Every year during West Sacramento's local election season, the News-Ledger invites each candidate for local office to a sit-down interview for publication in our pages. This year was no exception. Over the past two months, the News-Ledger has published an interview with each of the candidates running for mayor, city council or school board. The only exception was Walt R. Bowman, a candidate for a trustee's seat on the Washington Unified School Board, who declined an interview.
If you're a News-Ledger subscriber, you've probably already seen these interviews. But if you are not, or you missed one, or you just want to reacquaint yourself with the candidates, scroll down for a look at the two people looking for your vote for mayor on November 2, 2010.
And if you're not a subscriber, we invite you to consider a subscription to support local West Sacramento journalism. Just call 371-8030; the cost is just $20 per year locally.
GREG POTNICK, challenger for mayor
From the News-Ledger, Oct. 27, 2010
By Steve Marschke News-Ledger Editor
Greg Potnick says he is ready to be mayor again.
“I will be a mayor that’s accessible, responsive to the community all the time, and who has a public phone number,” he told the News-Ledger. “I want people to feel included in the decision-making process.”
Potnick, 57, is no stranger to life on the West Sacramento city council dais, and he knows how to bang a gavel. He served on West Sacramento’s council from 1988 (soon after the city incorporated) until 2000. Those years included a couple of one-year terms as mayor, back when the council chose the mayor by voting among themselves. Now, the position of mayor is separately elected by the voters. It carries a two-year term.
Potnick is retired from the State Department of Corrections. He and his wife, Kathe, have raised their kids in the city. He’s challenging incumbent mayor Christopher Cabaldon – whom he considers a “friend,” and whom he has supported in the past.
“Over the last few years, I’ve found our mayor has become more and more distant from the people who elected him,” said Potnick. “I helped work to get Christopher elected in ’08, and he made some commitments to me about trying to do more in the community, and that hasn’t happened.”
Central to Potnick’s goals are to “put ‘process’ back into the decision-making, and make sure the bureaucracy is streamlined and accessible to the public.”
“I would definitely hold ‘mayor’s hours,’ and my phone number is going to be printed on all my business cards,” he added.
As mayor, he would also decline to accept the stipend or benefits (including about $400 per month) afforded to the mayor and council members in West Sacramento.
“The council, talking about the budget cuts, said this is all about sharing the pain,” he said. “But I don’t hear one of them talking about giving up the perks or benefits of being on the council.”
Potnick’s policies often agree with current city council strategies. He supports the plan by the mayor and city council to work with private developers build a high-end hotel next to the Tower Bridge.
“That site has always been planned to have a world-class hotel,” said Potnick. “What I have heard so far makes me pleased. What bothers me is that in the last two weeks of any negotiation, you have ‘we need this and we need that.’” The devil may prove to be in the details, he said.
The city’s plans to build a streetcar line connecting to West Sac to Sacramento are also “a great idea,” said Potnick.
“It will have a huge benefit for all the city. But we didn’t get the (federal) grant to fund it. If we’re not going to get the grant this round, we need to start looking at some other infrastructure projects. We need to look at our list of priorities and see if there’s something else we can do.”
“We need to move two other projects to the top of the list,” he added. “We must get the third barge canal crossing built across South River Road. (And) rail relocation has got to be done – removing the rail from Stone Blvd. will relieve major traffic congestion on Jefferson.”
He suggested West Sacramento work harder with regional governments now looking at a larger-scale rail relocation project, to help get the rails out of sensitive areas in West Sacramento such as the Ironworks neighborhood.
Is the city’s anti-gang injunction a good idea? Potnick mentioned his past as a peace officer.
“I’m pleased with it,” answered Potnick. “We had a ‘Broderick Boys’ (gang) problem. I arrested hundreds of them for things like intimidation and extortion – that’s how they make a living. I support the city and (District Attorney) Jeff Reisig’s efforts. The victims of the gangs are often the members of their own ethnic community.”
The city is also doing a good job trying to upgrade its levees, he told the News-Ledger.
“At this point, they’re doing great,” he said. “They came up with a very good implementation plan.”
But he disapproves of the added homes the city has slotted for the Southport area, beyond what was detailed in the Southport Framework Plan that Potnick helped to approve when he was on the city council nearly 20 years ago.
“We had a Southport Framework Plan that absolutely penciled out,” he said. “I know (infrastructure) costs change, but I was absolutely opposed to the changes in the Southport Framework Plan a couple years ago. The council added 4,400 more homes.”
Local voters will choose on Tuesday between Potnick and incumbent Christopher Cabaldon.
CHRISTOPHER CABALDON, the current mayor
From the News-Ledger, Oct. 27, 2010 (copyright News-Ledger 2010)
By Steve Marschke News-Ledger Editor
Mayor Christopher Cabaldon wants another term.
“We’re making really amazing progress here,” he told the News-Ledger. “We have a lot of emerging opportunities in places like our waterfront.”
He switched to a sports metaphor:
“I essentially play the role of a quarterback on a team,” he stated. “As a team, we’re remarkable because we have laid out an aggressive vision and we’re very effective at getting it done.”
Changing quarterbacks would not be a good idea, he said.
His opponent, Greg Potnick, has criticized Cabaldon as being “increasingly remote” from public input. But Cabaldon said that sometimes, you have to choose between endless political process and actual achievement.
“We have a set of plans and projects that have had extensive public engagement,” Cabaldon said. “Once we know, as a community, where we want to go, we get it down on paper and begin driving toward that goal. In some of these other cities, there’s a constant second-guessing of themselves – ‘should we have more workshops? Should we have more studies?’”
West Sacramento listens to the public, makes a decision, and then pursues it, he argued.
Cabaldon, 44, is single and lives near Park Boulevard in the central part of the city. He works for a philanthropic foundation (“mainly on education policy”) and with a think tank dealing with community college-level issues.
He talked with the News-Ledger about what he and the council have been up to lately.
The city has felt some pressure through a recent round of budget cuts, he added, but it has managed the pain well.
“We’ve faced the same economic conditions as everyone else,” Cabaldon told the News-Ledger. “We’ve had to make some service cuts, and all of our employees have made sacrifices. But we are not on the verge of bankruptcy, and we haven’t eaten up all our reserves hoping the economy would turn around six minutes from now. . . We expect it to be like this for a while, and we made the decision we want to increase our reserves.”
The mayor is, of course, a champion of other things he and the city – saying that the current West Sacramento City Council is “one of the more cohesive in the region.”
“That doesn’t mean it’s perfect, but we don’t draw blood and there’s no grandstanding.”
Have they made any major policy mistakes?
“Not a serious one, no.”
He commented on the city’s plans to build a high-end riverfront hotel using federally-subsidized bond money, a private developer and a hotel operator such as Marriott:
“We’re on the right track,” he said of the project. “It’s the largest public-private project we’ve ever done. It’s complex, and there are a lot of moving parts.”
The city has also done a good job pursuing a new riverfront streetcar line, Cabaldon said. The city didn’t win a $25 million federal grant it sought to kickstart the project, but that isn’t the end of the line for this streetcar.
“Fort Worth, Texas, got (one of the grants), and they don’t have an alignment plan yet,” said the mayor. “If it doesn’t happen in Fort Worth, we want to be ready. (The federal agency) has also encouraged us to file an appeal, because there were some things about our application they didn’t understand.”
He’s also proud of how the city has dealt with the flood protection dilemma. The Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) is re-evaluating West Sacramento’s levees, and may classify the city as high-risk for flooding. That could kill development, which could make it tough to improve the levees.
“FEMA is poised to remap the city, but they’ve taken no action yet,” said Cabaldon. “I’ve dealt with FEMA and the (U.S. Army Corps of Engineers) and the White House. We’ve been getting way more attention from them than any other city of 50,000 in the country, which is saying a lot.”
Is the city’s anti-gang injunction still a good thing?
“Yes,” answered Cabaldon. “It’s been a good thing. We worked very closely with the District Attorney to make sure it’s enforced in a way that is sensitive to racial profiling issues. We worked with the D.A. to make sure it’s narrowly applied and fairly applied. It’s been effective. . . There’s been a general decline in property crimes and violent crimes in the region, but even more so here.”
Cabaldon has twice run for a seat on the state Assembly. Will he leave local office in the next term if he does get re-elected?
“That’s not going to happen,” said Cabaldon. “I’ll absolutely finish the term.”