TURLOCK -- Four people vying for two seats on the Turlock City Council in November agree on one thing: This is the most challenging time in recent history to hold public office.
Incumbents Amy Bublak and Mary Jackson and challengers Sergio Alvarado and Steven Nascimento all believe they are qualified to lead Turlock as the city struggles to balance its budget in the face of rising health care and pension costs and an economy that shows no signs of speedy recovery.
Here's a look at the four candidates:
Sergio Alvarado, 33, moved to Turlock in 2008. The Dinuba native works as a clerk for the U.S. Postal Service.
"I came from a town of 10,000," he said. "So it was quite a big shift. Six months later, I was in love with this place."
Running for local office is the culmination of "a long-standing ambition to get into politics," he said. "It's something I've dreamed about for a long time, wanting to serve my commu- nity."
Alvarado said he favors controlled growth. "We can keep it being small and still thrive," he said. He likes the decisions previous councils have made to focus retail at the Monte Vista Crossings shopping center and downtown.
"We can become a retail powerhouse at Monte Vista Crossings, and at the same time you can have your traditional downtown," he said.
He didn't much care for the council's recent decision on the city's general plan, which anticipates a city with 104,000 residents at some unspecified time in the future. He would prefer to see Turlock stay closer to its present size of about 70,000.
"I'm a staunch opponent of taking away farmland to grow," he said. "Having grown up in a very rural area, I've seen where the farming industry is the main driver of the economy. When you start taking that away, it can decimate the Central Valley's value."
Amy Bublak, 47, is a police officer in Modesto who has served on the council for four years.
"I felt like we as a city and I as a person got a lot done," she said, citing projects such as the public safety center, Joe Debely Stadium, the water play area at Columbia Park and the Carnegie Arts Center.
Bublak came to the city to attend California State University, Stanislaus. "I owe a lot to Turlock," she said. "I became who I am because of Turlock."
Though she's proud that the city spent all of its redevelopment money before the state could take it away, Bublak said she continues to be concerned about Turlock's overall budget. In recent meetings, she's questioned change orders increasing the cost of projects that typically would be approved without discussion, and she's voted against spending money on efforts such as employing a lobbyist.
"I want to be frugal," she said. "That's how I spend my money in my personal life. We don't want to be too easygoing and then turn around and ask the employees to take concessions."
Bublak said she didn't plan to run again, but several people asked her to consider it.
"Quite frankly, I was going to go live with my husband," she said. Bublak's husband, Milt Richards, left his post as athletic director of California State University, Stanislaus, last year for a job at a college in Canada. "But we decided that it was a good time for both of us, and it works out all right for us."
Bublak said she plans to stay in Turlock through her entire term.
"Public trust is huge, especially in my career," she said, though she noted that police work can be unpredictable. "If I die, then I apologize. But short of that
I will be here for you."
Fellow incumbent Mary Jackson, 44, is a native of Turlock.
Jackson, a former journalist who recently started consulting for Emanuel Medical Center's staff newsletter, said she is running to keep her seat because she wants to accomplish proj- ects that haven't come to fruition.
"I want a youth center," she said. "I want an ice skating rink. I want a parks and recreation foundation."
Jackson said she wants to see the city continue its economic growth and diversification. She pointed to the city's industrial park, which this year landed a plant now under construction by almond processing giant Blue Diamond.
"I'd like to see us get the industrial park filled out and then look at a second one," she said.
Jackson didn't agree with the city spending redevelopment money to refurbish Joe Debely Stadium at Turlock High School and voted against giving the school district $3 million for the project.
"The saving grace is that students are so proud of that field," she said.
She said she was gratified by some of the accomplishments during her first term, including the reconstruction of the Carnegie Arts Center and the resurrection of a farmers market downtown.
"I'm running on my record," she said. "I've tried my best to be fiscally responsible and make the hard choices."
Steven Nascimento, 26, is district director for state Sen. Anthony Cannella, R-Ceres.
The son of immigrants, Nascimento said his parents' efforts to help their family spurred him to run.
"I feel like I need to repay that somehow," he said. "I can't pay it back to them, so I feel a need to pay it forward."
Nascimento, who like Alvarado has been attending city meetings regularly, said he wants to build on the success that earlier councils had in shaping the city. He does disagree with some recent decisions, or lack thereof.
"We're talking about how we're going to fund water infrastructure," he said. "They had a chance to address that issue in 2009, but they took a pass." Council members at that time decided to wait on a proposed water rate increase until the city made the move to metered billing.
"I feel in general terms the city has postponed a lot of difficult decisions," Nascimento said. "All the easy decisions have been made."
Nascimento said his background in city planning will be an asset to the council. And though he works for Cannella now and previously worked for Rep. Dennis Cardoza, Nascimento doesn't view a council seat as a steppingstone to something bigger.
"Having gone through the process and seeing it up close, I think I'm less inclined now to seek higher office," he said. "I never want to say never, but my wife is pregnant with our first child, and I am going to focus on my community and family."
Bee staff writer Patty Guerra can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or (209) 578-2343.