■ By Rusty Strait / Contributed
“Riverside County,” stated Hemet City Councilman Michael Perciful, “is not the norm in California. I come from San Diego County, where most cities prefer home rule when it comes to public safety. Up here there has been a push for smaller cities to contract those services out to the county.”
Keeping services under local control
With a police background, having served 10 years as a Chula Vista volunteer cop, he prefers local control of public safety. There’s been quite a bit of polarization in Hemet as to whether the essential services that we are having difficulty funding should be contracted out to the county.
“I understood that if we were to contract police or fire services out, the city of Hemet would never again have its own police and fire departments. I wanted the local citizens to have control.”
He concluded that if the city contracted services out to another authority, “why not just dissolve the city and become an unincorporated part of Riverside County?” He considered that with his experience he could be “a force in helping the city, not hindering it.”
Measure E as an election platform
Aware of the intent of Measure E, he decided to take a stand in his campaign. “Look, I’ve been a registered Republican all my life and I am not a pro tax guy. I’ve seen how the state and federal governments have wasted our taxpayers’ money.”
Being a member of the Hemet Planning Commission gave him the opportunity to speak to the people who were involved in the issue.
“I wasn’t just Joe Blow wondering what’s going on. So I went to those who were behind Measure E – mostly business people, and told them, ‘If you want me to get behind this tax increase, it has to be so rock solid the money will be spent for exactly what it is proposed to be spent for.’ This or some future City Council cannot come back later and allocate it for something else or [try to reduce] the amount for public safety from the general fund because now [it’s] dedicated solely to public safety.”
When Measure E was finessed to his satisfaction, it became the thrust of his 2016 City Council campaign. He believes that the perception of crime has a direct effect on the economy and subsequently, property values. When property values go up, the economy flourishes, new businesses come into town and more money will come to the public coffers.
“It is not the government’s responsibility to take on everything. We know how inefficient government can be. There are other organizations and private sector people who can do it and do it better because they have a passion for it. When government tries to be the jack-of-all-trades they become the master of none.”
He counters those who say his only interest is seeing property values rise so that he can make bigger commissions.
“Of course I want to make more money. Ask any businessman and he’ll tell you the same thing. So it isn’t just because of my financial interests,” said Perciful. “Lower crime brings more business; property values rise. When property values rise, folks have more equity in their homes. Look at all the ancillary products involved. Builders, plumbers, electricians, gardeners, escrow companies, appliance stores and a dozen other entities prosper and provide new jobs. Jobs, jobs, jobs. There are many real estate agents out there, so it isn’t just me who is looking to do better.”
If trouble lies ahead that might push Measure U funds toward some other issue, “we will see it coming, like we hear a freight train before it is upon us. We can mitigate all the other general fund functions.”
– Hemet City Councilman Michael Perciful
Props 47 & 57 weakened our safety; Measure U will shore it up
After Measure E failed, the business community quickly came up with Measure U, reckoning that something had to be done because the money was sorely needed.
“We had the state measures and propositions to cope with. Take Proposition 47, which promised safe schools, etc. How are you going to make schools safer when you reduce sentences on criminals? To compound the issue, along came Proposition 57, which redefined [many] violent crimes as non-violent. How is that going to make schools safer? Do we need to reduce the sentence of a drive-by shooter? Is mercy to be shown to someone who rapes an unconscious victim? Proposition 57 does both. California is massively releasing criminals with these kinds of convictions.”
Prison overcrowding has long been an issue, and the state’s unwillingness to fund new facilities means more people – even violent ones – are released every day. And because property values are still depressed, Perciful says, they often settle in where “it is less costly to live or to relatives and friends who have moved to lower cost cities and neighborhoods who take them in.”
Thus Measure U became a necessary evil. Taxpayers get a big laugh when the mayor says, “Trust us,” to make sure that the funds for Measure U will go for public safety instead of other programs.
“I understand that. I didn’t run my campaign on Measure U, but I got behind it,” says Perciful. “It was a push for me to make my one vote count to see that it did go to fund public safety projects. I am committed to that.”
If trouble lies ahead that might push Measure U funds toward some other issue, “we will see it coming, like we hear a freight train before it is upon us. We can mitigate all the other general fund functions. Just as I would like to see our gas taxes fix our roads.”
State route 74, Caltrans and the median
Speaking of roads, the question most important to many Hemet citizens is a 30-year debate over who will control Highway 74? Perciful has definite opinions.
“The state is coming in and dictating what we should do. I’ve had this discussion with the city manager and council members–the state has to maintain and enforce its property. The city (for one year), had a contract with the Highway Patrol to police the highway that the state owns. So it is the state’s job to maintain it and enforce the law on their property. Why were we paying the state? Why should the citizens of Hemet have to pay to maintain the state’s property? Why shouldn’t that be the responsibility of Caltrans, a state agency?
“It is easy for me to understand,” continued Perciful. “The highway is state property. It is real property. Say I have a house I want to sell and I want top dollar for it. It is in a state of disrepair and has been rundown and neglected for years. Would it be wise for you to buy it?”
The city of Hemet would, in essence, be buying a “pig in a poke,” not knowing the debt it would incur in bringing the property up to snuff.
“They want to build a median across the valley on Florida Avenue at a cost of $9.4 million without having done any studies to assess the feasibility of such a project. When we recently hosted a big event on Harvard Street, it took a month to get approval to block off the left turn blocks on the street. We had to do traffic studies and other preparatory measures before Caltrans would grant permission. Yet they want to build an 8-mile median without any traffic studies to justify it. The city of Hemet is being strong-armed by Caltrans.”
Hemet, he says, would love to take over Florida Avenue and mold it into the needs of the city. It recently happened to a slice of State Route 74 in Lake Elsinore, thanks to Assemblywoman Melissa Melendez (R-District 67).
“So why don’t they just give us the $20 million and the road so we can do it better? $9.4 million for the median and $10 million to do the repairs necessary to bring it up to standards. We would involve the businesses on Florida Avenue who would benefit. The state is resisting. I think we should start communicating with our representatives in Sacramento to put some pressure on this regulatory agency, Caltrans.”
He added a point that most of us know, but don’t say much about.
“Those of us who live here see all the social media, and even the television news and newspapers pick it up stating how bad crime is here. We know better. When I lived in San Diego, Lakeside was ‘the meth capital of the world.’ I moved to Hemet and what did I hear? ‘Hemet is the meth capital of the world.’ We who live here know that crime is not so bad; homelessness is not so bad. The drug problem? We are not immune to drugs. It is everywhere.”
Generally speaking, he thinks Hemet is the right place to live, to raise your family and live the American dream.
Councilman Perciful has other issues on his plate which, for lack of space, cannot be addressed here. But I can assure you that this reporter will be following up to see what happens when a politician does his job and represents the people who elected him. Perciful seems to be doing just that.