Government / Politics

Election 2020: San Juan Bautista City Council

Four candidates compete for two seats.

Watch candidates for San Juan Bautista City Council answer questions from the BenitoLink 2020 Virtual Election Forum.

Four candidates are competing for the two available seats on the San Juan Bautista City Council: contenders Nicole Franco and Jackie Morris-Lopez, San Juan Planning Commissioner Scott Freels, and incumbent John Freeman. 

Nicole Franco is the stay-at-home mother of four children and a 33-year resident of San Juan Bautista. She’s worked as a medical assistant for seven years and has taught prospective medical assistants for the last year, and in the past she owned a local business. She volunteers at local schools and coaches in the Community Soccer program.

Nicole Franco. Photo courtesy of Nicole Franco.
Nicole Franco. Photo courtesy of Nicole Franco.

Why are you running for City Council?

I am running for City Council because I wholeheartedly feel an obligation to serve my community.

What issues are most important to the city?

My focus will be supporting managed, slower growth; improving our street conditions; stopping vehicles from speeding on local roads; addressing our water situation; and supporting growth of businesses to provide more local jobs.

[Franco opted to answer only the above questions. —ed.]

 

Scott Freels is a fifth-generation San Juan Bautista resident. He retired in 2019 after a 30-year career with Cal Fire and also served as the fire chief of San Juan Bautista’s volunteer fire department.

He said his experience in firefighting and his current role as the chairman of the San Juan Bautista Planning Commission have given him an understanding of the community, its infrastructure and the policymaking process.

Why are you running for City Council?

I really want to continue with the work I’ve done on the Planning Commission at the next level. I also want to support and continue the work between the city and our businesses to build a progressive partnership.

What issues are most important to the city?
In my opinion it’s public safety, our crumbling infrastructure in large parts of the city, and a stronger approach to managed growth.

Are there issues you feel are important to the city that the public may not know about?
I feel there is a need for much better public information. The more the public knows about their community the less opportunity there is for rumors and misinformation.

What obstacles and challenges does the city face?
Our largest current obstacle is the wastewater treatment facility and its need of upgrading to be in compliance with the state of California. We also need more law enforcement presence. Our most difficult obstacle is keeping our businesses in the city alive and running during these uncertain times. 

How do you plan to address those issues?
As far as the wastewater treatment facility goes, we need to continue to put our trust in our city manager. His years of public works knowledge is invaluable. With our law enforcement issue, we need to open up new dialogue with the county to see how we can work together to increase our sheriff’s patrols. The city needs to work with our local business in every way possible to stay in business, which would support their families, and also help San Juan survive this uncertain time. 

How do you intend to communicate and stay in touch with the constituents you’d represent?
I’m a phone call away and I encourage the residents of San Juan to please call me with their concerns.

What is the role of local government?

Local government’s role is to protect its citizens, whether it be with public safety, clean drinking water, or a safe and healthy environment to raise a family.

 

John Freeman, an 18-year county resident, has a background in industrial water treatment and hazardous waste experience. He serves as a San Juan Bautista City Council member and on the boards of the Association of Monterey Bay Area Governments, Central Coast Community Energy (formerly Monterey Bay Community Power) and the Central Coast Broadband Consortium.

John Freeman. Photo courtesy of John Freeman.
John Freeman. Photo courtesy of John Freeman.

Why are you running for City Council?

I ran the first time for the express purpose of addressing the city’s water issues, since this is my background and expertise. Having intimately learned the city’s history of this issue, I bring a comprehensive vision of the past, present and future to this process. I also know that the devil is in the details and I want to make sure we are making wise decisions, which will serve us well into the future. Without this adequate infrastructure this city’s unique charm and history will be underserved to the point of eventual self-annihilation.

What issues are most important to the city and how do you plan to address those issues?

Our next important issue is to increase our economic revenue. Since our city is built mostly on a tourist-based economy, we could easily add another high-end hotel and expand our entertainment venues. To stabilize our revenue, I feel we need to stimulate the development of a small commercial and/or light industrial area by creating a comprehensive plan for the area on the south side of Highway 156. This will then give us the revenue to upgrade our neglected streets and lack of community assets, such as parks, a larger library, and recreational facilities, to serve all of our citizens.  

Are there issues you feel are important to the city that the public may not know about?  Yes, we have an excellent opportunity to improve our parks and recreation system by upgrading the road to the De Anza Trail. To add to this, we should develop a hiking and biking trail around our city and recreational parks within the city. The city is now planning to pursue this course of action with a grant from Caltrans.  

What obstacles and challenges does the city face?  

We have an exceptionally small budget when compared to other cities of similar population, because our tax base is very low. To create a more stable tax base, we need to build out our industrial and commercial infrastructure.

How do you intend to communicate and stay in touch with the constituents you represent?

I am consistently active on Facebook and Twitter. I also respond readily to citizen’s queries. I like to educate our citizenry more completely about the history and on-going efforts to address our important issues.    

What is the role of local government and its leaders?

Local Government is responsible for the following services to its residents:

  1. Transparency, honesty, and civility in its dealings with each other, our citizens, and regional agencies. This means also bringing a skill set of effectively working with people and exhibiting a mature and meaningfully focused demeanor. It also means having a steadfast integrity to follow through on important issues that affect our whole well-being and not be persuaded solely by those with special interests, which often present a conflict of interest. 
  2. Public Safety consisting of fire, police services and code enforcement. 
  3. Ancillary services such as zoning and planning. 
  4. Infrastructure building and maintenance, consisting of water, sewer, roads, parks, recreation facilities, including trails in and near the city.
  5. Library services, engagement and emphasis of cultural events, and citizen-related recreational programs. These can include working with our theater, the Mission and state park, and providing support for our street festivals, and farmers markets.

How do you plan on leveraging funds for road improvements when a recent report found that the city needs to spend double what it is spending now ($176,000) to maintain its current pavement condition index rating of 62 out of 100?

San Juan Bautista has for the first time in its history created a pavement management plan.  Since we are now considering a reduced budget, due to our lack of tourism from the pandemic,  SB1, Measure G and gas sales tax funds will be our major source for upgrading our streets for now.  Any new commercial or infill developments will be charged impact fees as part of their development conditions. With 135 new homes in our city there will also be increased income from property taxes, increasing the revenue to the general fund.

At this point we have figured that the pandemic has caused a 40% decrease to our budget. In this case the roads may have to wait until the sales tax and TOT tax revenue return to their 2019 levels or more. The index rating of our streets was raised by the addition of our two recent subdivisions, which have brand new streets. Some of the older streets in town have an index rating below 40. A pavement management plan does not disappear if we do not have enough funds, but we will make practical choices and every effort to follow the plan as closely as we are able and work on this with persistence and careful planning, considering our current circumstances.

I feel it is important to set aside a designated amount each year to be dedicated to carrying out the pavement management plan. I do not feel it is worth risking bankruptcy or other financial calamity by blindly following a plan without regard to our overall financial considerations.

 

Jackie Morris-Lopez is the mother of two adult children and has been a bilingual physician’s assistant for 20 years. She’s lived in San Juan Bautista for close to 60 years and is the fourth generation of her family that’s lived there. Morris-Lopez has been active in politics as a Service Employees International Union representative and a worker on local and national campaigns.

Jackie Morris-Lopez. Photo courtesy of Jackie Morris-Lopez.
Jackie Morris-Lopez. Photo courtesy of Jackie Morris-Lopez.

Why are you running for City Council?

I wish to represent the everyday, working person like me in San Juan Bautista. As a bilingual Spanish/English speaker I want to reach out to the Spanish speakers in the community, because we haven’t done a great job of that in the past. It’s time for change from the status quo, and for more females to have a chance to govern locally and nationally. We bring a different dynamic and perspective to the process of governance.

What issues are most important to the city? Are there issues you feel are important to the city that the public may not know about?

The obvious one is the problems with our drinking water and wastewater treatment plant. Other important issues include the poor condition of the streets and a lack of residential parking space. Folks are also concerned with the influx of more residents, and they desire a steadier law enforcement presence. They are concerned with speeding on residential streets and neighborhoods and the potential for crime. The issue I feel that the public may not know or be cognizant of is the real threat of urban sprawl. Our area is very desirable due to open space and proximity by commute to the Bay Area and other neighboring counties. We are a target for development and the general public is not aware of the constant pressure, which has culminated in a state mandate.

What obstacles and challenges does the city face? How do you plan to address those issues?

I believe the city has the same challenges that all municipalities and households face right now: how to survive financially during and after COVID-19. As a councilwoman, I would first see what resources are available locally and delegate the systems or people already in place to secure additional funding through grant writing. Another important task is the preservation of what makes our area unique and profitable. We need to form alliances with other like-minded elected officials and boards or committees, to resist the development of cookie-cutter strip malls and large tract-home neighborhoods. We have something special and we need to protect it by educating the public.

How do you intend to communicate and stay in touch with the constituents you’d represent?

The good old-fashioned way: meeting face-to-face, as safely as can be done during COVID. I shall encourage them to call, text or email me, and they shall have an open invitation to all council meetings. We can also hold community or neighborhood meetings, even meet up for coffee and donuts. We have an excellent, historic local bakery and a few places for good coffee in town.

What is the role of local government?

It is responsible for the function of and delivery of a complete range of services and infrastructure that address these basic needs: public safety and welfare, utilities, firefighting, safe and functional roadways, law enforcement, civil code enforcement, safe and good schools, maintaining or providing parks and recreation, emergency shelter and/or services, affordable housing for all, good stewardship of all city-owned public properties, encouragement and sponsorship of artistic and cultural events, and ensuring that all community members’ voices and concerns are heard. The local government must form genuine partnerships with the community.

How do you plan on leveraging funds for road improvements when a recent report found that the city needs to spend double what it is spending now ($176,000) to maintain its current pavement condition index rating of 62 out of 100?

Some streets are in very poor condition, no expertise needed to conclude that. But I’m surprised by the ratings and low funding for the repairs or maintenance. I would require higher impact fees with special increased road funding (more houses bring more people, and more vehicles on our roads, then wear and tear). Also, I would work closely with our District 2 Board of Supervisors to ask for a higher allocation of funding for our streets from the county funds for road repairs. I would request a review of the city’s budget to increase funding for the road repairs. And maybe it’s time for the city to look at parking fees for day use from tourists and parking permits for residents that park on the streets instead of in their driveways. These are just some ideas from off the top of my head.

 

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Andrew Pearson