Election 2010 Council candidate profile: James Leonard
Oct 07, 2010 | 2634 views | 0 0 comments | 19 19 recommendations | email to a friend | print

James Leonard

Candidate for City Council


or leonard4council@gmail.com

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

I am strongly in favor of developing the 1,500 county-owned acres of the Crows Landing Air Facility, which will bring much-needed jobs to the West Side. I am absolutely opposed, however, to the massive West Park proposal, which would have irreversible impacts on Patterson and the West Side as a whole. It’s simply too big. I’m happy to see that the plans are under revision and I appreciate the new focus on renewable energy, but I will never support and will in fact actively oppose any plan of that size and scope.

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

I think the divisive attitude of our City Council has had a profound impact on City Hall, both in terms of staffing and morale. The exodus of key city officials has combined with an overly ambitious desire to finish the general plan revision and the Walmart review to create an overwhelming and unnecessary burden on the current staff. As we balance our budget, the city will undoubtedly have to find ways to get by with a smaller staff, but losing so many key figures in such a short period of time is hardly how I’d recommend improving the bottom line.

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 think the city should continue to grow, but at a slow, steady and sensible pace. The market will largely determine the pace of growth, but I don’t believe the city ever needs to grow beyond a population of 60,000 or so. And the growth in population should not come without corresponding growth in jobs and in retail and entertainment. There must be balance, and Patterson must become a well-rounded community we can all be proud of.

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

I think Patterson has a lot going for it already, as evidenced by companies like Grainger and Walmart wanting to come here even in a down economy. I think we need to continue to attract major businesses not by reducing fees or regulations but by using master plans and other methods to facilitate the approval process for those who wish to locate here. I think companies like this coming into Patterson will help continue a steady, natural growth that doesn’t need to be forced.

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

Because of our location relative to I-5, it makes sense that companies would want to locate distribution centers here, and that is a good thing, as we need all the jobs we can get. But we also need the robust retail sector. The success of something like Walmart would make it much easier to bring in other commercial businesses, and we need to make sure we market that success to those companies. I also think the city should, when redevelopment funding allows, invest in renovating the old Del Puerto Theatre or building a new one.

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

The recession may technically be over, but the economy in the Central Valley is not likely to improve anytime soon. We need to budget based not on what we think or hope the coming year might be like, but based on a worst-case scenario. And we need to plan our budgets a few years in advance to ensure that we’re not spending unwisely.

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

I think it’s a serious mistake to be using our reserve to balance the budget. Smart families these days are not burning through their savings to pay the rent. They’re cutting back elsewhere so they can maintain whatever nest egg they have, because they know the situation is likely to get worse before it gets better. That said, if there are dire needs in police or fire services, I would not oppose using the reserve to address them.

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

Water is a critically important issue throughout the state, and Patterson is no different. I welcome the idea of a regional solution to water quantity issues, and I would not object to local conservation measures that are more strict than what is in place now, if the need arises. I’d also like to see the city move toward more drought-resistant landscaping and require the same from its future residential, commercial and industrial developers.

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

The current council has certainly done some good things, but anyone who’s been paying attention would have a hard time approving of the way they’ve run things the past two years. After all, that’s part of why I decided to run. I believe there is far too much emotion that goes into extremely important decisions, and that can be a dangerous thing. I would approach each decision with a clear mind and common sense, listening thoroughly to all sides before voting, and I would do my best to maintain a strong working relationship with all of my fellow council members.

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

The most important thing I’d want in a new city manager is someone with experience balancing budgets and making the difficult decisions associated with that process. I also think it’s imperative that we hire someone with at least some experience in customer or public relations. I’ve heard far too many complaints already about the customer relations aspect of City Hall, and that needs to change. The new city manager must prioritize and should exemplify a respectful, dignified and thoughtful approach to dealing with our residents.

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

I am in favor of changing the mayor’s term from two years to four years, which would match the term of city council members. I don’t see any reason why they should be different, for one thing. I also think two years is not enough time to get comfortable on the job and actually accomplish anything.

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

At the moment, it’s the general plan revision, and “pressing” is certainly an appropriate term. The process is frankly being rushed, and I worry that mistakes could be made or that the public will not have a chance to fully digest the implications of the decisions being made before it’s too late. Generally speaking, I think economic development is the most pressing issue, as it is everywhere. We need more jobs, more retail, more entertainment — about the only thing we don’t need more of is houses.

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

My ultimate vision would be for Patterson’s downtown to become a vibrant, bustling place with legitimate entertainment offerings, a diverse group of restaurants and shops, and an aesthetic that is quaint, unique and charming. Sadly, much of that vision involves spending money that currently doesn’t exist. To get there, we need to do what we can to develop a steady stream of revenue into our redevelopment fund. Only then will we be able to do some of the things necessary to truly revitalize our downtown.

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?

I don’t think we have to be too extreme with our agriculture preservation measures, but we do need to do our part. I’d like to see us incorporate more compact housing into our future plans as a way to reduce the sprawl our current growth plans will create. I also think we should focus as much on developing vacant areas within the city limits as we are on expanding to new areas and paving over more farmland.

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

The biggest threat to prime farmland is sprawl, which is something the city needs to avoid whenever possible. I believe the city should continue to grow, but the current plan under consideration is just too big and too ambitious. I’d also be in favor of bringing in higher-density residential developments, both to limit sprawl and to create a better balance of housing options.

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

I think the council has been too divided on some of the most important issues it has faced over the past couple of years, including the Del Puerto Health Center move and West Park. The consistent 3-2 split seems indicative of the group’s struggles to get past their differences and work toward any sort of consensus.

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

That’s difficult to say without having actually been involved in the managing or having first-hand knowledge of it. I wouldn’t want to speculate.

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

Depending on the makeup of the new council, this could be a significant challenge, but I see it as one of the most important aspects of the job. I think I have the levelheaded, pragmatic approach needed to bring opposing viewpoints together in compromise on complex, controversial issues.

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

I don’t know if there’s an outright lack of trust, but I think that trust might be wavering. The only way to restore that is to listen to our residents and always strive to do what’s best for the city as we make the difficult decisions ahead of us. And we as a council need to keep our discussions out in the open as much as possible.

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

I would work very hard to ensure the council keeps important discussions in open session. And, if elected, I would continue to use my campaign website and Facebook page to remain in conversation with residents about the issues our city faces and the decisions our council makes. We won’t always agree on the decisions I make, but I will keep those lines of communication open to help rebuild that trust.

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