Council Candidates Discuss Issues in Forum at Bear Creek

Candidates for Murrieta City Council took part in a forum Wednesday night at Bear Creek Golf Club. (Photos by Kristen Spoon) In one of ...

Candidates for Murrieta City Council took part in a forum Wednesday night at Bear Creek Golf Club.
(Photos by Kristen Spoon)

In one of the first panel discussions among candidates running for three Murrieta City Council seats, two current council members seeking re-election and five challengers addressed key issues Wednesday in a forum held at Bear Creek Golf Club.

Club members listened as Mayor Alan Long and council member Rick Gibbs were joined by Matthew Alvernaz, Brian Barton, Jonathan Ingram, Kent Leeper and Ruthanne Taylor Berger in elaborating on their campaign platforms. Candidates James Richardson and Diana Serafin were not present.

Long (left) emphasized his many years of commitment to the community as a 40-year resident, his experience in emergency services as a Ballation Chief with the Anaheim Fire Department, and his contributions to local government. Previously a member of city commissions, including the Planning Commission, he was elected to the city council in 2010 and currently serves as mayor.

"In 2010, you set a record by voting me onto the city council with the highest number of votes," said Long, who along with his wife is raising the fourth generation of Longs in Murrieta. "When I took office, foreclosures were up, businesses were closing ... people thought I was crazy for running. Now foreclosures are almost nonexistent and revenues have been up for four quarters in a row."

Gibbs, a council member since 2005, has played a key role in bringing Loma Linda Hospital to Murrieta and was involved in negotiations that are bringing Kaiser Permanente to the same area. He also was instrumental in the development of the city's Regional Technology Innovation Center, in which start-up technology businesses are provided low-cost office space in the former City Hall facility and are provided resources to help those businesses grow.

"In spite of a 27 percent loss in revenue in recent years, we tightened our belts," said Gibbs, right. "Your city today is on the right path. More jobs were created in Murrieta than were lost in the recession. Murrieta has a proven leadership team. We focus on attracting businesses for the future."

Berger currently serves as chair of the Planning Commission and has over 30 years experience in the public and private sector withing with civic and government issues. A 25-year resident of the city, she serves as deputy executive director of the Western Regional Council of Governments.

"I believe having experience with regional, state and local agencies and having an understanding of how government works gives me that practicality and unique experience to know how to put a program together," she said.

Ingram (left), who has a background as a developer and consultant, said he moved here a few years ago from Los Angeles to seek the quality of life Murrieta offers. He said he will fight for the rights of residents to keep their tax dollars in the city to continue positive growth.

"The federal government is taking so much of our tax dollars, by the time it gets back to our city, we’re in desperation," Ingram said. "We need to keep more of our money. It doesn’t belong to Governor Brown. It needs to stay here with us. Then we can supply the resources needed here."

Alvernaz, a police officer in the San Diego area, said he would draw upon his experience as a public servant to help the city council identify factors affecting public safety.

"We need to consider the volume of population and traffic," said Alvernaz, right. "We need to think about the effects of high density. I know we have to abide by certain housing requirements from the state, but where do we start putting these apartments? The growth of city is astounding. We need to keep the apartments spread out throughout the community so we're not isolating people who need public services.

"I'm not doing this for a title. I already have two of the best titles in the world – father and husband. I’m part of this community. I want to ensure we have prosperous opportunities for our future, our children. I make you a promise I will do whatever it takes to earn your trust."

Barton, a 27-year veteran of the U.S. Marines, moved here seven years ago while stationed at Camp Pendleton. Now retired, he said he is committed to making Murrieta an even better place to live.

"For many years, I did not have a hometown," said Barton, left. "I want to give back to my hometown because that's Murrieta now. This is where I’ve decided to stay the rest of my life.

"So many people are apathetic and not involved. If elected, my pledge to you is I will do everything I can to be a servant leader. I will have one of five votes, and I guarantee you every time I use that vote, my intent is to serve you. I will be cheap with your money. I will vote for things that support the most people, not the few."

Leeper said he is running to represent the common man.

"The average person feels pretty small in the face of national government," said Leeper, right. "I’m running for the little people. They’re the ones that are supposed to be running this country. They need to realize they have the power to push back against this."

In response to a question about his role in improving emergency services to the residents of Bear Creek, Long spoke of his background as a firefighter and his accomplishments in improving response times.

"We identified a long ambulance response time," Long said. "The community rallied behind myself and council member Gibbs as we went to the county about this. The contract for emergency services had never gone out to bid. We thought the best way to improve services was to go out to bid.

"How archaic our response times were. Now there are definitive response times. We’ve reduced the response time by two minutes. Today, a person is 4 ½ times more likely to survive a heart attack in Murrieta than anywhere else in the nation."

Berger (left) addressed the issue of Murrieta Creek, which has been the site of flooding in recent years and is in need of funding to create a flood control plan.

"I'm very familiar with the Murrieta Creek issue," she said. "Millions of dollars are needed. "The city stepped up to the plate. We worked with state and federal sources. But we need to stay at the forefront of the delegation to get that money appropriated."

Gibbs elaborated on the issue, with which he has been closely involved.

"The Army Corps of Engineers put money into the kitty and the money disappeared," he said. "We did get to first base. Murrieta, Temecula and the county came up with enough money to do the second and into the third phase of the project. But it’s our local money being spent. If we only do phases one, two and three and forget phase four and flooding hits, it will wipe out everything we've done before."

Gibbs also addressed the issue of the so-called Golden Triangle -- a large parcel of land at the confluence of the 15 and 215 Freeways, where the owner has worked with several developers over the last 20 years. Still, ground has never been broken on what could be a mall or some other kind of commercial center.

"The city has worked closely with the property owner," Gibbs said. "They have negotiated with over 40 competing developers. The owner has downscaled from 1.7 million square feet to 600,000. They wanted more benefits while city revenues would’ve decreased. To protect the city, the council at the time said no. We have offered the owners third party mediation and that will begin presumably before the end of the month."

Ingram said he believes the 20-year Golden Triangle issue has gone on long enough.

"The city has made a diligent effort, but we need to figure out how to burn the candles all night long if that’s what it takes to figure out how to get this done," he said. "It will be an asset to our community."

Barton said Murrieta needs to attract more manufacturing jobs. He said he respects the city's commitment to high-tech industry, but that "we need more jobs for the populace so they don't have to commute so far."

Berger closed by speaking of her vision for the city.

"The key words are quality, experience and results," she said. "I have the knowledge of how government works but with a private sector foundation of how to get things done. A total of $35 million in transportation funding has come back to this community. From that, 3600 jobs have been created.

"Through my work on the Planning Commission, I have recommended to the city council development projects for housing, hotels and the Triangle. Our long-term vision is paying off. We are making it easier for businesses to come here, but that doesn’t mean applicants can do whatever they want, when they want. We have to have a standard of excellence and apply it evenly."

The city election will take place Nov. 4.

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