Should voters in Stanislaus County's District 5 want to use issue positions to choose a candidate, they have their work cut out for them.
The two District 5 candidates, incumbent Jim DeMartini and Newman Mayor John Fantazia, agreed on almost every issue at Thursday night's candidate forum sponsored by the League of Women Voters of Stanislaus County.
Questions were posed by a handful of people in the audience at Tenth Street Place in Modesto and from cable television viewers who phoned them in. The topics ranged from the controversial West Park industrial development to gang violence, and the answers were remarkably similar.
On West Park, for instance, both said the development should be limited to the 1,527- acre Crows Landing Air Facility, rather than the 4,800-acre proposal by developer Gerry Kamilos.
Both candidates advocated early intervention and community activities for young people to keep them out of gangs. Both advocated across the board cuts in county general fund departments as the fairest way to deal with looming budget deficits.
In answer to a question about labor unions, both said they had no problem with unions representing government workers, and said they have worked well in both the county and the city of Newman.
Both supported a new animal shelter to replace the crowded and disease-ridden facility on Finch Road in Modesto, but Fantazia suggested that it be moved.
"I would move it, sell off the (Finch Road) property. Build it maybe in Crows Landing," Fantazia said. The Finch Road site is near the airport in a high traffic area, he said, making it difficult to access.
Both opposed growth limitation initiatives, although DeMartini was more adamant.
"The mayors and the city councils are very well capable of regulating growth. The cities elected them, they should be the ones to decide how cities grow," DeMartini said. "To put an arbitrary number on it is just a bad idea."
Tougher sentencing of auto thieves was recommended by both candidates. DeMartini called for fewer plea bargains, and state prison sentences for second offenders. Fantazia urged work programs rather than "country club" jail time.
Both said farmland should be preserved in the county, although Fantazia sympathized with farmers who want to retire and get a fair value for their land.
To ease the layoffs and cutbacks in hours at the county library, DeMartini suggested that cities kick in to restore a day of operation for their branches. Fantazia said volunteers might be able to extend operating hours.
The candidates remained cordial during the event -- in fact, they were quite agreeable. Perhaps too agreeable for undecided voters.
Bee staff writer Tim Moran can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 578-2349.