District 2 residents want clean streets, safe neighborhoods – not arena

When residents in District 2 met with City Council candidates Wednesday night, they had more on their minds than an arena – they wanted to know which of the candidates could “walk the walk” for clean streets, healthy kids and safe neighborhoods.

“We need a City Council person who is going to stand up and fight for (District) 2,” said Robla School District School Board Member Velma Strong.

“We need new development. We need grocery stores. We need restaurants. When we build something in our area, it should put our people to work. What are you going to do?” Strong asked the candidates.

Strong was one of nearly 50 people who attended the forum hosted by the Robla Community Association – one of the oldest and most active neighborhood associations in the district.

In a city seemingly obsessed with a new entertainment and sports complex, these residents preferred to talk about day-to-day concerns that resonate more on a neighborhood level than an arena proposed for the downtown railyards.

The first topic of discussion was the abundance of trash on neighborhood streets in the district and the inability of the city to keep up with the ongoing problem.

“We have a community trash problem – everybody’s seen it,” said Craig Bagwill. “ People just throw their crap everywhere.”

“Yesterday, I picked up all the stuff that was out there on my corner, and today there was another big pile,” he added.

Many audience members said they were frustrated with the city’s proposed increased utility rates – particularly because the district has many low-income areas and residents cannot afford the higher rates.

Candidate Kim Mack explained that the increased utility rates are going toward deferred maintenance of a dilapidated city water and sewer system – a problem that should have been dealt with by long-range planning.

“Right now we put Band-Aids on problems. We need to look 10 or 20 years down the road,” Mack said. “It’s about common sense and long-range planning to be prepared for these problems.”

Candidate Sondra Betancourt agreed that the city has insufficiently improved its infrastructure, even as residents have paid ever-increasing utility rates – and Betancourt said she wants to find out why.

“We really need to be investigating what is happening with our money at the city level,” Betancourt said. “The City Council members and the mayor need to be accountable.”

One audience member asked the candidates how they planned to help with kids’ programs in the district to keep kids safe and reduce crime.

“You talked about low graduation rates, but are you doing anything now to solve the problem? Are you working on any (youth) programs now?” she asked.

Candidate Allen Wayne Warren described two youth programs in the Grant Joint Union High School District that he has supported, both of which he said have increased graduation rates for students in the program over the past two years.

Mack told the audience that she has been approaching local businesses about collaborating with the school districts on a regional occupation program, which allows high schoolers to work part-time and get job training as long as they commit to staying in school.

When audience members asked the candidates for their positions on the proposed entertainment and sports complex, nearly all of the candidates said they are opposed to public financing of an arena.

Warren, however, was cautious in his response about financing the project.

“If we cannot justify a return for our investment, then we should not spend public money on an arena,” Warren said, “but I believe the economic impact for the city (from the project) would be valuable. It’s too significant of a project to ignore.”

Candidate Rob Kerth said he thinks fixing Power Balance Pavilion in Natomas is a wiser choice than building a new arena in the railyards.

“They’re not filling the potholes in our streets, they’re not picking up the garbage in the streets, the streetlights have been out for years – we’re not a rich city. We’re having a lot of trouble,” Kerth said.

When asked how she would help create jobs for the district, Candidate Misty Yaj said she wants to work with business professionals to educate the community on what they can do to help themselves.

“If we have businesses here, we will have jobs here. We need people to come in and teach us how to develop business here,” Yaj said.

Candidate Jason Sample took yet another approach to the problem: involving youth in the solution.

“One the the best things you can do is create a place such as a small business that will hire youth,” Sample said.

Sample said he wants to bring the “brains” of the Del Paso Property and Business Improvement District and the Del Paso Chamber to find ways to encourage small businesses to open in the community.

“We have to keep community centers open and staffed, and we have to provide things for kids to do, including work,” Sample said.

After the forum, Del Paso Heights resident Lynn Deloney said she had more questions for the candidates – and not about the arena.

“I want to hear more about what they would do for the neighborhood and for the children,” Deloney said. “What other programs are they going to have to keep the kids off the streets and keep them out of trouble?”

Deloney said the arena is not a high-priority item for her neighborhood because there are larger issues that affect her.

“What about the homeless? We didn’t hear anything about that (tonight),” she said.

Mark Kramer said he also thought there are more issues for the candidates to address.

“I’d like to hear what the city is going to do to reduce their spending without cutting our services or raising our rates,” Kramer said.

Deloney said that, going forward, she wants candidates to hold more town hall meetings, come to her door to talk and keep their doors open at City Hall for people to reach them more readily.

The District 2 candidates are scheduled to meet again from 1 – 5 p.m. Saturday at a forum hosted by the Greater Sacramento Urban League, 3725 Marysville Blvd.

Melissa Corker is a staff reporter for The Sacramento Press. Follow her on Twitter @MelissaCorker.

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May 1, 2012 | 9:49 AM

Let’s be real here about a proposed Entertainment and Sports Complex. Building a new downtown venue will not preclude cleaning up the streets, making things safer, or anything else the City should already be doing. If done properly, it will bring new revenue that will benefit the entire city. There’s nobody suggesting monetizing parking in order to help increase the budget deficit. It’s an investment in the future and must be done in a way that any additional budget shortfall is avoided. In my opinion, it’s not a yes or no issue, it’s how to get it done properly, in the city’s best interest, and there are people working very hard to get that accomplished.

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