Modesto councilman challenges Dick Monteith for District 4 seat on Stanislaus County board

04/18/2014 4:16 PM

05/24/2014 10:52 PM

Dick Monteith is seeking a third term on what is sometimes considered Modesto’s seat on Stanislaus County’s Board of Supervisors.

His opponent, Modesto Councilman Dave Lopez, said he wants to re-establish the city’s leadership status and bring more neighborhood focus to county government. Whoever is elected in June will represent the county’s most urbanized supervisorial district, including Modesto east of Tully Road, the airport neighborhood, a small part of Ceres and Del Rio.

The county administers health and welfare programs, criminal justice, jails, libraries and other services throughout its 1,500-square-mile jurisdiction, while city government is responsible for police service, streets, sidewalks, parks and utilities within Modesto’s boundaries.

Former city elected officials have had no luck against Monteith, who was a state senator from 1994 to 2002. He won the county seat in 2006 by dispatching former Modesto council members Balvino Irizarry and Janice Keating and former mayor Carmen Sabatino. He defeated Irizarry and Sabatino again in 2010.

Lopez, who will be termed out of the council in late 2015, created council meetings in the park and a graffiti cleanup program, and he thinks county government could be more accessible to residents. “I asked (Supervisor) Terry Withrow and (District 3 candidate) Scott Calkins if they would go with me to meet with residents in the park,” Lopez said. “They both said yes. You need to make it available to folks so they can tell you what they want fixed in their neighborhood and what they want fixed in their community.”

Both candidates said public safety and jobs are important issues for voters in District 4. But neither has offered a plan for bolstering sheriff’s patrols in unincorporated areas.

Monteith said one problem for the sheriff’s service was a salary cut for county employees, including deputies, during the recession. The salaries for deputies can’t compete with compensation for peace officers in San Jose and Los Angeles, he said.

Noting that money is not the only issue, Monteith said the sheriff has trouble hiring deputies because applicants fail background checks.

Lopez said deputies are underpaid compared with Modesto police officers and deserve competitive salaries because they are putting themselves in harm’s way.

The state has awarded $120 million for an expansion of the county’s Public Safety Center on Hackett Road, including hundreds of new jail beds and facilities for rehabilitating lower-level criminal offenders.

Monteith said the center will be a showcase for the aims of the statewide initiative to break cycles of addiction and crime.

Lopez agreed the jail space is needed to prevent early prisoner releases. “Those people are getting arrested and are back on the street in days.”

Sheriff Adam Christianson is endorsing Monteith, while Lopez is supported by Modesto Mayor Garrad Marsh and Ceres Mayor Chris Vierra.

Both campaigns are amassing cash, with Monteith reporting a total of $27,060, including $14,760 in contributions and loans this year and $12,300 raised last year. Lopez has raised $21,600 and expects to spend $35,000.

Monteith, 82, recently collected $1,000 contributions from Huff Construction, Oakdale rancher John Brichetto and energy contractor James Brenda.

Lopez, 47, reported accepting $1,000 on April 4 from Reed Properties LLC. Greg Reed is listed as a partner in that firm and G&K Enterprises, which has agreements to sell two downtown parcels for $3.13 million to the city for the new courthouse in Modesto. The land deals, approved Tuesday by the City Council, call for the city to sell the two parcels and four others to the state for the $277 million courthouse project.

Monteith has been an advocate for local control as state government imposes rules and regulations on counties. A large percentage of the county’s budget is committed to mandated programs. “We have a better understanding of our needs,” he said. “We have different priorities, different values.”

The two candidates want to see a more diversified economic base for Stanislaus County. Monteith said the county needs clearly defined industrial areas set apart from the best farmland. He said Modesto should stop pushing a plan for business parks west of Highway 99, which is opposed by Wood Colony residents.

As people are hired at Blue Diamond in Turlock and distribution centers in Patterson, Lopez believes Modesto has fallen behind on economic development.

He called the Kiernan Avenue corridor north of Modesto “a tremendous opportunity” for new industry. “We need to focus there. It is close to Highway 99, which is our pipeline to the world,” Lopez said.

The challenger added that a stronger link to Highway 99 is needed for the Beard Industrial District near south Modesto.

Regarding reported groundwater depletion in Stanislaus County, Monteith said an advisory panel needs to study the aquifers to know “what the problem is, and where it is,” and then work on solutions.

Lopez said the Modesto council has looked at stronger water conservation measures. He noted that water is the lifeblood of agriculture and related industries, which provide revenue for public services.

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