While much of America may have been tuned to the presidential debate Wednesday night, potential leaders of Murrieta presented their viewpoints on local hot-button issues such as red-light cameras, medical marijuana dispensaries, paramedic fees and term limits.
About 40 people—citizens, business owners and elected officials—turned out to the Murrieta City Council Candidate Forum sponsored by the Murrieta Chamber of Commerce at Murrieta Mesa High School.
“Our local representatives affect us more; it was a no brainer,” said 14-year Murrieta resident Marissa Crowther, about her reason for attending instead of watching President Barack Obama and Gov. Mitt Romney go head to head.
Don Murray, president and CEO of Commerce Bank of Temecula Valley in Murrieta, who is also Chairman of the Chamber Board, was clear on his reasons for attending.
“I run a business here in Murrieta, so I am totally concerned with who gets elected to the city council and this was my big opportunity to see them all at the same time,” Murray said. “And that is why I spent the time here. “
Five of six candidates for two seats on Murrieta City Council showed up for their chance to convince the audience why they should be the next councilmember. Those in attendance included incumbent Randon Lane and first-time candidates David Mueting, Joel Phillips, Dan Strick and Harry Ramos. Second-time candidate Paul Clay did not attend.
Questions were drawn from a hat and candidates were given one minute each to give their best answer.
In response to a question about whether they support red-light cameras in the city—an issue that is on the November ballot—Lane, Phillips and Strick said they did.
Phillips said he reviewed more than 2,200 pages of data regarding the cameras, and came to the “personal conclusion there was a net benefit to keeping the cameras.”
“The good news is my opinion is irrelevant, it is up to the voters,” Phillips said.
Lane and Strick agreed, saying although statistics have shown accidents have decreased at the intersections where cameras are installed; the public will have the ultimate say.
“I support the fact that this is going to the ballot,” said Lane, who is seeking his second four-year term.
Ramos and Mueting opposed the cameras—Ramos more adamantly.
“They are unconstitutional,” Ramos said. “I think you should start asking yourself that on any topic. You can quote statistics all night long…the fact of the matter is it is unconstitutional.”
Ramos said they should be called “yellow-light” cameras instead.
Mueting said the cameras might have been put in place for good intentions, but that the current system is flawed.
Medical Marijuana Dispensaries
Another question was whether medical marijuana dispensaries should be allowed in the city after a current one-year moratorium expires.
Lane said he has opposed dispensaries as a current councilmember, and will continue to.
“We follow the federal law, which basically says it is illegal,” Lane said.
Phillips, Strick and Mueting shared views similar to Lane’s.
Ramos, however, said he was opposed to the moratorium.
“I have never tried any drugs in my life…but I am more for state rights,” Ramos said. “I don’t think it is city council’s role to determine medicinal value or the morals of the people (who use it).”
Ramos said he would rather see pharmacies handle medical marijuana prescriptions, with dispensaries used as distributors.
On the subject of a $48 annual paramedic subscription program recently approved by city council, the candidates shared differing views.
Phillips, Strick and Mueting support the fee because it addresses a budget shortfall faced by the Fire Department.
“It is not a mandate, it is one you can choose to pay,” Phillips said.
Strick said imposing fees is never ideal, so he hoped it was a “measure of last resort.”
Ramos and Lane opposed the fee.
Ramos said public safety, such as fire and police, should be the first priority in the city’s budget and should not have to hit the people’s pocketbooks.
Lane said he opposed the fee as a councilmember and will continue to.
“I think it should go to the voters, let them decide,” Lane said.
Ramos, Lane, Phillips and Mueting ranked public safety among their top three priorities if elected.
Economic development and bringing jobs to the city were among the top priorities for all candidates.
“It is what keeps our city from going bankrupt,” said Strick, whose other top priority would be ensuring a trails system gets completed in Murrieta.
Lane said the Golden Triangle, the property at the Interstates 15/215 split, should be used for high-end retail and hotels. That would spur an economic engine that would in turn protect funding for public safety, he said.
Mueting expressed concern about vacant business space in the city.
“I believe we need to fill our vacancies before we start building new buildings,” Mueting said.
All candidates agreed more focus should be put on infrastructure in the Los Alamos Hills area, as well as improving Historic Downtown Murrieta.
Phillips was concerned that Murrieta did not yet have an identity.
“We need to take a step back,” Phillips said. “Temecula has defined itself as wine country, we need to focus on defining our own community. Are we a high-tech, equestrian community? I think it is important.”
Once elected Nov. 6, the new councilmembers will be subject to term limits that were approved by Murrieta voters in 2010.
Lane was the sole candidate who disapproved of the term limits.
“But the people voted and I will not try to overturn it,” Lane said.
On that, Ramos agreed.
“Our primary goal is to serve the people,” Ramos said, adding that serving too many terms leads to "good old boy" relationships with constituents.