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El Centro candidates questioned at forum

October 12, 2001|By RUDY YNIGUEZ, Staff Writer

The public had its first opportunity Thursday to meet and ask questions of those seeking election to the El Centro City Council in November.

The candidates are Pamela Gaspar, Ray Castillo, Cheryl Walker and David Dhillon. Dhillon was in Washington, D.C., on business and did not attend.

The forum was sponsored by the El Centro Chamber of Commerce & Visitors Bureau. Each candidate was allowed three minutes for a self-introduction and two minutes to answer questions.

Castillo began by saying he was born in Calexico, raised in El Centro, and is a life-long resident of the Imperial Valley. He said he is well-informed about community issues. He said his hero is his father, a decorated World War II veteran, from whom he learned honesty, hard work and a good work ethic.

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Castillo said his years in law enforcement and his education qualify him to seek office.

Walker introduced herself by saying she ran for City Council in 1997 because of her concern for a city that had just lost revenues when voters rejected a city utility tax. She said she decided to become involved and was determined to make the city into a full-service city and the best possible place to raise children.

She said she is "very, very" satisfied with what she has accomplished in her first term, including improvements to the library, parks and recreation, the pending Little Padres Parks, after-school programs, nuisance abatement, downtown revitalization, the Centerpoint Business Park and more.

"I'd like another four years to keep moving forward," she said.

Gaspar said her reason for seeking election is because she does not like the way the city looks. For example, she said the east side of the city does not look as nice as the west side, that city parks lack restroom facilities, that the parks are not beautiful enough, and that the city needs more fruit and nut trees, shrubs, flowers and running water.

Gaspar said there is insufficient development on the city's east side, too many homeless veterans and unemployment is too high.

The candidates were asked what they would do to retain the city's retail sector and what they would do to ensure the city remains the Valley's leading retail sector.

Gaspar said such conditions depend on supply and demand, that downtown merchants must supply the needs demanded by the public. She said to do that, merchants must become proactive and meet with the public to determine those needs. She also said the downtown area is not easy to find.

"You have to find your way there," she said. "Without a downtown we don't have a city."

Castillo said the city needs to develop an overall business plan to draw new businesses to the area. He praised the city for its redevelopment efforts in the downtown but said some blight remains. He said more special events, like the farmers market, should be held downtown. He also said the city's Planning Department must process business applications more quickly.

Walker said sales tax dollars in the city have increased and will continue to do so as a result of the downtown revitalization program. She said the expansion of the city's redevelopment area — to include Valley Plaza — should help increase business and revenues from the sales tax.

Walker also said the city continues to draw business as witnessed by the recent $1.3 million federal grant to build a small-business incubator in the city's successful Centerpoint Business Park.

The candidates were asked where they stand on a proposed quarter-cent increase in the sales tax for the purpose of increasing fire and police protection.

Walker said with the loss of revenues from the failure to support the utility tax, she was surprised some people would not support taxing themselves for such basic needs. She said there are certain overwhelming city needs the city cannot pay for itself, such as a new fire station with the appropriate equipment and personnel. She also said a sales tax increase is only one of several revenue enhancements being considered.

Castillo said he is unsure about increasing taxes, as the increases would hurt those who can least afford them. He said the people should vote on the issue. He also said the city must provide the best services it can with the revenues it has.

Gaspar said she is opposed to any tax increase, particularly with the area's high unemployment.

"I have a problem with additional taxes since I am an advocate of reducing taxes," she said.

Gaspar said the city should seek money from its residents through weekly contributions of what people would spend on the state lottery. She said if each person donated a $1 per week, the city would have about $40,000 weekly to spend on such things as fire engines and police cars.

The candidates were asked questions about the creation of certain taxable districts, whether city department heads should continue to report to the city manager or directly to the City Council, nuisance abatement, the use of water-retention basins and the potential of creating a new zoning called rural residential.

Staff Writer Rudy Yniguez can be reached at 337-3440.

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