MODESTO — Two candidates for the Riverbank City Council said Wednesday that they would get city finances on track in the short term and carefully plan for population growth in the long term.
Jeremy Fennell and Cal Campbell, who are seeking to fill a vacancy in the June 4 special election, took part in a meeting with The Bee's editorial board.
The other candidate, Diana Gonzalez, canceled her appearance an hour beforehand.
The three are seeking to serve the last year and a half of the council term of Richard O'Brien, who was elected mayor in November.
Campbell said the city needs to focus on providing basic services in the next few years to build back its budget reserves.
Fennell said the budget also would be a priority for him. "I think the city is in horrible financial shape," he said.
Fennell, 30, owns Sin Cal Industries in the Crossroads shopping center, which sells skateboards, signs and other products and does tattoos and body piercings.
Campbell, 64, was a teacher and administrator in Oakdale and Riverbank schools for 35 years. He finished third in a seven-
person race for two council seats in November.
He and Fennell said the city should fill in vacant property within Riverbank's boundaries before expanding onto farmland.
Both said they are intrigued by a proposal to turn the former cannery next to downtown into a mix of homes, businesses and other uses, but that the cash-strapped city must move carefully.
Fennell said the Del Rio Theatre, which the city bought for $1.7 million in 2007 and then found to be in poor shape, could perhaps be sold to a private developer for a new use.
Campbell said the city could explore grants that could revive the Del Rio. "I think it can be an asset to draw people into the community with shows and entertainment, just like they did with the old theater in Newman," he said.
Fennell and Campbell said they would work toward filling the former Riverbank Army Ammunition Plant with new tenants, though it's a long process because of the cleanup from its past use.
"If we try to push it, it may turn out to be the next Del Rio," Fennell said.
Leery of district elections
Campbell said he expects the North County Corridor to eventually be built as a Highway 108 bypass on the south edge of Riverbank, but it needs to be done in a way that does not conflict with plans for downtown.
Fennell said the demands of his business have kept him from looking into that project, or attending most council meetings, but he hopes to plunge in upon his election. "I am a small business owner," he said. "I have spent the last three years building my business in the city of Riverbank."
Campbell said he has attended almost all of the council meetings since August.
Both said they are leery of switching to district elections, which have been thrust upon other cities by critics who believe that at-large elections discourage minorities from taking part.
The city went to a special election after the council failed to fill the vacancy by appointment.
Stanislaus County officials declined to conduct the election, contending that it was called one day past the deadline in state law. City officials insist that the process was followed and hired a state-approved private vendor to handle the vote.
Campbell and Fennell said that, should they lose, they would not challenge the results based on legal questions about the election's timing.
Bee staff writer John Holland can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or (209) 578-2385.
Cal Campbell: Riverbank City Council candidate
Jeremy Fennell: Riverbank City Council candidate