Eusebio "Sam" Cuellar Jr.
Candidate for City Councilesamcue@gvni.com
1. What is your stance on the West Park proposal?
I am opposed to the West Park proposal. There are too many negative impacts to our city from this proposed development.
2. What are your thoughts on the current state of city hall? On the lack of staff?
The termination of the city manager and the resignation of the community development director and finance director have created a void of three key staff within the organizational structure at City Hall. Fortunately, we have personnel who have been able to fill some of the void and enable critical projects such as the general plan, Walmart, the budget committee as well as other projects and the daily business affairs of the city to continue moving forward.
The lack of staff has no doubt made it a bit more difficult for those staff that remain, especially those that are covering the additional duties of the staff that are no longer with the city. It also needs to be said, that in an effort to try and balance the budget, there are other personnel who have left the city and those positions were not replaced. The timing of the loss of the three key positions was probably not the best, but I believe that staff have covered very well in filling the void. They are to be commended on a job well done. We have just recently learned that our interim city manager will also be leaving the city. This makes it imperative that we need to fill the position of city manager soon.
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 would like to see the city grow at a moderate pace over the next 20 and 40 years. Currently, build-out of our current general plan was scheduled for the year 2012 with a population of 31,000 to 35,000. Given the state of our economy and the housing market, it may be a few years before we realize the growth projections in our current general plan. I would favor a moderate population growth of between 47,000 and 60,000, as has been suggested in one of the general plan map alternatives. I would also like to see us manage our growth, so that we grow in an orderly manner and avoid urban sprawl.
4. What are your ideas about spurring the local economy?
First, put more focus and effort in bringing more jobs to the city. Second, encourage and support more commercial and retail development in the city. And third, encourage the community to shop locally.
5. How would you go about bringing in a diversified base of businesses (something other than distribution centers)?
I think that the council has already taken a step forward toward this objective. The council recently approved the Patterson Logistics Center in the West Patterson Business Park, which has a smaller lot than what a distribution center would require. This makes it possible for small manufacturing and assembly plants as well as commercial retail to locate in the city. Other considerations would be that the city form a partnership with our high school to establish programs that would educate and train students who could form an available and educated workforce that would be attractive to small manufacturing and assembly plants as well as others.
We also need to continue to follow up on the Buxton Group recommendation to attract more commercial retail to the city. Another consideration would be to strengthen our relationship with the Alliance of Stanislaus County to help us develop an economic development plan for the city and work with the Alliance to implement such a plan. I believe that of great importance is to assure that we have shovel-ready sites for all types of businesses when they come knocking at our door. We also need to be ready to work with those wanting to invest in our community to facilitate getting them to locate here.
6. What are your opinions on the city’s current budgeting? What would you change?
I believe that the city’s current budgeting process works well. The city under the direction of the former city manager and finance director has always taken a conservative approach to budgeting, especially in defining revenues and expenditures. In the last couple of years, estimating revenues has been made difficult because of the state’s inability to balance their budget and the taking of local government funds to help the state balance their budget while at the same time creating budgeting difficulties for local governments.
In the future, balancing the budget will have to look at the services and programs that the city offers. We will also have to look at organizational structure, contracts and employee benefits to name a few. There will also no doubt be recommendations coming from the budget committee that will have to be studied. As far as changes, I believe that council has to be more proactive in providing policy and direction to staff on the use of cash balance asset funds.
7. How do you feel about the city’s use of reserves?
Currently, the city allocates 15 percent of its general fund to reserves. This fund is to be used for emergency purposes as council directs. I believe that this is a good policy that was developed when Mayor (Richard) Dodds was in office.
The city also has a “cash balance” fund, which is part of the general fund. These are funds which have accumulated from savings on city projects and from property tax revenues during the time when property values had appreciated. In the past, these funds have been used to supplement the general fund budget and for other expenditures which council has deemed appropriate. Although, council did not expend these funds because they were available. This prudent practice allowed this fund to build up to what it is today. I agree with the current policy to use our reserves account for emergency purposes, and we also need to set a policy for expenditure of cash balance funds.
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 high priority issue. As we look at future growth for the city, water will become a more critical issue. We already know that we cannot continue to depend on ground water for all of the water needs of the city and its residents. At some point in time, we will also need to look at surface water and also look to treat ground water and surface water in order to meet the water needs of the city.
To that end, the city has been proactive in identifying different alternatives to better manage our water supply. Examples of this effort are a water conservation program, a recycled water program to supplement the non-potable water system, a water blending program, and working with other West Side entities to coordinate better water planning efforts.
I would work to remedy our water issues by continuing efforts toward better management of our groundwater supply not only in the city, but on the West Side as well. We need to continue to look for alternatives to supplement our water supply and study the possibilities of obtaining water rights available with any land annexed to the city. I would also stay updated on current efforts to strengthen our water delivery system in the state and how it would impact on the city.
9. Do you approve of the way the current council has been running things, and if not, what would you change?
It’s no secret that council has been divided on several issues. It also should be no surprise that the community has also been divided on some of the same issues. I believe that council needs to take a more proactive approach in assuring that issues that have a tendency to be controversial are handled in such a manner that we minimize causing division in the community. We need to do a better job of communicating and bringing people with opposing points of view to the table to try and find resolutions to controversial issues and conflicts.
I would suggest that council members look at training opportunities regarding conflict resolution.
10. What qualities or experience should be looked for in hiring a new city manager?
First and foremost, an ideal candidate will have previous city manager or executive management experience, strong administrative skills and share the goals and objectives of the council, as well as keeping the council well informed. The ideal candidate should have a strong knowledge of budgeting, economic development and employee contract negotiations. He/she should have the ability to develop strong identification with the community and be assertive, accessible and approachable. He/she should possess a strong sense of personal and professional ethics and integrity.
11. Do you favor a two or four year term for the mayor? Why?
Personally, I favor a two-year term for mayor. If the voters of the community feel that you are doing an adequate job, the person should have no problem being re-elected. On the other hand, if the community feels that there needs to be a change, they then have the opportunity to make change.
12. What is the most pressing issue facing the city? Why?
I believe that the most pressing issue at this time is the hiring of a new city manager. Currently, the city is operating with three less top administration personnel. Current staff are doing a very good job at keeping critical projects moving on schedule. However, there are other areas that are not being fully attended. The hiring of a new city manager will hopefully allow us to move forward on looking at possible reorganization of staff structure, next fiscal year’s budget, as well as other city issues needing attention.
We have just learned that our interim city manager will be leaving the city at the end of the month. With four administrative level staff having left the City in the last four months, I believe that hiring of a city manager has to be our top priority.
13. What are your goals for the city’s downtown and how will you go about achieving those goals?
In previous years, council has looked at a few projects in the downtown area, such as purchase of the (former Del Puerto) theater and making improvements to the facade of the downtown area as well as other improvements. Council at one point was also exploring the possibility of large projects in the downtown redevelopment area in order to generate tax increment revenues to allow the city to make improvements to the downtown area. However, because of the state’s inability to balance their budget and the taking of redevelopment funds from cities, it would be a risky venture to generate a project that could provide us with tax increment revenues and not be able to keep those revenues generated for debt service payments or improvements because the state could come along and take our redevelopment funds.
For now, I believe that a pressing need is the renovation of our restrooms and canopy area at North Park. I am hoping that we can look for some grant funding for this purpose or possibly look at the community facilities fund to make these improvements. I also think that if the theater were to become available, the city should seriously investigate ways to purchase this building or possibly work with investors or a non-profit group that would purchase and be able to use redevelopment funds to renovate and make it available for the community.
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 plays an integral part of our economic base not only in our city, but in the Central Valley and the state. Agriculture should remain a high priority in the community. We have many residents in the community who are employed in agriculture and agriculture-related businesses. As we look at future growth, I believe that we need to recognize the impacts of growth on agriculture, and we need to minimize those impacts to the extent possible.
15. How would you go about mitigating the impacts to agriculture?
I am not sure. We in the city at this time do not have a mitigation policy with regards to impacts to agriculture. Some policies that have been developed by other agencies have met with legal challenges in the court system. One way would be for the local agency to minimize those impacts to the extent possible as mentioned in the previous response.
16. What is your opinion of how the council has been operating as a whole?
In the last couple of years, we have had several contentious issues come before the council. In my opinion, some were not handled very well. I will reserve judgment on this question and let the community be the judge of how we have operated as a council.
17. In your opinion, has the council been guilty of micro-managing?
In my opinion, I believe that there have been attempts of micro-managing by some council members.
18. In what ways would you go about enhancing teamwork among the council members?
In my opinion, there needs to be better communication and dialogue between council members. We need to be able to communicate our support and concerns on issues and respectfully agree to disagree when we cannot find common ground to agree on issues. This, I feel, would go a long way toward enhancing teamwork and unity among council members.
19. Do you think the community currently trusts the city’s leaders?
I know that there is some concern in the community with regards to trust among the city’s leadership, including the council. How wide or large this concern is, is hard to gauge. The best way to find this out is to do a community survey and find out what public opinion is.
20. How would you go about maintaining or building that trust further?
I believe that trust could be maintained and built upon when the community can see that their elected officials and community leaders are working together to resolve issues and make decisions that will enhance and better improve the quality of life for all citizen in the city.