Modesto Council hopefuls show disparity

Differing views of city emerge from forum

September 30, 2009 

Modesto City Council District 4 Candidates Joe Muratore (top, l-r) and Jeff Perine; (Bottom) Robert Stanford.

MODESTO BEE

Two views of Modesto — one hopeful, one bleak — emerged at Wednesday night's forum for three City Council candidates running in District 4.

Community activist Robert Stanford said Modesto is on the brink of becoming a ghost town destroyed by out-of-control development. Joe Muratore, a commercial real estate consultant, painted the city as a mecca for young, educated professionals. Jeff Perine, a teacher at a juvenile justice facility, fell somewhere in between. He said Modesto must solve serious problems such as gang violence and drugs before it can shine.

The 45-minute forum, sponsored by the League of Women Voters, was a chance to get to know the three men vying to represent District 4. The district, home to about 15,000 registered voters, includes the La Loma and airport neighborhoods.

Muratore, 31, told of growing up in Modesto, then leaving to teach English in China and go to school in Boston. He said he decided to return when he realized that Modesto held opportunities he once thought he could only find elsewhere.

Perine, 29, touted his deep roots in Modesto, which date to the 1920s. He said his family had seen good times and bad since then, and so had the city. "At this critical point, my question to you is, will our strengths or our weaknesses prevail?" Perine said. "I want to work with you to make sure our strengths prevail."

Stanford, 43, described his history as a community activist who speaks for "people who can't speak for themselves." He said he's frustrated by his lack of progress, and wants to serve on the council to guide the city in a positive direction.

Questions from the public centered on development and how the city will weather the recession.

Stanford said Modesto had grown too fast, and was at the mercy of developers. He said he wants slow, smart growth. Perine said he wants development that "builds and supports the city." Muratore advocated for well-planned commu- nities and setting clear guidelines for growth.

Strategy for budget

Candidates were asked to name a strategy for balancing the city's budget. Perine suggested re-evaluating the cuts the city has made to see whether they're sustainable. He said he'd like to see the city use native plants in parks, because they're cheaper to maintain.

Stanford said he'd shine a light on the council's consent agenda, the list of items the council usually approves without discussion. "Every week we've got money going out that's not really looked at by the entire council," Stanford said. Muratore chided his challengers, saying the city's budget problems were too big to be solved with their proposed solutions. He said the current council had done the best it could, and he didn't know where else it could make cuts.

The three contenders were asked what Modesto could do to improve its image. Muratore sounded the most positive note, saying that Modesto had changed for the better, but would improve more if the city did more to keep young people from joining gangs. Stanford said the city's image could be turned around if neighbors reached out to one another to solve the city's problems.

Perine likened Modesto to a village clouded in smoke from a fire. Only putting the fire out will clear the smoke away, Perine said. That means tackling core issues such as crime, he said. "It's not an image problem, it's a reality problem," Perine said.

Bee staff writer Leslie Albrecht can be reached at lalbrecht@modbee.com or 578-2378. Follow her at Twitter.com/BeeReporter.

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