Job creation, sprawl, kids' activities, campaign spending and what should be done with a half-finished mall were just some of the wide-ranging topics covered at a public forum for grilling Elk Grove mayoral candidates Monday night.
Two City Council incumbents, Sophia Scherman and Gary Davis, are running against four newcomers Lynn Wheat, LaWanna Montgomery, Jerry Braxmeyer and Greg Higley to become the city's first directly elected mayor. Higley was unable to attend the forum.
More than 150 people gathered to hear the candidates' views on the direction of the city, with local journalists and the public lobbing questions.
Scherman, a 40-year resident who has served on the council since the city's incorporation in 2000, wants to shift city money from sports programs to seniors and veterans.
"We have a large population of seniors, and they deserve to have a new, top-notch center, instead of us focusing on sports activities," she said. She later called on young people in Elk Grove to get jobs mowing lawns after school to keep them busy.
Davis, who has served on the council since 2006, said the crime rate has dropped since he won election, and the city reversed its reputation for being unfriendly to business. He also noted his work to bring the California Correctional Health Care Services, with 1,500 jobs, to Elk Grove.
He supported the city's development of 1,200 acres in the Southeast Policy Area to create high-quality jobs for residents.
"We have 150,000 residents and 30,000 jobs," Davis said. "That is a jobs-to-housing balance that isn't healthy. If people are working in our city, they will spend money in our economy. The Southeast (Policy Area) is our main opportunity. It's a large piece of land where we can put high-quality employment centers."
Wheat, a 25-year resident and registered nurse, pounded home her message that a better Elk Grove doesn't necessarily mean a bigger Elk Grove, rejecting the development of the Southeast area as proposed. She also promised to work to withdraw the city's annexation plans for 3,000 acres.
"I keep hearing talk of jobs, but when I look at the plans, I see houses," she said. She noted that air quality in Elk Grove is suffering because of traffic congestion and reaffirmed her support for light-rail extension into Elk Grove.
Wheat proposed exploring alternatives to retail for the half-completed Promenade regional mall, including a sports complex. Davis said the city is "actively pursuing" placing a soccer stadium or concert venue at the ghost-town mall.
Montgomery, a local businesswoman, emphasized her commitment to making Elk Grove business-friendly.
"We need to make Elk Grove a one-stop shop, where people can get jobs, affordable housing, sports and education," she said.
Braxmeyer wants to downsize business regulation to allow more firms to locate in Elk Grove and create jobs. He opposed the opening of the state prison health care services headquarters in the city, saying the city gave away subsidies and incentives.
"I want to put people ahead of politics," he said.
The position of mayor previously rotated among council members, typically on an annual basis. In 2010, voters approved a package of election reforms.
The Elk Grove Candidates' Night was co-sponsored by The Sacramento Bee, Elk Grove News and Elk Grove Patch. The event was recorded by Access Sacramento, which will air the broadcast on Sunday, Sept. 30 at 5 p.m.