Saturday, October 4, 2014

• Meet Mayor Marsha Swanson

This is the third in my series of "Better Know a Candidate" and I'm really enjoying the process. Today my recording equipment served me well as I spoke with Mayor Marsha Swanson under a pagoda near the newly installed Freedom Swing at Marna O'Brien park.

Marsha Swanson

 WR  How did Wildomar become your hometown?
 MS  That's a little bit of a story. My grandmother moved to Oregon, a beautiful place called Cottage Grove. We thought about moving up there, but with John [Marsha's husband] in construction we thought, "probably can't work here." So we came back home, Lakewood then, and started driving looking for some country. We were on old 395 and ended up in Sun City. The real estate office we stopped at in Sun City said, "We're sorry, you can't live here, you're not old enough."

We explained what we wanted and the realtor said, "Oh, I have a really nice piece [of property]" and he drove us to Wildomar. We liked the house, and put an offer on it, but someone else got it... well that house happens to be right across from where we live today. 

We're in the third house in Wildomar that we've built and lived in. Our very first one was a single wide mobile home, with three children, two cats that had kittens and a dog we got from the Stater Bros in Perris.

 WR  What was the approximate population of Wildomar then?
 MS  I don't think they had a count back then. When we drove down the 71 (the highway of the time) the sign for Lake Elsinore said 1400, and there wasn't a population for the area called Wildomar.

 WR  Tell me a little about your family.
 MS  I have a large family and they are all here in the area. I have three daughters, all three married —to the original men they married (said with a smile). I have seven grand children and six great grandchildren. We do a lot of family things together. My great niece is having a birthday party Sunday and we're going to the park and having a soccer game; family against family. Black shirts against white shirts. There will be from two year olds to seventy year olds playing soccer together.

 WR  How did you get involved in local politics?
 MS  I've always been concerned about business and the people in Wildomar. Through the chamber [of commerce] to start with, then we had a group called the MAC. We had no power, we were appointed by the County Supervisor, who at that time was Bob Buster. There were four of us, or five, at a time... it changed —there were different people all the time. Our job was  to have community meetings and to let him know what the community was missing, or we we wanted or what we needed. 

At that time, local government didn't exist. If we wanted to touch government, we had to drive to Riverside. That was before the freeway was in, so it took awhile to get there. So it was nice to have some input [with the MAC]. In the three years that I was on there, the library went in. We didn't get to pick the name, but we did get to pick many of the things... what the building was going to look like, the colors. That kind of got me started.

 WR  What was your position on cityhood for Wildomar?
(really an extension of the previous question)
 MS  I was skeptical at first. I knew what was here, I knew what kind of commercial base we had, I knew what our houses sold for, I knew how much tax they produced. I was skeptical but I wasn't against it. I campaigned very much in favor of becoming a city. I had two good friends that came to me and said, "You know, we've got  a lot of people running for city council... and not all of them are good. We want good people in, will you run?"

I thought, "What!" "What do I know about running for an office." I'd run a business, and had been president of the board of  Realtors... but a city is very different. After a few breakfasts, and a couple of lunches, I did say, "Yes I would."

 WR  What are some of the highs and some of the lows you've experienced as a city council member? 
 MS  The highs are pretty easy [to identify]. Becoming a city, sitting out on the field at Elsinore High School and being sworn in. I didn't realize how awesome it would feel... and I thought "local control, I don't have to drive to Riverside anymore, we get to make our own decisions.

The lows have been, that I found out, we don't have a lot of local control —really. The feds have the highest control, the state steps in and takes money that LAFCO said was ours to run our city with. The different rules, the different laws that come into effect [such as] The Housing Element. 

Wildomar's first city council. Scott Farnum, Bob Cashman, Bridgette Moore, Marsha Swanson and Sheryl Ade.

 WR  You're out on a special occasion... do you head for a Steak House or a Seafood Restaurant?
 MS   Right now, we'd head for a Steak House, because we've given up red meat. John has a heart condition, and we do a lot of fish. When we were eating red meat, we would have gone to the Seafood Restaurant [for a special occasion].

 WR  Being on the City Council requires leadership skills. Describe how you developed yours.
 MS  They've been slow in coming. I got my real estate license because we were moving out here, and there were no grocery stores; I had been a grocery checker. That got me started in that direction. I got my broker's license two years later, which allowed me to own my own company. Being a leader evolves one step at a time. I don't need to be a leader, but if nobody's leading, I tend to step in. 

 WR  Four years isn't a long time in the life of a city. Still, what would you like to see transpire during your next term if you get re-elected.
 MS  We need everything. The Board of Realtors does a report on each city, and the only thing that Wildomar has enough of is pharmacies. Right now I'm personally talking to a restaurant owner; a high end fast food establishment. I'll be showing him around tomorrow, not as a realtor, but just giving them information and trying to get them to come here. There is an ICSC event happening in San Diego, and I'm going to get info from every hotel and motel that is represented there. There is a [construction] pad right behind city hall, that is totally approved —including CEQA, water, sewer etc. They could start building right as soon as they had their plans done.

We can't afford to hire an economic development person, but I'm retired now. I understand land, I understand real estate, I know it [a project] has to pencil in, I understand business... so I've appointed myself at this point to go out and knock on some doors (said with a smile).

Here is one of her campaign signs seen around town.

 WR  Can you tell fellow Wildomartinis what is was like to have the city sued the first time, then repeatedly by the same groups, over seemingly meaningless issues?
 MS  First thought that comes to mind is: Anger. I don't get angry very often, it takes a whole lot to make me angry.  

That's when I thought, she [Sheryl Ade] has more power, by NOT getting reelected, than we that worked so hard to be elected —and work for nothing. When she didn't get reelected... that's when all of this started. She didn't pull this stuff when she was on the council. 

She had some good questions. She's a very smart lady. She probably really has read CEQA, and she understands it —to her way of thinking

It's not a black and white document. I don't know what pleasure they get from doing this. I've tried having a conversation with her on more than one occasion to find out why. [She told me] "They're wrong and I'm right"... she [acts as if] she knows everything there is to know and she's right. It's about proving that Sheryl Ade is right. 

They say it doesn't cost the city anything; they're wrong. Every time there's a document drop we have to pay the different attorneys extra/overtime to go over every word of what they said. To recheck our plans... then to explain it in closed session.

Look at Gary [Andre] bringing in all those papers, and dumping them on our desk five minutes before we started [the last city council meeting] regarding Bundy Canyon improvements. Then at the candidates forum saying how he was in favor of the Bundy Canyon improvemnets. His name may not be on the papers, but he hand carried them from the attorney to us.

 WR  I know that council members get a ton of material they have to read, but when that is done... what do you read in your spare time?
 MS   I'm in a book club. I read every month. The current book is Me Before You. I also like mysteries, thrillers, dramas... those kind of things.

 WR  Tell me about the Rotary Club, your participation, and how it's benefited Wildomar.
 MS   We had a forum back in 2008 at the High School. There was a huge turnout, we broke into smaller groups to find out what everybody wanted. We came back, put the ideas on the board, and Rotary was something they wanted. They wanted a Rotary Club here in Wildomar.

What they do is local, national and international charity work. Their big thing is fighting polio. They also have campaigns to put good drinking water in foreign countries. I think those are all wonderful, and lofty ideals... we donate [to those causes]. We haven't adopted a place like the Lake Elsinore chapter has, but we have done a lot of local things.

The BBQ that we do, all of that money goes back into the community. We've done scholarships, we've taken kids up to a camp called RYLA, where they learn how giving back to their community is important. 

Locally here, we have a lady that is almost completely blind. She used to be a cornerstone of the community. We've gone and cleaned up her house and yard... she has a little mobile home that she rented, the tenants have trashed... physically we've gone out and cleaned. 

We've had a clean up, picking up trash on Mission Trail. Click to read about how they raised money for a local resident in need of a service dog. 

WR  You hear of two different music festivals scheduled for the same day. With all other things being equal, do you attend the Blue Grass Hootenanny, or the Mozart/Beethoven/Tchaikovsky Extravaganza
 MS  The Bluegrass Hootenanny! ...and if I had my choice, it would be a rap group (with some laughter thrown in there). See, you didn't know that about me, did you? My day was The Sugar Hill Gang.

WR  Is there anything you'd like to add, that I haven't touched on?
 MS  This is a safe community, but our officers here are not safe. They don't have the backup [additional officers]. We don't have the people to back them up they need and that really scares me. Money to pay for more police, police willing to work for less... I don't care how it works, we just need some help. 

WR  If you had the attention of all the Wildomar voters, and this was your chance to ask them to vote for you, what would you tell them?
 MS   Well, there are all the standard lines, "Proven Leadership" and everybody uses those. the one thing I can say is I Care. I care what happens to my community, I care about the people that live here. I think that Bridgette [Moore], Tim [Walker] and Ben [Benoit] do also. They feel it in a different way than I do... I'm the mother (said with a grin). This is my family here. We're all neighbors and we all live here together.

•   •   

I don't know what other mayors of small towns do, but I've seen ours, first hand, and she works pretty tirelessly for her $300 a month. She is well informed on the issues facing our town and is an active participant in making it a better place to live. 

She's easy to approach and is happy to talk about our town. If you haven't taken the opportunity to pick her brain on things involving Wildomar, then I suggest you put that on your to do list.

You can only vote once per IP address, so don't try and cheat.

A gentle response turns away anger, but a harsh word stirs up wrath.


  1. I've had the opportunity to talk with Marsha on a couple occasions and, like this article said, she is very approachable and willing to share openly. There is no doubt in my mind that she truly loves our city as much, if not more, than any of us do...

  2. For the record the total salaries and benefits received by each council member totals $1,666.66 per month based on the last budget of $100,000 approved for 5 council members. This includes a $300 monthly salary with the balance being for insurance and retirement. This is nothing to sneeze at.
    Kenny Mayes

    1. I see your point, but based on your figures, $1300 of that isn't spendable. Also, a general principal is: You get what you pay for. As much as I'd like to have ZERO payouts when it comes to City Hall and City Staff, I'm thinking that wouldn't attract a very qualified group to pick from.

  3. That $16K+ a year may not be spendable but it frees up other money that can be spent. This group of individuals working part-time receive what many in this country can't afford working full time, even with government subsidies.
    Kenny Mayes

  4. I can only imagine your take on what Gary Nordquist and Dan York make.


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