State Senate District 23 Candidates' Forum

On Wednesday I attended the State Senate District 23 candidates’ forum hosted by the Calimesa Chamber of Commerce. There was a respectable turnout and most of the candidates also showed up. There was one notable exception, Mike Morrell, a sitting assemblyman, was unable to make it due to obligations in Sacramento.

Morrell sent his “Campaign Manager”, Ross, but unlike other campaign managers we’ve come to know, Morrell’s campaign manager was not able to, or told not to, present any of Mr. Morrell’s positions. I realize an assemblyman might have pressing business in the state capitol, although there didn’t appear to be anything on the Assembly’s official schedule that I could see, but it was unfortunate his campaign manager wasn’t allowed to, as he put it, “Put words into his (Morrell’s) mouth.” Since when don’t campaign managers express the opinions of their candidate?

The candidates that did attend were San Jacinto Councilwoman Crystal Ruiz, Calimesa Councilman Jeff Hewett and business woman Ameenah Fuller. They addressed many of the important state issues such as early release of prisoners, high speed rail, fracking and off shore oil drilling, public education and President Obama’s Affordable Care Act, Obamacare.

I found the forum very informative and in my opinion, the format used by Donna Lotz, the Chamber’s President, worked very well. The moderator was former longtime Yucaipa Mayor Dick Riddell. He presented the questions and the candidates were allowed a minute to respond. The time keeper was flexible and the candidates were all very cordial.

I submitted a question asking the candidates about their position on the application for a land use zoning change to move the Gateway warehouse forward. I also asked what industries they would promote in the Pass. I know this is not a State issue and I assumed each candidate might choose not to address it but I expect my State representatives to help their constituents navigate local and county politics and to use their influence on our local leaders to provide us a voice when an issues as important to the health and welfare of our community as the Gateway project is opposed by an overwhelming number of their constituents.

As I listened to each of the candidates address national issues, issues in which a state representative would have little or no control over, I was hopeful they would address our local environmental concerns. Each of the candidates told us about the great things they had done for their local communities and what they would do as our state representative to bring jobs and opportunities to our communities.

Crystal Ruiz talked about her efforts to bring the film industry to San Jacinto. Ameenah Fuller focused on the problems in the City of San Bernardino and how she would work in Sacramento to bring focus to San Bernardino’s problems. Jeff Hewett promoted all the great work by Yucaipa Valley Water District and suggested that the level of purity the YVWD process has obtained could be used to lure computer chip manufacturers to our area.

With all this talk about national and local issues I was eager to hear their responses to my questions. I was surprised that the Calimesa Councilman, Mr. Hewett, was the only one of the three to argue that the Gateway warehouse was a county issue and wasn’t appropriate to address in the forum for candidates seeking a statewide position. Mrs.  Ruiz and Ms. Fuller both told us when there are so many of the community members focused on a specific issue, their elected officials need to listen. Mr. Hewett said this was a County issue and he didn’t believe the State government should be telling local and regional governments how to do their job. He used this opportunity to promote his belief that their needs to be less regulation at the state level.

I agree with Mr. Hewett’s view that we are over-regulated and it is driving businesses away from our state and I agree with almost every other position he expressed in the forum but I was disappointed in the way he handled this issue. His belief that this is a County issue and he didn’t need to take a position worries me. The Beaumont City Council has decided that this is an important enough issue to take an official stance even when they have no authority to approve or reject the zoning change. The Calimesa City council is planning on annexing the Gateway warehouse property into their city in order to collect the property taxes and additional TUMF revenue (Transportation Uniform Mitigation Fees).

“TUMF is a development impact assessment which provides funding for transportation improvements required to support new development. The assessment is based on the number of vehicle trips new development or site improvements will generate.” – TUMF Annual and Five Year Report Fiscal Year 2012-2013

A new warehouse with 480 truck bays would add hundreds, if not thousands, daily vehicle trips to Calimesa’s TUMF assessed amounts. The property taxes would just be icing on the cake.

State Senator Candidate Hewett can argue this is a county issue and therefore choose not to address it in a forum for voters but Calimesa Councilman Hewett will have to consider this is a local issue and, with his colleagues, weigh the value of the increased TUMF and property tax revenue versus the health and welfare of his city and its neighbors. I hope he will decide to take a position soon, before I send in my ballot. If not, he’s lost my vote.