Apparently, Janice Keating and Tom Berryhill had good reasons for missing Wednesday night’s League of Women’s Voters forum for Stanislaus County Supervisors’ campaigns; Keating sent word she was observing her thirtieth wedding anniversary and Berryhill cited a conflict.
That left Frank Damrell as the only District 4 candidate present for the sparsely attended question and answer session in Modesto City Council Chambers. If they view the video of the forum, Berryhill and Keating may breathe a sigh of relief they were absent; the questions fielded by the candidates who showed up were specific and pointed.
The three candidates for District 3 included incumbent Terry Withrow, Salida resident Katherine Borges, and Modesto City Councilman Tony Madrigal. As might be expected, Withrow showed the most specific knowledge about the county budget and fiscal questions in general, but both Borges and Madrigal also shared a wide acquaintance with county issues.
Borges was especially sharp on questions about annexing Salida and the impact of rerouting Highway 132. She caught Withrow in a minor flub on the environmental impacts of long-standing barium piles near Modesto’s Emerald Avenue by pointing out an Environmental Impact Review (EIR) recommended removal of the piles as opposed to the current plan to cap them. Withrow had argued the barium issue had been resolved by the EIR.
Madrigal emphasized the need for more county involvement in neighborhoods lacking infrastructure and said the county should also have a stronger role in projects involving at-risk children. Madrigal cited his passion for public art and work on the city council to encourage public art throughout the city.
Borges also supported public art, and said we should emulate the city of Philadelphia by instituting a program for graffiti offenders that would enable them to participate in creating public murals. She also said county authorities should investigate the potential tourist attraction of roads that play music when vehicles pass over them.
Withrow cited the county’s contributions to the Gallo Center for the Arts, but also said that expenses had to be prioritized and that more pressing issues should always come first. Damrell pointed to the program his father started years ago that resulted in small parks and commemorative statues in downtown Modesto, and said all were the result of public participation rather than government expense
Damrell also emphasized the need for more services for the mentally ill and people suffering from drug addiction. He said he was a strong proponent of Laura’s Law but stressed the need to implement it properly. Both Madrigal and Borges said they also supported Laura’s Law. Withrow said the county would conduct a pilot study of Laura’s Law and then decide whether or not to implement it permanently.
All the candidates seemed well conversant with pressing issues in the county, including homelessness, crime, affordable housing, and jobs. While it was muted, it was clear that Withrow and Madrigal have distinctly different views about how much government should be involved in funding infrastructure and programs, and both Madrigal and Borges said decisions about spending county dollars should be more transparent.
Madrigal especially supports more government involvement in needy neighborhoods like those in south and west Modesto. As the campaign moves along, those neighborhoods are likely to grow in importance as the Democrat Madrigal faces off against Republicans Borges and Withrow, with Borges also arguing the county should have more public participation when allocating money.