children so that they can continue on a successful academic path already.
Brown said the current City Council needs to be more engaged with the community, especially at its meetings.
“More community participation that is reflective of the whole community,” she said. “Engagement is a wonderful thing and I believe that as a city council, if what we are doing is not netting what we want, we need to rethink it as a council as what could council be doing to have more citizens participating. Council needs to consider the format, the days, the times. That would certainly be one of my goals.”
Brown said she believes Council is doing the best it can with the budget it has, does a wonderful job when it comes to public safety, and that they are maximizing what they have to work with. Brown said what is being heard in the community is that this Council is not being transparent.
“I know that there are processes and procedures in place, and one of them is that the budget is open and available to every resident,” she said. “It is there. It can be viewed. And all questions related to it can certainly be asked.”
Brown said there is a procedure for that, and she would like to see the citizens educated about how procedures work. For example, in public comment, she said that their questions will probably not be answered during that time due to procedure.
“Again, it goes back to my vision to see better communication and engagement between Council and the citizens of Lemon Grove,” she said.