This week candidates for the Westside's portion of the Merced County Board of Supervisors gave their thoughts on what leaders in the area are doing wrong.
The District 5 seat, which has been held by Jerry O'Banion since 1990, has drawn four contenders this year: Patricia Ramos Anderson, Richard De La Paz Jr., Lea Hernandez Holguin and Scott Silveira. O'Banion has said he will retire.
Ramos Anderson said Merced County suffers from the lack of a thorough strategic plan. The director of the Santa Nella County Water District, who also retired from the city of San Jose, said the departments do not communicate well.
"They established that one-stop center, but it needs to be enhanced. It needs to be more accessible," she said. "I hear it from the residents in Dos Palos. I hear it from the residents in Los Banos."
"(Merced County's) good at public defenders. They're great at jails," she said. "But, that's not where we're supposed to be investing all our money."
Ramos Anderson, who worked in redevelopment in San Jose, said the strategic plan is essential in making improvements.
The county for too long has trusted only its homegrown ideas and not enough from outsiders, according to De La Paz, who owns a real estate business in Los Banos.
"Outside ideas from people who weren't born and raised here have some good solutions," he said. "There's a lot of improvements, efficiencies, that Merced County is doing horribly bad."
Many of the improvements "don't cost a lot of money" and can be identified by looking at what other counties do, he said. Simple changes that would improve the county's efficiency is one of the reasons he's decided to run, he said.
De La Paz was elected to the Watsonville City Council at age 23, the San Francisco Chronicle reported, but three years later was stripped of his mayoral title after he pleaded no contest to inciting violence following a May 28, 2003, drunken bar brawl in which the married then-mayor was accused of punching a young woman for spurning his advances.
"I got in a fight when I was mayor. That was 15 years ago," he said. "I'm a military guy, a real strict guy. There's not excuses for it, but I've accomplished a lot. I've made a lot of mistakes, and learned from every mistake I've ever made."
Merced County should do more to aid the homeless according to Hernandez Holguin, a legal clerk and civil rights advocate. "We don't have enough homeless shelters in this county," she said. "I believe Merced County has not listened to that (need)."
Much of the public services are based in the city of Merced, making them harder to access for far-flung parts of the county, she said. Santa Nella, Dos Palos, Planada and other rural areas suffer because of it, she said.
"I would like to have homeless shelters in every district, not just in Merced," she said. "People who are homeless can take a shower, get the help they need. Some of them could even get education, get back on their feet."
The number of people living on the street in Merced County is 514, according to a tally from this year, an increase of 13.2 percent from the previous year.
Silveira, a dairyman, said while UC Merced has been a boon for educating young people and drawing interest to Merced County, it has a tendency to benefit the east side alone.
"It seems to be the UC is the new shiny object," he said. "It's a great thing, and I'm not taking away from it, but it attracts all the funding. The state funding. The federal funding."
Westside leaders commonly complain about what they see as an imbalance of funding that leans toward Merced and Atwater in particular.
Something of a "pipe dream," Silveira said, leaders have discussed building an industrial park on the western end of the county. A project of that size could also benefit people who commute from the east side, he said, but needs funding.
"At build out, that industrial park employs 10,000 people," he said. "I know this is something that doesn't happen overnight. It takes a lot of time, a lot of investment to get there."