Six candidates hoping to represent the residents of Turlock’s District 4 on the City Council answered questions about their qualifications for public service and their thoughts on key issues facing the city during interviews held Monday at City Hall.
Monday’s public question and answer session was the next step in filling the City Council seat left open when Amy Bublak was sworn in as Mayor in December. The new City Council voted to fill the open seat by appointment rather than special election — primarily due to the financial burden a special election would mean on the city’s budget — and put out a call for applications with a Jan. 7 deadline.
Eight residents of District 4 submitted applications by the deadline, but only six decided to move forward with the interview process: Myrna Wachs, Frederick Isaac, Donald Babadalir, Samuel Sharpe, Rebecca Hackler-Arellano and Pamela Franco.
Following the interviews, the Council decided to come together for a special meeting at 10 a.m. Friday to discuss their top picks to fill the District 4 seat and hopefully come to a consensus that day on a selection.
On Monday, each candidate expressed a desire to serve the community, although they had differing motivations.
Wachs, a program coordinator for the Homemaker Program at Catholic Charities in Modesto, stated she wanted to represent the senior citizens living in the city and had new ideas for ways to house the homeless and senior community.
“Investigating alternatives for a temporary and more permanent shelter for Turlock’s homeless population is urgently needed at this time with ideas, possibly by the one I presented to the Council last Tuesday night suggesting perhaps we could temporarily house these persons in the fairgrounds. I have reached out the local congressional office regarding this idea and they were very positive about looking into it,” Wachs said.
Isaac, owner of Artistic Printing, Inc. in Modesto, said he wanted to bring his experience as a businessman and working with multiple service and nonprofit organizations to the City Council.
“As a citizen I think right now it’s a duty… It’s more of a duty than a job to me. It’s more of contributing than of a job. So, if there’s something I could do to better the city that I’m living in, then if I have the time and means…I would like to be part of it,” he said.
Sharpe, a supervising probation officer with Stanislaus County and team manager of the County’s multi-agency Community Assessment and Response Engagement program, said that he understood the importance of being able to work collaboratively to come up with solutions for Turlock’s problems.
He would also like to help make Turlock ‘greener.’
“I would like to see a little more bike-friendly. As we progress from being a fossil fuel dominated culture to something a little more green, I think it’s imperative we create the infrastructure that would support a biking, better walking, safer walking trails and to promote a healthier living style. As I visit other cities throughout the United States, you can see that somewhere along the line the planning developed that offered a park that had a two-mile loop, something that wasn’t disrupted by crossing of streets,” he said.
Babadalir, a product protection engineer at Lockheed Martin Space, said bringing more community input into City Council decisions was the driving force to his decision to apply for the open seat.
“I will utilize the vast amount of concerned citizens’ input from public discussions and comments, some of whom will bring personal outside expertise, and then I will also personally look to utilize all resources available including advice from experts and skilled people in areas of discussion, public and private,” he said.
Becky Arellano said her previous positions working in county and federal government, as well as her experience as a local business owner, would be an asset to the City Council.
“My parents instilled hard-work, education, loving God, service to the community and giving back that are really the tools to creating your best life. And I think that’s what Turlock is about,” she said.
Real estate broker, builder and developer Pamela Franco said she was really excited about the dynamic on the current City Council.
“I think that we’re going to see a lot of great things from the City Council and I’m hoping to bring my experience into that dynamic,” she said.
Homelessness, the city’s financial situation, water and development were a few of the issues each of the candidates were asked about.
Arellano said the homelessness issue needs to be looked at differently.
“I think we really need to reclassify the terms that we’re using. I think that homelessness is such a broad, blanket statement and I don’t think that encompasses what’s been going on. Some people don’t want a home. Some people have other mental health issues that really cannot get there for themselves. I think there needs to be a transient population classification and I think there needs to be a transitional client population,” said Arellano.
Sharpe, who works with homeless individuals on a daily basis as part of his job managing the county’s CARE team, said that what works in Modesto or Seattle, Washington or anywhere else may not be the best fit for Turlock. He suggested looking at what has been done in the past and trying something new.
Franco, who has attended all the recent community meetings on homelessness, said her thoughts on the issue are ever-changing.
“With each new piece of information I get, I change my perspective,” she said.
Babadalir said he was against the City Council declaring a shelter emergency in order to be eligible for additional funds federal funds to address homelessness. He said city budgeting issues are preventing funds from being diverted to help homeless individuals in Turlock.
Babadalir said there’s been a “lack of transparency for the past five to 10 years” about the city’s finances and he would work to change that.
Arellano said that business and government budgets are not the same, “not even in the same realm.”
She talked about how cities have it tough with state and federal mandates to spend money in certain areas.
“It’s so hard to get reserves in a city budget. It’s tough because you’re mandated by the state, you’re mandated by the federal government to spend in certain areas and if you don’t spend, they won’t give it back to you,” Arellano said.
“Fiscal responsibility is important; it’s your job as a leader. But the parts that are able to be manipulated seem to impact the community’s heart. So, it’s a tough position to be in, however, what the rainy-day funds give you is the options,” she continued.
Franco said she would look for ways to grow the city’s revenue base.
“We can’t continue to dip into our reserves…It’s not sustainable to keep going into our reserves,” she said.
Franco would also like to see the return of a Turlock-first buying campaign to support locally owned business growth.
Development was another key issue addressed during the interviews.
Sharpe said that he likes that Turlock has decided its not going to move beyond certain boundaries and encroach on the farmlands.
“I think that is a history of Turlock that needs to be preserved. It’s unique to the Central Valley and it is easy to let go of that and to build and before you know it, we’re stretching from Turlock to Modesto with no trees in between,” he said.
Franco had almost the opposite point of view.
“Right now, our General Plan is a no growth type of a plan. We’re pushing towards infill. We’re pushing towards the southwest area of Turlock, but it’s really expensive to build there from a builder’s standpoint. That’s why no one’s built down there. We have to have a freeway overpass, we have to have schools, we have to roads, we have to have sewer, water and storm drainage — and all of that’s going to come at a huge cost;” she said.
“I think we need to have a more balanced of growth, so all sides of town have growth.”
Arellano said that Turlock needs to be “holding all the cards” when it comes to having a long-term reliable source of water and is in favor of the city building a surface water treatment plant.
“I think we absolutely 100 percent we do need that. We need to strategically figure out funding, either we need a source with the federal government – there are trailer bills we can put on where we can borrow money, we can do bonds, we can phase in our water bills incrementally. I think we need to back up and look at what our funding options are and go forward from there,” she said.
The Turlock City Council’s public interview of all the District 4 candidates can be viewed online at: https://www.cityofturlock.org/government/turlockcitycouncil/councilmeetings.asp