Needles City Council candidates face questions in forum
NEEDLES — The public had an opportunity to question candidates for November’s Needles City Council election in a Sept. 26 form inside the El Garces. Those present were Jeff Williams, running unposed for city mayor; Zachery Longacre, Barbara Beard and Timothy Terral, running for city council. Incumbent Louise Evans and Mayor Ed Paget, M.D., also running for city council, were not present.
The forum was hosted by the Needle Downtown Business Alliance and moderated by George DeLeon.
The candidates opening statements to start off the forum began with current vice mayor Jeff Williams. “I’m currently your vice mayor and I’m running for mayor,” said Williams. “I was mayor from 2006 through 2010. Prior to that I was elected to city council in 2000 and in the middle of my second term, I was voted mayor. I hope you vote for me and hope we get a good city council together to keep the city moving in the direction that it’s growing. We are going to start a new campaign to bring other industry into the city for our low electric rates. That way we can diversify. I’m glad we were able to catch this window of opportunity with the cannabis industry to be able to make some money and move forward.”
Longacre spoke next. “I decided to jump into the city council race a couple of months ago after a friend suggested that I go into it. My great grandfather was George Acuña and he came in the 1900s and he worked for 45 years for this city. I have two teenage boys and I want both of them to make roots here. If I’m elected I would like to entice change and if people like us, the citizens, don’t join in where will we be in 20 years? I want a place my kids can grow up and be happy, that’s why I’m running for city council.”
Beard said, “I’m an attorney and have been licensed for 36 years. I’m very good at implementing other people’s ideas and creating new policies while getting to the heart of the matter. I’m very good at research and I’m very good at digging into the problem and finding out where the problems started. I have a list of goals that if I’m elected I’ll carry out and one of the things is to help the river walk project to be completed. There are several other plans that I have for doing what I would like to see done, including beautification of the city.”
Terral said, “I’ve lived here since 2006 and I’ve been coming to Needles since I was 15 years old since this was our vacation place. It’s time to step up and get somethings corrected and implement some new ideas. We need to find some new businesses to come into this town other than cannabis, although they’re very welcome. We need to implement other retail stores in the city. I hope you vote for me.”
The public submitted questions for a single candidate or for all candidates.
Directed to Beard: What ideas/plans do you have to bring new businesses to Needles?
Beard answered: Council member (Clayton) Hazlewood proposed a 1 percent tax rebate to the cannabis businesses. The 1 percent will come out of the 10 percent that they already pay us and using that seed money they will start new (non-cannabis) businesses. There are a couple of businesses already waiting to do that and we had a lady last night during the Also directed to Beard: You are an attorney. If you were to represent a council member would you excuse yourself if you needed to?
Beard answered: First of all I wouldn’t represent any council member if I was on the council. I wouldn’t accept the case.
Directed to Williams: When will we see the grocery store that was promised over the last three elections?
Williams answered: We are still working on it. We have some good leads: Grocery Outlet, IGA (Independent Grocers Alliance) along with Smart and Final Extra. There are plans to put a strip mall in front of the Motel 6 with the anchor store being a grocery store and they have other stores committed as long as they can get an anchor store. I think with the industry we have in town along with the population going up that’s going to help a lot.
Directed to Terral: Are you for or against exiting the sheriff’s contract and returning to a local police force and how would you pay for this?
Terral answered: I’m on the fence as far as we need to replace or we need to keep them and possibly ask for different stuff, however, I am leaning toward replacing them. The way we would pay for it is since we have a very large contract we pay them already out of the general fund and if we establish our own police force it might be cheaper. The payment would come out of the general fund because I’m not in support of adding taxes to the ones we already pay.
Directed to Longacre: The city is making lots of decisions concerning marijuana businesses. Is it fair for the people of Needles that you would not be able to vote on these issues?
Longacre answered: I have no financial gain since I haven’t invested in any of these businesses. I make an hourly wage just like a normal employee. I have been a cannabis user for most of my life and medical patient for seven years and been in retail businesses for seven years. I probably know more about cannabis than everybody in this room put together. I think I would have to recuse myself if I was making a financial gain on it but I’m not. I think having me in the background to talk about cannabis for the city is a good thing as opposed to a bad thing.
Directed to all: After recent alegations of the city wasting resources/revenue on blight how do you feel about blight (debris) cleanup?
Longacre answered: I think our code enforcement has a stack that’s beyond what they’re capable of doing and I don’t mean that in a bad way at all. This town has been neglected in certain neighborhoods for 80 years. There are sidewalks missing almost everywhere, there are abandoned buildings. Adrian Chavez (code enforcement) is just one man and he works pretty hard. We see 15 people show up for a community cleanup. Why? Is it because we’re too busy? It’s code enforcement’s job? I think we need to do better as a community.
Beard answered: Adrian Chavez and Bernard Hatz have done massive work on blight cleanup. While I was putting my signs up people were coming up to me about code enforcement because Bernard was doing such a good job out there. He might have been overzealous in a couple of places but guess what, the town looks a lot better.
Terral answered: I actually believe that they’re doing an excellent job. There are a lot of properties that I’ve looked at and when I see them I think that’s not how I want my town to be represented. They’re doing a great job in cleaning them up and I don’t feel that they’re wasting revenue in doing this.
Williams answered: I don’t believe we are wasting our resources. The guys are doing a good job and I think they need more help.
Directed to all: Where will we find the money to move forward with the city’s general plan?
Beard: It’s coming from the cannabis industry. We have tax money and other revenue coming in but the bulk of it is coming from the cannabis businesses. That’s why it’s so important to pass that 1 percent tax refund which will give them an incentive to go ahead and do plans that they already thought about. The general plan is going to include rezoning: where are the downtown borders, what are we going to do to beautify the city?
Terral: Ever since cannabis was proposed and to allow it to do business it has been under the guidelines that the money brought in will be used to improve the city. Yes, the majority of the money will be coming from the cannabis businesses but there are grants that the city can apply for. In some projects, the payment will be coming from the general fund but something small like a park bench that needs to be repaired we don’t need to apply for a grant, we can just do it ourselves.
Williams: We met with the consultant to start on the general plan idea. Since it’s $750,000 we are going to have to break it down into sections such as paying for the first part then second then third. As we go along we’ll add tax revenue and other income to the general fund. The consultant we spoke with said that they’re out there looking for grants to pay for this as well.
Longacre: Our general fund is going to be funded by our cannabis industry. Adult-use sales went into effect about 30 days ago and I see nothing but more money made every single day. I looked at a grant for a grocery store a couple of weeks ago and it’s $10 million right now. We can’t match it, at least not yet. I think this city has forgotten that we are a charter city and at one time we were fully self-sufficient.
Directed to all: How important do you feel it is having a marketing person and what is an alternative?
Terral: It’s quite important to have a marketing person who knows the lay of the land. It’s good to have someone who can go out and find businesses, that know what kind of businesses would come into a town of this size. That kind of saves us some time with companies that are out of our league and we can focus more on companies that are tailor made for us.
Williams: Marketing is very important because in that world of economic development it’s all based on relationships and if you have good relationships with those people then you can get those doors open.
Longacre: We do need it. We can’t work without them because a normal joe can’t go out and grab a grocery store for a town of 4,000.
Beard: I know since I’ve lived here we’ve paid good money to at least two people to do marketing and they did a good job from what I saw. It wasn’t successful as far as I know and to me, that would represent flushing money down the toilet. I know the Needles Downtown Business Alliance does some and I believe the Needles Chamber of Commerce does some. Our marketing is going to be word-of-mouth because when we have businesses in downtown they’ll stop and not just go through Needles to get to Arizona.
Directed to all: How could the El Garces facility be promoted to encourage tourists to come to Needles and be part of their vacation plans?
Williams: I think one of the first things we have to do is get it open. At the moment it can be rented for special events but there are people who come and look at the historic building and they’re not even able to get in. I think putting the chamber of commerce in there will help with that and get people to stop.
Longacre: If they renovated the hotel upstairs that would be a great start to get people to stay here. I would like to see a restaurant and bar for Amtrak in here and some people would like to get off and eat.
Beard: Amtrak is a major attraction. I know when I look at Harvey Houses there are lots of beautiful pictures and we are on the internet with this beautiful building already. We had a plan to have a bus stop outside of the El Garces and I don’t know what happened to those plans but that’s something that we could look into again.
Terral: The first thing we need to do is to get it open and I know that there was a plan to renovate the hotel rooms up there. A restaurant would be great; or a coffee shop. We used to have tours to look at the old pictures and just like we have billboards for Spike maybe we need one for the El Garces.
Direct to all: Do you feel we need to spend taxpayer money sending multiple people to conferences?
Longacre: I do think we need to spend some city funds to send people to conferences. Do we need a team? No, but a subcommittee of three people doesn’t seem like a bad thing. Sending nobody isn’t going to do us any good at all.
Beard: No. I would say on a limited basis and how many we are sending and how often.
Terral: Yes and no. I feel that some are necessary so I think we need to attend some that are specific to our needs. We’ve gone to a lot more than three stores.
Directed to all: What are your priorities to bringing revenue gains to the city’s treasury (general fund)?
Beard: New businesses. We need a general plan for the downtown area and to beautify it for the new businesses.
Terall: It’s definitely getting the downtown rebuilt but also working on the entire town, fixing sewer and water so we can attract new business.
Williams: We need to build our reserves back up first and work on our streets and our parks and anything that is going to improve our city’s way of life. That should be a priority.
Longacre: Roads are number one for me as well as parks and rec.
Directed to all: Council member (Louise) Evans wants code enforcement to relax their efforts. Do you support this?
Williams: Absolutely not. She came up last night at the council meeting and stated that there were five code enforcement positions but I don’t know where that number came from. We have two guys that are working hard and they’re doing a good job and we need to get them help.
Longacre: I see code enforcement on the streets every day and I’m out there taking pictures of every single thing that gets done in this town. Whether it be a gutter cleaned out or public works trimming someone’s curbs and they’re out there every day. If you would count vacant homes alone they’ve got the next five years worth of work. They’re not waiting for money, this town needs to be cleaned up.
Beard: I think what she (Evans) intended to say was that the efforts of one code enforcement officer be reallocated to include overtime pay. She was hoping to save money by putting one code enforcement officer, at least partially, on reducing overtime cost. That’s what I understood but I’m not sure. Code enforcement should not be relaxed. It’s just starting to work visually and we need to make sure they are doing even more.
Terral: Code enforcement is doing an excellent job and in my opinion, we should have another or several more code enforcement officers at least until the city does get up to code. The overtime pay that they’re getting would pay for another person and we could most likely get more done.
Directed to all: What would you do to help the poor in our community?
Terral: I’m not sure what the city can do to help the poor other than clean up the town. I work with Set Free Church to hire laborers when I have extra projects but I’m not sure it’s the city’s place to elevate the poor other than giving them the resources: businesses, jobs, etc.
Beard: I would like to see our farmers market restored to El Garces. I think that we got stalled on that with a problem we had with someone in the city. The health department in San Bernardino County is difficult and I would hope that with help we can pass all of their rules and regulations. The seniors have the ability to take the bus and they can attend the farmers market and buy fresh fruits and vegetables and other products that the market sells.
Longacre: I would like to see the cannabis industry open up and hire the poor in this town since we were promised employment.
Williams: I think it should go back to how it was when I was growing up. When you had someone in need you would take them to the churches or nonprofits and they would give them a handout. I think the government should be involved only in assisting the nonprofits and how we can help them assist the poor.
The public asked: How do you plan on cleaning up the meth manufacturing in motels, apartments and houses in Needles?
Williams: Well if you know something you need to say something especially in meth manufacturers because that stuff is explosive and that’s not a good thing. I did my part when I was in the sheriff department cleaning up the meth and heroin in this community but I’m out of the loop now and I leave it up to the sheriff’s department.
Longacre: Drugs are everywhere and Needles has its fair share. That’s going to be hard with a sheriff department who picks and chooses what they do for $2.2 million a year. Rehabilitation is the only way to help those who are on drugs. So we’ve got to help them and not get on social media and call them names.
Beard: It’s a law enforcement issue primarily and I met with Captain (Ross) Tarangle and talked to him about the drug problem. If I saw something I would call 911 immediately. So if you see something, say something.
Terral: The drug problem isn’t just Needles it’s national and one of the problems in California IS the jails are full so when they do the busts they have to cite and release them. If I see someone manufacturing or selling yes I’m going to make a phone call. As far as our children, we need to educate them and teach them that they don’t want to go down this path. In some cases, they’ve learned what they have seen and other cases they see it and they turn away from it.
Directed to all: What strategy would you support to improve the city’s water utility infrastructure? New well? Erect storage tank? Water treatment plan?
Williams: We definitely need a new well since our well is working 23 hours a day and we have a storage tank, we’re just finding a place to put it. As far as wastewater, we still have plenty of room since we are running at half capacity now. As far as a strategy to get there, I’m not sure. We’ve got some money in our capital improvement fund for the utilities and we are already looking to get that done.
Longacre: Having no political background this is a little rough for me but last night (city council meeting) they were talking about drilling a well. They were talking about one ran 23 hours a day but I really can’t answer that.
Beard: Rick Daniels said our wells are fine but they just changed the law and two of our tanks have too much manganese in them. I asked can we treat for it if we don’t have the money to build a well because someone said that it would be a $4 million proposition and those numbers were old numbers so it’ll probably be more.
Terall: The strategy that I would have to support is the one that the city council comes up with because there’s not necessarily a fix-all answer. So yes, we do need a new well and another storage tank and from what I understand our sewer treatment is capable of handling the new homes that could be built here. The pipe that gets it there isn’t capable of handling the extra flow so we need to repair the sewer and water before we fix our roads so we don’t have to do it later and tear them all up. It’s something that needs to be discussed among the council and find out what the actual cost is to do this and then prioritize them based on need.
Directed to all: How would you balance the budget if revenue does not materialize from the cannabis industry?
Williams: We really underestimated the marijuana and we are already above that number so I think the staff has done a great job in balancing the budget. As long as we stay in that conservative mode of balancing the budget we won’t have to count on that extra revenue.
Longacre: Right now we are spending about $5 million annually and if the cannabis industry fell out I do think that any budget can be trimmed. Everything could be worked into the right number.
Beard: We have sufficient funds right now and the two major cannabis operations haven’t even started yet. I don’t think we would have a problem. If we do get new businesses started while they’re here then those businesses will generate revenue for the budget in case the cannabis industry does leave. So that would be an even greater reason to let them in and encourage them to invest in other non-cannabis businesses with that 1 percent tax refund.
Terral: We are doing an excellent at this point because they are here. If they were to go under or decide to close up we would have to sit down and reprioritize every project and make sure that we can basically keep the food on the table and the lights on.
The forum ended with candidates’ closing statements, starting with Terral
“I love this town and I want to see nothing but the best for this town and I’m very thankful for the cannabis industry coming in here and giving us the opportunities that we have now to fix our roads and infrastructure. If I’m elected I’m going to do what is right for the city of Needles to keep them on the right track, bring in new businesses and keep the businesses that we have.”
Beard said, “It’s been said by people that live here if we had our own police department we would have people that knew the students at the schools and I know that’s very important for people who have families here. I believe my profession as an attorney for 36 years would serve me well in city council in many ways and I have already served as the proverbial thorn in the side for many years. One city manager where I used to live described me as both passionate and tenacious in my client negotiations and representations in city issues. I do want to say one thing that’s very important to me and that I’m a Christian. I believe in the Trinity: Father, Son, and Holy Ghost and I believe that Jesus is the son of God and he died on the cross for our salvation. My faith is important for me and I’m very strong on the constitution and on our rights in the constitution.
Longacre said, “I’m not getting to politics to make friends since I have a whole city of friends and family but like I said I have two young boys that want to live here. I believe my grandparents came here about 118 years ago and drew the blueprints for this town and I’d like to write the blueprints for the next 20 years for our city. On election day, I’m here to invoke change so vote for me.”
Williams joked, “I’d appreciate your vote because you know we are all up here for the money (city council gets paid $1 a month). Seriously, he continued, “I’ve been working for the city for a long time before I was on the city council. I would just like to keep the city moving forward and work with all the community and make sure that we leave a city for our kids and grandkids to be proud of. So on election day you can vote for anybody, just go vote.”