By Sandra Emerson Staff Writer
Posted: 07/14/2011 06:31:58 PM PDT

UPLAND – City Council candidates on Wednesday had their first opportunity to outshine their opponents at a candidates’ forum.

The candidates answered citizens’ questions at the El Dorado Mobile Home Park.

Candidates had two minutes to give opening and closing statements as well as answer questions posed to them by park residents, including attracting businesses to the city.

Nine of the 11 candidates running for a vacant seat on the council attended the forum. Muhammad Zuman and Maureen Sundstrom did not attend.

The candidates are vying for a seat that was vacated in February when Ray Musser was appointed to be the city’s mayor.

Residents are required to mail in their ballots by Aug. 30.

Here are the candidates thoughts on attracting business to the city, in the order that they spoke:

Ladan Bezanson, learning coordinator for Montclair, said she would like to see green technology come to the city.

“There are people out there offering services for this, such as the type of electricity you have running in your home,” Bezanson said. “That can be offered so that way we can help the community by being more efficient first of all, second of all, we’ll bring in new industry that may help revive what’s going on right now.”

Retail businesses, specifically, will also boost the city’s revenue, she said.

Eric Gavin, a software architect for a Florida-based bank, said he would recommend all Upland businesses join the Chamber of Commerce.

The chamber member said he is also supportive of the chamber’s “Discover Upland” campaign, which encourages residents to shop within the city.

“My big focus as a City Council member would be to beef up services the Chamber of Commerce does provide to local businesses and do whatever we can to lower that price tag as well,” Gavin said. “I think $300 a year (the chamber’s membership fee) is a pretty high price tag. Whatever way we can lower that and allow a lot more businesses to come into the chamber and see what benefits of being a member are.”

Elaine Courey, a Bonita Unified School District teacher, said she believes the city’s permitting process should be reviewed to make opening a business in Upland easier.

“If we want to bring people into our city to start businesses within our city maybe we should look at the permitting process. Not get lax or anything like that, but maybe re-evaluate the fees that we charge,” Courey said.

She also contends the city should make an effort to fill empty historic buildings, such as the ones in downtown, rather than focus on building new ones.

Bob “Bubba” DeJournett, a retired Upland teacher and softball coach, also said the city’s permitting process should be streamlined for new businesses.

“Maybe work with other council members and city management to streamline it and cut through some of the red tape some of the new businesses have to go through to alleviate some of the problems and assist these businesses that are trying,” DeJournett said.

DeJournett said there are vacant buildings along Foothill Boulevard and in downtown that he would like to see filled again, which would ultimately increase tax revenue.

Martin Thouvenell, a former Upland police chief and city manager, said the city’s planning and development departments were unfriendly when he was city manager in the late 1990s. Recent corruption charges filed against the city’s former mayor, John “JP” Pomierski, may also be deterring businesses from opening in the city, Thouvenell said.

“I’ve talked to developers looking to develop and they get nothing but a headache from the city,” Thouvenell said. “They’re ready to do that kind of development (downtown), which will bring people to downtown. We need to explore ultimately more redevelopment funding downtown. That’s a big part of what I want to do.”

Thouvenell said the city needs to market itself to potential developers.

Dan Morgan, Upland city treasurer, said he is pushing to encourage solid business growth, provide community access as well as increase and improve revenue streams for the city.

“And I believe it really does start with the City Council as a cohesive group being positive about bringing in businesses, getting that to the administrative arm of the city, so we can press ourselves forward in a positive direction,” Morgan said.

The city has marketability with Foothill Boulevard, downtown and the Colonies development in the northeast of the city, he said.

Steven Roppel, real estate agent with Lee & Associates in Ontario, plugged the city’s specific plan, which is in the final stages of development.

“Once that blueprint is in place, we need to encourage development to follow that plan,” Roppel said. “We need the strength of the City Council to make sure the plan is quickly implemented.”

As a commercial real estate agent, Roppel said construction companies have shared their hesitancy in building in Upland due to the corruption charges.

“They’re concerned about the corruption and have it speak badly on their company and they said the planning department is very difficult to work with,” Roppel said.

“We need to work with everyone of the city of Upland employees to make sure they’re energized, move the city forward and have a positive attitude to support the growth of Upland.”

Debbie Stone, funeral director at Stone Family Funeral home, said the city’s Planning Department has not been friendly to incoming businesses in the past.

Stone said she believes the changes being made at City Hall to make it more friendly to developers and business owners is a necessary step.

“We need to … make people understand and see with their own eyes that we are a wonderful community and have a lot to offer people,” Stone said. “I believe if we continue on the road we’re on we’ll be able to have businesses hopefully knocking on our door wanting to come in and get back here because it won’t be so difficult to get through the permits and the regulations and the rules to do it.”

Sam Fittante, a retired owner of an Upland-based gardening business, said he would like to see downtown thrive like it did when he was growing up in the city.

To read entire story, click here.