VISTA — Councilman John Franklin will be stepping down from his current seat on the Vista City Council to run for mayor against Vista Unified Trustee Cipriano Vargas, while business owner and Marine veteran Vince Hinojosa III will run to fill Franklin’s seat.
After serving as a council member representing District 4 in Vista for the last seven years, Franklin confirmed that he will be running this year to replace outgoing current Mayor Judy Ritter, who is retiring from the office.
“The reason I’m running for mayor is that I truly believe that municipal leaders have to lead the way on a range of regional issues including homelessness and public safety…I’m looking for a clear mandate to speak up and be a voice for the people of Vista for a safer and cleaner community,” said Franklin.
At the state and local level, Franklin expressed that political leaders have failed to provide meaningful solutions to problems of homelessness and crime that he says are impacting the quality of life for Vista residents. As mayor, the councilman pledged to work closely with state and regional agencies to tackle the root causes of these issues while prioritizing transparency with his constituents.
“Our system…is failing law-abiding citizens in our duty to protect them. It’s wrong and I’m asking you to join me in my fight to hold the right people accountable,” said Franklin. “I’m on a mission to educate the public, to change public opinion, and to solve these problems.”
Elected to the City Council in 2014, and re-elected in 2018, Franklin has served as the city’s deputy mayor for three years during his time in office.
Prior to his tenure on the city council, he served on the Vista Irrigation Board of Directors from 2012-2014 and was previously a congressional policy adviser and business owner in Vista.
Currently, Franklin sits on a variety of regional boards and committees, including the North County Dispatch Joint Powers Authority, Encina Waterwaster Authority, and the city’s Investment Advisory Committee.
“Having done now almost eight years of service on the City Council…and with my colleagues having elected me for the third time to be the deputy mayor…I would say that my experience serving the community as a leader in the council has prepared me and given me a unique experiential advantage over other candidates who have never served on the council,” said Franklin.
Ritter and Councilman Joe Green both endorsed Franklin’s candidacy. Ritter expressed that Franklin’s experience and leadership on the council make him the most qualified candidate to take over her position in November.
“People need to have experience on the council before they just run for mayor, there’s a learning curve to being on a council and working with a group…I think that he’ll do what’s best for the whole city and not just for the district, I see him as being able to bring the council together and do what’s best for the entire city, so I support him for that reason,” Ritter said.
The mayor also described Franklin as a council member deeply engaged with the community and with the needs and concerns of Vista residents.
“He truly cares about this city, he wants to make this his home. If people have issues…he follows through to make sure that issue gets taken care of, he brings it to fruition, and importantly he’s constantly listening to the public and to his constituents,” Ritter said.
The only other candidate so far declared for the city’s mayoral race is Cipriano Vargas, president of the Governing Board of the Vista Unified School District. Vargas, who represents Trustee Area 4 in the school district, said that he’s running to lead the city in a new direction when it comes to issues of homelessness, housing affordability, and infrastructure.
“I see an opportunity to move Vista in a new direction, we have new challenges we need to tackle — as the school board president, I see issues of homelessness, housing instability that affects the families that make up our community — I want to make sure that we have a candidate to represent the dynamic needs of our community,” Vargas told The Coast News.
Despite his previous lack of council experience, Vargas is confident in citing his experience on the school board as preparing him to take on a leadership role for the city.
“I’m the president of the largest employer in the City of Vista with a budget of $290 million, an agency with a bigger budget and significantly more employees than the city council, and I’ve been engaging communities in this city on the budget…during the pandemic, putting safety on the forefront while partnering with the County Health and Human Services Agency, and in doing work with the county in supporting small businesses and nonprofits in this community,” Vargas said.
Vargas also took aim at Franklin’s record on the council, expressing the councilman has had limited success when it comes to the most significant issues facing Vista.
“I’m running because I see an opportunity to lead the city in a better direction, when you look at the city council on homelessness and housing, Franklin’s been there but what has he actually done to tackle these issues? I see that I need to step in and lead,” Vargas said.
Vargas’s campaign has been endorsed by council members Corinna Conteras and Katie Melendez.
The two candidates offered differing perspectives when it came to tackling homelessness, with Vargas expressing that he sees homelessness in Vista as largely an issue of poverty and affordable housing.
“The city has done a good job and needs to increase access to market-rate housing, to increase housing for middle-lower income level families. When people can’t get those opportunities, that’s when people either move away or end up homeless,” the school board president said.
“How do we work and have a strategic plan beneficial to the entire region…interconnected with good jobs and making sure that…people have a living wage, can pay for the resources they need to support a family, for housing and other things?”
By contrast, Franklin emphasized that providing housing in itself is not enough, as those on the streets suffering from mental illness and/or drug addiction cannot successfully reintegrate into their communities without services that specifically address those underlying issues.
During the homeless encampment sweeps in Vista that have been ongoing for several months, Franklin notes that while nearly 500 unhoused persons were offered housing and other services by city social workers, only around 50 of those individuals accepted assistance.
“The approach we’re taking right now is not working…what do you do with people who won’t accept help voluntarily, who suffer from real diseases that are mentally and physically destroying their bodies?”
Franklin advocated investing more in drug rehabilitation services and mental health treatment programs, arguing that treating these conditions is a prerequisite to getting unhoused persons off the streets.
“It’s critical that I as an elected leader can look into the eyes of citizens and say that we offered not just housing but drug rehab, mental health services, physical health, transportation…we have to look at what makes the total difference for the majority of the homeless population.”
District 4 Candidates
In Vista’s District 4, local businessman and longtime Vista resident Vince Hinojosa III has announced his candidacy to replace Franklin. Hinojosa, who has been endorsed by both Franklin and Ritter for the District 4 seat, says that he made the decision shortly after Franklin told him about his own campaign to run for mayor.
Hinojosa, who is a medically retired U.S. Marine, has lived with his family in Vista since 1999 and has worked as an independent financial planner and analyst in the city for over 20 years. He also serves on a variety of public and private financial advisory boards, including the Finance Committee for the City of Vista, Frontwave Credit Union, and the city’s Chamber of Commerce.
“I got into finance because I like the service industry, I like helping people…as I saw it, there’s a real need for financial advice because so many people do not know how to save for retirement,” Hinojosa said of his career.
His experiences in business, in financial planning, and as an avid community volunteer have all helped shape him as someone capable of leading in a role on the City Council, Hinojosa said, comparing the dynamics of running a city to those of running a business.
“With running a city it’s very similar because you have to have a vision, a mission, strategy, and tactics…Vista has its own vision just like a business and it’s about strategy and nothing more than planning what’s going to make us better in the future, stronger for the future, more cohesive for the future…knowing how to run a business and especially in finance gives me that advantage in…being able to execute a plan and that’s extremely important.”
Like Franklin and Vargas, Hinojosa emphasized that policies surrounding homelessness and public safety will be central to his candidacy.
“The safety of Vista is extremely important to me, and in my eyes that goes hand in hand with homelessness…we have a huge problem with homelessness and we need to start in our own backyard. Here in Vista homelessness is a double-edged sword, because it’s both an addiction problem and a mental health issues problem.”
Hinojosa also spoke of the need he sees for city policies to encourage an environment of growth and sustainability for small businesses. In particular, he said that he’s opposed to taxes that he said have a disproportionate impact on local businesses, such as the city’s gas tax.
“The gas tax affects a lot of small business owners, it affects places that rely on Postmates, Uber Eats, delivery…when it comes to things that the city council will vote on I’m going to make sure that small business owners have a voice,” he said.
Also running for office in District 4 is Armen Kurdian, a retired Navy Captain and businessman, as well as Dan O’Donnell, a member of Vista’s Chamber of Commerce as well as the city’s Rotary club.
Kurdian expressed that his experience as a naval officer has uniquely prepared him for public office, as he has the experience needed in management as well as in a leadership role required for a role on the city council.
“I’m running because I love serving and working for the betterment of my community, much as I did when I was in the Navy. Public office is about the citizens you will serve, not simply a title,” he said in a statement.
Kurdian says that he’s running for office on a platform of lower taxes, less regulation for businesses, and an increased focus on public safety. With crime increasing statewide, Kurdian vowed to tackle the problem head-on in Vista by bolstering local law enforcement agencies.
“My number one priority is public safety. We have an internationally accredited fire department and have world-class service from our Sheriff’s Deputies. However, as our population has grown, the level of service has not kept up, and we need to increase it,” Kurdian said. “ We cannot let the epidemic of crime occurring in so many parts of California take hold in our beautiful city.”
O’Donnell said that he’s going to run a community-oriented campaign, focusing on listening to the specific needs and wants of Vista residents.
“One of my campaign goals is to meet and speak with as many constituents as humanly possible; I look forward to hearing everyone’s perspective so we can work to meet everyone’s needs and achieve our goals together,” O’Donnell said.
O’Donnell also emphasized his extensive background of volunteering in the community, which he said will inform his approach to city government. O’Donnell has cofounded or volunteered at a plethora of Vista nonprofits, including the James Ryan O’Donnell Memorial Fund, Make Shadowridge Sparkle, Angel’s Food Pantry, and the city’s Boys and Girls Club.
O’Donnell also expressed that as an officeholder he’d work to tackle the long-term structural problems behind issues like homelessness, which he called “a community crisis.”
“It’s important to step back and understand the root causes of addiction and mental illness – a lack of real connection with people who truly care about and love them, and a history of trauma and pain. We’ve been operating in a system which has valued some over others, let some fall to the wayside.”
EDITOR’S NOTE: This article has been updated to include comments from District 4 candidates Armen Kurdian and Dan O’Donnell.