Candidates Expound on Menifee Community Issues at Forum

Differing viewpoints regarding the priority of road construction projects and methods of economic gr...

Differing viewpoints regarding the priority of road construction projects and methods of economic growth in Menifee were highlights of a candidates forum Wednesday night, sponsored by Menifee 24/7.

Candidates also debated the effectiveness of the current Menifee City Council in working together and with city staff. Eight of the nine candidates for mayor and two council district seats participated, with only District 1 candidate Greg August absent.

About 100 people gathered in the theater at Paloma Valley High School for what was the last scheduled forum featuring all candidates before the Nov. 6 election. Candidates gave opening and closing statements and answered questions, many of which were sent via email from Menifee 24/7 readers.

City officials previously identified the No. 1 priority in alleviating traffic around Interstate 215 to be the Newport Road Interchange. Planning and design of that project is taking place and partial funding has been secured for reconstruction designed to widen and improve the Newport Road bridge, on-ramps and off-ramps.

While some candidates favored the commitment to that project as the first step in a long-range plan to alleviate traffic congestion, others favored putting the Newport project on hold. More important, they say, is the construction of an additional freeway overpass at Holland Road -- a project that lacks a design plan and funding at this point.

"I believe we should proceed with the Newport project first," said Bill Zimmerman, candidate for a city council seat in District 3, the southeast portion of the city. "I don't think we pull the funding on that project and trip up the process of getting it done. And if I see Wal-Mart and other projects going in near Scott Road, I think that gets priority, too."

Mayoral candidate Darcy Kuenzi, responding to a related question about the traffic problems on Newport Road, agreed with Zimmerman, saying there already are short-term improvements in place there. She pointed to plans to eliminate the center median to increase the left-turn pocket from westbound Newport onto Haun Road, as well as a plan to widen Newport Road east of Antelope Road.

But Scott Mann and John F. Smith, the other two mayoral candidates, disagreed.

"Holland Road should be the No. 1 project," Mann said. I was one who argued to get the Holland overpass project in the plans originally.

"We have three east-west arterials in town: Scott, Newport and McCall. If they begin working on Newport without having the Holland overpass first, can you imagine what a traffic mess it will be?"

Smith, a newcomer to city government with a background as a fraud investigator, agreed.

"We need the Holland Road interchange; that's the best solution," he said. "We can hold off on Newport for a while."

Wallace Edgerton, a current city councilman with years of service in Menifee and Long Beach before that, spoke of his experience in city government and was critical of areas where he believes the inexperience of others has been a negative factor.

"We serve the voters," said Edgerton, who is running against Zimmerman for a council seat in District 3. "As city council members, we should stay on top of the staff; that's our responsibility. We don't need to disagree with everything they do, but we can certainly question actions that are proposed."

With August absent, the three District 1 (northwest) candidates present were current council member Sue Kristjansson, Carol Sullivan and Nick Martin. All are in favor of improved public safety and a revitalization of the Sun City Shopping Center. They also favor better access for Sun City area residents to the businesses in Countryside Marketplace on Newport Road, although they differ on ways to bring that about.

Kristjansson says she believes in the feasibility of creating paths between the two areas for exclusive travel by golf carts -- a method of transportation used by many Sun City residents. Martin, however, says he questions the feasibility of such an idea.

Kristjansson agreed with others who favored the addition of white-collar jobs to the city, although she cautioned that it's a complex process because of the specific criteria big companies require in order to relocate here. Martin said he believes much more strongly in the positive effect blue-collar jobs have on the local economy.

Sullivan, president of Sun City Concern and the Rotary Club of Menifee, said her priority is the welfare of senior citizens in her district, although she is also concerned about differences between seniors and younger residents.

"I don't see a lot of respect from either side," she said.

"It's not a generation gap, it's a respect gap," Mann said when answering a question about the needs of young families who have moved into the area in recent years. "We have a great opportunity to serve all our residents. I'd like to establish a parks commission so we can determine how to direct the recreational opportunities moving forward."

Smith criticized city officials for what he called excessive spending, saying "this city council will put Menifee into backruptcy in the future if this continues." He offered to show residents copies of city salary and expense figures after the meeting.

Edgerton said his No. 1 priority is protecting home values in the city. For this reason, he is opposed to "excessive development" in the future.

While Edgerton opposes extensive negotiations with developers, Zimmerman, Kristjansson and Kuenzi say they believe in the need for increased business to help build the city's tax revenue base and provide for future amenities.

"Menifee finds itself at a crossroads," Kuenzi said. "Which direction are we going to take?"

That's what voters will decide on Nov. 6.

A video of the entire candidates forum will be available on later this week.


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