Five of the six Turlock City Council candidates squaring off for two open seats in the Nov. 2 election met for the first debate of the season on Wednesday, with the city’s budget taking top priority.
Council candidate David “DJ” Fransen did not attend the debate, hosted by the Turlock Chamber of Commerce at Covenant Village’s Berg Hall, due to a scheduling conflict.
But those in attendance wasted little time getting down to brass tacks, laying out their vision for the future of Turlock as they provided opening and closing statements, answered six prepared questions from the Chamber, and responded to queries from the audience.
Candidate Forrest White, a former San Joaquin County Fair CEO and Turlock Recreation manager, concentrated on his background dealing with public agency budgets. White said he would promote business, revitalize downtown, and continue to focus on Turlock’s quality services, even if the quantity of services may have to be cut due to declining tax revenues.
White said he would work with labor unions to reduce costs and recruit businesses to increase tax revenues. White said that, if he is elected, he would begin planning the budget in January each year, working to ensure that union agreements are finalized before the budget is passed.
“We can’t be in a system of reactive,” White said. “You have to be proactive.”
Candidate Jeremy Rocha, a 23-year-old agribusinessman and recent California State University, Stanislaus graduate, laid out a plan which sees Turlock becoming the economic, education and entertainment capitol of the region. He advocated the creation of graduate schools, broadcast television channels, and a semi-annual Valley leadership conference while allaying fears about his age. Rocha is making his third run for a City Council seat, having first entered the fray at age 19.
“I think what I see in this election are clear choices,” Rocha said. “Who do we want to elect? People going to play politics or people who are going to be leaders? I choose to lead.”
Rocha focused heavily on his “Turlock Improvement Plan” to recruit new businesses to Turlock. Rocha said he would simplify the process for new businesses to open shop, make phone calls to prospective new businesses, and create a resume for Turlock with a comprehensive marketing campaign focused on citizens explaining why Turlock is a good place to do business.
Pat Noda, a businessman and long-time salesman, explained how his business knowhow could help the city’s budget problems through solutions like offering utility discounts to new businesses. He also focused heavily on homelessness – the most pressing issue facing Turlock, in Noda’s words.
“If we don’t take care of the homeless, we’re going to lose a lot of money,” Noda said. “We’re going to have to pay more for emergency care, more for medical, more for police protection; we’re going to have to pay more for people we put in Tehachapi and Tracy. Homeless people are really expensive and the sooner we as citizens realize that, I think the better off we will be. We are just cutting our own throats if we don’t take care of the homeless.”
Noda lobbied for reopening the B Street Winter Shelter as a first step toward addressing homelessness. He also argued for a better bus system in Turlock.
Timm LaVelle, who owns a bookkeeping business and previously spent eight years on the Turlock Unified School District Board of Trustees, played up his experience in managing budgets. He said he would keep police and fire services “at a strong standard,” streamline the process for small businesses to open in Turlock, and work to ensure the city grows sensibly. He hopes to restore a personal pride in the community, and ensure that growth doesn’t result in a far-flung, disconnected populace.
LaVelle also honed in on the divisive council currently seated. He repeatedly brought up the concept of “team governance,” employed by the TUSD board, as a means by which a board can come to a consensus on any issue.
“There have been times over the past eight years where board members and I may not have agreed on a certain issue,” LaVelle said. “We may have argued over certain issues. I may have been angry enough not to speak to him for a week or two.”
But every time, LaVelle said, the TUSD board was able to reach a consensus on the best course of action for the school district. LaVelle said he will bring this concept to the Turlock City Council if elected.
Bill DeHart, vice president of marketing at Covenant Village, spoke of the love he’s developed for Turlock after moving to town in 2002 to be near his grandchildren. DeHart argued for common sense solutions to Turlock’s problems, a sensible growth strategy, and a reverence for the good planning in Turlock’s history.
DeHart said he would work on communication, both within the council and with disenfranchised members of the community, to find the best path forward for Turlock. He would improve communication come budget time, he said, to find out which programs have worked and which haven’t. He would communicate with those outside of Turlock, promoting the city to all who would listen to attract new business.
“I would declare by unanimous proclamation within our town, within our region, within our state, that we are open for business,” DeHart said.
The Turlock City Council candidates will next debate at 7 p.m. Tuesday in the Yosemite Room of Turlock City Hall, 156 S. Broadway. The debate will be sponsored by the League of Women Voters.
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