Twelve of the 13 Modesto candidates for mayor and three City Council seats in the Nov. 3 election answered questions Saturday at a candidates forum at a sun-baked Mancini Bowl in Graceada Park before a sparse crowd of about 70 people.
The candidates weighed in on what to do about the homeless, growing the economy, restoring trust in local government, making the city cleaner and more attractive, and two measures that will be on the November ballot: Measure G, a half-percent general sales tax, and Measure I, which would place an urban growth boundary around most of Modesto and require a citywide vote before development could take place beyond the boundary.
The Latino Community Roundtable, Chamber of Commerce and the King-Kennedy Memorial Center board of directors put on the forum.
Chamber CEO and forum moderator Cecil Russell reminded the candidates a few times that this was not a debate, but that did not stop some of the mayoral candidates from making attacks.
For instance, former mayor and mayoral candidate Carmen Sabatino accused Mayor Garrad Marsh of trying to reach a backroom deal with city and Modesto Irrigation District officials a few years ago to sell water to San Francisco. Marsh said the accusation was false. Sabatino also said the city had mortgaged nearly all of its assets because its finances were in poor shape. Marsh said after the forum that that was not true.
But Marsh said Sabatino and the other mayoral candidates have been or are supported by PMZ Real Estate CEO Mike Zagaris, land use attorney George Petrulakis and former Councilwoman Janice Keating. “If you think they will protect ag land,” he said, “I think you need to think again.”
Marsh made his accusation as he discussed Measure I. He said he has a long record of protecting farmland but does not support the measure. The majority of candidates do not support it, saying that while they support protecting farmland, the measure was flawed, would not have the effect its supporters intend, would not rein in the county and its development plans or does not take into account Modesto’s need for economic development.
The Measure I campaign has said those charges are untrue and that the measure leaves plenty of land for development and does not stop development beyond the boundary. That would just require a citywide vote.
Measure I is supported by District I council candidate Ron Hurst and Sabatino. District 3 Councilman and mayoral candidate Dave Lopez said he supports the right of the voters to decide the issue. Roughly 9,700 voters signed petitions to qualify Measure I for the ballot. In an interview after the forum, Lopez would not say how he intends to vote on the measure.
The urban growth boundary arose out of a backlash against the council after it decided to include Wood Colony, the farming community west of Highway 99, in its growth plans despite strong opposition from many colony residents and their supporters.
Measure G is supported by Marsh, District 3 council candidate Kristi Ah You and District 6 Councilman John Gunderson. Marsh challenged those candidates who do not support the sales tax increase to say how they would make Modesto safer.
City officials say they intend to spend Measure G funds on Modesto’s Safer Neighborhoods Initiative, which calls for spending nearly all of the tax increase on public safety, such as hiring more police officers and firefighters, and other steps to improve neighborhoods, such as additional code enforcement.
Measure G is expected to bring in $14 million annually over its eight-year life.
As a general tax, it can be spent on any general government purpose. And that’s the rub. Those who do not support the measure raised the issue of whether the city can be trusted to spend the tax as it says it will. They also said the city could work on making Modesto more attractive and cleaner, which would lay the foundation for economic development and increasing the city’s tax base so it could hire more police and firefighters.
They also said they would consider or support a special public safety tax. A special tax requires two-thirds voter approval and can only be spent on its specific purpose. A general tax requires a simple majority to pass. Marsh has said he supports a special public safety tax but does not believe it can gain enough votes.
Lopez raised a novel approach to deal with the homeless who cause problems. He said he wanted to start a nonprofit that would send the homeless who commit crimes and are not from here back to their hometowns and families. Lopez claimed Chico, Fresno and San Jose are shipping their homeless to Modesto, though Modesto officials have said they have no evidence of that.
District 1 council candidate Mani Grewal did not attend the forum because he had a previous engagement out of town. Mayoral candidate Armando Arreola responded to questions by reading from a prepared statement in a way that was sometimes hard to hear.
Kevin Valine: 209-578-2316
- Armando Arreola
- Ted Brandvold
- Councilman Dave Lopez
- Mayor Garrad Marsh
- Carmen Sabatino
District 1 (covers northwest Modesto)
- Mani Grewal
- Councilman John Gunderson
- Ron Hurst
District 3 (covers central Modesto)
- Kristi Ah You
- Patricia Gillum
- Joe Williams
District 6 (covers northeast Modesto)
- Doug Ridenour Sr.
- Dave Wright
Incumbents are not running in Districts 3 and 6. Term limits prevent Councilman Dave Lopez from running in District 3, and District 6 Councilman Dave Cogdill Jr. decided not to seek a second term.