Elk Grove News

In tight Elk Grove mayor’s race, rivals stake out their turf on tax hikes, growth

Watch Elk Grove mayoral candidates pitch themselves at local forum

Three candidates are vying for the mayoral seat in Elk Grove during this November election. Incumbent Steve Ly faces vice mayor challenger Darren Suen and local business consultant Tracie Stafford.
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Three candidates are vying for the mayoral seat in Elk Grove during this November election. Incumbent Steve Ly faces vice mayor challenger Darren Suen and local business consultant Tracie Stafford.

The three candidates vying for the mayoral seat in Elk Grove met Thursday night at a forum to offer their vision for the growing suburban city.

Mayor Steve Ly, who won the seat in 2016 and gained worldwide attention as the country’s first Hmong-American mayor, is being challenged by Vice Mayor Darren Suen and political outsider and business consultant Tracie Stafford.

The race is more competitive than in previous years — incumbent Ly faces tough opposition from Suen, who has gained the endorsements of the rest of the city council and all five city planning commissioners. Stafford ran against Ly during the last mayoral election, finishing third.

The forum, hosted by the Elk Grove Citizen newspaper and the Elk Grove Chamber Political Action Committee, offered the roughly 50 in attendance a glimpse at what each candidate would bring to the position. Below are highlights of the candidates’ responses from topics raised during the forum.

Strategy for drawing corporate businesses

Suen said the mayor “needs to be a salesman and a spokesperson for the city.” He would like to see city processes for business development, like the permitting system, become more “efficient and predictable,” giving businesses the chance to plan their investments and costs. He added that improved traffic infrastructure and safe neighborhoods could provide an even more “enticing” community for employers.

“The boss always wants the shortest commute,” Suen said.

Stafford emphasized being strategic when thinking how to grow the city’s employment opportunities, saying that she thinks thinks the number one employer is in the community should be the government and the second should be small businesses. “I can tell you that not all corporations are created equal,” she said. “We have to make sure it’s what we want.”

“We need to be developing those processes to recruit, retain and grow small businesses that would fit beautifully in this community organically,” Stafford said.

Ly argued that the city should build off its current and growing number of pharmacy and medical schools to create a “bio tech district” that could fuel job growth — a key part of which would include the creation of a new hospital in the city. He also said the city’s brewery and wine incentive program he’s “championed” would set an example for future deals.

“That’s why it’s important to return to the office to make sure these deals are shepherd to fruition,” Ly said.

Improving walkability and public transportation in Elk Grove

Stafford said mobility is a particularly important issue for seniors in the city, and that the current bus system is insufficient. She argued that “we haven’t stopped growth even though regional transit doesn’t exist.”

Ly said “I dream that someday we’ll have light rail in Elk Grove, or a metropolitan agency” to fund public transit, and that the city needs to “connect all the dots” with other existing transit agencies regionally to ensure residents will actually bike and walk in the area.

Suen said he’s been a “huge advocate” of implementing a bike-share program and better connecting regional trails. He added he’d like to see safer bike lanes and separated pedestrian and bike lanes on bridges.

Stances on gas tax repeal and raising the local sales tax

All three candidates expressed opposition to varying degrees towards Proposition 6, the November ballot initiative to repeal the recently enacted gas tax financing infrastructure projects statewide.

Both Stafford and Ly emphasized that the city still needs to raise additional funds for local improvements, and Suen said he’d like to see the city apply for grants to make up the funding difference should Prop. 6 pass.

When it comes to a possible sales tax hike, all three said they don’t see a need to increase it immediately.

“If we’re not making ends meet, we cut in other places,” Ly said, with Stafford echoing that the city needs to “tighten our belts.”

Suen was less definitive, saying a sales tax hike may need to be discussed in the future for the city’s financial well being.

“We can’t just say no taxes because it’s politically correct,” Suen said.

What about the proposed sports complex?

Both Ly and Suen said they would like to see the 100-acre lot purchased by the city in 2014 near Grant Line and Waterman roads to be developed as a sports complex as initially proposed. Stafford argued the land should be the site of a major multi-use town center, with a performing arts center, shops and places for young people to hang out.

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