No striking differences separated the group of five men running for Visalia City Council during the two voter forums last week put on by the Chamber of Commerce and the League of Women Voters (LWV), respectively. Both forums allowed for audience questions, and during the chamber event, the candidates were asked what makes them different.
Candidate Vincent Salinas started off the discussion by saying that he participates in the community and listens. Citing one city council meeting when Council Member Greg Collins was the lone vote against a request for rezoning, Salinas said he doesn’t like it when a developer follows all the rules laid out by the council then gets voted down on their project. He said those that follow the rules should get approved every time.
Council Member Warren Gubler pointed out his flexibility. He may come into a meeting wanting to vote a certain way, “but I can be persuaded by a good argument.” He added, “I have a good dose of common sense. I can look past the window dressing and see the bottom line. And now since I’ve been on the council for four years, I can claim experience.”
Vice Mayor Steve Nelsen said he is the first and only council member on both the Gang Task Force Committee and the North Visalia Advisory Committee. As far as voting, “I do my own due diligence and I listen to the city staff. I reach out to people in the industry who know more than I do.” He said in terms of voting, “I have no agenda, the citizens make my agenda and I’m not afraid to stand my ground. I am at the will of the people.”
Collins outlined his differences more clearly during the LWV forum. “The current council, we probably agree 90% of the time. Here is where I disagree. I’ve been the strongest advocate for infill. I’ve been the only one discouraging growth out on Highway 99 and Caldwell. The current council is not heading down that road. I’ve been the only one advocating to preserve the agriculture land at the end of the airport runway. I am the only one to advocate infill on Mooney. The current council wished to go down to Liberty Avenue. Those are major differences. One model you get a Fresno or Bakersfield, and the other you get the city of Visalia.” He finished with saying that the good decisions made in the past are what make Visalia great today.
Candidate Michael Brown said he was young, competent and experienced. “I would like to see more diversity on the council such as more young people. We have different issues, such as jobs and issues of our generation.” The biggest difference Brown has with the city is the general plan. “I don’t agree with the direction the city council is going. I would advocate for a more European model and revitalize the downtown area.” Brown describes himself as a Libertarian in terms of business. “I’m a strong believer in the constitution and for first amendment rights. Communities can regulate themselves as far as signage.” Brown is opposed to the sign ordinance and believes the new cart ordinance violates the homeless’ constitutional rights.
While Gubler, Nelsen and Salinas said they almost always oppose new taxes, and Brown straddled the fence, Collins took a more philosophical approach. “What does Visalia want to be? Do they want to be a progressive community that has nice amenities unlike any other community? That costs money, and do they want to tax themselves to get those types of amenities? Or do they want to be average? He also added during the chamber of commerce forum about taxes, “We are good today, but check with me next year.”
Brown also voiced a different view on how to raise city revenue. “I do not support a sales tax. We can develop revenues in a hotel tax because our tourism is going strong. We need to increase our vibrant culture and art to attract more tourists. We need to keep taxes low but have an attractive community.” Brown also advocated for developer impact fees.
Gubler said flatly, “We are taxed enough. We need to give the private sector time to recover from the recession. As more houses are built and more commercial centers are built those fees will come in.”
“I took a stand against the sales tax measure. Thank goodness the Blue Ribbon Committee agreed with me,” said Nelsen.
“I have too many people with their hand in my pocket. Some I know, some I don’t know, and I don’t think the city needs to be another one.” Nelsen said he would almost always be opposed to raising taxes unless the voters told him to raise them.
When asked at the chamber event under what condition he would raise taxes, Salinas said, “That’s a tough question because I’m against taxes.” In regards to Measure T and Measure R, which were both taxes, and have helped hire more police and build roads, “In hindsight, I’m glad they passed.”
The chamber is giving each candidate a scorecard based on their performance, but here are my preliminary results. Vincent Salinas wins for longevity, with his family arriving in Visalia in 1872. Warren Gubler wins for first and most campaign signs and Steve Nelsen wins for best hair. Michael Brown wins for the only candidate who can speak for the youth of Visalia. But Greg Collins would win several awards, such as distinguishing himself from the other candidates and the most complex mix of conservative and liberal. But what I enjoyed most about Collins performance was his use of visual quotes. “One generation plants the trees, the next generation gets the shade,” and in his 22 years, he has planted a lot of trees.
So who would I vote for? I can’t vote. I live in Lemon Cove, where a Sikh who uses a putter as a walking stick is our honorary mayor.