Years of making tough decisions on Merced City Council have prepared Councilman Noah Lor for the mayor’s seat, he said.
“I want to move Merced in a positive direction, and help Merced to be prosperous,” the 49-year-old said. “I’m a very consistent voice for Merced.”
Lor said he is proud of a number of projects completed during his time in office: the GStreet underpass and revitalization of the Merced Theatre, as well as the city’s decision to cut developer fees by about 55percent.
Removing roadblocks to new businesses will get people working and generating tax revenue, he said, which would mean the city could afford to add public safety officers to the payroll.
The native of Laos was born during the Vietnam War, came to the United States at age 15 and landed in Merced in 1983. He learned English after coming to this country, and eventually graduated from California State University at Stanislaus with a master’s degree in social work.
Lor, a clinician for the Merced County Department of Mental Health, is in his second term on Merced City Council. That term is set to end in 2015.
His father, who was a soldier, and his mother, who was a farmer, had few skills they could use in the states. Lor said he grew up poor.
“I worked hard to achieve where I am now,” he said. “I understand the challenges that families here have to go through.”
Lor said helping others to start businesses or to find work is what drives him to be mayor. Lor said it’s important that Merced uses any federal or state funding it can to develop the infrastructure it needs to grow. He pointed to the high-speed rail stop planned for Merced, and touted the $27.4 million project completed this year at the city’s waste-water treatment plant.
“If we want to be able to assist business, to create jobs, we have to be able to support these type of projects,” he said, “so we can help establish business, and help new business to prosper.”
He said the high-speed rail stop alone will create thousands of jobs. Lor said he city needs to encourage more projects such as the 117,800-square-foot, four-building office complex to be built on the south side of Mercy Avenue.
Lor said some of his other experience also readies him for the mayoral seat. He points to his positions with Court Appointed Special Advocates, the Merced City School District bilingual advisory board and Merced County Juvenile Justice Commissioner, among others.
Opponents of Lor have questioned the nature of his campaign backers. More than half of the $53,341 the candidate has raised through Sept.21 comes from outside of Merced County. Most of the donations are in amounts of $500 or smaller.
About $4,000 of that cash comes from Missouri, Minnesota and Wisconsin, among other states. He said the out-of-the-area donors have a stake in his plans for Merced.
“These are supporters that have families in Merced,” Lor said, adding he campaigned in Minnesota. “They want to make sure their family in Merced get quality jobs.”
Lor said his ability to campaign out of the state should be looked at as a strength.
“We have to be able to advocate for funding to support our business development or our infrastructure or anything,” he said.
Lor said he’s been consistently supportive of development in Merced. He called into question Mayor Stan Thurston’s voting record. “We don’t want a leader who consistently says no to government projects, says no to private projects, say no to infrastructure that will improve our quality of life,” Lor said.
For example, Thurston voted no on two 2012 projects; the aforementioned Mercy Avenue office building, and an application for high-speed rail land use. Lor said those are the exact kind of projects Merced needs.
Thurston contends he was not against the high-speed rail stop, rather its planning document, which he called “a mess.”
Lor said council can’t afford to say no to any kind of projects that will bring jobs to town. More important, Lor said, is raising the median income in Merced. Larger retailers won’t come to town until certain income benchmarks are met, he said.
“We have to be able to say yes to medical offices, like the one we just approved,” Lor said. “That will bring professionals, will bring specialists to come here.”
He also said the development of Campus Parkway is important to bringing higher-paying jobs to town, the kind of jobs that would be supported by interactions with UC Merced.
“That’s why I want to be mayor,” he said. “I want to make sure we are on the right track.”