The five candidates vying for three seats on the Redding City Council faced off in a tight, rapid fire candidate forum Wednesday evening at the Cascade Theatre.
Organized by the League of Women Voters, the event filled about half the seats of the historic movie palace, and aside from a man who planted a sign outside accusing one of the incumbents of living in the City of Shasta Lake, the evening rolled by without controversy.
Candidates answered a mix of questions from the league and the audience, touching on jobs, taxes, homelessness, wildfire, privatization of public services and pension liabilities, among others.
Asked for his top three priorities, attorney Michael Dacquisto, set the tone.
“Crime, crime and crime,"he said. "The way I look at it is, if we don’t solve the crime problem, everything else is going to wither away and get worse, and that’s what I think we need to emphasize on. The other problems, you have to prioritize, and there’s not enough money to fix all the problems so I think we need to deal with the crime problem first.”
Citing statistics from police, Dacquisto said a small number of repeat offenders account for a full third of annual arrests. Dacquisto said getting those 308 people off the streets would allow police to focus on other issues and improve both perceptions and reality.
The discussion also touched on revenue. Seeking re-election Francie Sullivan, who like others cited crime said the issue is money and it’s really up to the voters.
“Ultimately, it’s pretty clear we have no problems in our city that aren’t solvable, but, they take money. And so, our community needs to decide whether we want police, or firefighters, paying for parks, fixing the soccer field is worth it or not,” Sullivan said.
With two recent failed attempts to increase the local sales tax, only Kristen Schreder and Sullivan unequivocally signaled their support.
“We have the lowest sales tax in the state of California and how is that working for us? Tell me the last time someone said, ‘I’m moving my business to Redding because you have the lowest sales tax. I’m going to move my family to Redding because you have the lowest sales tax.' One cent of sales tax equates to $24 million. That is the amount of our entire police budget," she said.
Schreder blamed the earlier defeats on the city’s failure to communicate.
“We didn’t define the plan well enough," she said. "We didn’t communicate about what of the money would be used well enough, and so people didn’t support the tax. So obviously we need to have improved communication about what we would spend the tax on.”
First time candidate Erin Resner, who with her husband operates eight Dutch Bros franchises, agreed with Schreder on why sales tax efforts failed.
“We have a situation, that is sort of a bummer, that there is a lack of trust between the public and between public officials. And I think that until there is a better communication and until there is some more trust built, that I don’t think that we have the current capacity to pass a general tax," Resner said.
Resner favors a special purpose sales tax increase—for example one exclusively for law enforcement, rather than for the city budget as a whole.
That choice—general or special—is often a conundrum for officials. General sales tax increases require a simple majority, but campaigns often torpedoed by opponents predicting that politicians will break promises and redirect funds. A targeted increase may be more palatable to voters on paper, but passage requires a harder to attain two-thirds majority.
James Crockett, an instructor at Shasta Community College said revenue will appear once economic activity takes off. He said the business community must be made aware of opportunities and conditions in Redding.
"The Carr Fire, as horrible as it was, we got tens of millions of dollars in free publicity. People know who we are, we have a bunch of builders coming in. The economic upturn right now, going to start heading down. We are in a very, very pivotal spot and we need to make some serious decisions right now, bring people in and capitalize on the opportunities we have," he said. "For me, what I’d want to see first, I would like to see us take advantage of this I-5 corridor that runs through here and put a big sign up that says ‘Welcome to Redding, entrepreneurs welcome, the best place to build in California’ and make it true, fix whatever’s in the building code, whatever you need to do. Make it so that when people hear the name Redding, California they think I want to build something, I want to start something there.”
Other candidates had more conventional ideas about economic development---praising the work of the Economic Development Council, and calling for more funding. Every candidate said they’d consider privatizing government services when appropriate. Crockett was the most enthusiastic, saying he’d consider anything, even the city’s municipal utility.
City Council members in Redding serve four-year terms. Incumbent Brent Weaver is not seeking re-election.
Adam McElvain and Julie Winter won’t face re-election until 2020.