At the March 30 debate, Mayor Jack van Haaster and candidate Richard Gibbs entangled themselves in verbal debates while 19-year-old candidate Casey Evans steered clear of the bickering.
During the candidate questioning, Gibbs was given an opportunity to ask the Mayor a question regarding the voices behind the recall signatures.
“Eight thousand people said we are trying to hold you accountable. The honorable thing to have done was to have said, ‘I resign.’ Why haven’t you?” asked Gibbs, leering at van Haaster.
“Now that’s ridiculous,” said van Haaster. “We are actually a town of 80,000 people, and I don’t think that a minority is supposed to rule what goes on in this city.” When finishing his statement, a lively applause erupted from the audience.
Evans wanted everyone to understand his own personal reasons for being there. “I am here tonight not to impress you or to win you over but simply as a concerned citizen of Murrieta who wants to make a difference. It is my goal to bring back to Murrieta what it was once known for: its small-town charm, its family values and safe, quiet streets.”
Gibbs pressed for the method of delaying housing growth to have infrastructure catch up to what has already been built. He also cast the idea of using the capital improvement monies to finish off the infrastructure in the city. Gibbs thought the capital improvement plans had to be reprioritized. “We are spending $9.6 million on city hall. Do we need city hall or city infrastructure improvements?” That was something the citizens needed to decide, said Gibbs.
Gibbs wanted to get another point across: developers were not at fault for the downfall of Murrieta. The city council was, he said. He agreed that rooftops equaled revenue but “rooftops do not equal quality of life.” And mostly, growth before infrastructure is a dumb policy, said Gibbs. Negotiating developer agreements to the thousands of people who are on their way should be enforced.
Van Haaster remained dumbfounded by Gibbs’ suggestions on growth. “Mr. Gibbs, you sat on the Steering Committee, you’ve seen our budgets and you’ve seen our capital improvement plan. For you to suggest that we have enough money in our capital improvement plan to finish off the infrastructure while we stagnant [growth] is unbelievable to me. It’s an insult to our community that you would even suggest that.” Van Haaster then cornered Gibbs, telling him that he [Gibbs] was intentionally leaving out a lot of information. With being on so many committees, Gibbs was ‘in the know’ of so many factors. “Shame on you,” said van Haaster, staring at Gibbs.
Finally, van Haaster refuted Gibbs, stating the concept of mandating a developer agreement is not legally possible and Gibbs knew all about that. “You [Gibbs] are failing to acknowledge the boundaries that we are all supposed to do and take an oath to uphold — and that is the law of the land.”
Evans stood his stance and pushed for pro-business. “Obviously, you can’t slow or stop growth.” To even do so would be a huge economic detriment, said Evans. His visions were to create more commercial jobs and increase sales tax revenue for Murrieta. Such businesses would decrease the traffic. He called the streets of Murrieta a ‘construction zone.’
Van Haaster agreed the traffic issues are a problem, but maintains it’s all a part of the process. He compared the inconvenience to someone remodeling his or her home: “You are miserable while it occurs.”
We have a strong General Fund, said van Haaster. Such a thing couldn’t have been said five to ten years ago. “We are in the process where we have collected the monies and putting in that infrastructure.”
Being a part of the regional traffic summits, van Haaster has had ongoing education about the traffic issues. Murrieta was going to have to work with Temecula, Lake Elsinore, Wildomar and Menifee. “It’s going to have to be a regional solution.”
Van Haaster thought the concept of putting the roads in before the developments was a beautiful idea but “it doesn’t work in California.” The way monies flow into the city, it’s unable to do roads first. Once enough money from developers has been collected, then the work can be done.
Tired of van Haaster’s rhetoric, Gibbs said while the city has been increasing its revenues, the residents have decreased their quality of life. He is exasperated with the awful traffic issues. On his way to the debate, Gibbs passed three detour signs, even taking one to the council chambers.
“They [city council] told us, ‘It’s progress; be patient, trust us, it will be over soon.’” Obviously, the traffic nuisance is still a major issue.
Like the others, this debate was hosted by the Murrieta Chamber of Commerce and was held at city hall. Murrieta residents may cast their recall vote on May 3.