Election 2010 Council candidate profile: Sheree Lustgarten
Oct 07, 2010 | 4880 views | 3 3 comments | 55 55 recommendations | email to a friend | print

Sheree Lustgarten

Candidate for City Council


or Sheree4Patterson@gmail.com

1. What is your stance on the West Park proposal?

While I support the general concept of redeveloping the former Crows Landing Air Base, I strongly oppose the size and scope of the West Park proposal as it was previously presented. The 4,800-acre proposal — more than three times the size of the former air base — is simply far too large and will have too many predictable and unforeseen traffic, air quality and other environmental impacts on our community. As I understand it, the West Park developers are in the process of putting together a significantly altered version of the development that includes various renewable energy features, which I would support in concept. But I also understand that the overall size and scope of the modified project may not be much different than what’s been proposed previously. I will withhold judgment on the “new and improved” version of West Park until we know more about the newly proposed approach, but I will most definitely be watching closely as that new proposal is unveiled.

2. What are your thoughts on the current state of city hall? On the lack of staff?

I believe it’s been a very difficult time for City Hall for a number of reasons. We have serious budget issues that are partly the result of the dismal economy and partly because we likely grew the city staff and operation too quickly when times were much better. We’ve also had very significant changes in the make-up of the city staff, including the departure of the city manager, community development director, city attorney and finance director. Any of those issues on their own would have made for difficult times, but the fact that it’s all happening at once makes things even worse.

Having said that, the current staff is doing an admirable job filling in under very difficult circumstances while we have these important vacancies. They deserve a lot of credit for helping to get the city through these tough times. Obviously, the retention of a permanent city manager is incredibly important, and whoever is hired will play a huge role in determining the extent to which the city’s staff organization will be restructured going forward.

3. Where do you stand on the future growth of the city? How big would you like to see Patterson grow in the next 20 years? 40 years?

I believe that we should be focusing future development efforts on commercial and light industrial ventures that will create more jobs and economic opportunities for our residents. We also need to do more to provide the kinds of basic amenities that all of our residents want and need. In the short-term, I do support the proposed Walmart superstore, not only because of the jobs and local tax revenues it will create, but also because we simply don’t have enough retail options here in Patterson. We’ve all made the 30- to 40-mile round trip into Turlock, Modesto or Tracy to buy basic items that we should be able to get here locally. Just think of all the wasted gas and the increased air pollution associated with those out-of-town trips. We need to consider the philanthropic resources that a company the size of Walmart can bring to our city, particularly given the difficult times our community is going through and the fact that funding for many local services (city, county and non-profit) are suffering. Walmart stores in Stanislaus County made more than $90,000 in contributions to various causes.

In terms of other growth issues, I believe we need to focus more generally on business recruitment and less on new housing development in the short term, particularly since we currently have so many vacant homes. I also want to place a priority on revitalizing our downtown district and taking strategic advantage of our proximity to the I-5 freeway.

Over the next 20 years, I’d like to see a Patterson that has a more diverse portfolio of businesses, a broader array of retail options for its residents, and a downtown center which includes entertainment options, antique stores and other boutique niche businesses. We also need to plot out our future growth in a manner which makes our city more “walkable,” bike-friendly and transit-accessible. I believe this has to be an important element of our planning process so that our city becomes more accessible to both our senior population as well as our youth.

4. What are your ideas about spurring the local economy?

More than anything, we need to attract more job-generating businesses to the city. In the short term, we’ll soon have the Grainger facility opening, and if the City Council ultimately approves, we’ll have Walmart opening in the next year or so. But there’s more that we can do to recruit businesses to our city. Fortunately, we have tremendous assets to offer prospective businesses.

There’s also more that we can do to help our residents get the training they need to meet local workforce needs now and in the future. I’d also like to work closely with the Stanislaus Economic Development and Workforce Alliance to see if there are strategies we’re not currently employing to attract businesses to our community. I was extremely pleased to learn that our Modesto Junior College satellite campus has just received a $600,000 federal grant that will be used to establish a new career and education resource center at the school. This campus will be a tremendous asset to our community in terms of its potential to give our local workforce the tools and training it needs, and I definitely want to explore ways in which the city can partner with the school to make sure that our residents get maximum value out of this tremendous opportunity.

5. How would you go about bringing in a diversified base of businesses? (Something other than distribution centers?)

I believe we can do more to leverage our participation in organizations like the League of California Cities and use their conferences and forums as a means of more effectively marketing our city to the array of businesses that participate in those forums. I also want to take a closer look at the manner in which our Community Development Department promotes our City to the business community and determine whether we need to develop additional marketing tools and approaches for a more aggressive approach to business cultivation. Finally, I’d like to see a much more robust working relationship between the city and the Patterson-Westley Chamber of Commerce and Rotary Club to see if there are efforts we can pursue jointly to bring additional businesses and opportunity to town.

6. What are your opinions on the city’s current budgeting? What would you change?

Unfortunately, I believe that our city will need to adjust to a new reality going forward. Property values simply won’t be returning to the levels we saw three years ago any time soon, and we will have to find creative ways to do more with less. We need to take a comprehensive look at the city’s budgeting process and thoroughly review each and every spending decision going forward. We also need to look at the manner in which our current staff is being utilized and whether there are certain services which can be provided more cost-effectively via contract services.

Conversely, there may be contracts the city currently has which can either be serviced in-house or their cost can be reduced through rebidding. Finally, I believe there’s more that we can do to identify additional non-tax revenue sources, including grants but also more effective marketing of the city’s revenue-generating resources like the Hammon Center, the Aquatic Center and the Sports Complex.

7. How do you feel about the city’s use of reserves?

On the one hand, I believe the city’s staff and operations grew beyond its means when economic times were better. On the other hand, the city did have the foresight to bank a portion of the Mello-Roos revenues it took in during those better times, creating the reserve we now have, even as we face a significant budget deficit in the current budget. So while other nearby cities like Oakdale and Riverbank are facing similarly severe declines in revenue, they are now facing even more drastic reductions in city spending because they don’t have the reserves that Patterson has.

8. Where do the city’s water issues fall with you in terms of importance? How would you work to remedy those issues?

Obviously, we need to be doing everything we can to preserve and, if possible, enhance our water resources now and for the future of our city. We cannot achieve the type of growth that we’ll need to keep our city vibrant if we don’t have the water resources to service residents, businesses and agriculture. We need to be very aggressive in pursuing our maximum possible share of water from the Delta-Mendota Canal, and I also believe the city needs to become more actively engaged with both the Del Puerto Water District and San Luis Delta-Mendota Water Authority in this regard.

We also need to maximize our existing resources. For starters, we need to bring all of our existing wells back into service. I understand one of those wells will be coming back on line very soon for irrigation purposes and that we have another well that will soon be operational. We also need to continue exploring various ways to improve the quality of our water, including blending systems, groundwater injection and replenishment, and the use of treated water for irrigation. Finally, we need to be strong advocates with our state and congressional representatives to make sure we are getting our fair share of Delta water and that we are pursuing grant programs to increase our water quality and reliability.

9. Do you approve of the way the current council has been running things, and if not, what would you change?

I am troubled by the level of division we have seen on the City Council in the last couple of years. While it’s not realistic to expect that the mayor and City Council members are going to agree on the approach to every issue, I do think we need to recapture a level of civility that has been lost at times in recent years. There have also been some instances in which certain City Council decisions were made in a manner that wasn’t as transparent as it could have been.

A big part of the solution to changing the tone of the City Council involves making sure that we are as open and transparent as possible. I do believe there’s more we can do to make sure residents are more fully informed on the various issues which come before the council. If elected, I have committed to making myself available on a continual basis to interact with our residents about their concerns, questions and priorities for the city.

10. What qualities or experience should be looked for in hiring a new city manager?

The hiring of our next city manager may be the single most important decision that the next City Council will make. While some may disagree, I believe that our current City Council made the correct choice in retaining a search firm to assist in the retention of a new city manager. From a process standpoint, it’s critically important that the process undertaken to recruit and evaluate potential candidates is not subject to perceptions of cronyism in any way, shape or form. We need to have the utmost confidence that whoever gets selected for that position is not tied to any particular council member or other formal or informal member of the City’s leadership.

From a qualifications standpoint, I believe that we need to consider candidates that not only have extensive experience in municipal government but also have the personality and willingness to become much more engaged with our residents. Put another way, we need someone who has strong leadership skills but is also is a strong communicator willing to engage individual residents and be willing to consider their ideas and perspectives.

Ideally, I’d also like to see us retain a city manager that has a background in government finance, and if we can find such a candidate, that may impact whether we need to replace the currently vacant finance director position. More importantly, since the new city manager is going to play a significant role in reshaping not only the finance department but also the entire city staff organization, we really need to determine who the city manager will be before any decisions can be made regarding other city staff positions.

11. Do you favor a two or four year term for the mayor? Why?

I am in favor of the city going to a four-year term for mayor. I believe that having the mayor run every two years and the council members running every four years creates issues in terms of continuity and decision-making. I also believe that a two-year term for mayor forces the mayor to be thinking about re-election far too early in his/her term, rather than focusing on more important issues associated with governing.

While it can be a costly process, the voters always have the right to recall a mayor or City Council member if they believe that official is not serving the best interests of the city. As we recently saw in Hughson, the voters can very quickly assert their authority if they believe that their interests are not being served by their leaders.

12. What is the most pressing issue facing the city? Why?

From an operational standpoint, I believe the hiring of the next city manager will be incredibly important because of its implications for how the city staff will be managed and how our budgeting process will change.

From a policy standpoint, I believe that economic development and recovery are incredibly important priorities for our City Council. We have to be constantly striving to attract new businesses to town and create economic opportunities for our residents, and it has to involve a continual marketing of our city that must not only involve our city manager and community development department but every single member of the City Council.

I also strongly believe that we need to find ways to bolster our public safety resources. While I wouldn’t say that criminal activity in our town is at epidemic levels, we have most certainly seen a rise in both economic and violent crime rates recently, as well as an increase in gang activity. While my preference would certainly be for us to find grants and other revenue sources to bolster our current police force, if there’s any one reason for us to expend reserve dollars in the short-term, it should be done to enhance public safety. Even if we focus all of our efforts on business development/retention and job creation, that effort will be useless if our crime rate continues to increase and we can no longer claim that Patterson is a safe place to live and work.

13. What are your goals for the city’s downtown, and how will you go about achieving those goals?

We need to strive toward attracting a diverse array of retail and boutique stores throughout our downtown area. I’d also like us to pursue a movie theater or other entertainment options for downtown.

Additionally, we need to think out of the box and get creative when it comes to revitalizing our downtown area. For example, I believe that the unique charm and atmosphere of our downtown district lends itself very favorably for various usages by the entertainment industry. Based on my previous experience in Southern California working with entertainment companies like Sony, I believe there is tremendous opportunity for us to position downtown Patterson as a filming location. Our city and surrounding areas in general have tremendous potential in this regard, but it will require some effort for us to “get on the radar” with various film studios. If we are successful in this regard, it would not only mean tremendous notoriety for our city, but it could also result in much-needed revenues and improvements to various downtown structures.

14. How important will keeping agriculture a priority in the community be for you? Should there be the same, more, or less consideration given in the future for agriculture?

Agriculture has been, and will always be, an integral part of who we are as a city. Obviously, the future of agriculture in our area is entirely dependent on our ability to maintain, secure and enhance our water resources. Our success in this area will determine the extent to which agriculture will be a part of our future local economy.

But even with the challenges presented by chronic water shortages, agriculture will continue to offer our area a unique asset that will pay economic dividends now and in the future. Agricultural exports are the highest they have ever been, and investment in agriculture continues to be strong even as the overall economy struggles and investment in the stock markets stagnates. All the more reason that we should be doing everything possible to secure the water resources we need to maximize the potential of local agriculture.

15. How would you go about mitigating the impacts to agriculture?

This is definitely a difficult issue and one that will require careful consideration to ensure that we are not making decisions regarding future land uses that have an adverse impact on agriculture. I believe a very important component to addressing this issue will involve a greater degree of openness and dialogue between the city, the business community and the agricultural community that we have not had to date. While we are nearing the end stages of the latest general plan update, that doesn’t mean our plans are locked into stone in terms of how certain properties in our community are developed. Depending on our future water resources, there may be certain areas currently used for agriculture which may provide greater economic value if they are developed for a non-agricultural use. Conversely, we may find that other areas are much better suited to be maintained for agricultural uses.

The point is that this will require an ongoing dialogue that goes well beyond the general plan update to ensure that we are making sound decisions that benefit our economy and community collectively. While the city is not in a position to dictate how a property owner can use his/her land in the future (nor should it be), the city can serve a very constructive role in bringing stakeholders together and trying to reach accommodations which can produce both individual and collective economic gain.

16. What is your opinion of how the council has been operating as a whole?

Overall, I believe even as the City Council has seen more than its share of division and turmoil in the last couple of years, there are also accomplishments for which it should be proud. Completion of the Hammon Center and the Aquatic Center are good examples of the collective good that can be accomplished when we set differences aside and work toward common goals. Same goes for recent decisions by the council to aid in the completion of the Skate Park and the Community Garden. So even during very difficult economic times and unique circumstances regarding city staffing issues, the City Council does have some tangible accomplishments it can rightly point to with pride. Having said that, the next City Council can and should do more to get beyond the divisions we’ve seen arise recently and work hard to make sure our residents feel like they have a real voice in the city’s decision-making process.

17. In your opinion, has the council been guilty of micro managing?

I’m not sure if I’d use the word micro-managing, but I do believe that the City Council has gotten significantly more engaged in specific activities being undertaken by staff, most particularly the development of the general plan update and the move of the Del Puerto Health District. In both cases, I do believe that the city staff let the council down to the extent that either procedures were not properly followed or timetables were not met. I definitely had my share of concerns about the manner in which both the health district and city staff handled the proposed move and the related changes made to the city’s zoning ordinances. While I put more of that blame on the health district for not bringing the proposed move to the city sooner, I also believe that certain city staff could have done a more effective job of shepherding those zoning changes in a manner that could have minimized some of the acrimony that ultimately resulted at the City Council level.

I have also seen that the City Council increase its level of scrutiny when it comes to approving contracts and other city expenditures, which I support. As the city enters this new phase of reduced revenues and resources, I believe it’s important that the council take a much closer look at all major expenditures before they’re approved.

18. In what ways would you go about enhancing teamwork among the council members?

Civility and tone can go a long way toward bridging some of the divisions, real or perceived, that have arisen in recent years. It’s important for the mayor and all members of the City Council to remember that we are elected to serve the interests of our community. We can have civil discussions about the issues we collectively face, and even when we disagree, we can and should be able to do so in a respectful way. That is the way I intend to approach serving you on the City Council.

Encouraging open communication and continual opportunities for resident input is also a critically important issue to me, not only because it’s the most effective way to make sure we are staying plugged into the our community’s priorities, but also because it will remind our elected officials that their service to the community should always trump any animosity they may harbor toward fellow City Council members.

19. Do you think the community currently trusts the city’s leaders?

I believe that the residents’ trust in our leaders has taken a hit in the last couple of years because of the degree of acrimony and division we have seen on the council. I also believe there’s been a growing feeling by some that our city’s decision-making hasn’t been as open as it could have been at times.

20. How would you go about maintaining or building that trust further?

The most important thing we can do to restore and build our community’s trust in its leaders is to go out of our way to make sure that our decision-making is as open as it can be. We need to put power in the hands of Patterson’s residents through information. We need to be constantly speaking to residents, listening to their concerns, and making sure they have ample opportunities to provide real input on the City Council’s decision-making. We need to talk full advantage of the many good and creative ideas our residents have to offer, and we need to make sure people feel like they have a true voice in the process. When funds are available, we ultimately need a public information officer whose primary job is to keep our residents continually informed, but until that point, the mayor and City Council will be primarily responsible for filling that role.

Comments-icon Post a Comment
October 08, 2010
Mrs. Lustgarten's support of adding a movie theatre to our downtown area and her support of adding a Wallmart are wonderfull. Having to drive out of town to see a movie or purchase groceries is tiresome. I also like her ideas for a more open decision making process which will go a long way to building trust between the city's citizens and it's leaders in my opinion. I'm very much considering giving her my vote.
October 08, 2010
Come out to the Candidates Forum on Monday night (Oct 11). It will be held at the Hammon Senior Center and starts at 6 pm. Tell all your friends to come and hear from all of the candidates!

Please feel free to email me (Sheree4Patterson@Gmail.com) if you have any questions about my candidacy, and I'd really appreciate your support on November 2.
October 08, 2010
Mrs. Lustgarten's profile and her responses to questions posed by the Irrigator are impressive. She seems to have a good grasp of the serious nature of the issues confronting the city and her solutions are well thought out and practical. Compared to other candidates who have become entrenched in City Council or city administration, her perspective may be just what's needed to bring a breath of fresh air into a chamber that has long done business behind closed doors. Her responses on how to regain the trust of the citizens is spot on and she offers practical solutions while inviting participation by all. Mrs. Lustgarten is someone we will very seriously consider giving our vote to.

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