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Fitzgerald, Holden answer questions at TERC forum

Fitzgerald, Holden answer questions at TERC forum

It wasn’t exactly a debate. Although when you bring two candidates for the same office together, it doesn’t matter what kind of meeting it is, there’s likely to be sparks, even if subdued. Judy Fitzgerald and Stef Holden, candidates for the 4th city council district to represent the southern part of the city, were guests of The Escondido Republican Club (TERC) Monday, January 15 at J&M restaurant.

To get the most contentious question out of the way first, Holden is for the proposed one cent sales tax that a citizens’ group wants to put on the November ballot. Fitzgerald is against it. That’s about the only issue they seemed to disagree on in this intimate setting with fellow Republicans.

Holden spoke first, admitting that because the two were invited at the last minute when former San Diego Mayor Kevin Faulconer was a no-show that he didn’t have time to do a speech.  “I don’t do Power Points,” said Holden, “because people look at the Power Point and not you.”

Last week, Holden filed a 501 Form declaring his intention to run for City Council District 4.

The official nomination period is July 15 – August 14 for District 4. During that time candidates are required to gather 20 signatures from registered voters in District 4 to qualify for the ballot. The March primary we have all heard so much about is only for state and federal offices. City elections will be held in November.

Holden is often asked why a guy with an MBA is running the American Legion bar. “My job enables me to serve on several boards of directors, including TERC, Rotary vice president, 2nd Vice Commander of the American Legion post 149, including as president of the board of the Brothers of 6 Charities,” he said.

Because of his job flexibility, “My career has become devoted to service above self (a reference to the Rotary Club motto, an organization he also serves on).” He added, “I’m not running against Judy, I’m running for the city of Escondido.”

Although a Republican, Holden stressed that issues affecting the city know no political boundaries. “To quote former Mayor Lori Holt Pfeiler, potholes don’t have political affiliations.” He added, “I’m the adult in the room, reaching across the aisle for the betterment of the community.”

He noted that  “Homelessness is out of control” and the city of San Diego’s anti-encampment ordinance has driven the homeless out into the rest of the county.

He’s also concerned about the city’s financial health and the businesses that have been shuttered on Grand Avenue.  “I ask the question, if I was a business being courted by Escondido, would I want to move here?” and “If we don’t have good schools why would I want to move here?”

The budget problem, said Holden, “is not a Republican or a Democratic issue, it’s a ‘I can look at a balance sheet’ issue.”

He has seen several presentations by city manager, Sean McGlynn, that indicate that without a substantial increase in funding sources, “within three years we won’t be able to fully fund fire and police.” Escondido has the same number of police it had in 2005, and the population is considerably larger, Holden said.

Judy Fitzgerald took over the rostrum to give some background on herself. “I’m a first generation Mexican-American,” she said. Her family crossed into the U.S. “because of the promise this country provides, opportunities that other countries don’t provide.”

Dave Vincent is running to retain his seat on the Escondido High School District board. TERC will host a bunch of school board candidates at its February meeting.

She filed her intention to file papers in August 2023.

Fitzgerald bought her first home in Escondido in ‘87, and started the 1st Crossfit gym in 2009, employing military and retired military, and financially supporting The Wounded Warrior Project and Fitness Freedom Project- an organization that serves Vets w/PTSD through fitness therapy.

She learned much from the experience, lessons she has been happy to share with other businesses. “We didn’t know what we didn’t know,” she recalls. Since then, as a member of the Chamber, she has done what she can “to help businesses to create a successful business.”

She added, “Businesses are important because business is the lifeblood of the community. If we can help them thrive that will create revenue for us.”

Fitzgerald continued, “I am former law enforcement. I’ve seen first-hand what works and what doesn’t. Our law enforcement needs funding. It is our responsibility to find those funds.” She is an advocate for the COP (Community Oriented Policing)  and the special details such officers can make to troubled neighborhoods. “But there aren’t enough COPS,” she said.

Another type of officer she would like to see more of are PERT (Psychiatric Emergency Response Team) who accompany officers and do psychiatric evaluations. “Right now we only have one PERT officer.”

She continued, “I’m in favor of the direction of the city is going, such as its homeless policy that would help homeless who have ties to Escondido. But our hands are tied. Because we can’t enforce an encampment  ordinance unless we can provide shelter.”

She is largely in agreement with the city council. “We need to be independent of the State because if the State provides the funds the State will control it. I fully support a self-funded program.”

She noted that Mayor Dane White will be leading a delegation to Washington D.C. in search of funding for the-self funded program. They will speak to congressional leaders. She supports that.

She also favors a more streamlined library and to streamline the permitting process. “We don’t want to open Escondido to just any business but businesses that look like Escondido. If they are going to stay in Escondido we want them to succeed.”

She has discovered while serving on the planning commission that the city staff often “has its own agenda. We need to make sure they are not sliding things in.” An example: a staff proposal to refuse permits to gun shops. “They cited statistic statistics that crime increases near such establishments,” said Fitzgerald, “But the truth is where there is legal gun ownership, crime is declining.”

She opposes the County’s $800,000 proposed “harm reduction” program that would “give addicts clean glass pipes and needles,” from a mobile unit based at the County center on Mission Avenue. “That is one thing I will stand against on the city council. We cannot allow this to happen in Escondido,” she said.

She concluded her talk with, “We are not on defense, we are going to turn this around.”

During the question and answer period, both candidates made further comments.

Mayor Dane White, told the group he will be leading a delegation of councilmembers to Washington D.C. in March to lobby the San Diego congressional delegation about getting grant funding to address homelessness.

Holden said he has visited Brother Benno’s in Oceanside, where they serve the homeless. “A lot of those people are the working poor. They have to choose between paying rent and buying food. A lot of them are seniors,” he said.

Fitzgerald said she has been working with the management of the North County Mall to bring in more businesses. She would like to bring a major food chain there such as a Whole Foods.

Asked specifically whether they are for or against the proposed one cent sales tax measure, Fitzgerald said, “I’m not for it. I think we can’t keep punishing our residents. As a city council member I will stand against that. We can make it without punishing our residents. There is no more regressive tax than sales tax.”

Holden reiterated his support for such a measure. “I keep hearing there are other ways to raise funds but no one tells me what those other ways are,” he said.

Fitzgerald, who said her answers had been interrupted by competing questions and answers, sent this statement to The Times-Advocate: “Regarding my views on the Citizen’s Initiative that I wasn’t able to finish because of the flurry of people interjecting.  Here is my stance:

“The people in our city have been challenged with so many tax increases; increased water rates, and electric rates,  and inflation as a whole.  We have paid our fair share to the state and understand there may be way to hold the state accountable to fund a great portion of what we need for Safety Services.  We need to explore what state funding our PD and Fire may be eligible to receive and perhaps ease any additional burden on the people of Escondido.  Yes, the Citizens Initiative could alleviate that because we DO need to protect our city and provide Safety Services what they need to do their jobs.  I mentioned I was a proponent for increasing funding for the COP’s Program (Community Oriented Policing) and PERT (Psychological Response Team), among some others immediate needs.  This takes money.  A lot of money.

“With that being said, I am a former law enforcement officer and understand how underfunding affects the city as a whole when safety is not at the capacity to perform its duties of keeping our city safe.  This in my mind also includes Fire, Street Services, Fleet, Parks & Recs, Graffiti Eradication, Water, and a few other community enhancement projects and programs.  All under the umbrella of Safety Services – all interdependent and interrelated.

“I do, however, believe in, ‘For the People. By the People.’  The people of our city have a right to choose and vote to place the initiative on the ballot.  I just want to make sure all options are investigated so we don’t miss out on anything available to us from the State for our Safety Services that are not being freely disclosed.

“If the initiative passes, I would make it my duty as a councilmember to ensure that the funds are allotted to the Safety Services the people want them designated for so we don’t find ourselves in the same situation years down the road.”

TERC will host school board candidates at its February 19 meeting, beginning at noon, at J&M’s.