Patterson mayoral, council candidates keep it mostly civil at debates

Candidates mostly minded their manners Wednesday in debates focused on many issues facing one of Stanislaus County’s most strategically located, fastest-growing areas.

All five members of the Patterson City Council participated, with the mayor challenged by two council members and the other two defending their seats in a separate forum. A total of nine candidates are gunning for the three seats, and Wednesday’s event seemed ripe for verbal warfare.

But moderator Ed Katen – mayor of neighboring Newman – and sponsoring Soroptimist timers brought a short leash. Even when they seemed to invite sparring by asking mayoral candidates about true leadership, challengers largely chose civility over sparks.

“(Leadership) has nothing to do with one’s title, power or seniority in business,” said Dominic Farinha, one of two council members trying to unseat Mayor Luis Molina. “It’s really about the ability of one individual to work with everyone to make sure they stay on track.”

The other, Councilwoman Sheree Lustgarten, said city leaders need to “work as a united front.”

Ralph Arredondo, the only mayoral candidate among four who doesn’t hold elected office, said he envisions someone leading men into battle.

Molina briefly showed a defensive side, saying, “If you’re not willing to get your hands dirty, you’re not willing to do the job.” He said being mayor requires “a little tough love from time to time.”

Arredondo hinted in his opening statement that he might go on the attack, saying he would shorten City Council meetings and “put a stop to negative grand jury reports.” The civil grand jury recently found fault with procedures involving aspects of open meetings.

But Arredondo struggled to answer questions about finances and public safety.

Lustgarten said the council has missed a major opportunity for money by failing to raise development fees in several years – a fact that surely helped Patterson attract huge warehouses for Amazon, Restoration Hardware and others.

Lustgarten said the grand jury had good reason to question private meetings. “I feel open government is the best way to go,” she said.

Farinha, however, said grand juries can be “hijacked by people who don’t get their way.”

Molina said he has been leading a “cleanup council” charged with fixing problems left by predecessors.

Council candidates’ views

In the other debate, council members Deborah Novelli and Larry Buehner said they’ve accomplished much. They are challenged by Carlos Fierros, Dennis McCord and John Stobb.

“We’ve added close to 1,000 jobs (despite the recession) and I’m so proud of that,” Novelli said.

Buehner said choosing a city manager to replace Rod Butler, who recently took a job in his hometown in Southern California, requires consistency on the council. Restoration Hardware stopped negotiating with Tracy when that city lost its city manager, Buehner said.

McCord said Patterson needs a comprehensive strategic plan with business, housing and social goals arrived at through a process relying heavily on input from regular people. “We will end up building a vision the whole community can agree to,” he said.

Fierros said he would work to counter unbalanced growth and a spike in crime.

Stobb said Patterson should pressure county officials to help with the city’s homeless.

Health and safety

The candidates agreed it would be nice to attract a hospital, but Buehner said providers have indicated that there aren’t enough people on Stanislaus’ West Side to support one.

Most candidates said they also would like Patterson to have its own police force rather than contracting for law enforcement protection with the county Sheriff’s Department. Molina said it’s too expensive for now, but he would be willing to hear what services people would be willing to give up in exchange for more officers.