SOLEDAD — Voters in Soledad will soon be choosing a mayor and two city council members in the upcoming Nov. 6 Statewide General Election.
To help voters make an informed decision, Soledad Bee sent out a questionnaire to all the candidates running for election, asking for their stance on city issues.
City of Soledad has two positions up for election on its council, with incumbent Alejandro Chavez, Marisela Lara and Richard Perez competing as candidates. Current Councilmember Chris Bourke chose not to run for re-election.
Additionally, Soledad Mayor Fred Ledesma is running unopposed for another term.
Only Chavez, Lara and Perez responded to the Bee’s questionnaire. Read their responses below:
What qualifications do you have that make you a good candidate for city council?
Chavez: I was elected in 2010 and appointed vice mayor since 2011. I helped to fix a deficit of $2 million in the City of Soledad and we now have a reserve of nearly $2.5 million. We solved this issue immediately, through conservative spending and creating new revenue opportunities for the City. I rebranded Soledad as “Gateway to the Pinnacles,” redeveloped Vosti Park, Jesse Gallardo Park and helped create the opportunity for the development of a new Hartnell College Campus in Soledad. Additionally, I worked with staff and developers to bring a new movie theater, more retail to Soledad.
Lara: In search of my “American Dream” in 2002, I graduated from Soledad High School and was admitted to CSUMB. In 2006, I received my Bachelor of Arts in collaborative health and human services, and most recently a Master of Public Administration from San Jose State University. I chose public service majors as a gateway to give back to my community. By achieving this and running for elected office in my hometown, I feel that this is a way in which I can influence and establish policy to help others fulfill their “American Dream.”
Perez: I have 35 years in law enforcement, working with people. My prior experience as serving eight years on the city council, elected city treasurer, school board trustee, Soledad Planning Commission and Soledad-Mission Recreation District gives me a broad overview of the issues. I have over 40 years volunteering in our community with 30 years participating as a member of Soledad Lions Club, which helps organize major fundraisers for our youth and citizens of Soledad. I was able to get different organizations to come together, like co-chairing Measure Y and Measure X, to fund public safety for 25 years.
What do you hope to accomplish as a city council member?
Chavez: I will continue listening to the community and its needs while searching for opportunities to bring new jobs. I will implement in my next term the following projects: senior programs, affordable housing, arts programs for youth, a city run homework center, a dog park and a state-of-the-art skate park. Finally, I will continue to work to bring more retail and jobs for Soledad. We need to budget for a third entrance and exit into Soledad. I will continue to work on all these issues while improving the services the City provides for code enforcement and beautification.
Lara: As a Soledad city council member, there are several accomplishments I hope to achieve. Foremost, I would like to bring more early childhood education opportunities to our city. Research indicates that early child education opportunities is essential in giving kids, especially those in low-income communities, a strong start and a solid foundation. I would work toward providing opportunities for economic development so that we could have increased revenues for our city. I would also strive toward providing affordable housing for our community based on their needs.
Perez: Soledad has become a bedroom community with the lowest sales tax revenue in the county. My goals are to keep the City financially stable, increase our general fund reserves, help market the City for commercial retail to increase our sales revenue. We need to extend Measure Y indefinite. It will help augment the City budget for public safety. There is a great demand for affordable housing. Plus, senior citizen housing is in further demand, for we only have one senior living complex in Soledad.
How do you feel about the cannabis industry in South County?
Chavez: The city council voted to not bring cannabis into Soledad. I stand by our decision. After analyzing the benefits and costs associated with the cannabis industry, and upon analysis of studies in different states, it was difficult to ascertain a confirmation of funds coming to our small city that would outweigh the costs. This in addition to ensuring that Soledad continue to remain the safest city in the county and one of the top 30 safest cities in the State of California, were key reasons for our collective decision.
Lara: Cannabis is a growing industry that has created jobs opportunities for our agriculture community here in South County. It is estimated that the cannabis industry will have created 340,000 new full-time jobs by the year 2022. In addition, when Proposition 64 passed it provided access and tax revenue to the cities that cultivate and have dispensaries. With the demand for cannabis steadily on the rise, any county stands to profit from its increased popularity. Thus, with the right perspective, the rise of the cannabis industry in South County can be seen as a positive trend.
Perez: What I feel about the cannabis industry in South County differs from my personal feelings and what I feel is right for the City of Soledad and its citizens. We passed no on cannabis greenhouses or dispensaries in Soledad several years ago. I was on the council at that time. There is a great use for medical cannabis derivatives. Until the citizens of Soledad change their mind on the cannabis industry, I will abide to their feelings and wishes.
When you hear about concerns from the community, what steps would you take to see that they are resolved?
Chavez: I am always open to listening. I have listened to community members and made changes to a variety of issues that affect our community. The redevelopment of Little League Park, the soccer fields at Vosti, the improvements to Metz Road. The movie theater coming to Soledad. These ideas came from the community. I listen, I analyze, I come up with ideas and then I negotiate to create opportunities to make our city better. I will continue to listen and in my next term, I will be hosting monthly coffee meetings to meet with residents and garner even more input.
Lara: Running local government successfully is hard work. Through my time campaigning, several community members have discussed concerns they would like addressed. My plan is to bring those concerns to the council so that together we can make the best decisions moving forward. I realize that it will require serious commitment, time and knowledge on the part of local officials, staff and community members to move this city forward. Together, we will address the issues that affect the future well being of our community so that the kind of community we envision for ourselves, and our children, will come to fruition.
Perez: First, I would listen to the nature of the concern. I would forward the concern or issue to the city manager so he can forward it to the proper city department. If the concern is not dealt with at this level, the concern can be brought to the attention of the city council for resolution. While this issue is being dealt with, the public will be informed of the solution to the concern as well as the end result.
What are the top challenges the city is facing in the next five years?
Chavez: Creating good paying jobs and bringing more economic opportunities for Soledad so that we are best prepared for the next economic downturn. Hartnell College is a good first step. Affordable housing for Soledad, we need to develop housing for our residents including teachers, police officers and farmworkers. We need to develop partnerships with our local school district and industry partners. Healthcare costs are rising for our residents and we must work with legislators and private companies to bring about solutions. Traffic in our highway and our community and creating a third exit/entrance into Soledad. Ensuring ongoing fiscal solvency for our City.
Lara: There are various challenges the city is facing the next five years. Based on community needs, some of those concerns that need to be addressed are: access to early childhood education programs for infants and toddlers, affordable housing opportunities for our community, economic development/business development, affordable and accessible clean water, and the cost of living relative to current minimum wages. As previously noted, together we will address the issues that affect the future well being of our community so that the kind of community we envision for ourselves, and our children, will come to fruition.
Perez: Top challenge will be traffic congestion. The building on Orchard Lane and Gabilan Drive and possible the new development on San Vicente Road, adding over 11,000 vehicle trips daily to our traffic problems now. Commercial business: Building of new homes and apartments puts an increase need for City services. Marketing the City to attract commercial business to locate in the City, this will increase tax revenue, helping pay for public services. City services: Extending Measure Y. The 1 percent sales tax needs to be extended permanently. This will help augment the General Fund, maintaining proper level for public safety and public works.
Vote-by-mail ballots have already been sent out to local voters, and early voting has begun at the Monterey County Elections Department, 1441 Schilling Place, North Building, in Salinas. Office hours are Monday through Friday, from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m.
Polling place locations will also be available Election Day, Nov. 6.