Three-term Supervisor Jim DeMartini has never had a free ride to re-election in Stanislaus County’s District 5.
As he seeks a fourth term in the June primary, DeMartini is challenged by Patterson Mayor Luis Molina and Ceres resident Eileen Wyatt Stokman, who believes a woman’s voice is needed on the all-male Board of Supervisors.
The sprawling district, taking in Ceres, Patterson, Newman and part of south Modesto, is dominated by agriculture but also sprouted thousands of homes during the Valley’s housing boom and has shown promise for economic development.
DeMartini said he is running on his record and expects to spend $75,000 on his campaign. He takes credit for implementing pension reforms in the Stanislaus County Employees’ Retirement System; for the county’s solid financial status; and for forging good relationships with state lawmakers, county department heads and community groups.
Molina, the mayor of Patterson since 2010, has refrained from attacking the incumbent, but he said he was encouraged to run by residents who want to see a change.
Molina said he brings people together to make a positive impact and wants to address disparities in health, mental health, education and economic opportunity. He served as a trustee for the county Office of Education from 2005 to 2013 and is a past chairman of the Stanislaus Council of Governments, which oversees transportation planning.
Stokman served eight years on the Ceres Unified School District board and recently retired after 18 years of working for the county – as a job developer, social worker and foster youth education liaison.
With her inside perspective on county operations, Stokman said, she can bring problems to light, such as staff turnover rates that are costing taxpayers and undermining the quality of services.
Stokman said county leaders lacked integrity in dealing with the widow of locksmith Glendon Engert, who was killed in a 2012 shooting in Modesto that also took the life of Deputy Bob Paris. Engert’s widow, Irina, and his parents sued for damages and agreed to a $1.5 million settlement in January.
Stokman charges that DeMartini, chairman of the county’s Republican Central Committee, is mired in conservative politics and has an agenda.
Road tax a primary issue
The candidates shared their views in interviews and a meeting with The Modesto Bee’s Editorial Board last week.
Molina and DeMartini support the half-cent transportation tax headed for the November ballot that could generate $970 million over 25 years.
Stokman predicted the tax measure will fail because money for extending the Altamont Corridor Express to Modesto was erased from the measure. “If we want to keep our young people in the community, we need to provide mass transit,” Stokman said. “It is something that attracts young people. They don’t want to own cars unless they have to.”
Molina said some of the sales tax dollars could be leveraged to obtain state funds for passenger rail.
DeMartini said ACE will extend service to Stanislaus County only if the state pays for the $200 million line from Lathrop to Modesto.
On another issue, the county expects to get an extra $6.2 million a year from a legislative remedy last year that corrected a decades-old tax inequity called the “negative bailout.” So far, the county has not decided how to use the extra money.
DeMartini explained that the county will keep $6.2 million, double a previous estimate, because it does not have to share the revenue with schools. He sees the county spending much of the cash on law enforcement and increased staffing for new jail cells, with some going to transit and road repairs.
Molina said there is no need to designate the money for one purpose. It could be used to meet needs, such as housing and mental health services, that are identified by the county’s Focus on Prevention initiative to reduce homelessness and strengthen families.
Stokman countered that it does no good to hire more sheriff’s deputies if they soon leave for higher-paying jobs with other agencies. She favored investing the money in the county workforce, on everything from staff development to team building and restoring social services positions. The county should also assign social workers to territories, so they are not driving from Newman to Oakdale to visit clients, she said.
Stokman warned about turnover and staffing shortages in the Community Services Agency. It is so severe that a child sees three to five social workers during a foster care case, she said.
DeMartini has strong opinions on previous development proposals for the former Navy air station in Crows Landing. For five years, he openly opposed developer Gerry Kamilos’ West Park project, which called for 13,000 jobs in an industrial and logistics complex. West Park was finally rejected by the county in August 2012.
DeMartini liked the Hillwood plan proposed by Texas businessman Ross Perot Jr. that was turned down in a 3-2 board vote that sided with Kamilos in 2007. “Kamilos had no experience with business parks,” DeMartini said. “If the county had listened to me, we would have a business park there today.”
The county has a conceptual plan for bringing manufacturing, assembly plants and warehouses to the 1,500-acre former air base and wants to complete environmental work before finding a master developer.
Molina said the county could have planned for a broader mix of economic development at the former base. With its access to Interstate 5, Patterson boasts a stronger record of luring distribution centers, such as the Amazon fulfillment center, which have created hundreds of jobs.
“You have to look at what fits best for your city,” Molina said. “It was a team effort between landowners, developers and businesses to prepare shovel-ready property in our business parks. We have heard there are one or two other companies with a strong interest in coming to Patterson.”
Stokman said the former Crows Landing base could be developed for industry or other purposes if water is available.
Contest could go to runoff
Four years ago, DeMartini defeated Daniel Padilla of Ceres to stay on the board, and he notched a victory over John Fantazia in 2008. The local politician, who campaigns without a website or social media, has lined up endorsements from Ceres Mayor Chris Vierra, Newman Mayor Robert Martina, city council members and irrigation district directors.
Molina is mayor of a city that has turned heads with its business parks and job creation. On the flip side, a grand jury report last year criticized the city over the purchase of a run-down building for a City Hall annex. And the conflicts between Councilwoman Sheree Lustgarten and other council members have created a spectacle.
A city-hired investigator released a report in July that criticized Lustgarten’s behavior at the Hammon senior center, and her verbal threats to Councilman Dennis McCord led to a restraining order that requires her to stay away from him, except at council meetings.
“It is nothing that I created,” Molina said of the troubles with Lustgarten. “A lot of good things have happened in Patterson. It is a blemish, of course, but nothing that people should be overly concerned about.”
Molina expects to spend $15,000 on his campaign, compared with Stokman’s estimate of $10,000, less than half of what most candidates raised in the 2014 supervisorial races. If elected, Molina said he would quit his job as an early intervention coordinator for the county.
Two other county board seats are on the June 7 ballot: Supervisor Vito Chiesa is unopposed in District 2 and Assemblywoman Kristin Olsen is the only candidate who filed to succeed District 1 supervisor Bill O’Brien, who is not seeking re-election.
DeMartini needs to capture a majority of the primary vote to win a fourth term; otherwise, the top two finishers advance to a runoff in November. He said he has visited 2,500 homes asking for voters’ support.
“I don’t see that they have much of a campaign,” DeMartini said of the challengers. “There has never been any problem with the job I have done.”
Ken Carlson: 209-578-2321
District 5 candidates
Public offices: County supervisor since 2004
Education: Attended Modesto Junior College
Top priority: Job creation, economic development
Family: Married to Anne DeMartini; adult son
Public offices: Mayor of Patterson since 2010; Stanislaus County Board of Education, 2005-2013.
Education: Chabot Community College, associate’s degree
Top priority: Address disparities in health, mental health, education, economic opportunity
Family: Married to Graciela Molina
Eileen Wyatt Stokman
Public offices: Ceres Unified School District trustee, 1998-2006
Education: California State University, Stanislaus, bachelor’s degree; attended Gonzaga University
Family: Married to Nick Stokman; six adult children