Editor’s Note: This is the last of a dozen reports on candidate responses garnered at forums sponsored by the Yuba-Sutter Chamber of Commerce and the Appeal. The Q-and-A articles coming out of the forums will run through this week. Those who wish, can watch recordings of the forums by going to the Appeal’s Facebook page or the Chamber of Commerce website. This installment is the third of three involving Live Oak City Council candidates.
Ahead of the most contested race in the Yuba-Sutter area, seven candidates vying for two seats on the Live Oak City Council met to discuss a variety of issues facing the city during a forum hosted by the Yuba-Sutter Chamber of Commerce and the Appeal.
Candidates running for the two seats include Dale Carlson, Johnny Ceballos, Jeramy Chapdelaine, incumbent Lakhvir Ghag, Cruz Mora, Nancy Santana and incumbent Aleks Tica.
Q: Has Live Oak done all it can to assist businesses that are hurting due to COVID-19? What more could be done?
Tica said his family’s business – Betty’s Authentic Mexican – has seen revenues go down, just like many other businesses in town. In his position with the Sacramento Area Council of Governments, he’s been able to help some businesses with funding. He said one way to do that is by having residents shop local, and in return they can receive benefits from the city in the form of a reduction in city fees – a policy he called “Shop LO.”
Santana said the city could do more. While working with the Chamber, she helped to promote at least one business a week. She said small businesses were also receiving federal assistance through the Paycheck Protection Program, as well as the Economic Injury Disaster Loan for farming operations. She believes the community needs to reopen its economy sooner rather than later, as well as its schools.
Ghag said the city could be doing a lot more than it has been doing. He said he proposed giving businesses a break on their water and sewer bills ahead of COVID, and when the pandemic started, council was in the process of seeing that through, though only a few businesses got a break on their bills before turmoil in the city prevented officials from reaching an agreement. He suggested the city could get small loans to its businesses, especially the mom-and-pop shops. He said it’s a family thing and that the city’s businesses need to be supported, so officials should do all they can to help.
Mora said it was reassuring to hear the current incumbents say the city needs to do more for its small businesses, though he questioned why they haven’t yet. He said measure should’ve been implemented in March or April and that the city needs to go further in its efforts to support small businesses currently there, while also enticing new businesses to open.
Chapdelaine said he believes the city could do a lot more for its businesses, as he’s seen neighboring agencies and jurisdictions that seem to be a lot further ahead with CARES Act funding and grants for their businesses. In observing the city’s recent budget conversations, he said he heard talks about reimbursing some for operating costs and impacts to facilities, though no action has been taken and that funding seems to be going relatively fast. He said he believes it’s important for the city to begin providing assistance to its businesses very soon.
Ceballos said he believes the city could be doing more – what that looks like will likely be different depending on the community, but it starts with communicating with businesses to find what their needs are so that the city can find the right solution. He said he has spearheaded an effort to support local business, particularly at the Penny Candy Store, where he encouraged local residents to shop local one weekend. By the end of the weekend, the business had its best day since the start of the pandemic. It was encouraging, he said, because it proves that if residents focus on championing local business, amazing things can happen.
Carlson said the struggles for local businesses began with the start of the highway project, and then COVID-19 led to even more challenges. He said a lot of people have come up with unique ways to make sure their businesses stay open, though more needs to be done at the city-level to help. He said the city has money to help and the only question is how the money will be distributed. He said it’s important for residents to continue to shop, eat and buy local.
Q: Can you name a couple of your pet issues/projects that you are eager to work on should you be elected?
Santana said her priorities, once she’s elected, will include the city budget – as many vital aspects of the city revolve around the budget – water and sewer rates, taxes, education, youth programs, roads, businesses and public safety. She said there have been discrepancies over the years in the city’s budget, both with overspending and large posting errors, which there is no room for. She said she wants to make sure the city has a balanced budget, which results in good credit for the city.
Ghag said his first priority is to see the completion of the Highway 99 corridor project, while his second is to get the city’s budget straightened out, which seems to include mistakes every year. He said there was a $200,000 mistake in last year’s budget and a $40,000 mistake in this year’s, so he believes officials need to hold someone accountable for those mistakes. He would also like to see high-speed internet come to town, which would entice more businesses to set up shop in town.
Mora said he’s running for council to transform the small town into a thriving city while also creating a government that works for its residents. He said officials need to think outside the box, and one way to do that is to look into public utilities, not just for sewer and water, but also potentially municipal broadband. Additionally, he said, the city needs to increase its revenue portfolio, as it is in deep trouble if officials don’t act.
Chapdelaine said two of his top priorities are the budget and reducing the city’s operating costs. He said the city’s most recent budget passed a few weeks ago, which was late, and the process was alarming because some of the information was presented in a way that was somewhat misleading. He said the city’s budget is only as healthy as its general fund, which was passed with a deficit, and with a number of restrictive funds expected to go negative at the end of the year, he’s concerned about how the city plans to cover those shortfalls. He said the city could also do a better job with marketing and bringing in additional grants for projects to help address infrastructure and utilities.
Ceballos said with his background in finance, he can’t help but be drawn to the city’s budget issues, which is a concern of his. He said if the city is unable to sustain a certain level of revenue and not meet its debt covenants, that will certainly put Live Oak in a whole heap of trouble, along with putting it out of position for potential future grants, which has its own ripple effect. He said starting there and providing assistance to the city’s team to address those issues will be a priority, along with helping improve the city’s team overall.
Carlson said his main goal is to address some of the budget issues highlighted in the recent Sutter County Grand Jury report, as well as the city’s policy with contracts with its vendors to make sure there is some beneficial contract language included for the city. His other goal is to attract more business to the city. He said with the work being done as part of the highway project, there will be better infrastructure in place that will bolster the corridor’s offerings and entice new businesses.
Tica said through his work on the SACOG board, one key issue he’s working to help the city with is with a transportation grant for Pennington Road. He said the grant funding will help repave the road as well as create new roads and sidewalks to connect to nearby KB Homes. In terms of the highway project, it was needed in order to help bring in more businesses, he said. While it may pose problems for some current businesses, he said it was important because retailers wanted to see the highway expanded with drainage and sidewalks. He said improving the traffic flow through the city will help build the economy, which will see the city’s revenues increase.
Q: To some it appears the current council lacks cohesion, which might inhibit it from making real progress. What do you think? If you see that is an issue, what could you as a council member do to change it?
Mora said he was shocked after reading the grand jury report, so he decided to be more active and participate in the city council’s meetings, where he experienced the lack of cohesion firsthand. He said he was shut out of a council meeting even before COVID-19, which was upsetting to be told as a resident that he couldn’t engage with council members. He said at its core, the city council should be able to listen and accommodate its citizens, which is its number one job.
Chapdelaine said he has witnessed the lack of cohesion and that it needs to change. He said the city needs a cohesive council and hopefully, members can start to push aside their own projects or agendas to start focusing on the community as a whole, which is something he’d like to bring to the council. Members need to work together and be respectful of each other, he said. The city needs a comprehensive code of conduct and code of ethics, he said, which it currently lacks but would benefit from in order to hold the council accountable for its actions.
Ceballos said anyone who has monitored the most recent council meetings can see the lack of cohesion. Coming from a background of coaching, he said, it’s important to bring the team together to find out what the problem is, and until it is addressed the problem will continue to persist. He said it’s a matter of someone stepping up to the plate to bring everyone together to hash out the problem, while also ensuring everyone has a safe environment to address it and find solutions.
Carlson said the council, first and foremost, needs to realize that it works for residents and business owners, not the city. He said city council members need to come together to make sure everyone is on the same boat working for the benefit of the people. His experience in management with UPS taught him how to sell an idea and get buy-in from team members, to get everyone working together to come up with solutions to problems.
Tica said both his parents and teachers taught him how to treat others with respect, but unfortunately there are current council members that aren’t being respectful to others. He said there is one council member that doesn’t follow the proper conduct, which makes meetings difficult. While the job will require disagreements and arguments on different issues, he said, at the end of the day council members need to be respectful, as they reflect Live Oak citizens.
Santana said she plans to update the city’s municipal codes to include a code of conduct policy for council members. She said she’s been to numerous meetings where residents are not being heard by council members, which needs to change, and she will help change it. She said the city needs leaders that love the people of Live Oak.
Ghag said he’s a servant of the Live Oak community. He believes that when council members don’t work together, there’s no benefit to the city. He said the council needs to work together and let people discuss certain items openly. He said there are a lot of issues that need to be addressed, though council members need to leave their personal issues out of it. He said the city should establish a code of conduct for council members.