May 1, 2014

Our View: The Bee backs Dave Lopez for Stanislaus County Board of Supervisors

While neither candidate is perfect, neither is fatally flawed in the race for the District 4 seat on the Stanislaus County Board of Supervisors. The Bee recommends Dave Lopez, but the choice is not without risk.

We have reservations about both candidates running to represent District 4 on the Stanislaus County Board of Supervisors.

Dave Lopez has too often been a political weather vane while on the Modesto City Council. Dick Monteith, on the other hand, is winding down a 20-year political career; in that time, we really can’t think of anything for which he’ll be remembered other than steadfastly supporting the failed West Park plan near Patterson.

In short, neither candidate is perfect; but neither is fatally flawed. The Bee recommends Dave Lopez, but the choice is not without risk.

Lopez has a penchant for bending to political winds. The most recent example is the city of Modesto’s decision to include Wood Colony on its general plan revision. For the key vote in January, he sided with the council majority to include the area. When gale-force opposition arose, he shifted and now insists that Wood Colony should never become part of the city and has voted against inclusion in three subsequent votes. So which is it?

Perhaps that is changing. Lopez has taken two firm stands lately – both controversial. First, he believes Salida should be part of Modesto. He calls Modesto the “diamond” of the county and feels the unincorporated, but heavily populated, area on Highway 99 offers that diamond the best opportunity to shine.

“We’ve subsidized their water; we’ve subsidized their fire (department); we’ve subsidized their transportation – and they want nothing to do with us?” he asked rhetorically. “I’m sorry, I live on a two-way street. ... Modesto has the power to put in the infrastructure to develop Salida,” he said, noting it would take an incorporated Salida much longer.

That position will anger many in Salida who don’t believe Modesto has much to offer in return for prime business locations near Highway 99. With Salida in District 3, Lopez’s position might not impact his chances. The Salida issue provides one of the few clear distinctions in this race. Monteith does not support annexing Salida.

Another firm stand involves Lopez’s commitment to building the new county courthouse on 10th Street. The Bee reported that property owned by the city – roughly half the city block – was valued at a tiny fraction of the adjacent properties in private hands. The wildly differing appraisals, which were not made public, had the impact of giving nearly all of the state’s $5 million to private landowners. One of those, Greg Reed, co-hosted a fundraiser for Lopez and has given him $1,000.

That doesn’t cause Lopez any heartburn: “I will stand by a member of the community like Gregory Reed,” he told The Bee’s Editorial Board. “I’m very honored that he contributed to my camp.”

So why endorse Lopez?

As a Modesto city councilman, he has performed some important – and controversial – public services. For one, it was Lopez who first brought up irregularities in the Stanislaus Community Assistance Project. The Bee investigated the housing program and discovered a systematic pattern of abuse and, following our coverage, the directors of the organization were forced to step down. The city official charged with oversight of the program also departed.

Lopez also started outreach programs such as Partners in Paint and Council in the Park meetings in his efforts to cover graffiti, improve neighborhood safety and bring government closer to residents. Finally, Lopez does not dodge difficult or even embarrassing questions – though the same is true of Monteith.

Monteith’s service has been steadfast but not particularly remarkable since being elected in 2006. We endorsed Monteith in 2010. But he would be 86 at the end of a third term. He emphasizes his business background, but every business has changed dramatically in the 20 years since he retired. He also emphasizes his two terms in the state Senate, but that, too, has changed, and many of his contacts are no longer in Sacramento. Still, he has proved an excellent campaigner and remains popular. He has never been touched by scandal and, as we said, we appreciate that he does not duck tough questions.

Stanislaus County has several very strong supervisors. If the board lacks anything, it could be the enthusiasm needed to force Modesto onto the recovery train. Lopez could give constituents that push.

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