7 Council Candidates Share Views at Forum

About 100 residents listen to seven candidates talk about their stances on city issues at an evening event hosted by the Lake Forest Community Association.

Staking out stances on everything from term limits to marijuana dispensaries, seven candidates vying for two Lake Forest City Council seats sought to sway a crowd of 100 people at a candidate’s forum hosted by the Lake Forest I Community Association Wednesday.

In colorful and sometimes heated exchanges, the candidates often disagreed on how the city should move forward on major issues. The city is caught in an expensive tug-of-war between the state and federal government over the legality of medical marijuana dispensaries, and the new council will have to decide whether to continue spending money to fight the shops or allow them to operate in town. Additionally, huge housing developments and traffic challenges loom before Lake Forest, and the next council will play a pivotal role in managing the city’s growth spurt.

Among the evening’s notable moments, candidate Kathy Zechmeister announced that her husband, Planning Commissioner Jerry Zechmeister, will step down if she is elected. Five of the candidates would allow medical marijuana dispensaries to operate in Lake Forest. And one candidate would halt the Portola Center housing development, pending a traffic plan addressing congestion.

None of the candidates were supplied questions prior to the event, which was moderated by Lake Forest Patch editor Sarah de Crescenzo. The seven candidates included incumbent Marcia Rudolph and challengers Jim Gardner, Adam Nick, Ken Carrell, Kathy Zechmeister, Planning Commissioner Terry Anderson, and Dwight Robinson.

It was the first such forum hosted by the homeowners association at the Beach and Tennis Club.

Early on in the forum, challengers Gardner and Nick positioned themselves as chief critics of the current council’s decisions and were often at odds with Rudolph, the panel’s sole incumbent.

Gardner concluded the forum on a theatric note, removing his suit jacket to demonstrate that he has no strings attached.

“There’s no strings on me. Vote for Terry or Kathy, and decisions about Lake Forest will be made in the living room of (Councilman) Peter Herzog. Vote for Dwight or Adam, decisions about our city will be made in the Living Room of (Councilman) Scott Voigts,” he said. “The only endorsement I care about is your endorsement. The only puppet I’ll be is your puppet. You give me four years and I will give you the most productive time this city has ever seen.”

Zechmeister was quick to respond.

“Game on,” she stood up and told Gardner. “I’m a grassroots girl…I don’t have ties to Peter Herzog or anyone like that.”

A 25-year-resident of the city, Zechmeister emphasized her volunteerism and efforts to help Lake Forest incorporate into cityhood.

Similarly, Rudolph, a founding councilwoman who has served all but two years since 1991, noted her track record of service and involvement in almost every major project and decision in the City Council’s history.

Conversely, Carrell, the owner of a local architectural firm, and Nick, an accountant and owner of a Lake Forest Drive gas station, both emphasized their involvement in the city’s business community. Anderson and Robinson, on the other hand, both emphasized their roles as youth sports coaches in town.

Each of the candidates agreed that traffic is a significant issue that the council must monitor carefully. However, that was the only issue they all agreed upon.

Marijuana Dispensaries

Lake Forest spent two years and more than $900,000 to close 38 medical marijuana dispensaries. Federal officials assisted the city at its request in closing down the last few operating in late 2011. One last holdout was raided thrice before closing its doors for good earlier this year.

Zechmeister and Anderson both sided with the federal government and endorsed efforts to close down the dispensaries.

“We have no business getting involved in this mess, and we should keep it out of our community,” Anderson said.

Without directly endorsing the dispensaries, Rudolph said she supports the property owners’ right to operate their business.

The remaining candidates argued that dispensaries are inevitable and several questioned the wisdom in spending money to fight them rather than taxing and regulating them.

Robinson suggested a zone change to corral the dispensaries into a single section of Lake Forest, where the city could locate a police substation to discourage anyone tempted to use the drug for recreational purposes.

Term Limits

Each of the candidates said they would consider some type of term limit except for Rudolph, who has served five terms on the council.

“As far as term limits are concerned, I have been against them since day one,” said Rudolph. “We have term limits ― they are called elections.”

“I think we should have term limits,” countered Carrell. “I think if you can’t do what you intend to in eight years, you are doing something wrong."

El Toro High School Stadium

The Saddleback Valley Unified School District proposes to revamp El Toro High School’s football stadium by adding bleachers to seat thousands and lights that would allow teams to play nighttime home games and El Toro to host graduations.

The project has raised the ire of neighboring residents worried about the traffic and noise and light pollution from games.

“I am not for it,” Nick said. “I believe it will negatively impact the neighborhood.”

Noting that the city doesn’t have final say over the project, both Zechmeister and Anderson said the council’s role will be to carefully review the project’s traffic and environmental report to make sure negative impacts are mitigated for the surrounding neighborhood.

Portola Hills Development

Residents, developer Baldwin and Sons and city officials are in talks to find a way to minimize the impact of the Portola Center development—which will add up to 930 homes to the city—in the Portola Hills community. New residents will jam up traffic and further impact Lake Forest schools, opponents argue.

Robinson said he worries the project will crowd the city’s roadways and Portola Elementary. The city will have to make sure the project addresses the infrastructure improvements and classroom additions needed to accommodate the new families, he said.

Nick, on the other hand, said he completely opposes the project.

Gardner criticized the city for not adequately addressing the project’s traffic impact as well as preexisting traffic problems. He argued for putting the project on hold until a better plan is developed.

“It’s going to impact us all very, very badly,” he said.

Is Lake Forest Business Friendly?

The candidates were divided on whether the city does enough to attract businesses and help them thrive in the community.

Robinson* had harsh words for the city’s track record with businesses. He cited the anecdote of a restaurant owner who hired 150 employees in preparation for a grand opening only to be forced to wait six weeks because of a hold-up at the city.

Nick, who is fighting the city to reverse approval given to a 7-Eleven near his gas station to get an alcohol license, criticized the city for playing favorites within the business community.

Rudolph, Anderson, Zechmeister and Carrell all gave the city passing grades for supporting businesses in a myriad of ways such as recruiting big retailers, not requiring business licenses, and partnering with the Chamber of Commerce.

“We bend over backwards for the businesses to come to this city,” said Carrell.

* Correction: An earlier version of this story misidentified the speaker who gave the anecdote about a restaurant owner's experience with the city.

Frank Mockery October 16, 2012 at 04:57 AM
The City Councilmembers who've wasted nearly a million dollars in their dubious & reckless efforts to ban legal medical marijuana dispensaries should be arrested for obstructing state law,charged with malfeasance in office & be forced to personally repay to the cities treasury all the taxpayer's money they've illegally squandered by putting their personal & ill-conceived biases before the needs of their constituents & the law !!! The support of any of these callous & despicable politicians should be more than enough to disqualify their chosen candidates in favor of those with much more integrity & a modicum of common sense ! Let's remember who our friends are & who has been waging war on cannabis patients & the dispensaries which supply their doctor recommended medication ! Any elected official who refuses to recognize the authority of the State of California to enforce it's laws & their duty to abide by them & asks the federal government to intercede on their behalf should be charged with treason against the state (a capital offense),tried & jailed for life without parole !
Andromeda October 16, 2012 at 05:51 AM
Did you notice that the city council jumped through hoops and barrels to enforce Federal statutes on marijuana dispensaries yet thumbed their noses at Federal immigration statutes that prohibit illegal immigration and illegal labor. The Council completely rejected any opportunity to mandate E-Verify for the companies that contracts with the city to provide services. So illegal aliens stealing jobs from our citizens was just fine with our Council even if it violated Federal statutes. But those evil medical marijuana dispensaries had to go because they violated Federal law! And Lake Forest even spent $1M of our money to make it happen! Cracks me up how they feel so obliged to follow one Federal law yet completely dismiss another!
Rose T. October 17, 2012 at 04:16 PM
The fact the city spent $1M to stop the marijuana dispensary indicates to me the present regime in office are not good stewards of tax payer money. In 2007, the city backed out of an agreement to participate in a four-city study that would examine the need for a local humane animal shelter because they thought $5000 to $10,000 was too much. Many residents felt betrayed. I look around Orange County and see beautiful multi-million dollar homes, state of the art entertainment centers, Honda Center, beautiful yachts floating in the bays, Fortune 500 corporations and I say "wow" that's wonderful!!. Then I see a 70 year old animal shelter where thousands of animals are euthanized every year. To me, what we do with our money reveals our values and also ignorance (lack of knowledge). Just recently, July 2012, scientists (including Stephen Hawking) attended a conference and announced to the world the "Cambridge Declaration on Consciousness" which was the result of decades of research. I invite you to view the brief video filmed at the conference. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=YRi_VIWjJCA .
Joker Joe October 17, 2012 at 04:21 PM
Rose In total agreement with you. You can judge the heart of a man by the way he treats animals. Never was a saying more true.
Merijoe Axe October 17, 2012 at 05:13 PM
Verily, verily. In agreeance with Rose T. (only I wouldn't have been so nice or classy).


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