La Quinta Mayoral and City Council
November 2018 Election
Candidate Questions


Candidate:  John Pena

 1.  What project or projects do you propose to improve La Quinta and the quality of life of our citizens?  Please explain: 

1)  What is the project?

There are several projects not only I, but the entire city council have been focusing and working on. We have changed our management structure and the City of La Quinta won the Helen Putman Award for Excellence at the 2018 League of California Cities Conference in Long Beach, California. The award was given for excellence in Internal Administration based on the implementation of training platforms, performance-based evaluation system, key technology investments, active succession planning, community engagement, and metrics. Doing business with city hall should become easier and quicker. We continue to focus on planning the Highway 111 corridor to insure we remain relevant in the business marketplace with the changing shopping habits of our residents. The Village will take on a new and pedestrian friendly look in the next year. We will also continue to monitor and review our short-term rental ordinance to keep our neighborhoods peaceful and compliant. We also will improve our streets and roads and soon you will be seeing improved signage and synchronized traffic signals, something our engineering department has been working on for some time. Parks and recreation will continue to move forward, with a regional skate park, event center, cove hiking improvements and expansion of our museum site. I have the historical perspective to maintain our quaint village while adapting to changing demographics and urban challenges.

2)  What are its benefits?

Residents and visitors alike will be the beneficiaries with improved amenities. Our cove is known for its natural beauty and scenic hiking. That can relate to a healthy lifestyle and increase property values.    

3) How will it be achieved?

We continue to budget so that our residents benefit from a very transparent budget process involving our residents who serve on the Financial Advisory Commission who review and recommend how the city’s finances can best be spent and appropriated.

2.  Citizens have expressed concerns over potential safety issues on heavily used Calle Tecate at the top of the cove. These issues seem especially acute during the season.  

Please share your views on these safety issues.

First let me say that I have been a Cove resident since 1982 and have been coming to the Cove since I was in high school. The Cove is a magical place that is inviting to residents and visitors alike. I have and will continue to protect the issues relating to the Cove and surrounding hillsides. I have been fortunate to have been involved with the city to shape and develop many of the improvements we see today. With that said, the city continues to monitor and meet with affected residents and property owners regarding traffic, bicycle riders and pedestrian issues in that area. While staff is currently assessing the situation and how-to best deal with those issues which may or may not include no parking it is my belief that we will find a solution that meets and lessens the burden imposed on that area.

Explain what steps, if any, you believe would increase safety at the top of the cove.  

Community meetings to determine the best approach while working with law enforcement and public safety officials to devise the best plan for short and long-term solutions.

How can they be achieved? 

City council actions and engagement with the community.

3.  Economic development is a key element in the continued survival and success of any city.  La Quinta faces vacant private commercial properties and is making plans for the Village and Silver Rock.  

1) What specific steps can be taken to stimulate revival of vacant business properties?   

The city staffs an Economic Development Department who reaches out to potential businesses and provides assistance where needed to help fill commercial properties. Most recently the city sold a city owned property next to the Costco gas station, a site that will include a 150 room Marriott Residence Inn. We also continue to encourage development in the Village area that included parking revisions. As a result, we are seeing businesses expand. We also continue to partner with the chamber of commerce and meet with the La Quinta business board on a regular basis to help the business community where needed. Challenges will continue especially with out of town owners, but we meet on a regular basis to address those issues. We also continue to review land use and zoning to keep a balance of residential, commercial and other districts within the city.

2) What is the role of city government in the promotion of economic development on privately owned property? 

The role of city government is to use its General Plan, Zoning and Land Use to maximize the potential use of the property to its highest and best use. That means projects that fit the surrounding area, that are built with a high degree of skill and appearance and further the goals and expectations of the community. Redevelopment is no longer in effect. The State and Governor Brown decided to balance the State Budget on the backs of cities. Those former redevelopment dollars allowed cities to reinvest in their communities and to build infrastructure, workforce and affordable housing. We are one of the many cities who are considered a low or no property tax city. La Quinta only receives about 7 cents of every property tax dollar collected. The city can provide encouragement, a stable staff and fast tracking thru the development and hearing process.

What is that role in private/public partnerships like Silver Rock?

We have been as transparent as the law allows. The Planning Commission, Financial Advisory Commission and Community Services Commission and the general public have had input on SilverRock. There may be a perception by some that slow means entanglements and that we are somehow trying to hide something from the public.  Much to the contrary, we have eliminated conflicts through our public process.  Neither the Mayor nor City Council has a stake in SilverRock other than to see SilverRock succeed. There is no conspiracy or hidden agenda. We cannot stop conspiracy theorist or speculators who are not really genuine in their concern; instead they raise questions and accuse government of some scheme. They should have attended the many public meetings we have had to understand the complexity of post redevelopment and development in general. Partnerships must have a benefit to both sides in order to succeed. The dissolution of Redevelopment in California had a major impact on cities including La Quinta. We have a competent legal staff that worked to provide the council guidance that would not place the city at risk as we have seen in other communities.

4.  The largest single expense in the city’s budget is police service which continues to grow at approximately 11% annually.  

1) What do you suggest the city should do to address this ongoing and very expensive challenge?

Four years ago, the city hired a firm, Matrix to evaluate and recommend efficiencies and cost cutting where necessary to maintain a strong police department. During those four years we have annually reviewed, dissected and improved our financial position as it relates to public safety. We have done this in concert with our Sheriff staff and our commissions. We have met and discussed options with the council, sheriff officials and our consultants. We have also had discussions with neighboring communities to approach police services as a potential collective and avoid duplication of services. Our staff meets on a regular basis to review our police service contract and reports to the council monthly.  

2) Should the city continue to pursue a city-wide surveillance camera system, and if implemented, what limits, if any, should be placed on its use?

The city has an ad hoc committee studying camera systems and how cost effective they may be. The council has toured other cities to get a firsthand view of the operations, the up-side and down-side of those systems. We are extremely concerned with privacy issues. Prior to any implementation of surveillance camera systems, public hearings will take place to hear concerns, recommendations, ideas and other issues that have not been vetted. Most businesses currently have camera systems in place as well as private residences. We live in a digital world for better or worse but before I vote to pursue city-wide surveillance we should have investigated all the pros and cons. Privacy shall be a number one concern.

3)  What have you done to familiarize yourself with the city’s budget and operations? 

La Quinta has made it a priority to engage residents in our community to serve on our Financial Advisory Commission. We have an award-winning transparent finance department and I have been fiscally responsible with our tax dollars. We continue to seek revenue enhancing opportunities and budget accordingly. Our city council has and will continue to monitor our finances so that we can react to unexpected economic shifts. We have laid out a multi-year financial track that will meet our obligations in the future. The city council will beginning this fiscal year review our budget and projections quarterly rather than twice a year as had been done previously. It should be noted that the city demand register is available to the public monthly to see what checks and expenses have been expended. I as well as every council member meet with the city manager at least twice a month to remain engaged in the operations of the city. Weeks of work and study precede budget sessions. I have the experience, vision and a common-sense approach to problem solving that has propelled La Quinta into one of the best managed and community-oriented cities in the Coachella Valley.