City Council Candidates Address Issues in Public Forum

By Daniel Millhouse With nine candidates vying for three spots on the Murrieta City Council, the first of two forums sponsored by the Mu...

By Daniel Millhouse

With nine candidates vying for three spots on the Murrieta City Council, the first of two forums sponsored by the Murrieta Chamber of Commerce was held Wednesday at Shivela Middle School.

Ten questions submitted by the public and selected by the Chamber were asked to the candidates in attendance. Each candidate was given up to one minute to answer the questions asked.

Candidates in attendance included Mayor Alan Long, current city council member Rick Gibbs, Matthew Alvernaz, Kent Leeper, Jonathan Ingram, Ruthanne Taylor Berger, and Brian Barton. Two candidates not in attendance were James Richardson and Diana Serafin, who emailed the Chamber saying that she felt the forum turnout would be too low and her time was better served going door to door.

Long emphasized his family’s connection to the city, going four generations deep, and his achievements over the past four years of his term, including managing the city through a recession and promoting job growth within the city at a time when the nation was losing jobs.

When asked if the City of Murrieta has done a good job attracting businesses into the city, Long answered quickly.

“We established a fast track program," he said. "The result of that was building a hospital in record setting time. Loma Linda was built from conception to end in two years. That's the main reason Kaiser is coming here now and looking at an 80-acre campus here in Murrieta that will be the other part of the catalyst needed to fill the two areas of the 215 corridor.”

Alvarnaz spoke about his ability to make decisions during extreme scenarios due to his experience as a police officer in San Diego and as a former Army Ranger for four and a half years. He pointed out that he’s not in the race for the title because he says he has the two best titles of all already -- husband and father.

Alvarnez spoke about the city’s ability to attract business by saying, “The city council has done an outstanding job. The city has shown it’s willing to work with a lot of businesses. I do believe we can double down on this, though. We’re on the right track.”

Kent Leeper stated that he is running for city council because “I can see the darkness of tyranny from an overbearing national government and a mandate-happy state government sweeping over the land.”

When asked about Murrieta's greatest challenge in the next five years, Leeper said, “The greatest challenge would just be to fight back against the freedom encroaching mandates of the state and national government."

Ingram placed an emphasis on keeping more of the income of the citizens within the city instead of losing business to other local cities, such as Temecula and Menifee. He talked about his determination to get the Golden Triangle between the 215 and the 15 Freeways completed to bring in income and more jobs to the city.

“I’d start looking at Old Town Murrieta,” he said when asked about his capital funding priorities. “Historical Murrieta needs some attention. That means we need to get together as neighbors and residents and bring out our weed eaters and trash cans and start cleaning up.”

He added that he would like to see a synergy between new and historical Murrieta.

Berger pointed out her 30-plus years of experience in community planning and transportation infrastructure in both the public and private sectors as primary reasons to vote for her.

“I want to build up that medical research park that has the twin bookends of Kaiser and Loma Linda,” she said when asked about her vision for the city. “A really long vision is to develop a four-year university for us here in Murrieta to cultivate that next generation of residents and entrepreneurs.”

Barton, a 27-year veteran of the U.S. Marines, said he feels Murrieta is his home. Being in the military and moving quite often, he never felt that he had roots in any one particular city in his past. He also pointed out that this was his first venture into the political arena.

Barton was asked about Murrieta being a general law city rather than a charter city (a city that  is governed by its own charter document rather than the state or national laws).

“When I first looked that those two definitions, I immediately thought we should look into becoming a charter city," he said. "But I have done more research and tempered that decision.”

He added that the city was trying to do as much as possible to reduce the state’s control over the city.

“It’s something that we should look at in the future, but should be done thoughtfully, well planned, and over time," he said. “One of my concerns is that Murrieta could grow too fast in terms of population, in terms of traffic, and many other areas like overcrowding of schools.”

Gibbs, current council member since 2005, has previously served as mayor of Murrieta in 2008 and 2013. Before his time on the council, he spent three decades in military service and the aerospace industry and has a Master’s degree in public administration.

When asked about how he would assess the performance of the city manager, Rick Dudley, Gibbs said, “It was probably the best hiring we did in our lives.” He went on to praise Dudley’s performance by saying, “So far, he’s done well,” after telling the audience that the council audits his performance twice a year.

A second city council candidates forum will be held on Monday, Oct. 6, at 6:30 p.m. at Thompson Middle School. The candidates will answer more questions presented to them by the Chamber of Commerce as collected from the general public.

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