Planning Commission head sees Merced as blueprint for other cities

Cervantes wants to bring a blue-collar view to a council faced with tough decisions

10/25/2011 12:48 AM

10/25/2011 1:34 AM

When Richard Cervantes joined the city's Planning Commission five years ago, he said he knew he wanted to run for City Council.

But he said he didn't want to jump into politics without understanding the way it -- and staff -- worked.

"It was a learning experience so I can be a good council member. I'm a big believer in researching and understanding what you're talking about," the chairman of the Planning Commission said.

Two years ago, he decided he was ready to run for council. He said the overall sense of the community then was failure. "The feeling was multiplied now," he said, adding he wasn't saying individuals weren't making strides to change the community. "However, their attempt to change the path Merced is on wasn't being successful," the 29-year-old said.

The certified welder, who was born and raised in Merced, labeled it his "civic duty" to become part of the Planning Commission. And he said he didn't see representation of a blue-collar working-class father who worked in the private sector -- either on the Planning Commission or among the current council members. "I wanted to bring the perspective and the insight of a blue-collared young family man to the forefront of this," he said.

Cervantes said that based on the city's current policies and ordinances, the city isn't available to businesses. Sitting on the Planning Commission, he has been business-friendly, he said.

He supports the Wal-Mart distribution center coming to town. And there was zone-changing at Buena Vista Drive and Highway 59, which allowed the owner to get businesses into the center. But he said in the last five years, the number of agenda items and meetings has slowed each year.

"I've seen the direct effect of our city," he said about the commission meetings.

Cervantes, who went to vocational training school, said the first issue will be to balance the city's budget. Moreover, to analyze any specifics related to the budget, he said he'd have to look at all the facts first.

As a council, he said, council members will have to decide what services are needed immediately and how those services can be funded with the dollars that are present. "It's important because with the budget, we are not going to keep all the services we had five years ago," he said.

Second, he said, a sound business plan is needed to grow the budget.

However, he's not in favor of a half-cent sales tax increase because he said he doesn't believe that's an incentive for entrepreneurs coming into the community.

Business owners and citizens can sit at the table "and talk about a viable plan we can do to showcase Merced."

He said he could affect the fee structure for commercial retail and industrial fees and examine the way the city calculates permitting fees. "I think if we investigate the way they are calculated the result will be they are lowered," Cervantes said.

As for layoffs, he said the city manager's office will more than likely come back next year with a budget that will contain layoff notices. But the city staff is already bare-boned, he said.

Cervantes said the city should try to "balance the budget with the money we have and not lose any more employees."

And he said public safety, police and fire are also at the bare minimum. "Do everything in my power to make sure we keep the staffing we have now," he said about public safety.

He said there are some candidates who aren't in favor of the proposed general plan that was recommended by the Planning Commission. "We have planned many of our fees above and beyond what our general plan is right now. Fee structure is based on growth. If we do not grow the general plan or increase the footprint in some manner, the current zoned land will be held at a higher price. If you don't move the general plan forward, you're going to have to see a lot more infill projects," Cervantes said.

Cervantes, who wants people to perceive him as an individual who carries himself with integrity, said if he had his own way, Merced would be a blueprint for other communities.

He wants to do a duty that allows the city to move forward. "I'm not really doing this because I'm better than somebody else. I truly believe my heart is in it," Cervantes said.

He said he's a leader and independent in the way he carries himself as an appointed official.

Cervantes believes that in the coming years, "we will learn how to work together, come up with some great plans."

"The sense I get from community is that we love our community -- that's why we are all here -- but some of the decisions we have made have put us under some tough times. I do believe from talking to so many folks in the community we are going to dig ourselves out of this hole."

Richard Cervantes will participate in a live chat at noon Wednesday at www.mercedsunstar.com/live.

Reporter Ameera Butt can be reached at (209) 385-2477 or abutt@mercedsunstar.com.

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