Stanislaus County supervisor candidates field questions on key topics

kcarlson@modbee.comApril 30, 2014 

At a forum Wednesday, candidates for two seats on Stanislaus County’s Board of Supervisors were asked what they would do to improve public safety and combat gang violence.

Dave Lopez, a Modesto councilman running for the District 4 seat, said the county can start by giving raises to sheriff’s deputies to make sure they are not the “lowest-paid officers in our area.”

Dick Monteith, the District 4 incumbent, said the county should not try to pay the highest salaries in the state because it can’t compete with police officer wages in San Francisco.

Lopez shot back: “I did not say the highest paid in the state; I said a competitive wage.”

Incumbent Terry Withrow, who seeks a second term in District 3, said the county will hire more deputies as the economy improves, and he wants to reopen sheriff’s substations in troubled communities.

His opponent, Scott Calkins, said he did not know if the Sheriff’s Department management is top-heavy, but deputies on the front lines are most important and their pay should at least be even with Modesto police officers, he said.

About 50 people attended the forum at Tenth Street Place in Modesto hosted by the League of Women Voters of Stanislaus County. A moderator posed questions that sounded out the office seekers on major challenges facing the county. On June 3, voters will decide who will represent the two districts, each of which includes part of Modesto.

Calkins, a Modesto High School teacher, was the only one who favored a temporary moratorium on well drilling as the county studies the extent of groundwater depletion that is taking place.

“We are in a drastic situation,” and those with residential wells have reason to be concerned, Calkins said.

Withrow, an accountant and farmer, said a moratorium on new wells was “the last thing we should do.”

The county needs good data on the condition of aquifers before that decision is made, he said, and he is working on an advisory committee formed to study groundwater.

Monteith agreed that more information was needed. “Let’s not compound our problem because of ignorance,” he said.

Lopez said agriculture relies on groundwater, and he promised to “drive the bus” to stave off state efforts to take surface water from farmers.

The candidates were careful not to provoke Wood Colony residents who have fiercely opposed Modesto’s plans for business parks on the farmland west of Highway 99 in county District 3.

Monteith, whose district includes Modesto east of Tully Road, plus Del Rio, the airport neighborhood and a small part of Ceres, said the city should leave Wood Colony alone and also let Salida residents determine their own destiny.

Lopez didn’t back down on the question of Salida, which has been in Modesto’s growth plan since the 1990s. He stressed that the city subsidizes fire and water service for the unincorporated town of 13,700 and said Modesto should target the Kiernan Avenue corridor for developing jobs.

Withrow and Calkins agreed with removing Wood Colony from Modesto’s general plan, but they disagreed about expanding Highway 132 on a realigned route north of Maze Boulevard.

In his closing statement, Calkins challenged Withrow to outline the plans for the 132 project at a public meeting before the election. Calkins maintains the new route will destroy farmland by inducing sprawl.

Withrow, who favors the new route to move goods and services for existing industries, has helped write a measure that would place strict urban limits around Modesto and prevent development along a realigned 132. The incumbent did not respond to Calkins’ challenge to discuss the plans at a meeting.

In anticipation of renewed pressure for development, the office seekers were asked where they would allow future urbanization.

Withrow said growth should occur east of Modesto, where there is less productive farmland, but predicted that future development reviews will consider whether groundwater recharge areas would be paved.

Calkins said there is plenty of land inside cities for new industry and housing, and it makes sense for cities such as Modesto to “grow up, not out.”

Lopez said young adults like the idea of working, living and enjoying themselves downtown, and he favored multistory residential projects in Modesto’s core.

Monteith, who served eight years in the state Senate before his two terms on the county board, said development should occur on the least productive ground. He said the county could look at developing new cities.

On a question about attracting biotechnology firms to the county, the candidates said they were open to accommodating the industry.

Calkins and Monteith said the county would need to coordinate with education centers such as UC Merced or California State University, Stanislaus, to attract those companies.

Withrow noted that some of the more sophisticated agricultural businesses in the area were working in the biotech field.

A replay of the forum will be broadcast on Comcast Channel 7 and Charter Channel 19 at 8 p.m. Thursdays and Saturdays at 7 p.m.

Bee staff writer Ken Carlson can be reached at kcarlson@modbee.com or (209) 578-2321.

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