Lake Elsinore City Council candidates discuss local issues before voters

Pictured from left are; Robert Magee, Steve Manos, Steve Martin, Natasha Johnson and Edwin Castro are vying for the three vacant seats on Lake Elsinore City Council this election. Art Barela photo
Pictured from left are; Robert Magee, Steve Manos, Steve Martin, Natasha Johnson and Edwin Castro are vying for the three vacant seats on Lake Elsinore City Council this election. Art Barela photo

Art Barela

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The Lake Elsinore Citizen’s Committee hosted a candidate forum at the downtown Cultural Center on Historic Main Street Oct. 12. The City Council portion of the forum introduced incumbent candidates Steve Manos, Natasha Johnson and Robert Magee, and challenging candidates Steve Martin and Edwin Castro to the community. Each of the candidates had ample opportunity to answer a wide array of pre-published questions that were delivered by moderator Dane Wunderlich.

The questions that were posted in advance on the LECC website, were designed to address a variety of hot topic items that represent potentially decisive concern to voters in the Lake Elsinore Valley. Each candidate on the panel was allowed the opportunity to randomly select one of the pre-published questions, to which they had a select time to articulate their responses, followed by counter points and statements from each of the remaining candidates on that particular topic.

Specific questions dove into the drawbacks and benefits associated with bringing underground power lines into the Lake Elsinore Valley and how those power lines would impact local Lake Elsinore tax payers, and the growing problem of homelessness and blight within the community. Broader issues with regards to understanding and managing the city’s Annual Operating Budget, Public Safety, City Staff compensation and the candidates’ positions on Street Maintenance Planning were also addressed.

The proposed La Laguna Campgrounds upgrades and the Alberhill Development project were discussed extensively among the candidates.

“The campground is currently an embarrassment that’s pulling down the surrounding areas,” Councilman Manos said. “It can be turned around into a source of public pride.”

Councilwoman Johnson also supports funding for the campground as she expressed her satisfaction that the bond had been recently passed through city council. Though she agreed that the cost concerns raised are valid, she nonetheless believes that the risk is outweighed by the potential benefit to the community.

Both of the candidates challenging for a seat on the council indicated that they disagreed with the proposed plans for campground upgrades. Candidate Martin indicated that although he believed the lake is “our gem,” he nonetheless felt that the La Laguna campground project “is a waste of money and a waste of time.”

Candidate Castro expressed his concern that funding could be better spent on the health of the lake itself in the face of a historic drought. “Without Lake Elsinore, there is no Lake Elsinore,” he said.

Councilman Magee agreed that the campground is in need of upgrades, but he believes that more cost analysis needs to be done before the city adds to its current debt burden. He agreed that the health of the community has always been directly linked to the health of the lake and acknowledges the resources in time and dollars that have gone into continued lake management through the years.

“Upgrades to our aging campground must be made only with a clear eye toward return on our investment,” Magee said.

Likewise, the Alberhill Development project is an ongoing matter of concern for the greater Lake Elsinore community. All three incumbent council members agree that the Alberhill Development should move forward, but only as the Alberhill Specific Plan was originally approved by City Council back at the beginning of the year. The current change initiative that is being proposed by the developer, Castle and Cooke, is unacceptable by current city council members in its revised form, as the incumbent council members all seem to be in agreement that it is not a good deal for the tax payers who will have to bear an undue burden as a result of changes proposed in the developer’s initiative. Councilwoman Johnson indicated that she believes

“The project is a great idea if it happens.” Manos said, but he was adamant that there are major disagreements between the city and the developer on how the project should proceed. Manos emphasized that a project of this size and scope has the potential to change the size of the city forever, but due to the many challenges associated with building above an existing mining site, he believes the developer’s initiative is akin to “The 7 Deadly Sins” for taxpayers in Lake Elsinore.

Councilman Magee believes that the Alberhill Development project will continue to be unanimously supported by the council in its original form, but only “if it doesn’t become a financial burden to taxpayers.”

Both of the two candidate challengers, Martin and Castro, support the developer, Castle and Cooke’s, initiative and believe that the Alberhill Development should move forward without further delay.

Candidate Martin expressed his opinion that the project will be “unbuildable” as it was originally submitted and approved. Candidate Castro said that he supports the initiative, but that “You guys have the ultimate voice”

Following the City Council Member forum, Lake Elsinore School Board Superintendent Doug Kimberly delivered a presentation in support of Measure V on the upcoming ballot. If passed, the measure will provide much needed funding for local area schools. Doug also accepted Mr. Steven Wood’s withdrawal from candidacy for School Board Trustee and recognized Mr. Harold Striker as the sole remaining candidate for Trustee running un-opposed.

One Response to "Lake Elsinore City Council candidates discuss local issues before voters"

  1. John Ervin   November 3, 2016 at 12:56 pm

    I worked gathering signatures for this project, briefly, but I promised several activists and business people within the Lake Elsinore area that I would do what I could to shine a light on the threat it might represent to taxpayers and environmentalists, if I discovered one existed.

    I believe from what I’ve learned that most of these Specific Plans, if not all, not only here but throughout the state, and also in other states, represent the interests of the developers, often at the expense of more important social issues: liveability in the area, fiscal prudence for the taxpayers, buildability and its related issues, and most importantly: whither goest the state of California, and probably other states, if these Specific Plans become a “tool” of choice for developers to circumvent CEQA and other environmental or social concerns?

    Although my knowledge is probably not remotely as comprehensive as those within the local community that are involved more regularly with this than I am, I think I can offer for sure the caveat, as someone who has been aware of several of these projects due to my work over a number of years as a gatherer of signatures for a variety of initiatives, that the voters need to be more deeply informed about the pros and cons of these kinds of petitions/initiatives.

    I worked briefly on the Agua Hedionda Lagoon initiative (which thank God was narrowly defeated by Carlsbad voters) and the work was brief because I promised a considerable number of local environmental activists who lobbied me avidly, that I would stop gathering the signatures if I could see “a clear and present danger” of the project to local residents.

    I said that because the project, on its face, seemed like a really good deal environmentally, and across the board, and all of the talking points I had been told or developed through my own study made sense.

    THEN….I found out that the developer, Rick Caruso, who has done a number of nice projects in the Southland, had written the Plan in such a way as to bypass CEQA (The California Environmental Quality Act passed in California in the early ’70s) process of vetting the impact on the environment. It was this aspect that had The Sierra Club up in arms and in opposition to it, and not any negative impact on the environment itself.

    Well, beyond that, the Plan had been thought out quite well, in terms of the environment, and so forth, and even so on, so I still didn’t get it.

    Then, as I studied the history of CEQA and such things, it became clear that such an approved plan was truly a Trojan Horse that could be used “slipped through the gate” to set a legal precedent where developers could ride roughshod over CEQA in future developments, and roughshod over local residents, once they had got a foot in the door of the courts and could build a legal foundation for other abuses.

    In short, as in the 1890s case where corporations were ruled as having the same rights as persons, this kind of court process could build quite a Frankenstein monster (in the guise of corporations, or developments) where such grabs could totally roll over local interests, and environmental concerns.

    This was the hook buried deep, or obscurely to many voters, in a project that otherwise looked like a great thing. And the whole idea of using the petition process to write such things in stone, which is how the law is written about petitioning, and thus make them very very difficult to overturn or reform, is as scary a manipulation of democracy as one can handily imagine.

    It was finally a lawyer who walked out of a store with groceries, who explained to me a little bit of it, that turned my thoughts around, and I got off the project after 9 days, which was paying rather well and thus I had to “chew off a paw” in terms of income, to get out of that trap!

    But I’m glad I did, as I can sleep easier because of that.

    I’m writing this because I promised a young woman who is very active in the Lake Elsinore city council and policy making, that I would spread the word about the dangers of this initiative and that residents need to really think twice about the downside.

    The nonagenarian who is hoping to develop this, David Murdock, is one of the richest people on the planet, worth over 3 billion dollars. He will definitely be beating the odds and most actuarial charts if he lives long enough to see even the first bricks of this laid by Castle and Cooke, as he would be almost a 100 years old when that happens, and well above that before it’s finished!

    Let’s hope he can leave Lake Elsinore as his legacy a development of real sustainability and respect for the democratic processes of initiatives, and the people of Lake Elsinore, and not only a grand scheme, however tantalizing it may seem to some.

    The City Council likes the plan without the changes. Thumbs up to that one, you would have to think?

    (But I was just a hired hand in on this, though years ago, decades ago, my old man was long-time attorney for Murdock’s partner at Occidental Petroleum, Armand Hammer. I only made that connection when I looked into the roots of this, once involved.)


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