After serving 10 years on the Lemon Grove School District Board of Directors, George Gastil ran for city council, was elected in 2008 and served two four-year terms.
The 57-year-old Democrat said being out of office for four years now, he needs to get back on council because the city needs experienced people that know key figures, understands the community, its history and knows how to work together.
He said that the city has three crises going on. A budget crisis, civil unrest and racial equity and the COVID-19 pandemic.
“We kind of knock on wood that we won’t have the same kind of civil unrest being right next to La Mesa,” he said. “But it is rooted in very genuine concerns that we need to be working on. The pandemic we are in the midst of and how that has affected our economy and the way we interact with each other are intertwined. We need a stronger team, a unified vision, and we need to focus on serving the people of Lemon Grove.”
Gastil said he understands with the budget that disincorporation is on people’s mind, but thinks it is unlikely the city would disincorporate. He said the fiscal situation could get to the point where the city might need to go to the county and ask for help with services, but to him that is not any better.
“We need to be responsible for taking care of our own people here in Lemon Grove and we need to raise the money to do it,” he said.
Gastil said he was proud being one of the leaders taking the three-quarter sales tax Measure S to the ballot in March. Measure S failed with more than 59% of voters voting no, but Gastil said he thinks it needs to come back to the table for discussion.
“I think we need to try it again, explain it better, make a better proposal, because we can’t give up,” he said. “The city needs more revenue and it has already made extreme budget cuts.”
He said the entire council supported the measure, but when it failed, there was a predictable and “all too real” cut in the Sheriff’s department’s services.
Gastil said a lot will depend on the Community Advisory Council, the he and council member Jerry Jones put together when he was in office.
“The Community Advisory Council has not been active enough and I think it would be the perfect body to draw up a plan showing what priorities the extra revenue would go to,” he said.
Gastil said the city needs to attract more businesses, but in order to do that, they need a cleaner, safer city.
“Telling businesses that we want them here and giving them incentives is good, but the biggest thing is making sure the business district is clean, that people feel like it is a safe place to go, that people have a reason to be there,” he said.
Gastil said the COVID-19 pandemic has only exacerbated many of the problems the city faces today. He said he errors on the side of being strict when it comes to regulations and mandates because it is the middle of a health crisis and people are dying.
“When I look at the data I am very thankful that we are doing better than National City where a lot more people have died,” he said. “I’m thankful that there are not as near people per capita in Lemon Grove as some other communities and I want to keep it that way. The county is fairly strict, and I think that they are doing a great job.”
He said at the city level, Mayor Racquel Vasquez and the city council stepped up with good distribution of CARES Act grants, helping local businesses stay open and letting residents know that the businesses are still open and operating.
“I think it is very important that we follow the County’s guidelines,” he said. “We do not have health experts and we should be taking the County’s lead. I believe in wearing masks, following guidelines. Professional judgement is the applicable thing here. The rules are important, and they are protecting us.”