City Council Candidate Forum: Those seeking seats address current issues

October 27, 2010
Santa Paula City Council

Streets and affordable housing were among the subjects tackled by City Council candidates at a special forum sponsored by the League of Women Voters.

The October 5 forum was held at the Community Center, where moderator David Maron presented written questions asked by audience members of council incumbents Ralph Fernandez and Bob Gonzales, former Councilman Rick Cook, and newcomers Duane Ashby and Rita Stafford.

Five million dollars for street repairs culled from the $35-million utility bond was addressed with a question regarding the work timeframe and oversight. Gonzales, the city’s retired police chief who is seeking his second council term, said work would proceed “as soon as possible,” and noted the city has a hotline for pothole repair.

The city conducted a survey and identified those areas most in need of repair and the County of Ventura has been contracted for the work. A recent repair targeted a newly redone portion of Harvard Boulevard that Gonzales said failed. When asked if there was any way the funding should be allocated, said Gonzales, “Buy asphalt and put it in the hole.”

Fernandez, a college architecture instructor, said although the dollar allocation sounds large, the city must “get the biggest bang for our buck,” a goal of determining where work will be done. The city is trying to make public works “a viable area, not a negative draw on the general fund,” but the city is “going to work on public works staff, how to structure it together, who’s going to lead it.” The council, he noted, “will make sure” funding is “used in a wise way.”

It’s hard to drive on street and not experience potholes, said Cook, a retired SPPD sergeant and Public Defenders Office investigator who served two council terms before being defeated in 2006. “Pick a street,” and it will be found they all need different work at varying costs.

Cook said it would be “wise” for the city to avoid contracting on small jobs, but with the loss of city streets personnel “we have a truck with hot mix and nobody to run it.” The city must hire its own engineer to oversee projects, and “work on getting our gas tax back from the state” for more street funding. Instead of contracting, Cook said the city should “work daily and wisely” on smaller repairs.

“I think there was a public works department that doesn’t exist anymore,” or at a minimal level, said Stafford, a languages college instructor. “Having public works in the city where everyone knows everyone else gives a chance in overseeing it and know how money is being spent,” and Stafford said the city should utilize “local help for local problems.”

Ashby said the council will be “looking in the next few months at the best way to use the money,” and he agreed the “most bang for our buck” should be a priority. He said more city employees should be retained and more hiring done with the bond proceeds, as well as funds that are owed the city by the state. Ashby said the funding must be used in “the most judicious way possible.”

Fernandez, Gonzales and Cook were asked what was their most significant accomplishment and worst problem as elected officials.

When he was elected, Fernandez said, there was “turmoil” in the community over several issues, and “What we did was calm the waters” and helped the community forge a working relationship.

Fernandez said it was also a “dangerous time,” with low-income housing issues to be dealt with. Controversy had erupted with the proposed Plaza Amistad, a 150-unit affordable apartment complex that had received a $400,000-plus state housing grant administered by the city’s Redevelopment Agency.

The new council, including Fernandez and Gonzales, rejected the plan, which led to several lawsuits filed by the builder/manager, Cabrillo Economic Development Corporation. Ultimately the project was scaled back to 90 units.

Cook said the city had issued a request for proposal for the housing grant, and the only nonprofit to apply from the funding was Cabrillo, which qualified for the grant. Any project proposal must be heard with an open mind and, noted Cook, when it came to the grant funding Cabrillo was the only applicant.

Gonzales said his first term had numerous accomplishments, notably the deal for the new water recycling plant and avoiding additional state fines for polluting discharges into the Santa Clara River from the old plant. He suggested that a vacant convalescent hospital be converted to senior housing after “at one time it was going to be a drug rehab” facility.

Gonzales worked with Representative Elton Gallegly on millions for repair of the Santa Paula Creek, grant funding that allowed the city to purchase Santa Paula Airport development rights to ensure usage is never changed, and the East Area 1 development agreement with Limoneira Company.

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