PATTERSON -- Perhaps it's no surprise that Patterson, where political gamesmanship seems as popular as apricots, has produced six candidates for just two City Council seats.
A formerly sleepy West Side town known for quaint roundabouts, Patterson has expanded at a much more rapid pace than any of Stanislaus County's eight other cities in recent years. Although vast tracts lost hundreds of families to foreclosure in recent years, the city's impressive economic spurt has been second to none, drawing distribution centers for Kohl's, CVS Pharmacy, Grainger and Amazon.
Patterson, next to Interstate 5, could command attention as the county's hot spot for decades to come despite the 18-mile drive separating it from Modesto.
Both council members with expiring terms are seeking re-election and say continuity at the top is a must.
Some of their four challengers say they would like to restore civility on the council. Most have not individually attacked the incumbents.
Camacho said his experience with labor negotiations as a warehouseman in Tracy helps him understand how to deal with people who have different reference points. Partnerships are a key to success, he said.
Drawing jobs to the city, both from large corporations and small businesses, should be the council's priority, Camacho said. He also wants more opportunities for young people.
The son of Mexican immigrants, Camacho worked in fields with his family as a boy.
"I want my town to be better," he said. "There are some obvious issues that just are not getting solved because there is too much disagreement. We can't continue to go down that path."
Farinha is proud that Patterson has lured major employers at a time when other cities have lost companies. He would like to keep building momentum by diversifying, perhaps with more manufacturing or high-tech jobs.
A councilman for five years, Farinha also wants to improve downtown parks and explore a larger site for the library.
"I'd like to continue the progress," he said. "There still is a lot more that needs to be completed."
He is the only candidate on this year's ballot who was born in Patterson in a since-decommissioned hospital and has lived here all his life.
"I've always had an independent voice, I've lived here the longest, I have a different perspective and I've worked harmoniously with everyone on the City Council," Farinha said.
Fierros was 18 when he ran for Oakley City Council and lost by fewer than 1,000 votes, he said. He served on a number of advisory panels in Contra Costa County dedicated to youth, libraries and substance abuse, and he recently was named to the Stanislaus County Mental Health Board and the county's civil grand jury.
He wants to use his "vast experience and understanding of public service" to help the council, he said.
Fierros attends community college in Merced and hopes to study psychology.
"What's needed on that City Council is a neutral person who is willing to hear any situation and is not afraid to enter into any conversation," he said.
Lustgarten was curious at the "mudslinging" among council members in a health care facility flap when her husband took a job in the area. She became a regular at council meetings and has missed hardly any in the ensuing four years.
An advocate of open government, Lustgarten founded Patterson Residents for Ethics, Safety and Service, pushing a sunshine ordinance and better access to meeting agendas.
"You basically had to be a detective to get at everything," she said.
Lustgarten has rallied seniors and spearheaded National Night Out and Neighborhood Watch efforts. She wants Spanish speakers to feel more comfortable about approaching City Hall and would encourage real-time interpretation at meetings.
"I've always had civic duty as one of my priorities," Lustgarten said. "It's just my personality, what I'm made of."
McCord has been content to work behind the scenes since coming to town 13 years ago, volunteering with Boy and Girl Scouts, the Lions Club, a food pantry and a homeless shelter. The City Council's spats, he said, nudged him to run.
"I'm tired of the drama," McCord said.
"I'm normally the guy barbecuing in the back or setting up and cleaning up at the end, trying to help the community be better," he continued. "In this case, I'm compelled to be out front and speak. The only way to make change is if you actually help to make change."
The for- mer Army officer and Marine is the only candidate to mention housing a major issue in past campaigns in his platform, along with jobs and public safety. With so many employers coming to town and banks holding on to foreclosed properties, Patterson will need an additional 2,000 to 3,000 homes in the next decade, McCord said.
Smith was drawn into activism through issues such as the Westley tire fire and the ill-fated proposed expansion of the Fink Road landfill, and became a councilwoman six years ago. She figures the city has lured about 3,000 jobs since, including unfinished projects.
That growth "is no accident," Smith said, citing "vision, careful planning and preparedness" and "unwavering perseverance."
Civil grand jurors heaped scorn on her, saying she ought to resign for enriching a developer and help- ing to oust former City Manager Cleve Morris, with help from Farinha. Smith fought back with a lawsuit against the grand jury. A judge later tossed the lawsuit.
"I'm fiery," she acknowledged. "Everyone wants these seats. Do they want the responsibility that goes with these seats?"
Smith has crossed swords with the mayor, who beat her for that seat two years ago.
"I took an oath of office to protect from enemies foreign and domestic," Smith said. "If that enemy is sitting two chairs away, so be it. I took an oath."
Bee staff writer Garth Stapley can be reached at email@example.com or (209) 578-2390.