MERCED — The pews of a south Merced church were full Friday for a City Council candidates forum.
The nonprofit Merced Organizing Project hosted the forum inside Mount Pisgah AME Zion Church.
Newcomers Kevin Blake, Jana Mowrer and Christopher Ramirez, as well as incumbent Josh Pedrozo, took questions from the audience.
In a city where unemployment remains a persistent problem, the question of jobs came up.
Pedrozo, who has been in a council seat since 2009, said city government is in the position to team with Merced College and UC Merced to ensure locals are ready to take jobs when they become available.
Pedrozo, 30, said incentives to hire locally would also help.
"(We have) to look at local-hire language," the Merced High School teacher said. "When businesses come in and bid, they get a local-hire discount."
Ramirez, who teaches writing at UC Merced, pointed to vocational training and better education for primary and secondary students.
"We need to continue to build on the resources that are available to us in our community," the 39-year-old said.
Ramirez said reducing developer fees is also a tool to attract business. The Merced City Council has done so, but Ramirez said he would lower them further.
The four candidates are vying for three seats on City Council in the November election.
Blake, 32, a sergeant with the Sheriff's Department, echoed the idea to give tax breaks to businesses who hire Mercedians. He added that businesses will come to a clean and safe place.
"I think in the long term it's important to ensure that Merced is a good, clean, safe environment for the residents," Blake said, "so it is attractive to people coming in that wish to start new businesses."
Mowrer said tourism could be the answer to adding jobs to Merced. The 26-year-old graduate student at California State University, Fresno, said Merced County could find a boon in agricultural tourism.
"We produce people's food," she said. "We need to show we can draw people and attract people here, and show them that we are a great area."
The official candidate filing period is July 15 to Aug. 9.
Los Banos Enterprise reporter Thaddeus Miller can be reached at (209) 388-6562 or firstname.lastname@example.org.