The Hanford Chamber of Commerce hosted a candidates’ forum in the Civic Auditorium on October 21.
John Draxler is challenging incumbent David Ayers for Area A. Francisco Ramirez, who was recalled in January, is challenging incumbent Dianne Sharp for Area D. Art Brieno, Jason Kemp Van Ee, Savino Perrico, and Cheyne Strawn are running for Area E currently held by Justin Mendes, who is running for State Assembly.
Strawn did not participate in the forum.
It was a highly-controlled and sanitized event where no questions were allowed from the more than 100 people attending.
The event was moderated by District Attorney Keith Fagundes, himself a candidate for re-election and a figure in the local Republican hierarchy.
Chamber Chief Executive Officer, Joey Joslin, said the questions were gleaned from what people were discussing on social media after the chamber requested that people submit questions online.
The forum covered homelessness, restoration of historic downtown buildings, and taxing marijuana production, though not a question was asked on the disposition of the 18 acres west of Hidden Valley Park at 11th and Cortner.
In 2017 the city council changed the zoning on the property to allow it to be sold. In response to that decision more than 2,700 voters signed a petition that summer requesting the council to either change the zoning back to public facilities, or put a measure on the ballot to allow the voters decide on a zoning change.
The city said the petition did not qualify to get on the ballot.
Forum candidates were asked their position on a proposed homeless resource center on Sixth Street.
Homelessness impacts all of us, said ex-council member Brieno. He said the city should “go with (a) city (that) already made a study and come up with a solution.”
His opponent, Van Ee, said there was no need for the city’s homeless resource center. He said solving the city’s homeless problem was “not government’s job. The community has to come together to solve it.”
Ramirez said a medical facility was needed to deal with the homeless, three-quarters of which have a mental problem. He said he opposed putting a homeless service center downtown because it would hurt downtown businesses.
Sharp, who defeated Ramirez in the recall, said putting a homeless center on 6th Street was putting the cart before the horse.
Sharp, a downtown property owner, said the city should talk to the homeless individually and build out from that. The city, she said, could give food, shelter and a little money. Sharp suggested collaborating with others on the problem and bring the best answers to Hanford.
Ayers said the city has been talking to the Kings County Community Action Organization for two years about the problem. They had some good ideas on what to do, Ayers said. The difficulty, he said, is to coordinate services.
The homeless resource center proposed for 6th Street, he said, is not an enabler for the homeless but a resource.
The city will hold a public forum on the project and let everyone talk, Ayers said.
His opponent, Draxler, a downtown apartment owner, said the center was not needed. He said the efforts of private social service agencies should be expanded to help businesses.
Perrico, who works for the Kings County Community Action Organization, also said he was opposed to the homeless resource center. He said the city should see what the rest of the country is doing about the problem.
Candidates were also asked about the current zoning and what could be done to promote business growth in general.
Brieno said while downtown has charm, it is hard to attract businesses. He suggested bringing non-profits in. Changes, Brieno said, need to be made in zoning.
Van Ee said his family has a contracting background and it is hard to build in Hanford. He said the city’s ordinances restricting where furniture stores can locate are not workable. Seventy percent of the people don’t buy their furniture in Hanford, according to an online survey he did.
The city needs more businesses, Van Ee said. A businessman told him that it would cost him $30,000 in fees to build in Hanford so he went elsewhere. He said the city needs big-box furniture stores which would generate $9 million in revenue over 20 years.
Perrico said zoning needs to be changed and if it does not work out then the regulations can be altered. The city should focus on encouraging cannabis production and the Faraday electric car plant which will produce a lot of jobs.
Ayers said concessions were made on downtown zoning the 2017 General Plan Update. “What businesses want to see,” he said “(is) certainty, consistency.”
Hanford, Ayers said, has regional commercial centers at 12th and Lacey and a second one at the Costco Center off Highway 43. Downtown zoning, he said, will change over the years.
Ayers conceded that there are hoops for businesses to jump through to come to Hanford, but the chamber and Main Street Hanford are specifically there to support business.
Draxler said he would streamline the process of opening a business in Hanford and make it easier to get permits. He said it took him a year to get permits for the apartments he built downtown.
Ramirez said when he was in office he got rid of a lot of regulations. He said he wanted to get rid of all zoning. The reason he was recalled, he said, was because he went against the grain. “I am not going to go with the grain.”
Voters successfully recalled Ramirez early this year based on the fact they felt he ran a corrupt campaign in 2014. Then in August he was fined $1075 by the Fair Political Practices Commission for incorrectly filling his campaign finance paperwork but was not found guilty of corruption.
Sharp said significant changes were made in the city’s General Plan Update including a number of compromises. She said she tries to support local business by shopping at local stores when she can. In reference to zoning, she said, furniture stores consume a lot of space. It is easier, she said, to rent smaller spaces. She also defended her record on votes involving downtown.
Regarding marijuana, Sharp said she grew up with “Just say ‘no’ to drugs” and that the marijuana issue is complicated for her.
If the measure passes, she said, half the money should be used for equipment for public safety, 30 percent for civic buildings, 10 percent for unfunded pension liabilities and 10 percent for charity including homeless and cash assistance to help people pay their water bills.
Finally, the candidates were asked what should be done about the historical buildings in downtown, many of which are in dire need of repair.
Brieno said the city needs to take ownership of them.
Van Ee said he would like to see them maintained and kept up if this is what the community wants.
Perrico said he loves old buildings but they are expensive to maintain.
Ramirez said he favored fixing the historic buildings.
Sharp also favored keeping up the historic buildings by spending a $1 million a year for the next five years.
Similarly, Ayers favored investing in the historic buildings. It creates an icon and is a huge attraction, he said. Investment, Ayers said, is needed in the future to maintain ownership.
Draxler called the old buildings a “jewel” but he said the city doesn’t have unlimited money to spend on them. They need to be kept up, he said, and rented.
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Ramirez said when he was in office he got rid of a lot of regulations. Really, how did HE do that? Remember he was only 1 vote on the city council of 5. That is the problem with Ramirez, he tries to take credit for things the council does as a whole. I still want to know, what regulations did HE get rid of?
He said he wanted to get rid of all zoning. One question for Ramirez, can you define URBAN SPRAWL? What would happen to downtown Hanford if YOU got rid of all zoning?
Well let’s see, just over 3 years on the city council, Francisco Ramirez was investigated by the Grand Jury, investigated by the FPPC, fined $1,075 for violating 5 Government Codes, took credit for projects he voted NO on and was the only councilman ever to be RECALLED in Hanford’s history. It’s no wonder people say Councilwoman Diane Sharp is a “BREATH OF FRESH AIR”.