Mayoral Candidates Gary Soiseth and Mike Brem gathered at Turlock City Council Chambers Oct.1 to address the concerns of Turlock residents at the packed forum hosted by The League of Women Voters (LWV) of Stanislaus County.
Audience members, which overflowed into the hallway, had the opportunity to submit written questions addressed to both candidates to LWV moderator, Mary Giventer. Candidates began with two minutes of opening statements, followed by questions where candidates each had one minute to respond.
Candidates were asked whether they were in support of increasing funding for public safety, a major issue in Turlock due to budget cuts that have reduced City police and fire personnel.
Brem started off by saying that an increase in funding for public safety was the biggest priority of the Council. He stated that of the current general fund, around 77 percent is dedicated to public safety; he expressed the need to add more resources.
Soiseth recounted the 2007 budgetary cuts that City public safety personnel were asked to take. He stated that there is a need to honor commitments while keeping the overall budget healthy and maintaining staffing levels.
When asked about various City budget issues, the candidates had differing views. Regarding whether City Council stipends should be increased, it is Brem’s belief that though it is a low priority and not necessarily on his radar, after more pressing budgetary issues are solved, it is something that could be explored down the road.
Soiseth said that increasing Council stipends has no priority with him. If elected, Soiseth plans to forgo the Mayoral stipend and, instead, use those funds to create a public policy scholarship at California State University, Stanislaus.
Many questions circled back in one way or another to Measure B, which, if passed by two thirds of voters, would cause a seven-year half-cent increase in sales tax with revenue going to the improvement of City roads.
Soiseth, who has publicly been pitted by many as the anti-Measure B candidate, clarified that he is “not the anti-B candidate.” He vowed to investigate all implications of the measure at the City and County levels; Soiseth wanted to see a list of priority roads associated with the Measure and a guarantee from the County to the honor commitments to fix those roads.
Brem seized the opportunity to self-moderate the forum directly questioning Soiseth regarding his stance.
“But you’re supporting Measure B?” he probed.
Soiseth replied he would if he got the guarantee.
Brem expressed his strong support for the Measure but noted that he did not believe a guarantee from the County was possible because a tax is not currently on the table.
He explained that passing Measure B would act as long-term leverage with the County. Brem stated that along with City Council, he would work to get Turlock what it deserves, which would be the same level of funding associated with B. Unless they got that level of funding, the Council would not support a County initiative, and without Turlock’s support, a County initiative would not pass, according to Brem.
Both stated support for Measure A, which proposes a change in elections dividing the City into four districts with one Council Member representing each; current Council members are responsible for representing all residents despite location. Should the at-large election of Council members continue, the City would be vulnerable to a legal challenge under the California Voting Rights Act of 2001.
In another policy related question, candidates were asked about their thoughts on the drought in relation to the newly adopted General Plan.
Soiseth called the plan great, but stated that should the drought continue the General Plan may need reevaluation to sustain city growth. He emphasized the need for up-to-date infrastructure, noting current dependence on groundwater resources. He said improving infrastructure and diversifying water resources was necessary to prepare.
Brem agreed with the need for a sustainable plan in relation to city growth. Noting previous trajectories that water would be a constraint, he stated the need for replenishment. Brem favors a plan that gets surface water treatment from Turlock Irrigation District; he stated the necessity to construct a plan between the City and TID in to ultimately encourage economic and citywide growth.
Candidates were questioned on their qualifications, abilities to relate, and ways they are able to keep in touch with the community. Brem mentioned his Facebook page as a way of interacting with the community but explained he is partial to personal engagement and talking with individuals one-on-one.
Soiseth noted his “open door policy” availing himself to speak with anyone; he mentioned his phone number has been made public since the announcement of his candidacy.
Brem mentioned his work to bring Hilmar Cheese and Blue Diamond to Turlock, 40 years of business experience running multi-million dollar companies, previous work on the Planning Commission in Gilroy, and desire to give back to the community as unique contributions to his candidacy. He stated the endorsement of current City Mayor John Lazar, who personally called Brem to tell him that he was the only person who could be Mayor, and support for Measure B as reasons residents should vote for him.
Soiseth, who explains himself as open and candid, stated his professional accomplishments that contribute to his candidacy, including working at the White House, House of Representatives, and work in Afghanistan which offer him a unique global perspective when it comes to many issues. He stated that being a third generation, born and raised Turlock farmer, he has a good understanding of the city. Soiseth said he is the right choice for Turlock for those who want new energy and new ideas.