Banning District 3 forum

A video still from the forum depicts (from left) Art Welch, Mary Hamlin and George Moyer as candidates for Banning’s city council District 3.

During a forum Monday evening candidates for Banning’s city council District 3 shared insights as to what they feel are top priorities.

All three candidates — incumbent Art Welch, former mayor George Moyer and Mary Hamlin — are all residents of Sun Lakes Country Club.

The forum was hosted by the Inland Empire Taxpayers Association, coordinated by Beaumont city councilmember Lloyd White, and moderated by his colleague, Beaumont mayor pro-tem Mike Lara.

Candidates were asked to share their thoughts on what they feel are the city’s challenges; how they would address public safety; and to discuss how they would handle the city’s budget.

All three noted that emergency services are lacking in the south side of Banning, and agreed that public safety and fire services need to be high priorities.

They also agreed that traffic along Highland Springs needs to be addressed.

Mary Hamlin, founder of the nonprofit Pass Jobs Connection, believes the city needs to handle better thousands of dollars it has received in grants, but has failed to capitalize on.

According to Hamlin, a lot of discussions by residents at Sun Lakes center around the long-anticipated extension of Sun Lakes Boulevard in order to alleviate traffic along Highland Springs Boulevard.

Hamlin’s platform includes a focus on disaster planning and emergency services.

The coronavirus; fires up in the hills; mudslides likely to occur later once the rainy season ensues; and a lack of an official major disaster plan or marked evacuation routes — as well as no emergency services in the south side of the freeway — are issues that she and her colleagues at the forum echo.

Communication would be a priority for Hamlin, who said “People still don’t know what’s going on in the city. Citizens sometimes don’t know how long it takes for government projects to get implemented, such as the Sun Lakes Boulevard extension, or why we can’t just widen Highland Springs under the freeway.”

Moyer also contends that the city needs to better manage grant money that it has received, and criticized the lack of a contract with the Larry D. Smith Correctional Facility, a county entity which is in Banning, as being a strain on the city’s budget.

Moyer indicated that he would have directed the city differently when it comes to recent projects such as the planned demolition of the former Banning Art Gallery that is slated to become a city parking lot.

“We need to capitalize on Pardee’s success to increase sales tax revenue and lure young families,” he said, referring to new development underway in the northeast and southwest portions of the city. “We have excess of city-owned properties that should be sold off…we don’t need to buy more land. We don’t need to buy vacant buildings to demo projects that don’t bring anything to our community,” Moyer said.

According to Welch, “One of the challenges communities our size have, is we need a concerted effort to reopen closed businesses and provide public safety. We have a need in our city to increase public safety personnel. No services are currently housed on south side where the majority of growth is going to happen, and needs to be addressed.”

Welch praised efforts by the city which has “Taken several years to establish a well-rounded management staff, and have a lot of projects in the works” that should pay off in a few years.

The final question candidates were asked to address was “How do you view current public safety in Banning, and what changes would you like to see?”

Welch offered “Kudos to our police and fire; we are understaffed in relation to ratio of one per 1,000 citizens, but they’re doing an outstanding job. As fires are concerned, costs go up every year significantly without an increase in services. The city needs to take steps to different approach towards fire protection. Our paramedics are just invaluable, especially in district like Sun Lakes.”

Hamlin says the city needs “more police in Banning, and we need to connect them better to community resources to assist them, like in instances of mental health or drug abuse. Banning is a fairly safe city.”

She reemphasized a call to focus on providing emergency services on the south side of the freeway.

Moyer expressed concern over a “Lack of funding that is stifling efforts to protect the city. Only 26 of 31 officers — and two of those are assigned to the county — equates to .8 per 1,000 residents. Seven dispatchers are funded, handling 45,000 calls a year. Cal-Fire been increasing fees without negotiation” to provide fire services in Banning. “The city needs a realistic look at establishing its own Fire Department,” according to Moyer.

In their closing statements, Welch said “If you choose to allow me to represent you, I’ll continue to work improving traffic conditions on Highland Springs; and to all residents by extending Sun Lakes Boulevard through Sunset. The project has been approved. I’ll continue to work towards balanced budgets, no new taxes and increasing reserves. This will only happen if we can get our businesses reopened and back to work. I will also support well-planned housing that will attract new working residents. I will continue to find ways to strengthen our Police Department, and incur appropriate life-saving response times of our paramedics. I will also support aggressive economic development to attract commercial and clean industrial companies to improve the city’s economy. I will continue to work toward the benefit of all Banning residents.

For Hamlin’s closing remarks, she said “We have no job placement center in the city. I would like to see a job placement and training center somewhere in this town to help the people who need jobs and maybe need extra training. I remember the days when you worked in a warehouse; now it’s logistics —and you better have some computer skills to do it; but the closest job center is in Hemet, and we have a lot of citizens who just can’t get over there. But we could do a lot to help the city, and help raise the median income if we could help people get better jobs, and I think a job placement and training center would be an excellent addition to our city. We have a school system, Mt. San Jacinto College; we could do a lot. We need to find a place for it. We need to clean up some of the vacant lots that Mr. Moyer mentioned that we have, but there’s a lot of potential in this city. I want to explore new ideas and think outside the box because face it: things are not going to go back to the way they were. We’re going to have go have new ideas, new vision to keep this city growing and prospering like it should.”

Rounding out his statements, Moyer noted that homelessness “is a problem, particularly for District 3 in that we have an offramp that they’re able to get lots of donations at, because it’s a very active offramp, and we also have a center that has Dumpsters and scraps that they can continually get into, with a vacant lot right behind them where they pitch their camps. I’ve been working with the property manager of the center, and with the city and county we’ve cleaned up that camp and cleaned up the site. We need to have an ongoing vigil to make sure that doesn’t reappear. Our city has its problems, but for the first time in years we have a competent city manager and staff that is capable of addressing our issues. The city council can finally rely on thorough information and knowledgeable recommendations. It is the council’s responsibility to study those recommendations and, when warranted, challenge them. If they do not mean the council’s objectives and priorities — not in an adversarial way, as was done often in the past but in a professional manner. I will bring years of team-building and positive results. In addition, the knowledge gained in my previous council experience eliminate the learning curve, and will allow me to immediately go to work to be productive.”

Staff Writer David James Heiss may be reached at dheiss@recordgazette.net, or by calling (951) 849-4586 x114.

Staff Writer David James Heiss may be reached at dheiss@recordgazette.net , or by calling (951) 849-4586 x114.

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