For the first time this election season, Lake Elsinore voters got the chance to see all eight Lake Elsinore City Council candidates in one room.
A nearly three-hour-long candidates forum sponsored by the Lake Elsinore Valley Chamber of Commerce at Lakeside High School Thursday saw a turnout of about 50 people who wanted to hear from the panel of eight.
Gene Wunderlich, Government Affairs Director for the Southwest Riverside County Association of Realtors, moderated the forum that included candidates Jerry Carlos, Natasha Johnson, Bob Magee, Steve Manos, Rick Morsch, William Park, Craig Turner, and Peter Weber.
William Park: Support Small Business Owners
candidate William Park was a no-show, but he was on hand Thursday and said his top priority is supporting small business owners in the city.
Park, who along with his family once owned J&J Liquor at Four Corners, advocated for a more symbiotic relationship between businesses in the area.
“We don’t need another Rite Aid or fast food restaurant,” he said.
Park, 29, admitted to Patch during an interview last week that he lacks experience, but he told the audience Thursday the city needs new blood and out-of-the-box thinking. He argued that through careful planning Lake Elsinore can provide a better business environment for entrepreneurs who are wary of big-box retailers.
“It’s very doable,” he said. “A good mix benefits the residents and business owners.”
As for ideas on other industries he might want to court besides retail, Park said he wasn’t sure but added, “there should be balance.”
Natasha Johnson: Bring Tax Dollars To The City
Johnson, too, said she supports small business, but said bringing tax dollars to the city is key to stimulating the local economy.
“We need to provide opportunities for our residents,” she said, noting that she supports all business that makes sense for her community, including the burgeoning extreme sports industry.
If elected, Johnson, herself a local businesswoman who also serves on the Lake Elsinore Valley Chamber of Commerce board, would be the only woman on the council. Councilwoman Melissa Melendez’s four-year term on the dais expires in November and she is currently seeking to represent the 67th State Assembly District.
“I think we need a female touch on the council,” Johnson explained.
Jerry Carlos: Offer Higher Education Opportunities
Carlos, a law enforcement veteran and former Temescal Canyon High School coach who sought out a council appointment last year said “education, education, education,” is what Lake Elsinore needs most to drive its economic engine.
“Education creates jobs,” Carlos reiterated several times Thursday, and he vowed to bring college courses to Lake Elsinore.
Craig Turner: Remove Blight
Turner interjected light-hearted humor into Thursday’s forum, but turned more serious on the issue of blight in the city.
He told Thursday’s audience that cleaning up Lake Elsinore would be his first priority if elected and said some of the city’s reserves should be utilized to address the issue.
But Turner also told Patch prior to Thursday’s event that he believes in the power of community.
“We need to utilize volunteer efforts,” he said. “It takes community involvement as well as money.”
Steve Manos: Improve Public Safety
Manos put public safety and blight at the top of his priority list, too, but took it a step further saying that while “99 percent of the time” he would be against issuing a bond, in the case of revitalizing Lake Elsinore he could get behind the idea.
“I could support it,” he said.
Manos was put on the spot when an audience question was posed to candidates about their opinions on the news yesterday that Lake Elsinore Trevi Center owner Michel Knight entered a plea agreement for his criminal involvement in the failed recall effort of former Lake Elsinore City Councilman Thomas Buckley.
Manos supported the recall and was eyeing a spot on the council during the recall attempt. Charges were never filed against Manos, and he told Thursday’s audience that Knight "probably got what he deserved."
After the forum was over, Manos told Patch he “very much” supported the Buckley recall effort, but was never a part of any wrongdoing.
“I did find the allegation factual,” he said of his reason for supporting the recall, “but that’s the extent of it.”
When asked about any earnings for his work on the recall campaign, Manos said, “I never received a dime.”
Although Park offered no comment about the Knight plea agreement, Patch previously asked him about his rumored employment by the now-convicted Trevi Center owner.
Park said there was nothing secret about it. Beginning in around 2008, Park, a former U.S. Marines reservist who said he was honorably discharged after a six-year stint, offered that he was employed by Knight as an IT tech. He was an employee for a little over a year and continues to offer his services on a consulting basis, he said. Park denied any involvement in the Buckley recall campaign.
“I really didn’t know anything about it,” he said.
Bob Magee: Increase Police and Fire Presence
Lake Elsinore’s sometimes-dark politics are nothing new to incumbent Magee, who is seeking his third term on the council. He said Thursday that his past opponents have peered into every aspect of his professional and private life yet always come up empty-handed because he has nothing to hide.
The business owner has served on various local and regional committees and said Thursday that he’s "playing by the rules.” As far as his goals for the future, Magee said he puts public safety for residents above all else. He promised to place more deputies on Lake Elsinore streets, and he pledged to see Rosetta Canyon Fire Station open if re-elected.
Rick Morsch: Revitalize Historic Downtown
Public safety was also important to Morsch, a civil engineer who also serves on the Lake Elsinore planning commission. But revitalizing the city’s historic area must be a priority, he said, and improving the downtown district -- otherwise known as the Gateway District on and around Main Street, from the freeway to the lake -- will put Lake Elsinore on the map and subsequently increase tax revenues, he said.
Morsch explained that he envisions a thriving downtown arts district that would include a movie theater, restaurants and other entertainment venues.
“They will come,” Morsch said of businesses that could be attracted to an improved downtown, noting that revitalization is needed in other areas of the city and within its sphere if influence. He pointed to “the bone yard” just north of Lake Street and said, “it’s got to go,” but he cautioned there must be a balanced approach to development.
“It’s a delicate dance between satellite businesses and big business,” he added, noting that in addition to attracting services like entertainment, the city must also court research and development companies as well as high tech firms.
Peter Weber: Hire Strong Leadership
Weber is a business manager who has served as treasurer for the city. He is currently serving on the Lake Elsinore City Council after being appointed last year. He too places blight and revitalization at the top of his to-do list. But for improvements to happen, Weber said city council needs to hire a permanent city manager as well as an economic development director.
“Management,” he said, “is key. We must have strong leadership in place."