Brawley council candidates square off at COLAB forum

Brawley city council candidates (left to right) Sam Couchman, Helen Noriega, Luke Hamby, and Ramon Castro participate in a forum presented by COLAB Thursday at the Brawley city council chambers. Lloyd Miller photo.

BRAWLEY – The Coalition of Labor, Agriculture and Business of Imperial Valley (COLAB) held a Brawley City Council candidate forum Thursday evening at city hall for four candidates running for two seats in the November 7 election. Two candidates are incumbents, Sam Couchman and Helen Noriega, while two are challengers, Luke Hamby and Ramon Castro.

The questions came from COLAB Director Kay Day Pricola and attendant citizens, with queries ranging from geothermal programs to marijuana dispensaries.

Each candidate delivered a three-minute opening statement, with Ramon Castro drawing the chance to proceed first. Castro said he was born and raised in the Valley and has a wife and five children. He is a veteran and has worked as an electrician, as well as serving as his electrical union’s organizer. Castro said community service has been important to him since he was a child.

Candidate Luke Hamby told the room he was a business owner, more specifically, a building contractor who specializes in remodels.

“I take things in bad shape and make them better,” Hamby said. He said he has three items on his platform he wanted to accomplish if elected – make Brawley a business-friendly city, both in perception and in fact; beautify the parks again; and make the city government more efficient. “I want the citizens to get the best bang for their buck,” said Hamby.

Incumbent Helen Noriega said, “I have been in politics for 16 years. I was on the BUHS board because I believe in students’ rights.” She talked about her community service of working the BUHS concession stand and cooking. She admitted her time serving on the council at first was hard, but she has learned what she can do and what she can’t. One of her goals is to tear down the downtown blight of ruined buildings and put in a mall.

Sam Couchman, the other incumbent, opened by speaking of his 40 years in civic duty, and his life-long love for Brawley and the community. He said his 23 years working as the Imperial County Workforce Developer director taught him about obtaining grants, administering multi-million dollar projects, and working with local, state, and federal agencies.

“All this experience – I used to make Brawley better,” he said. Couchman noted the improvements in Brawley since he was on the board, naming the new businesses, the splash pad, new baseball field, and housing developments returning to Brawley.

During the question and answer period, all four candidates said they supported the utility tax called Measure W, which Brawley will also be voting on in November. Hamby spoke strongly of making Brawley more business-friendly, such as saying “yes” the first time to new businesses, instead of making them come back often to get permission.

Couchman talked about bringing in business at the bypass and making the schools better.

Castro mentioned focusing on ways to raise money for the community and building up the industrial park by bringing in manufacturing businesses and capturing the geothermal market.

Noriega said if re-elected, she will continue to work on progress already begun such as continuing Wildcat Avenue and IID covering canals. She also stressed cleaning up downtown and putting up more Christmas lights.

The only real division between candidates on the issues dealt with the legalizing of marijuana. Hamby, Noriega, and Couchman all said they believed the city and law enforcement would incur more problems and expenses when marijuana is legalized, although all agreed the medical benefits are real and medical marijuana should be sold only through a licensed pharmacy.

Castro said he was an ardent supporter of the city allowing marijuana to be sold within the city limits, although he said he not only does not smoke it, he does not know anyone who does.

“We have to change our stance on marijuana,” Castro said. “It has passed in California and we will miss out on a great financial opportunity. It will bring in more money to the city. Otherwise, bootleggers will make all the money. We need to legalize it, regulate it, and tax it. It is a good drug.”

Moderators for the forum were Greg Smith, Sue Giller and Kay Day Pricola, who presided over the time clock. The whole program was taped by KXO Radio.