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STOCKTON — Stockton voters will head to the polls to pick from among seven mayoral candidates running in the June 7 primary. The top two candidates will face off in the November general election unless one candidate gets one vote more than 50 percent of the ballots cast.
This year’s slate of candidates includes the city’s incumbent mayor, Anthony Silva; former council member and mayor who was recalled in the 1960s, Jimmie Rishwain; County Supervisor Carlos Villapudua; City Councilmember Michael Tubbs and three local businessmen, Gary Malloy, Tony Mannor and Sean Murray.
The campaign so far has produced some eventful moments. One included a photo of Silva putting up signs in his bathrobe in the middle of the night. During Silva’s first term, Stockton emerged from bankruptcy, but the sometimes colorful incumbent has also been at the center of controversies involving feuds with the city manager and council members. He was also criticized for distributing private security badges that too closely resembled police badges.
He and those wishing to take his job will vie to lead a city still recovering from the Great Recession, dealing with the constraints of a bankruptcy agreement as well as the usual issues of crime and education.
There are few issues that concern local businesses as much as the city’s often laborious and expensive permitting and licensing process. Construction permits can run as much at $30,000 for single home construction. In January the city council cut fees by $12,459 for 1,000 single-family homes and 500 multi-family units over the next three years.
Tubbs said that future fee reductions would be tough given the city’s financial constraints.
“I am going to meet with developers and talk with other cities and see how they deal with promoting construction in combination with their fees,” he said. “There may be other factors limiting construction. We have to get to a number that doesn’t endanger our general fund but also lets it pencil out to build new homes.”
Silva believes the fees must be reduced even more.
“We reduced the fees but It’s still ridiculous at $30,000,” said Silva.
Beyond construction, streamlining the hodgepodge of permitting processes and making those agencies more user friendly is also a popular cause among those seeking the city’s highest office.
“The city of Stockton has so many hidden fees,” said Rishwain. “They never keep their word. That has to change.”
Murray says the tough process of starting a business keeps the city from using its biggest assets.
“We are in the middle of the state, and we’re are stopping big businesses from coming in,” he said. “It’s like we want big business to come in but we are going tax you out of sight.”
Streamlining the inspections and helping ease the process are ideas Mannor would like to pursue.
“There are new departments that do inspections and there are no guidelines on how they are supposed to be done,” he said. “It’s all these little things that add up.”
Malloy believes city agencies need to change their mindset in addition to dealing with specific issues with fees.
“We have to change the culture to say yes more than no,” said Malloy. “They have to know city in on their side.”
While Stockton’s violent crime rate gets the headlines, it’s quality-of-life issues such as vandalism and theft that often cause businesses the most headaches. Mannor, who owns Finnegan’s Irish Pub and Restaurant, said he has seen this first hand.
“Transients breaking into our place and stealing things,” he said. “That probably stole another 30 to 40 jobs from Stockton over the years.”
He said that, as mayor, he would put a bigger focus on street crime.
“We need to get them off the street,” said Mannor. “It’s businesses that are being targeted. It’s hard to get ahead when your stuff is always being stolen.”
He also said he wants to see booking procedures streamlined so that officers spend less time on paperwork and more on the street.
Rebuilding a police force thinned by bankruptcy and attrition is another key focus for all the candidates.
“First thing we have to do is get 120 officers hired and retained,” said Malloy. “Once we do that we can get back to community policing.”
That will cost money, possibly more than even the half-cent sales tax approved by voters with Measure A.
“We need to throw money at the police,” said Silva. “We have to throw money at them to get cops to stay. The police and fire that we hire, other places take after two years.”
Rishwain would like to see longer contracts for police and fire tying them to their jobs for five years. Murray would focus on incentives and benefits to help lure more police to the city.
For Tubbs, reducing the city’s violent crime rate is the key to make the city more livable.
“I think until we get our homicides and murder rates down, I don’t see our attention can be deviating from that,” he said.
Villapudua would focus on building up business watch organizations, similar to neighborhood watches, to help report crimes and focus police resources.
“Everything works by statistics,” said Villapudua. “If you don’t call, then you don’t get the attention. The phone call, reporting crimes does make a difference.”
He also wants to make sure that Measure A money stays focused on police and isn’t siphoned off for other city needs.
A common challenge for area businesses is finding workers with skill sets that match their needs. While the mayor lacks control over the school board, there are education policies candidates would like to see.
Villapudua would like to see a program in Stockton similar to the Vision 2020 program Lodi used. It would work with employers to identify the skills that are going to be needed in the future and focus educational opportunities on those skills.
“We need to get started early, even in the elementary schools,” he said. “We have to identify what jobs are going to be needed and how can we educate people to plug in those jobs.”
Tubbs would focus on raising standards and getting more students into courses that prepare them for college. Silva believes that partnerships between schools, unions and businesses will address the city’s future needs.
Murray believes that more funding should be available to help make private schools available to all Stockton students. Mannor would like to see city-sponsored events that would focus students’ attention on science, technology, engineering and math courses.
Malloy would look at increasing city support for educational programs and encourage people who have needed skills stay on this side of the Altamont Pass.
“We have a lot of people that are driving over the hill that have skills we could use,” he said. “We just don’t have the resources here to use those skills.”
In this primary election voters are deciding whether they want to stay to course with the city’s current mayor or chart a new post-bankruptcy route with someone new.
“Think how life was in Stockton three and a half years ago,” said Silva. “There was the bankruptcy and not too much positive. Now we are on the road to recovery. I respect those running but I think it’s not their time. Residents will have to decide if they want to pull their quarterback at this point or not.”