A Cathedral City council member is defending his actions and integrity after concerns were raised over a repaving project located just beside his restaurant.
Councilmember Ernesto Gutierrez's restaurant, Tortillas, sits adjacent to the alleyway in question near Ramon Road and Cathedral Canyon Drive, where the council approved a $128,012.50 repaving project.
Gutierrez adamantly denies any impropriety, asserting that the project isn't a personal endeavor but rather a response to long-standing complaints from neighboring business owners and residents.
"The concern is that this project was added all of a sudden, to a current project that the city manager and the engineering department is doing," Gutierrez said.
Councilmember Raymond Gregory raised questions about how the alleyway project found its way to the council's consideration and was eventually approved in a 3 to 1 vote, with Gutierrez recusing himself from the decision.
"It's really obvious that it's because a council member had the ear of staff, that they decided that they were going to add this project in," Gregory said.
Emails obtained through a public records request show Gutierrez communicated with city staff in April about "2 business owners'" complaints regarding the deteriorating condition of the alleyway. The city manager initially responded, indicating that the project would be added to the next round of paving initiatives. However, the assistant city manager inquired how the project was added if it hadn't been part of the council's budget discussions.
"Everybody's complaining, the whole neighborhood is complaining," said Lawrence Salameh, the manager of Larry's Market. Once the project received approval, he said he became relieved for both his customers and staff who navigate the alley daily.
Jim Vonnell, manager of Discount Tire Center, echoed the sentiment. "It's a constant use. It's not like it's just an alleyway. It's a city-use street. It needs repaving," Vonnell said, highlighting the necessity of the project for the broader community.
Gutierrez remains steadfast in his defense, asserting that he acted in response to the complaints of local business owners and residents rather than for personal gain.