■ By Rusty Strait / Columnist
His appearance is more like a Hollywood cowboy superstar who rescues the lovely lady in distress than a Republican city councilman on the conservative side. He loves western attire and at events he sometimes dons a white Stetson and boots with spurs. But he doesn’t do it for effect. No way. In his heart and soul that’s exactly the man he is. A cowboy riding the range for peace and justice.
Andrew Kotyuk is compassionate and caring and his actions speak to that in many ways. We sat down in the quiet surroundings of his Hemet business office on San Jacinto Street, half a block north of Florida Avenue, and spent an hour discussing matters that really had less to do with his position as a San Jacinto city councilman, and more about the man himself. His positions on issues and life in general say much about the man beneath the veneer of office or position.
He supports Proposition 64
Why, I asked, in an area where sister city council in Hemet came down so hard against the marijuana initiative, did he and a majority of his fellow council members in San Jacinto get on the bandwagon to craft ordinances to allow pot growth in their city?
“As for myself, I wanted to make sure it was safe. Everyone knows that legal or not there is plenty of marijuana around here,” said Kotyuk. “I’ve spoken to doctors in the emergency room who see many cases come into the hospital as a result of marijuana laced with substances that contribute to tragic situations. We do not need that. Emergency rooms are more than familiar with the opiate epidemic, often caused by prescription drugs.”
He is not necessarily a gung-ho advocate, ready to rush in and put a pot counter in every store. His motto is “Regulate to be safe.”
“San Jacinto,” he says, “is an agricultural community and marijuana is an agricultural plant. The voters understood that and support the legalization, but not to be sold as a retail product.”
The proposed municipal codes San Jacinto is considering do not allow for downtown pot shops. All marijuana production and sales in the city will be for the purpose of medical, not recreational consumption.”
“With six plants allowed to each household, there will be plenty of recreational growth, over which the city will have little control.”
It will not be long before medical marijuana will be controlled by the Food and Drug Administration. “It is just a matter of time.” The problem today, “is that there is no track-and-trace with the use of pot.”
Even though we are free to grow six plants for recreational use? “There is still a need for regulations,” he emphasized. “We cannot close our eyes to its existence in the community. IT IS ALREADY HERE!”
San Jacinto is seeking an ordinance that is in plain language that anyone can understand.
“Any city ordinance regarding medical marijuana must reflect state law.”
Planning Commission whets his political appetite
He doesn’t seem to know why exactly that politics attracted his attention, although he attracted the interest of those who like to groom and promote new talent into the political arena.
“I was first approached to run for city council in Hemet, actually. After all, I was born in Hemet and grew up there and was educated from K to 12 in Hemet,” said Kotyuk. “When the City of San Jacinto voted to recall most of their City Council a few years ago, I was on the Planning Commission. You might call that a political position, although it is really by appointment, not elective.”
“I had a decent background…successful in business, Navy veteran, family man,” said Kotyuk. “Those seemed to be good qualifications. The city was coming out of quite a bit of turmoil and I thought that I could help.”
Andrew’s motto is “Where there is no leadership, I’ll step in.” It has served him well as a start because he has certainly been instrumental in the progression of San Jacinto and the city’s turn away from what seemed like a disastrous future.
And, while he ran as an underdog, there were those in the community who saw him as a successful businessman with leadership qualities and they supported him.
Looking into San Jacinto’s crystal ball
How does he see the future of San Jacinto and its economy? “San Jacinto has been dealt an abundance of opportunity so far as economics are concerned. To begin with, Soboba’s expansion into a new hotel and casino will bring tourists, and tourists bring money. Also, Mt. San Jacinto Community College is rebuilding and modernizing.”
The new Mid Valley Parkway will interchange with State Route 79, which connects the valley with two major connections to the rest of the world, Interstates 10 and 15. That project is expected to take up to 36 months.
Additionally, the San Jacinto Unified School District has become a role model for increased attendance and graduation rates. Its dropout rate has become the lowest in the county, says Kotyuk. There was a time when San Jacinto was touted as being the bad place with crime, dropouts, gangs, drugs and all other negatives, while Hemet had the reputation of being lily-white and pure.
“All that has changed,” said Kotyuk, “because the citizens of our city recognized the problems and went to work as a united citizenship to build on past mistakes. We have less crime, less drugs, and a 100 percent improved school system.”
He believes that core values, a work ethic and an interest in one another brought about the progress we see in San Jacinto today. He showed no hesitancy as to the bright future of his adopted city, but how about his future? Does he have aspiration to higher offices?
“I have turned down suggestions that I run for the state assembly or national office. I have a business and a young family. That, at the moment, is my primary concern.”
However, when I pressed him, he had a bit of a twinkle in his eye about the Riverside County Third District Supervisor position.
“I’ll think about that when the occasion arises.”
Folks, this guy is headed up–and not just to a county position. With his knowledge and ambitions and sense of leadership, do I hear Senator Kotyuk? Just sayin’.