EL CENTRO – The El Centro Chamber of Commerce staged a public forum debate to a packed room, Wednesday, September 23 between seven different candidates for three city council seats. Questions were asked of the candidates from the chamber of commerce and the audience.
The challengers were Edgard Garcia, an attorney-at-law versed on Contract and Business Law, Tomas Oliva, a Masters in Public Administration, Les Smith, a board member of the El Centro Chamber of Commerce for 8 years, and Pete Rodriguez, a mental rehab technician, plus the chairman of the Community Service Commission.
The incumbents debating for a chance to retain their seats were Jason Jackson, Efrain Silva, and Sedalia Sanders.
Job creation questions dominated the most time. Other topics ranged from city infrastructure and public safety to Planned Parenthood.
When it came to job creation, the three incumbents, Sanders, Jackson, and Silva all agreed on what should be done, expressing their “Vision 2050”.
“There are a lot of priorities that have to be taken care of. The number one priority is the economic growth and creation of jobs for our citizens,” answered Efrain Silva to the hypothetical question of spending one million dollars for the city.
Tomas Oliva was asked how to diminish gang activity. “In order to address the public safety of the city and prevent gang activity, I think a lot of gang members do not feel invested in the day to day life of the average citizen. Being a young candidate, I think working with our local schools and speaking with our at-risk youth would help prevent them from going down the path to being a criminal. We must empower our police department and make sure we have enough officers on patrol.”
Jason Jackson was tasked with how to attract new businesses to El Centro.
“One of the things we have all worked on is how do we want the city of El Centro to look like in the year 2050? To address that, we have to realize that although agriculture will always be a big part of Imperial County, at some point we cannot continue to put all of our chips into agriculture. We have to develop other industries, for not only our city, but also our county.”
The El Centro public library had its share of the debate as six candidates took turns expressing their views.
Les Smith said, “It is unfortunate we have not been able to move forward with building a new and more modern facility that can be utilized. The library has an important function to the city. It allows for low income people to have Internet access, and for young students to use it, also.”
Sedalia Sanders rebutted, “A moment ago a question was asked what would I do with a million dollars. Well a new library and a new police department are the most needed things in this community to this point. Building these would also generate jobs.”
Efrain Silva expanded on Sanders’ comment. “We all recognize how vital a local library is to a community. They perform many functions in a city. And none of us are content with the library we currently have. At the last council meeting, we approved the retention of a consultant to perform a feasibility study to assess the size and location of the library.
Jason Jackson also expanded on his co-council member’s answer saying, “It is a very important issue to the council. Two months ago we formed two task forces to look for a permanent location for a library, and also a permanent location for the police department. We’ve talked about what we’d do with a million dollars, but a million dollars these days is not that much money.”
Edgard Garcia added a new idea of using the library as a hub to work in conjunction with school boards and local non-profits for students, to use for financial aid processes, and college degrees.
Pete Rodriguez spoke saying instead of developing a new library and police department, money should go towards the Parks and Recreational fields.
Les Smith spoke about a new police department. As a member of the Vision 2050 task force, he said the city has sent a loud message for improved safety and less vandalism. “This is directly correlated to the fact that El Centro has the same amount of police officers as they did in 1989.”
Downtown revitalization was addressed to Edgard Garcia. He said local businesses, El Centro Police Department, and citizens expressed concern with the methadone clinic. Garcia posed a local businesses and council members coalition address the need to eradicate substance abusers roaming the streets.
When asked his stance on Planned Parenthood being opened in El Centro, Pete Rodriguez said he had difficulty with the decision the council made.
Mayor Silva rebutted him, “The council held no jurisdiction over that decision. The council did not approve of the opening of the clinic.”
Elections for the three council seats are to be held on November 3.