City Council candidates suggest pathways for growth

Brian Barton stands up to make a point during Thursday night's Murrieta City Council candidates forum. Murrieta 24/7 photos: Kristen ...

Brian Barton stands up to make a point during Thursday night's Murrieta City Council candidates forum.
Murrieta 24/7 photos: Kristen Spoon

At the start of Thursday night's public forum for Murrieta City Council candidates, moderator Gene Wunderlich urged the participants not to repeat what he called a "lovefest" in Monday's first forum, in which the candidates agreed on virtually all issues brought up.

The second forum was a bit more diversified, with candidates taking various approaches in answering Wunderlich's detailed and specially crafted questions about the current state and future of Murrieta. Even so, a pattern quickly developed:

Five of the six candidates -- including incumbent Harry Ramos -- took turns criticizing city staff for an approval process for new business and developers that they consider too long and costly. Some also criticized the current council for voting recently to raise developer impact fees (DIF), which they say will scare some potential business away from the city.

That left Mayor Randon Lane (right) to defend city strategy and argue for a continuation of the present direction city leadership is heading to foster further development in a city that has over 110,000 residents.

"It's easy to tell you everything they think is wrong with the city," Lane said about the other five candidates for two open council seats in the Nov. 8 election. "I'm not saying we're perfect, but the council has a vision for the city.

"We are at a pivotal time. Now is not the time to have people learning on the job."

Thursday night's forum was sponsored by the Murrieta Chamber of Commerce and the Southwest Riverside County Association of Realtors and was held at Shivela Middle School. In addition to Lane and Ramos, the candidates include Robert Tyler, Brian Barton, Kelly Seyarto and Keelan McCullough.

Seyarto, a retired fire department battalion chief, served on the City Council for nine years beginning in 1997, serving as mayor three times. Barton, a retired Marine, ran for City Council in 2014 and currently serves on the city's Traffic Commission. The other two candidates -- attorney Tyler and police officer McCullough -- have no previous experience in city government.

"If we don't change things soon, we'll be facing a lot of problems," Tyler (left) said in his closing statement. "We're heading into a budget crisis, there's increasing crime ... There are new laws that affect the entire state, and we need the funds to operate within those laws. To do that, we need to develop an entrepreneurial spirit in City Hall."

McCullough said the city "needs a fresh face and a new start. We need to get things done."

All agreed that it was necessary to attract both big business and small to the city, thus increasing the tax base and creating more local jobs. The method for getting those things done was the primary subject of discussion.

"If thing were as rosy as some say, I wouldn't be here tonight. The last 10 years, with the recession, we've barely gotten back to where we were in 2006," said Seyarto (below right), referring to the last year he served on the council before withdrawing from city government to focus on family while putting his daughters through college.

"The issue with the current council is, they're not focused on the next step. We need a regional presence to get the sales tax we need. We have to compete with Temecula, Menifee and Lake Elsinore for business."

Tyler said that as a local attorney, he has represented many clients who said they will not deal with Murrieta because its process for getting permits is too complex and expensive.

"The city is stagnant. They've been talking about the Golden Triangle as a big development for 20 years," Tyler said in reference to the valuable piece of property at the confluence of the 15 and 215 freeways. "We can't be patient; I disagree with Mr. Lane on that. A builder submits plans, the staff says go back for another plan. Then it's the 'gotcha' tactic. After another $10-20,000 and six or seven tries, years later the proper owners are buried in debt."

Barton (below) agreed that the city needs to "do things to make the city attractive ... cut down on the time and cost of processing fees. We need to overcome the stigma of not being business friendly."

Lane stressed his background on the council and his commitment to focusing on long-term deals designed to bring big businesses and smaller retail outlets residents want.

"I've sat with developers who say we don't have enough rooftops yet," Lane said. "I will continue to meet with them. We can't rush in and build a lot more gas stations and fast food places; we have enough of those. I want us to be in the triangle too, but it's about patience."

Ramos has not always gotten along with his fellow council members, who voted to replace him as mayor a year ago after allegations of misconduct. He did not follow Lane's lead in defense of the current council. Instead, he suggested a more aggressive approach in attracting businesses.

"A place like Trader Joe's looks at Temecula as its regional store. Putting one here would siphon business away," Ramos (right) said in reference to a popular request by residents. "They leapfrog us because it would put two stores so close together.

"In the early 2000s, we had a no growth policy. That's hurting us now. I voted 'no' on raising the DIF fees. We can't be more expensive than the fast growing city to our northern border (Menifee). We need to be the most affordable."

McCullough (below left) stressed the need for more streamlined development processes and efforts to keep Murrieta as safe as possible.

"Five years ago, I moved here to raise my family in a safe city," said McCullough. "I'm a police officer. I have to look over my shoulder all the time. I shouldn't have to do that as a resident in my own city. I am in favor of a public safety training facility here.

"As far as economic development, we have a lot planned, but development is another issue. We also need to be fiscally responsible. I will show you where every dollar is spent."

Lane praised the city's efforts in bring to Murrieta the largest CarMax facility in the nation; five hotels; and several medical facilities, including Loma Linda University Medical Center and the Kaiser medical center being built near Baxter Road and Antelope Road in the north part of the city.

Lane did acknowledge that the process of approving new business projects in the area should be simplified.

"We need to give staff one, two chances to look at a plan, then move on," he said.


News 3747771462003711753

Post a Comment


Follow Us

Subscribe Via E-mail