Dave Lopez has served for about seven and a half years as a Modesto City Councilman. He will be termed out at the end of 2015. He is running for mayor because he wants to clean up the town, and remove vagrants and litter. He wants to try new methods to clean up the city, including a get tough policy. He says inadequate attention is given to problems created by vagrants; the litter problem needs to be more effectively dealt with.
According to Mr. Lopez, Stanislaus County is commonly referred to as “Santa Claus” County outside of the area because its citizens are renowned for being very generous to vagrants and vagabonds. Mr. Lopez repeatedly pointed out that there are 13 community feedings daily, attracting ever more vagabonds. The Modesto Gospel Mission and Salvation Army “are overrun”: they see more people than they can handle.
Mr. Lopez said that an informal study he did with a few other citizens concluded that panhandlers collect about $60,000 per day from citizens. He said that the money goes directly to drug dealers for illicit drugs. He asserted: “We need to take away their income” and, “a lot of the panhandlers are not homeless.”
Candidate Lopez accused the communities of San Jose, Chico, and Fresno of targeting Modesto as the destination for exporting their vagrants. He said that they are sent to Modesto on busses using public money by promising that our community will be more generous than theirs.
Thanks to the catch and release program mandated by Proposition 47, police arrest vagrants on an assortment of charges. As soon as released, they go out and commit more crimes.
As Mayor, Mr. Lopez wants to initiate a program to send vagrants back to their point of origin. He wants to create a non-profit organization that will pay for bus tickets. The organization will obtain Visa Cards and give the cards to police officers assigned to monitor the downtown transportation center. The cards will be used to buy transients one way tickets out of town. Vagrants will be offered the alternative of going to jail in lieu of leaving town.
The non-profit will track where the vagrants are sent. Mayor Lopez plans to phone the mayors of each community that are sent 10 or more transients to insist that the offending cities stop sending Modesto any more transients. He said: “I am willing to be the bad guy to clean this town up.”
Another proposal, created from a conversation with Modesto Police Chief Galen Carroll, is to buy a van and park it in front of the Stanislaus County jail. When prisoners are released at 2AM, they are to be put in the van and transported back to the cities where they were originally arrested. Presently, released offenders stay in Modesto after gaining freedom, adding to vagrancy woes in the downtown.
Council member Dave Lopez talked about his proudest achievements as a city council member. He organized the movement which eventually became “Love Modesto.” Volunteers periodically clean up litter city wide. He said that the first effort he organized consisted of 2,478 volunteers. He wants to expand the volunteer program by encouraging each citizen to pick up one piece of litter every day. If every citizen did this, Modesto would become a much cleaner community.
Mr. Lopez also organized the “Partners in Paint,” a volunteer program that helps city staff clean up gang graffiti.
Opposition to Measure G
Candidate Lopez opposes the one-half percent sales tax increase on the November ballot. He said that 91 percent of the funding will go for public safety and the remaining 9 percent for other general fund items. He opposes the tax increase because it is being misrepresented as a general tax increase rather than as a tax for a special purpose. He agreed that the funds are greatly needed, but he thinks it should be approved with a 2/3 majority rather than only fifty percent. He also noted that Modesto is at an economically competitive advantage to other communities in having the lowest sales tax rate in the state of California.
Water and Sewer Rates
When asked whether water and sewer rates need to be raised in order to address growing maintenance deficits, Candidate Lopez stated that he wants to raise Salida’s water rates to the level that everyone else pays within the system. He said that Salida should pay the same as Modesto pays. He wasn’t willing to state that water rates should be raised. He would only say that the entire rate structure needs to be reviewed.
Bike Lanes and Public Housing
Councilman Lopez talked about decision to put College Avenue on a road diet. He said that when the meeting was held in committee, 19 people spoke in favor of the road diet, while only 3 people opposed it. In front of the council, 33 people spoke “for” and only 11 spoke “against.” He voted for the plan based on the number of citizens who spoke in favor. He said that of the $1.2 million cost of the project, only $80,000 went to bike lane striping. The rest of the cost was the slurry seal. If necessary, the bicycle striping can be undone for $80,000 or less. The decision will probably be revisited at a later date to see how the diet is working. He indicated that folks who live on the street are probably happy with the change and that the change will result in higher property values.
According to Mr. Lopez, the Modesto Bee’s report on the cost of the Archway Commons housing project at Carver Road and North Ninth Street several years ago was incomplete. When the cost per unit was reported, the amount per unit incorrectly included the cost for infrastructure for two phases of the project that were to be built at a later date. Mr. Lopez said city staff tried to get the Bee to correct the information, but a clarification never made it to print. He said the project actually was built within normal building costs per unit.
Move Thurman Field
Candidate Lopez would like to move the Nuts baseball team to an empty downtown property located between South Ninth Street and the Union Pacific Railroad tracks. This would bring more people downtown on summer evenings. When asked whether the lot would be wide enough, Mr. Lopez said that he thinks it might work. When asked what would become of John Thurman Field, he said it can be decided later.
Feasibility of Proposals to Clean Up the Community
Mr. Lopez expects that his proposals to deal with transients and vagabonds will be met with substantial resistance by advocate groups. He was unbowed by the challenges, confident that he will be successful. He said volunteers open up possibilities that government cannot do. He said that when he talks with constituents, they applaud his willingness to do something. Mr. Lopez believes if everyone understands his message, he will gain election.