Santee city council holds forum for candidates

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The Santee Chamber of Commerce organized a forum on Oct. 4 to introduce the current candidates for the city council to the public. Seven candidates from three city districts answered questions from the public vying for people’s vote on Nov. 6.

In the upcoming elections, only the seat held by Council Member Stephen Houlahan in District 4 in Santee is safe until 2020.

Evlyn Andrade-Heymsfield and current Vice Mayor Rob McNelis are both running for one seat in District 1.

The Santee Chamber of Commerce organized a forum on Oct. 4 to introduce the current candidates for the city council to the public. Seven candidates from three city districts answered questions from the public vying for people’s vote on Nov. 6.

In the upcoming elections, only the seat held by Council Member Stephen Houlahan in District 4 in Santee is safe until 2020.

Evlyn Andrade-Heymsfield and current Vice Mayor Rob McNelis are both running for one seat in District 1.

In District 2, Council Member Ronn Hall is running to keep his seat against Rudy Reyes.

Three candidates are competing for a seat in District 3: Zach Gianino, Laura Koval and Lynda Marrokal.

The forum went on as a collection of monologues without any interaction with the public. One speaker collected the questions from the public and managed the order for each candidate to take turns answering.

The public was advised not to use the candidates’ time with ovations and applauses.

All the candidates started with an opening statement mentioning their upbringing and what connects them to Santee.

Lynda Marrokal led the way with the slogan “Citizen, Not Politician” and said her mission is to bring the community “together as humans, not as Republicans or Democrats. That’s how it was in old Sante and I am old Santee.”

Marrokal added, “What you see is what you get. I don’t have a fancy title or anything. I am just a citizen, just like all of you.”

Zach Gianino is running under the slogan “Zach G. for D 3” and said, “My philosophy is, I think globally, I act locally.”

Gianino mentioned his experience in advocacy in Sacramento and Washington, D.C. and his degree in Political Science, International Relationships from UCSD.

Gianino said he believes there is a disconnect between the community and the city council he wants to address by offering “a new type of leadership” required by the cultural change experienced by Santee transitioning from a small town to a big city.

“I want to give District 3 that opportunity for transition which means more transparency, holding more town halls,” he said.

Evlyn Andrade-Heymsfield said she wants “innovative ideas to solve the city current problems” and said she brings in management experience as a software engineer and business owner. “I want to stand for what’s important to you and bring change to our community,” she said.

Rob McNelis served on the city council since 2010 and said that prior of running, “I started showing up at the city council meetings for six years. I listened to the budget meetings and I found out the things I was upset about, we could not afford to fix them.”

Ronn Hall confessed, “I am married to Santee,” counting how his wife lived here for 20 years and that he has had his business in the city for the past 23 years. Hall said he is always active on Facebook and available to answer the phone because “That’s what you do, help people, you answer questions, it’s your job.”

Rudy Reyes mentioned he is a Cedar Fire survivor from Barona and “the only way I can figure to give back to these doctors, these firemen, is to run to be in service.” Reyes said, “The real reason why I run in this election is that you have a problem with the council not listening to the voice of the people.”

Laura Koval grew up in Lakeside and ended up working for the Boys & Girls Club of East County and was promoted to the Santee branch when she said she fell in love with Santee.

“I run because I looked at the financials and I am very concerned,” said Koval. “I actually have the experience to fix the budget.”

Koval mentioned she worked for the Padre Dam Municipal Water District as Customer Manager and now is the Director of Park and Recreation at the Santee Lakes and on the board with Santee and East County chambers of commerce.

The questions for the candidates touched important subjects such as the traffic in Santee and especially on Highway 52.

Hall said he created “Coalition 52” with other cities and “We can’t wait for SANDAG to get their act together. We need to get Caltrans and the rest of the cities in East County together.”

The permit for marijuana dispensaries was a hot topic with the younger candidates Gianino, Andrade-Heymsfield and Reyes being favorable to creating revenue from local dispensaries.

Everybody agreed with the need to bring big businesses in Santee, such as Karl Straus, a movie theatre, a four stars hotel along with an entertainment center.

However, Marrokall pointed out that it would compound the traffic issue and that “our infrastructure needs to be improved if we can to bring these businesses in.”

Reyes proposed building a convention center and “investing in ourselves first.”

All candidates were on the same page about the economic growth of Santee and bringing high paying job to town as a way to reduce the traffic by reducing the need for commuting and to increase the city revenue.

Andrade-Heymsfield said she would bring some competition in town to Cox Cable to “generate millions of dollars in revenue” by building a “high speed gigabyte internet” owned by the city.

Gianino praised the city manager and staff, saying, “I’d like to see more of their ideas pass. We should work literally side-by-side with our financial departments and utilize more grants.”

All candidates ended the forum with their vision for the city and their hopes to see it materialize in the near future.

Election Day is Nov. 6. 

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