John Zaitz: the man who doesn’t quit

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John Zaitz is well aware that he has lost four previous elections and obtained his seat on the Canyon Lake City Council by the vote of just two people: Tim Brown and Dawn Haggerty. After failing to win in the November election, John joined four other Canyon Lakers in applying this month for the seat vacated by Nancy Horton when she was elected to the Elsinore Valley Municipal Water District Board of Directors.

The five applicants were interviewed at a special meeting of the City Council on January 21. With Mayor Jordan Ehrenkranz absent, the decision to appoint a new member was up to Tim, Dawn and Vicki Warren. Vicki voted for Larry Greene.

Commenting on his appointment, John says he has now gone from being “the mouth” to having to “do something.”

Those who follow City politics know what that means. For those who don’t, suffice it to say John as been persistent in voicing his opinions at City Council meetings ever since losing his Council seat in the November 2008 election over a “small matter” known as Goetz Hill.

That year, many Canyon Lakers were up in arms over a proposal by Sky Blue Investments to grade/mine Goetz Hill, with the stated purpose of building a pad for a commercial center. (The rock-covered hill borders the southwest edge of the community, directly across Railroad Canyon Rd. from Canyon Fitness and adjacent to the Golf Course.)

Because of his friendship with fellow Councilman Marty Gibson, one of the partners in Sky Blue, John earned the disfavor of many Canyon Lake voters who opposed taking down the hill.

John agreed with Sky Blue that tax revenue earned through the sale of decomposed granite (DG) obtained in the process of taking down the hill would help the City’s coffers. He also predicted that creating a pad for future commercial development would eventually provide much needed income to the City.

Opponents countered that the grading/mining of the hill would have a negative impact on the health and aesthetics of the community. The opponents were led by Nancy Horton and Barry Talbot, who won the overwhelming support of voters in 2008. (Jordan Ehrenkranz also was elected to City Council that year.) John lost subsequent elections in 2010 and 2012.

In 2013, the City Council put Measure E on the November ballot. It was an advisory measure to learn whether voters had changed their minds about developing Goetz Hill. They hadn’t. Almost 76 percent of voters voted against Measure E. John campaigned heavily to get approval for Measure E and the development of Goetz Hill, and once again he lost.

That same year voters also turned down Measure D, a measure that would have raised taxes $204 (and up) per household per year to fund fire services and the operation of Station 60 for five years.

The defeat of Measure D left the City of Canyon Lake in the predicament of needing to somehow cut back on the costs of public safety or risk future disincorporation or bankruptcy. It was the very situation John began predicting soon after he lost the election in 2008.

He had earned respect while serving on the City Council from 2000 to 2008 and on the CLPOA Board of Directors from 1993 to 2000, but after leaving public office, John soon earned a reputation as relentless, demanding and occasionally hot-headed when he began criticizing the City Council – in particular Councilman Barry Talbot – over the Finance Committee’s reporting of City finances.

After one heated exchange during and after a meeting of the Finance Committee in February 2010, Barry obtained a temporary restraining order against John. The political squabbling and legal actions that ensued resulted in Barry losing reelection and John losing the election of November 2010.

And yet – after all of that – John never quit. He never stopped speaking out about what he believed to be the right course of action for the community. He quotes Martin Luther King Jr. when he says, “Our lives begin to end the day we become silent about things that matter.”

There is no doubt in anyone’s mind that John is a man who believes strongly in community involvement and service. He and his late wife, Cathy, began visiting Canyon Lake in the early 1970s at the invitation of former resident Byron Working, a fellow employee with the Automobile Club of Southern California.

John and Cathy bought a weekend home in the Continental Cove condos in the early 80s, and moved here permanently in 1989 to raise their children, John Edward and Kristen. After commuting to his job in LA for a year, John was put on special assignment and began managing various Auto Club offices in this area. He helped establish the Auto Club offices in Temecula and Murrieta, where Cathy, who also worked for Auto Club, became manager.

The job gave him flexibility of hours so that he could get involved in his kids’ interests as well as those of his new community. His friend Byron persuaded him to run for the CLPOA Board of Directors, where he was elected in 1993.

During the 90s and 00s, all of the Zaitz family members were active in various aspects of community life – from Canyon Lake Community Theatre to  the Chamber of Commerce, from Youth Action Committee to the Miss Canyon Lake Scholarship Pageant. John supported Cathy’s efforts to bring the Marine Band Concert and Oktoberfest to Indian Beach.

With Carolyn Knight, Margaret McCoy and Linda Johnson, Cathy helped found Bosom Buddies, a breast cancer support group that continues to reach out to women diagnosed with breast cancer, something each of the founders dealt with (and which ultimately claimed Cathy’s life in June 2008).

Cathy was named “Citizen of the Year” in 1999; John received the same honor in 2000. Encouraged by their parents’ example, John Edward and Kristen got involved in school and community activities and each were recognized as “Youths of the Year.” Kristen also earned the title of Miss Canyon Lake.

In the 1990s, John was actively involved with his fellow CLPOA Board members in overseeing the building of the new Lodge, creating a new park at Holiday Harbor, raising the grassy hillside for the amphitheater at Indian Beach and improving Gault Field and other amenities.

In 2000, he was elected to City Council, serving as mayor in 2003-04. In September 2004, the League of California Cities announced that John had met all the requirements for graduation from the Mayors and Council Members Academy of Advanced Leadership. At the time, he was the first and only Canyon Lake official to achieve that distinction.

Among other committees and associations, John also represented Canyon Lake in the Western Riverside Council of Governments for six years and was 2nd vice-president in 2008, receiving the League of Cities Leadership in Action Certificate.

But times were changing and voters were ready for new faces by the time the election rolled around in 2008. John was being called a “good ole boy,” a contemptuous designation by those who were opposed to his alignment with Marty Gibson and Sky Blue.

In that fateful year, John lost both his wife and his political career. But he still didn’t quit.

He continued to cultivate relationships in neighboring cities and in the County of Riverside. He continued to attend meetings of the Canyon Lake and Lake Elsinore City Councils. He stayed involved with the Chamber of Commerce. He stayed abreast of land development issues taking place on the borders of Canyon Lake. He paid close attention to fire services negotiations between the City of Canyon Lake and Riverside County Fire/Cal Fire.

During the 2014 election, he gave the impression that he was willing to give up cityhood if it meant keeping Station 60 open to provide full fire/paramedic services to the citizens of Canyon Lake. Now that he is a member of the City Council, John says his first goal is to help facilitate a resolution for fire services before Cal Fire’s contract is up on June 30, 2015.

And, yes, for those concerned that he will resurrect the idea of developing Goetz Hill, there is a good chance he will. Remember, this is a man who doesn’t quit.

Now that Pardee Homes has begun developing acreage on the far side of Goetz Hill, and TT Group (which owns the back one-third of Goetz Hill) is working with Pardee and the City of Lake Elsinore to develop its area, John believes Canyon Lake could someday end up with a one-third wedge of undeveloped hillside – and lose out on potential revenue – if it isn’t leveled with the neighboring properties and developed for commercial use.

John has just two years on City Council. Expect him to make the most of it.

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