Lake Elsinore selects new mayor, mayor pro-tem

Natasha Johnson will serve as mayor of the city of Lake Elsinore, marking her second time filling the role. Courtesy photo

The Lake Elsinore City Council Tuesday, Dec. 12, voted in a mayor and mayor pro-tem following a busy meeting where the creation of districts as well as state and federal projects affecting the city were discussed.

Mayor Pro-Tem Natasha Johnson was voted in as the city’s mayor, her second time filling the role in her tenure with the council, and councilman Steve Manos was voted mayor pro-tem.

One of the first items the council looked at was the creation of election districts in the city, something that they were prompted to do after receiving a letter from the Malibu-based law firm of Shenkman & Hughes. The firm alleges the city had violated the California Voting Rights act of 2001 by conducting at-large elections, which diluted the voting power of Latinos.

The second of four public hearings was held on the issue of creating districts and council members discussed how they felt districts should be divided.

City Clerk Susan M. Domen told the council that special consideration should be made to making sure that each of the districts was nearly equal in population, that districts be drawn in compliance with state and federal voting rights acts and that districts not be drawn with race as a predominate factor.

Johnson said she felt it was important that districts be divided in a way so that each district had a similar amount of businesses, that each had some level of access to the lakeshore and that the downtown area be apportioned between districts as well. Many of her colleagues on the dais agreed that those were important considerations.

Councilmember Brian Tisdale said that he thought creating districts in the city is something that might be necessary in 15 or 20 years, but having to divide things up at a time when the city was changing was not optimal.

“What are we going to be in five years, 10 years?” Tisdale asked. “We’re growing. We’re growing like crazy so anything we do today, or in the near future, we’re going to have to do again just because the numbers are growing.”

Still, Tisdale said that creating districts was better than the alternative of having the city fight a costly lawsuit that it was unlikely to win.

“For us to invest 2 or $3 million in a lawsuit when we have roads that need to be fixed and other concerns with our police and our fire, making sure we have adequate public safety and things like that, it’s just not the right thing to do,” he said.

Mayor Bob Magee said the idea of having to go to districts was problematic because he fell in love with all of Lake Elsinore, not just particular parts of the city.

He talked about the various areas he’s spent time in, from riding motorcycles with his son in the back basin to visiting the historic downtown and vendors there.

“This area is very special and to echo what my colleagues have said no matter how the lines are drawn my commitment is to each and every resident, business owner, property owner and I’ll continue to serve and answer those calls and help to guide this community for as long as the voters want me to,” Magee said.

A demographer was expected to draw up maps of proposed council districts that were expected to be posted and discussed in January.

The council also looked at Lake Elsinore Advance Pump Storage project, or “LEAPS,” which would take water from Lake Elsinore and create a 240-foot dam in the Cleveland National Forest.

The project is intended to make up for electrical power lost from the closure of the San Onofre nuclear power plant in San Diego County, Community Development Director Grant Taylor said.

During times when electricity is plentiful, water would be kept in the upper reservoir (dam), but during times when electrical power is needed, water would be sent through tunnels into turbines at an electrical power station to be constructed at the lake.

Nevada Hydro, the company behind LEAPS, had submitted a request for a permit to operate the project from the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission in October, Taylor said.

The city has requested that additional studies be done on the project looking at such things as how it will affect water quality, wildlife species and recreation in the area.

The council unanimously approved an extension to its agreement with federal government relations firm David Terch and Associates at $3,500 a month for another year to represent the city in discussions with FERC.

Taylor also held a presentation on Valley Ivyglen and Alberhill transmission line projects, two large electrical projects that Southern California Edison had applied for approval for with the California Public Utilities Commission.

The Valley Ivyglen project would have a number of 115 kilovolt above ground power lines running from Ivy Glen substation in Corona, to Lake Elsinore and then Menifee.

The Alberhill System Project would construct a substation at Temescal Canyon and Concordia Ranch roads and have lines follow a similar path as the Valley Ivyglen project, but cross over to Menifee at a point further south.

Both projects are expected to have significant impacts to Lake Elsinore and its roadways and could have environmental impacts, property value impacts, and negatively affect the appearance of commercial areas, Taylor said.

He said city officials had written letters to the CPUC and were planning on lobbying in San Francisco, where the CPUC office is located, to voice their concerns about the project. No action was taken on the item during the meeting.

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