Election could reshape city government

Turlock mayoral candidate Michael Brem
Turlock mayoral candidate Michael Brem

The Nov. 4 ballot looks to be one of the more interesting in the city’s recent history. Mayor John Lazar is not seeking a third term, so the ceremonial post will fall to Michael Brem, Gary Soiseth or another candidate who emerges by the Aug. 13 deadline.

Voters also will decide on a sales tax increase for street repairs and a switch to district council elections.

Councilmen Bill DeHart and Forrest White are seeking second terms in a field that so far has drawn challengers Sergio Alvarado, Donald Babadalir and Matthew Jacob. The filing deadline is Aug. 8 because incumbents are running.

Turlock elects its council at large, but that would change as of 2016 if voters approve Measure A. It would divide the city into four council districts, with the goal of increasing minority representation. The proposed map shows a southwest district with a large Latino population, along with districts roughly in the northwest, northeast and southeast. The mayor still would be elected at large.

Measure B would boost the sales tax in Turlock by half a percentage point to pay for street repairs. It would raise an estimated $5.6 million per year for a long list of resurfacing and other projects, but not widening or new routes. The increase would run for seven years, or less if the Stanislaus Council of Governments persuades voters to adopt a countywide measure.

The tax increase needs at least two-thirds approval from Turlock voters. A simple majority would enact district elections. To date, no organized opposition has emerged for either measure.

Turlock has fared better than most cities in the region during the rough economy of recent years, but it still is tapping reserves to support police, fire and other services. The recession brought a virtual halt to new home construction, but once it picks up, the council will have to decide where best to grow.

The council voted this year to nearly double water rates by 2019 to pay for improvements to the water system, supplied entirely by wells. Rates could go even higher if Turlock joins in building a treatment plant for Tuolumne River water.

Seeking seats

Lazar is departing after 22 years on the council, the last eight of them as mayor.

Brem, 59, recently retired as president of SupHerb Farms, an herb processor based in Turlock. He is chairman of the Turlock Planning Commission and is involved in several civic causes.

“The No.1 priority is fiscal responsibility for the community,” Brem said Tuesday. He noted that the city is still not out of deficit spending and faces challenges with water.

Soiseth, 29, is an almond grower and water and energy adviser for the Modesto Irrigation District. He spent a few years in Afghanistan, working with the Army and local farmers on improving agriculture in that nation.

“I am running for mayor because I have the skills, determination and sense of urgency to tackle Turlock’s failing roads, unreliable water and deficit spending,” Soiseth said.

Alvarado, 35, is a U.S. Postal Service employee and member of the Turlock Park, Arts and Recreation Commission. He ran for council unsuccessfully in 2012.

“I think we need to have fiscal order in the house,” Alvarado said. “There have been decisions made in prior years that I don’t think were good.”

DeHart, 65, has had a career that includes the Marine Corps, a family printing business, and sales and marketing director for the Covenant Village retirement complex. He is close to being licensed as an investment adviser.

“I think we’ve made some great strides in the last 31/2-plus years,” DeHart said, citing the improved budget and strong relations with city labor unions and management.

Jacob, 22, describes himself as a small-business owner. “It is abundantly clear that the leadership of City Hall requires new perspective and fresh energy that will address Turlock’s expanding challenges head-on,” he said by email.

White, 67, managed the San Joaquin County Fair for 20 years and now is interim manager of the Mother Lode Fair in Sonora.

“The last four years have been productive,” he said. “I think we’re on the right track. I just want to be part of continuing that.”

Babadalir, a 28-year-old personal trainer, could not be reached for comment.