During a League of Women Voters forum held Monday evening at Tenth Street Place, candidates for the Modesto City Council answered questions on how they would fix the citys crumbling roads and revitalize its downtown, and why they are qualified for public office.
There were few surprises, with the candidates supporting such issues as job growth, reducing crime and having city government live within its means. The two-hour forum, which was held in the basement chamber of Tenth Street Place, drew an audience of about two dozen people and was broadcast live on Comcast Channel 7.
The candidates fielded more than a dozen questions from audience members in the basement chamber, as well as from TV viewers who called league officials. The candidates also made opening and closing statements.
Seven of the nine candidates running for the three council seats in the November election attended the forum. Candidate Ryan Schambers had a conflict with school and could not attend, but a league official read a statement submitted by him.
Schambers, who is a college student and security guard, said that he is running in part to increase accountability on the council and that too many council decisions are being made behind closed doors.
Candidate Juan Melgoza, who has an eBay business selling skin care products, also did not attend.
Modesto elects its six council members by district. The mayor is elected by citywide vote. Council districts 2, 4, and 5 will be on the Nov. 5 ballot. Council members serve for four-year terms.
The candidates were asked about Measure X, the temporary, 1 cent sales tax on the November ballot. City officials say the tax should bring in about $26 million annually during its six-year life. City officials say after dipping into reserves and cutting spending because of the recession, they need the tax increase or the city faces drastic budget cuts.
District 2 candidates Tony Madrigal and Juan Telles, District 4 candidate Rickey McGill and District 5 candidate Jenny Ketchum Kenoyer said they supported the tax increase.
We dont want to be like Stockton, said McGill, a retired assistant principal at a California Youth Authority school. If we dont pass Measure X, well be in big trouble.
District 4 candidate Bill Zoslocki and District 5 Councilwoman Stephanie Burnside did not say whether they supported Measure X.
District 2 candidate Jon Rodriguez said he was troubled by the tax measure because it started off as a half-cent public safety tax and then became a 1 cent general tax, though city officials say they intend to spend half of the tax on public safety, a quarter on roads, a tenth on replenishing city reserves and the rest on parks and recreation and economic development.
A tax dedicated to a specific purpose, such as public safety, requires two-thirds voter approval and can be used only for the specific purpose. But a general tax, such as Measure X, requires a simple majority and can be used for any general government purpose.
Rodriguez said he feared Measure X would be spent on salaries and pensions, though supporters insist that wont be the case. He also argued that the root cause of crime is poverty, which needs to be addressed to make any lasting reduction in crime rates.
Madrigal said if council members dont honor the intent of Measure X the electorate can vote them out of office, and Ketchum Kenoyer said the city will set up an oversight committee to monitor how the tax is spent.
The Safer, Stronger Modesto, Yes on X, committee has raised $96,498 to support the measure, with $53,800 of that coming from the Modesto City FireFighters Association and $40,000 from the Modesto Police Officers Association.
The candidates also discussed how they would address the problem of the homeless, especially in downtown. Some of the candidates, such as Ketchum Kenoyer, a retired nurse, and Telles, a community volunteer and seasonal winery worker, supported establishing a day center for the homeless, where they would be off the streets while they accessed services.
Other candidates, such as Burnside and Zoslocki, said the problem of homelessness is complex and requires a multifaceted approach.
Bee staff writer Kevin Valine can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or (209) 578-2316.