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Growth motivates Ceres candidates

CERES -- Four long-time Ceres residents are competing for two City Council seats, hoping to shape growth in the city of 40,000.

Challengers Mike Kline and Steve Breckenridge are running against incumbents Guillermo Ochoa and Rob Phipps for two seats on the five-member council. Mayor Anthony Cannella is running unopposed.

All four candidates have long histories of living in Ceres and being involved in city activities. All want managed, "smart" population growth; they want to see more shopping opportunities and more high-paying jobs; and they want safer streets with more police officers and firefighters. All four support the city's Measure H, also on the Nov. 6 ballot, which would increase sales tax in Ceres by a half-cent to fund additional public safety personnel and equipment.

Whoever wins election will have a hand in deciding whether Wal-Mart opens another store, this one a supercenter. They also will help decide how, where and in which direction growth happens in Ceres, and how to best combat increasing crime rates.

STEVE BRECKENRIDGE

At 57, Breckenridge is semiretired from the electronics industry and has served in the California State Military Reserve for four years.

Called a pugnacious pit bull by local media, the father of three grown chil- dren is a regular at City Council meetings, dogging members and city staff for more- detailed information and answers.

He decided to run for the council to offer residents an alternative to good-ol'-boy politicians. He said his term on the council will be about defending citizen rights -- prop-erty rights, personal freedom and liberty, and unauthorized taxes.

"I've seen five sets of councils, and many who come and go are not willing to do the tough stuff," he said. "They're more like rulers. They feel good, then they leave."

MIKE KLINE

Kline joined the race to have a say about the Mitchell Ranch shopping center. Wal-Mart has proposed building a 208,000-square-foot supercenter on land at Mitchell and Service roads.

The 49-year-old said he was shocked to find that preliminary plans called for orienting the supercenter with its back to Don Pedro Road.

"We were led to believe it would be (at the front of) Mitchell and Service," Kline said. "They need to do a better job keeping people informed, notify citizens in the areas it's going to affect them."

Kline is a specialty foods regional sales representative for Tony's Fine Foods. His wife is a Ceres school librarian and their three children are grown.

GUILLERMO OCHOA

Appointed to the council in 2005 after losing that election, Ochoa wants to serve another term to continue projects such as opening neighborhood parks and building more affordable housing.

Ochoa, 47, has lived in other cities and said he draws on that experience when looking at issues confronting Ceres.

"My family moved to Ceres when I was 10. In 1998, I was recruited back to Diamond walnut growers. Ceres was always drawing me back, but I couldn't come back without a job. I wanted my children to grow up in a small town."

Ochoa co-owns a family business -- Garcia's Market in Empire -- and coordinates workers compensation for Yellow Transportation Inc. in Tracy.

ROB PHIPPS

The only candidate to hire a campaign consultant, Phipps is serious about retaining his seat.

"I want to keep the council together," he said. "I love Ceres. I do, and that's why I do it. I definitely don't do it for the pay."

The divorced father of a grown daughter, Phipps is director of golf at River Oaks Golf Course in Ceres. Phipps, 44, worked his way up the ladder of the family-owned business, starting 28 years ago as a weed puller.

Phipps was appointed to the council in 2001 and was elected in 2003. His focus is on public safety, economic development and recreation opportunities. To recruit high-paying jobs, Phipps said, Ceres needs to have parcels of land and infrastructure ready to go for businesses.

Bee staff writer Michelle Hatfield can be reached at mhatfield@modbee.com or 578-2339.

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