Stephanie Harper has lived in El Cajon most of her life and said she is running for city council because she believes there are a lot of changes that need to be made and she can bring those changes. Harper, a Democrat, ran in 2016, came in fifth with no campaign manager, two volunteers and a budget of under $200. She said El Cajon needs to focus on the homeless population, its budget, its parks and to help its businesses survive through the COVID-19 pandemic.
“We used to be a valley of opportunity and we are no longer that. We are a valley of obstacles,” she said.
Harper said the homeless population is out of control and that El Cajon needs to be proactive in the way it spends its money.
“We have children being raised in hotel rooms and have no structure to where they will really ever feel safe,” she said. “We have elderly people getting kicked out of or leaving their homes, with liens on their property owners because they keep raising their rents. There are almost 800 homeless people living in our city and not even half of them are sheltered.”
Harper said people are losing their faith in its city government and she wants to be the person that restores that faith because she has a voice and will make sure that they are heard.
“I would listen and govern my district from the bottom of the building, not the top where all of the problems look so small,” she said.
As a former small business owner, Harper said the COVID pandemic is crushing small businesses.
“We already have problems with businesses wanting to come to El Cajon because of us being the poorest city in the county, our homeless, but COVID is hitting us the hardest,” she said.
Harper said she somewhat agrees with what Mayor Bill Wells is saying when he wants more leniency for El Cajon’s businesses.
“They are wearing masks, doing social distancing and what they can personally to keep COVID from spreading,” she said. “I think that is okay because we are losing our small businesses.” She said Mary’s Donuts and another small business by her house are now out of business.
“It doesn’t have to be like that,” she said. “It is not fair. If we can just social distance, wear masks and do it the right way until this whole thing is over with, I believe that we can save some of our businesses.”
Harper said the key to bringing in new businesses is to first start listening to the businesses that are already there and invest in them. She said El Cajon businesses should be selected as contractors for city projects, keeping the business within the city. She said it will help local businesses grow and create more jobs. She suggested to City Council that the two new hotels should hire people from El Cajon, even if it is 10%. Harper said it also needs to make the process easier for startup businesses.
“People that want to start small businesses have great ideas but cannot afford it, because they can barely afford rent,” she said. “Instead of just telling where to get this and that license, let’s invest in these small businesses.”
Harper said the city just started a project for the Hillside Park Center, but the project for Wells Park is not even finished yet.
“Wells Park is just trashed out and it is our biggest park in the entire city,” she said. “It is such a big park and has so many ways that it can go, and we are not doing anything with it.”
Harper said, if elected, there are some major changes that need to be made. She said the city needs to start turning off lights during the daylight, or at parks at night when facilities are closed. She said Wells Park, The Magnolia, the courthouse and many other facilities run unnecessary lights, costing the city money. “We are just pouring money down the sink,” she said.
Harper said that transitional storage is needed for homeless people because the police department just takes their belongings away and takes them straight to Waste Management. Harper said she is ready to follow suit with San Diego, served with a class action lawsuit, to get this done because it is not fair.
“It would help all the way around,” she said. “With a place to put their things, they could go apply for jobs without having to take every single thing that they own with them. That is not a way to get your foot in the door.”
Harper said she would look into helping businesses like Crisis House which has to relocate by the end of the year, and that the city should help them, invest in these programs and get rid of the programs that do not work.
Harper said City Council needs more transparency in its budget and she wants to know where her tax dollars are going.
“We should know exactly where each and every dollar is going,” she said. “I want to tell my constituents here is where our money is going and here is what it is doing.”