Never before have people here had so many choices when shopping, whether for apples, socks or city leaders.
The once-quiet city on Highway 33 has expanded to Interstate 5, helping to land stores from Wal-Mart to Panda Express and logistics centers for powerhouses Amazon and Restoration Hardware, and nearly doubling its population in about a decade to more than 20,000.
Exquisite access makes Patterson the envy of other business-starved Valley cities. But freeways can just as easily bring problems, including a troubling spike in crime that makes many wonder if the city should stop contracting with the Stanislaus County Sheriff’s Department and re-establish its own police force.
That question, and many others, help create a political petri dish in the “apricot capital,” where more candidates are running this year than at any time in the past decade. Nine candidates seek three seats – the mayor’s, plus two on the City Council (eight candidates ran in 2004 and 2012). The Nov. 4 ballot will list 10 candidates, but Walmart store manager Troy McMahan, citing health reasons, has stopped campaigning.
The nine include all five council members, with two-term incumbent Mayor Luis Molina defending his seat against council members Sheree Lustgarten and Dominic Farinha and political newcomer Ralph Arredondo, who is backed by former mayors Pat Maisetti and Becky Campo. See www.modbee.com and Tuesday’s Modesto Bee for a roundup of that race.
Today we look at the two council seats up for grabs, defended by one-term incumbents Deborah Novelli and Larry Buehner against challengers Carlos Fierros, Dennis McCord and John Stobb.
In fundraising terms, Novelli, with $2,977, was edging McCord before Monday’s report; McCord had received $2,701, having loaned half that amount to his campaign. Buehner had received campaign signs donated by a relative and valued at $1,257. Stobb and Fierros reported no contributions.
Buehner filed for re-election on the last possible day, saying he first wanted to judge the quality of other candidates. Also, he believes continuity is important in the selection of a replacement for former City Manager Rod Butler; Tracy lost its front-runner position in trying to lure Restoration Hardware when its city manager left, Buehner said.
“We’ve got a lot of things in the hopper. We’ve got a lot yet to do,” he said, including countering a spike in crime and attracting more well-paying jobs.
Buehner’s Modesto company, Triangle Truck Center, manufactures vehicles for agribusiness, and he is a prominent landowner. “I’m all for ag,” he said, “but we need other jobs, too.”
At 70, Buehner has nearly two decades of maturity on the next-oldest candidates (McCord and Novelli are 51). He doesn’t use email. He has served nearly four years on the council, having been appointed to fill a vacancy created when the late Sam Cuellar died two months after being re-elected in 2010; Buehner had finished third in that election, behind Cuellar and Novelli.
Buehner says he and Novelli are the best choices for council. Among candidates for mayor, Buehner likes Molina and Farinha and said, “The other gal (Lustgarten) is like a loose cannon.”
With nine years in Patterson and 29 on planet Earth, Fierros is both the youngest candidate and the most recent to arrive in town.
But he cites “vast political experiences” spanning 13 years, including serving on advisory panels in Contra Costa County focused on youths, substance abuse and libraries, and volunteering with a mental health board and the 2012-13 civil grand jury in Stanislaus County. Fierros also was involved in student government at Modesto Junior College, currently studies psychology at Merced College and was not successful in a City Council race two years ago.
“I was born with an interest in politics,” he said. “In Patterson, I’ve seen so much disorganization and city mismanagement, and I think I can use my expertise and talents for the council.”
Fierros said he would concentrate on improving public safety and streets and bringing business to town, including a movie theater. He says his Spanish skills – 58.6 percent of Patterson was identified as Latino in the 2010 census – and openness would help people connect with City Hall.
“I guarantee that your issues will not fall on deaf ears,” he said.
Fierros endorses Lustgarten for mayor and has not picked a second favorite among the other council candidates.
McCord’s résumé of volunteer activity includes Helping Others Sleep Tonight, the local Lions club, the Patterson Education Foundation and Boy Scouts of America. Years of activity have honed his skills, the computer manager said.
“There is no greater good than working for positive change in our community,” McCord said.
While Patterson’s closeness to Interstate 5 helped draw several warehousing companies, it’s also hurt the city by giving criminals a quick exit, he said.
“We have become a haven for Bay Area gangs and drug dealers who also use these highways,” McCord said. He’s not ready to endorse a local police force over sheriff’s deputies but wants to explore “a hybrid solution,” perhaps with deputies who have strong ties to Patterson.
McCord fell just short of gaining a City Council seat two years ago, when he finished eight votes shy of Lustgarten. He has been a regular in the audience at council meetings before and since – a claim no other non-incumbent can make – and easily discusses a wide range of topics, from city finances and growth to downtown vitality and the homeless.
“Patterson has some issues that need to be addressed,” he said. “I’m the type of person with the drive to go address them.”
Besides himself, McCord would chose one of the incumbents for the council. He is undecided on the mayor’s race, but seems cool toward Molina, saying he favors someone “who would drive us to the future rather than stay where we’re at.”
Nearing the end of her four-year term, Novelli gave a succinct reason for seeking a second: “I’ve absolutely loved it.”
Before her election, Novelli, a Yellow Pages sales manager, was involved with Chamber of Commerce and Rotary Club leadership. Since she joined the council, Patterson has attracted several warehouses, bringing nearly 1,000 jobs on the heels of recession, she noted, adding that the city last year annexed 1,119 more acres for industrial and retail expansion.
“I’ve helped to make a difference,” she said, “and it’s nice to say that.”
Her goals include strengthening public safety and bringing even more jobs.
Novelli said she and Buehner should be re-elected, and she reserved comment on the mayor’s race despite serving on the council with three of the four candidates.
“We’re stronger in Patterson than we were four years ago,” she said, “and I want to continue with that.”
Compared with the other candidates, Stobb sees himself as the political outsider.
“I’m not a career politician,” the fire sprinkler installer and inspector said. “I don’t own major land or a business. I have no axes to grind. I’m labeling myself as just a concerned citizen with no ties to special interests who wants to get down to governing.”
First on Stobb’s list is attracting jobs, followed by public safety concerns, including a desire for three firefighters on duty instead of two. He also wants to replenish reserve accounts and address the ongoing drought.
Stobb said Patterson would do well to “stick with the current mayor. I like (Molina) and the team atmosphere he’s trying to build.” Among council candidates, Stobb supports neither incumbent and suggests that he and McCord are best.