Merced candidates talk economy, public safety

10/04/2013 7:24 PM

10/04/2013 7:39 PM

The League of Women Voters held a forum for Merced City Council and mayoral candidates on Thursday. Eight of the ten were there.

Economic development in Merced was on the front burner at a election forum held this week featuring candidates for city offices.

Eight of the 10 candidates for Merced City Council’s three seats and single mayoral seat answered questions submitted from residents during a League of Women Voters forum. 

The candidates agreed at Thursday’s forum that getting people jobs and generating tax revenue through development in Merced is the cure for all of the city’s woes — homelessness, public safety, youth services and just about anything else.

Incumbent Mayor Stan Thurston said the city has added 289 jobs since cutting developer fees by about 55 percent.

“Job growth is tied in with the long-term financial health of the city,” the 68-year-old said. 

The Walmart distribution center headed to Merced is supposed to add about 1,200 jobs. 

Mayoral challenger Noah Lor, 49, a sitting councilman, said the city should give incentives to businesses who would open in south Merced along Martin Luther King Jr. Way. 

He said one glaring need is a grocery store. “So that our population can have access to (a) quality store,” Lor said. “That is something that we need to do.”

Economic development is the key to improving things citywide, Lor said.

Michael Belluomini, 63, a retired city planner running for council, said economic development in town will be good for south Merced. 

“The development of south Merced ties back to the idea of increasing economic development (and) industrial development in the city as a whole,” he said. “That would bring more jobs.”

Zoning, sewer capacity, water capacity and environmental impact studies are all things the city should prepare on its own to attract businesses, he said. That would allow the city to solicit developers, Belluomini said.

Candidate Kevin Blake, a Merced County sheriff’s sergeant, said effecting a change in young people by providing youth services can have a ripple affect. He’s running for council.

“It has a good affect for the economy,” Blake, 33, said. “It lessens the burden on law enforcement, when we’re able to get to these youth at a young age and steer them away from a life of crime or drugs or gangs.”

He said the city’s proposed youth council should lead the way in picking out what programs work. 

Council candidate Jana Mowrer, a home health care manager for Lamerson Landy Care, said Merced should use its agricultural land to develop agricultural tourism. She said it could make money quickly.

“Why tourism?” the 26-year-old asked. “This is the industry that has grown three times faster than our U.S. economy.”

She also said Merced needs to place a higher emphasis on childhood obesity.

Peter Padilla, a 64-year-old State Farm agent running for council, said the council needs to attract industry by providing infrastructure to support it. That includes industrial parks, zoning and policing.

“When a business looks at a place, they want a place where their employees are going to thrive and prosper,” Padilla said. 

He said the city will look more appealing with a safe reputation.

Incumbent Councilman Josh Pedrozo, who’s seeking re-election, said the development of the Campus Parkway is the key.

“It’s something that has a lot of job potential,” said the 30-year-old teacher. “There’s a lot of economic development potential. The infrastructure is set up, we need to capitalize on that.”

Pedrozo said Merced has other areas ripe for industry. 

Council candidate Chris Ramirez, a UC Merced lecturer, said a close relationship with the university will benefit Merced. 

“Certainly UC Merced has given me an opportunity,” Ramirez said, adding many others from the area are working there too. “It’s continuing to expand, so we’re going to see more jobs there.”

The city should also embrace a relationship with vocational schools, he said, that can help others find jobs.

Homemaker Monica Kay Villa declared intent to run for council, but did not attend the forum.

Election Day is Nov. 5.

Sun-Star staff writer Thaddeus Miller can be reached at (209) 385-2453 or tmiller@mercedsunstar.com.

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