Meet the candidates for San Jacinto City Council

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Editor’s note: There are five candidates for the two at-large San Jacinto City Council seats opening as listed on the Nov. 3 general election local ballot. This week, readers have the opportunity to meet four of the candidates for those seats. After several attempts to contact, candidate Cynthia Stroffolino did not respond to Valley News’ before deadline.

Russ Utz

Russ Utz is an incumbent for his open seat. He has served on the council for the past four years, serving as the city’s mayor and council member. He is married and saw his daughter recently graduated from San Jacinto High School.

When asked what he has done for the city in the past four years, he said, “Four years ago, many of you decided to give me the honor of serving you on our City Council. We have come a long way together in that time. We have seen over 900 new homes built, new retail projects built and in progress (10 currently), development and opening of the New Soboba Casino Resort and so much more. These resulted in thousands of new local jobs, keeping our loved ones closer to home and creating opportunities for our kids to hold a job. Most of the accolades belong to our city staff.”


Utz spoke of the current staff and how they have worked together to improve and grow the city.

He said, “We have recruited and hired many new members of the team, including city manager Rob Johnson. He restructured our City Hall and has brought in many very talented, hardworking individuals to advance San Jacinto who have truly done ‘more with less’ at one of the lowest staff to population ratios in Riverside County.”

He cited the gains the city has made during his term.

“We may be growing, but our ‘small community lifestyle’ is important, and you’ve shown it by participating in our Fourth of July Parade and Main St. Celebration, our Summer Concerts at the Park and community events,” Utz said. “Public safety is a top priority, we have added police twice, as well as reopened the Cottonwood Fire Station. We continue to grow, together.”

He said he has been a good representative for the city on many commissions.

“Beyond serving in the city, I also work hard to represent the city, including vice chair of San Jacinto Valley Watermaster, Riverside County Transportation Commission, League of California Cities; Riverside Region Selection Committee chair and on the Statewide Environmental Policy, among others,” he said. “You got to know who I am through my volunteer service in many endeavors. Since being elected, you’ve known me to be honest, transparent, accessible and willing to challenge my personal convictions to do what is best for the city. Last year as mayor, I led a groundbreaking vision and goals workshop, where we set long-term goals to accomplish to continue driving the city forward. Soon you will see more public safety coverage, the new public arts program, and a real approach to the homeless issue. We have a bright future.”

Phil Ayala

Phil Ayala has been a resident of San Jacinto for 16 years, a member of the National Guard and a local teacher. He said he seeks to be a transparent leader on the city council.

“I have served as a teacher since 2004 and have developed the skills necessary to be a transparent leader by setting the example for others to follow,” Ayala said. “I strongly believe that elected positions are accountable to only one group, the voters. I stand ready to serve our community in a new direction of growth and the expansion of business, homes and opportunities for our community. I am a U.S. Army veteran having served for over 17 years. Initially trained as a small arms repairer and currently assigned to the California State Guard as a joint training command, warrant/officer candidate school instructor at Camp San Luis Obispo.”

He said he sees education as the key to maintaining democracy.

“I believe education is the foundation of democracy and, as the founder and director of our local youth nonprofit organization, Military Explorers Inland Empire Post III,” Ayala said. “I practice our motto daily, ‘erudiendum in posterum’ which means ‘training the future.’ I know our children are our future and the key to a successful, growing city. As such, we need to support more after school and extracurricular activities for our youth.

“As a father of three, I know the challenges parents face when their kids are idle with no opportunities. I wish to work collaboratively with the local school district to help our kids grow emotionally and academically. I am a father, and husband of 24 years to a fellow middle school teacher. Our oldest daughter was the San Jacinto Valley Academy’s valedictorian in 2016 and earned a U.S. Army Scholarship to California Baptist University to earn a bachelor’s degree in aviation. Our middle daughter is a professional makeup artist and our youngest, our son is currently a high school sophomore,” he said.

Speaking of his family, Ayala said, “My family and I are part of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints in San Jacinto, and I am a member of the American Legion and Military Officers Association of America. I am also an active National Rifle Association member and firearms instructor. If elected, I will work hard to bring more jobs to our community, support small businesses and support our local law enforcement on tackling crime. We all deserve a safe city to live and work. With your support, we can build a thriving and healthy city of San Jacinto while maintaining our small-town charm.”

Brian Hawkins

Brian Hawkins, a candidate for the city council, is the lead pastor of a local church and father of four children. He volunteers in many community events, helping others through the COVID-19 crisis and working with other city council members on various community projects.

“If you search my name, Brian E. Hawkins, on social media, you will quickly learn I am the lead pastor of Divine Appointment Worship Center, a church in our community,” he said. “You will also learn that during the COVID-19 crisis, our church fed thousands of families, provided free COVID-19 testing, gave access to information for free health care, volunteered at our local school district and helped bring awareness to mental illness. I have a loving and supportive family with four children that I am raising to become the best individuals they can be as well as helpers in our community.”

He said his family is very active in the community and can be seen out and about serving the community.

“I have worked with troubled youth in the San Jacinto School District and helped local businesses thrive,” Hawkins said. “I have worked alongside several city councilmembers and have been granted various awards from the office of former Mayor Russ Utz for my community service.”

He has been a guest speaker for local leaders and community gatherings, he said.

“In January 2018, Sheriff Chad Bianco asked me to speak at his Inauguration Ceremony,” he said. “I reached out to hurting community members at Black Lives Matter rallies, while maintaining and showing respect and support for our local law enforcement. I am currently running a ‘Back the Blue’ campaign. While activists promote ‘defund the police,’ I submitted an email to the San Jacinto City Council in support of the dedicated men and women who work tirelessly to keep our families and city safe.”

Hawkins said he sees himself as a repairer of the breach in life.

“I desire to bring our differences together to make a difference,” he said. “I am running to give hope to a person needing a second chance. I’m running to ensure residents feel safe at night. I am running for better jobs and opportunities in our city. Many people in San Jacinto would say I’m already doing the work and just lack the official title.”

Hawkins said, if elected to the city council, “I will bring knowledge I have gained through active participation. I will bring my experience managing franchises like Verizon and LA Fitness to working as a caretaker serving those in need. I am a man of action, a servant leader and have the integrity to be trusted as well as the passion to motivate. I am fully committed to moving San Jacinto forward and with the help of your vote this Nov. 3, we will move our city forward together.”

Crystal Ruiz

Crystal Ruiz is currently the mayor pro tem of San Jacinto and is running as a candidate for the city council.

On her election website, she said she is “working hard to continue filling her promises to the citizens of San Jacinto pushing for major road improvements, new residential construction and new retail development, bringing better jobs and more opportunities to those in the community now and for the generations to come.”

Ruiz said she is fulfilling her promises made when elected previously by “advocating fiscal responsibility, adding additional police officers to the streets, brought retail to San Jacinto totaling 2.5 million square feet with some beginning construction and other in development, increased code enforcement and graffiti staff, advocating road and street repairs now ongoing, addressing homelessness and vagrancy issues.”

Citing some of the projects she helped bring into the community, Ruiz named Commonwealth Crossings with a new convenience store, Seven-11, service stations and Del Taco; Luiseño Marketplace, which is in planning stages with the Soboba Band of Luiseño Indians and with a focus on revitalizing downtown San Jacinto.

Ruiz has been in meetings with President Donald Trump in recent months to bring the community to the attention of the White House.

Tony Ault can be reached by email at

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