This is not the first campaign for Juan Carlos Mercado. He ran for the 51st Congressional District as an Independent in 2018 against Rep. Juan Vargas. Now, the 50-year-old Democrat is running for El Cajon City Council District 2. Mercado is an Army veteran, serving 13 years with two combat tours. He is a retired San Diego County Sheriff’s Department deputy. Today, he is self-employed, the creator of The Prickly Pear Christmas Tree and author of two books. Mercado also established the Deported Veterans of America in 2015. Mercado said that he is upfront and is running because he wants better things for the community.
Mercado said he sees the current City Council as all Republican males and shows no diversity in its members. Mercado said he does not like how El Cajon is operating and thinks that Council is doing a “minimal effort if anything at all” to get things done.
“They are just going with the flow,” he said. “I don’t see a motivated effort, and I don’t see people doing more than the bare minimum, if that at all.”
Mercado said he learned from residents by walking the streets and the overall message is that people want El Cajon to have a better image. He said streets, traffic, a dirty city, and homelessness were top discussion for election.
Mercado said Council spins its budgeting to look like they are doing a great job, but what they are really doing is dividing the budget. He said taxes and revenues look good as surplus money, but pensions are putting the city in a horrible situation.
“There is not enough money for the needs of the pensions that are being handed out and projected for the future,” he said. “I think they are doing a lot of spinning and wishful thinking with the budget and that is wrong. They need to really sit down and find where to save and where best to maximize what it has available to make things better.”
Mercado said the El Cajon Police Department’s budget is too high and its pension program is not doing well.
“The way I see it, the city and other candidates are cohering with the police department and find favor with that,” he said. “They want people to look away when it comes to the ECPD’s budget. They need to go in there and look at it and that budget cannot be increased until the pension is resolved.”
Mercado said in discussions with the city manager, the city could save more than $1 million if it disbanded the ECPD and contracted services with the San Diego County Sheriff’s Department. He said that might mean jobs lost, but that ECPD officers could laterally transfer.
“It gives the city an opportunity to turn a page with the ugly relationship of the police department and the citizens of El Cajon,” he said. “Because of their actions Alfred Alango is no longer with us and that happened right across the street from where I live. I had a front seat to everything that happened.”
Alango was shot and killed by and officer with the El Cajon Police Department on Sept. 27, 2016. Alango was unarmed but pointed a vaping device at police officers at the scene.
“Now, they are like let’s not think about it and eventually it will go away,” said Mercado. “Not talking about it, ignoring it is not the right fix. And hoping that nothing will happen will create conflict, that is not the right way to go.”
Mercado said dealing with homelessness is “not rocket science” and if housing needs were met, people would not be sleeping in the streets.
“We need to give them a place to sleep and the ability to do the things we do daily with hygiene and hopefully a little privacy,” he said. “We need to do that first. There are health and mental health issues, but we can deal with this one step at a time.”
Mercado said the city is content outsourcing and giving money to organizations, but that is all. He said council members need to get out of the office and meet with the people on the street, the business owners, talk with community leaders and come up with a solution and not a fix.
“But as long as nothing is highlighted in the news, everything is fine. Be proactive first and get them off the streets,” he said.
Mercado said the city has taken a passive posture with COVID-19. He said the schools are doing well, and the city should follow their lead.
“I walk out there. I don’t see any sanitizing stations. I don’t see them working with the people of El Cajon, the businesses, or the schools,” he said. “They should do the same across the board with businesses, churches, parks, the mall, the shopping centers by being proactive with them and listening to their concerns. They need to keep people informed and let them know that we are all in this together.”
Mercado said the city’s stance on not wanting to enforce COVID regulations is another passive approach, hoping COVID will go away and not dealing with the problem.
“Nobody wants to do anything, implement anything,” he said. “I think that they cater to the more affluent businesses of people in the community. As long as they are happy, that is all they care about.”
Mercado said that renters are being victimized and said neighborhoods like Leslie Road, full of apartments, some with two to three families in one unit need assistance.
“Set up sanitizing stations and Wi-Fi for virtual learning,” he said. “And these are the kind of places where we see the higher numbers of COVID-19. The low income is the most affected and City Hall is working with no one to find a solution.”
Mercado said he believes restaurants, barbershops, beauty salons and these types of businesses are affected the most by the pandemic. He said allowing them to open outdoors has helped.
“We need to meet with these businesses and offer them some kind of tax break at the very least,” he said. “We need to look beyond the city and see what we can do to help through the county, state and federal levels, and streamline these resources and funding to these businesses. We cannot do away with masks, social distancing. That has to be implemented. Businesses still have to pay their bills though. We need to help them. Get their electrical bills placed on the lower bracket. The businesses also need to see that we are all in this together.”