RIVERBANK — All three candidates for the City Council described themselves Thursday night as deeply involved in the community and capable of making tough budget choices.
Cal Campbell, Jeremy Fennell and Diana Gonzalez took part in a forum, sponsored by the League of Women Voters, that drew about 30 people to the council chamber.
They are running in the June 4 special election to serve the last year and a half of the council term of Richard O'Brien, who was elected mayor in November.
Fennell, 30, owns Sin Cal Industries in the Crossroads Shopping Center, which sells skateboards, signs and other products and does tattoos and body piercings.
He said he opened the business amid a difficult economy three years ago and gained experience that he could bring to city budget discussions.
"Cuts are hard," he said. "Being an owner, I have fired people I didn't want to fire, and I've done some things I didn't want to do."
Gonzalez, 55, a school secretary in Riverbank, said her work as a union negotiator has taught her about school budgets, staffing needs and related issues.
She said public safety would be her top priority for the city budget.
"We have to keep the city safe," she said.
Campbell, 64, is retired from 35 years as a teacher and administrator in Oakdale schools. He said he gained experience with budgets while managing the district's libraries and other work.
"Difficult decisions will need to be made, and my background prepares me to do that," he said.
Campbell said the city has to keep a close watch on spending as it pays down debt resulting from the elimination of redevelopment agencies in California.
He said the city also needs to work with the state, which now owns the rundown Del Rio Theatre, originally bought by Riverbank with hopes it would help revive downtown. The options include a private project, he said.
Fennell agreed: "It's been a great part of our city before, and it could be again," he said.
Gonzalez said the vacant tomato cannery just west of downtown has potential for new uses but the city has to study how they would affect traffic near the site.
She said the city could create events that build on the success of the Riverbank Cheese and Wine Festival in drawing crowds downtown.
Campbell said a cannery project and other "infill" development could keep the city from sprawling onto farmland.
Gonzalez cited her volunteer work, including PTA, athletic boosters, Beyond Earth Day, the Riverbank Farmers Market and health causes. "I believe in contributing back and working together in the community to make our city stand out," she said.
Fennell noted his company's work in schools, including free football helmet logos for Riverbank High. He noted that he earned the Eagle Scout rank and helps current Boy Scouts on their Eagle projects.
Campbell said he has the most time of the three to serve because he is retired. He also mentioned his volunteer work on behalf of Jacob Myers Park and the Riverbank Historical Society.
Bee staff writer John Holland can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or (209) 578-2385.