■ By Rusty Strait / Senior Reporter
This reporter had the opportunity to sit down and have a chat with Hemet City Councilman Russ Brown at the Four Seasons retirement community on Hemet’s far west side. Seated behind the microphone at his position during city council meetings, he appears somewhat reserved. However, on the patio at Four Seasons sporting slacks and an open collar short sleeve sports shirt he is exactly the opposite. Relaxed and unassuming, he presents himself in a way that you’d doubt he ever had a problem in the world.
Brown comes from almost three decades of law enforcement in Claremont and other Southern California communities to retire to what he called, “A happy life in retirement, where my wife and I could enjoy some of the things we didn’t have time for when I was a cop. It never remotely occurred to me that I would let myself be lured back into any kind of public service.”
However, when Paul Raver vacated his position, a group approached Brown and asked him to place his name in contention and he did. He easily explains where he’s been and where he is now. I wanted to know what he hopes to accomplish if elected and his opinions on certain topics regarding the local community.
Question: What is your feeling about the eight-mile median that Caltrans is planning on highway 74 running through Florida Avenue, Hemet’s major thoroughfare?
Answer: I oppose it. I have opposed it from the beginning. I think Caltrans is trying to take a ‘one kind fits all’ approach. They were misleading in my opinion. They looked at some general criteria and applied for some federal grant money, saying this was a safety situation and that there was a high frequency of cross-median collisions, in order to obtain funding for the median. I think efficient enforcement would do the job at far less cost. I’ve seen it done in another city where I worked as a police captain. They have not done any thorough research and testing. When you put together all the important data and perform the corrective strategic enforcement for those violations where they most frequently happen, it is much better than any median. A couple of years ago that was proven here in Hemet when Dave Brown was Chief of Police. We paired with CHP to patrol Florida Avenue. During those two years we experienced a 30 percent decrease in collisions. Having more motorcycle officers on the streets will prevent speeding and other traffic violations. Today we only have two, but more are in training.
Question: What do you consider the major problem in Hemet today?
Answer: The concern that both businesses and citizens have about safety. There are numerous factors involved. The presence of aggressive panhandlers and vagrancy is a major factor with business owners. It is so flagrantly visible that this is a deterrent to the business community and for entrepreneurs that might want to establish here. It has become a vicious cycle. I’m not talking about the genuine homeless who are trying to make their way back to who they were before the recent recession turned them upside down and are having a hard time trying to make it back. We need to support them in every way possible. Also, during the recession, the city lost its ability to be proactive. We had to scale down. That cost us a lot of our police department personnel. Thanks to Measure U funds, we’re building the public safety departments back up. The basics of my campaign involve enhancing our public safety. Once the community sees that we’re making [progress] in addressing those problems we’ll see people more comfortable about coming out and shopping in Hemet and we’ll attract more new business.
Question: There are two marijuana measures on the city ballot in November. How do you feel about legal pot shops in Hemet? The city is dotted with illegal ones.
Answer: I’m frustrated that the city was put into the position of having to create an alternative measure. Measure Y, the so-called citizen initiative isn’t that at all. It is funded by a private group who are seeking a foothold in Hemet to establish a monopoly on marijuana cultivation in order to cut out the little guy. In my opinion they misrepresented themselves, claiming that Hemet is a wide open city with no regulations which is untrue. Marijuana cultivation and sale is not permitted in Hemet. Plain and simple. True, we do have illegal dispensaries here. To close one costs about $30,000 by the time you go through all the court procedures. Then they move their operations down the street and the process starts all over again. I believe that Measure Z, the city sponsored option that bans marijuana for two years giving us a window of time to consider all the rules and regulations, is needed before we open up the city to something we may not be prepared for. We can learn from those communities that have made mistakes by not being prepared for what legalization without regulations can do.
Question: We have a sex trafficking problem in Hemet. How do you think that should be handled?
Answer: We just had a round up of prostitutes who practice their trade in Hemet, but live in San Jacinto. It is a rough situation. When the recession hit and we lost so many officers, we lost some of our ability to contain it. With the hiring of new police positions, the more seasoned officers are able to be out on the streets and flushing out the guys behind sex trafficking. Being proactive instead of reactive is a much better position to be in. We can use part of Measure U funds for that because it involves public safety. Also, we need to start arresting and exposing the names of the Johns. If there are no customers, the product is not going to sell. Combating the sex traffickers requires a regional approach, not jurisdictional.
Question: Finally, here’s my last question: Why do you feel you are more qualified than your opponent, Stacie Olson?
Answer: I think our biggest differences lie in that she is pretty much a “one issue candidate” – the homeless. She has made attempts to diversify in some of her campaign literature. I don’t like to misrepresent my agenda. It has to do with the depth of experience and exposure I’ve had over the years in my life as a public servant. As I’ve said, public safety is probably the most important issue to citizens. I see this as a pivotal time for Hemet. With my background, I’m in a better position to evaluate the five year plan that our police and fire departments have to support their objectives, to achieve and be creative. She doesn’t have that kind of professional experience. She wouldn’t have the same perspective that I have. She could learn, but that takes time. Our needs are immediate.
Whether you support his policies or not, it makes a reporter’s job a lot easier when a candidate is not afraid to answer the tough questions with answers that are not devious. Just sayin’.