Local Elections

Folsom council challengers press incumbents on growth

In a city where the median household income approaches $100,000 and families are drawn to high-achieving schools and networks of trails, three longtime Folsom council members say they have helped make their city one of the best places to live in the region.

Steve Miklos has spent nearly two decades on the City Council, while Mayor Kerri Howell has served since 1998 and Andy Morin since 2002. During that time, Folsom has redeveloped its historic district and embraced new housing and retail projects, including a forthcoming large development south of Highway 50.

But four challengers say the incumbents have grown too close to developers and are too eager to approve projects without considering traffic and water impacts on the city of 73,000.

“They do not represent the people’s voice. They are the voice for special interests and unlimited development,” said Jennifer Lane, a retired schoolteacher who sits on the Planning Commission.

In the Nov. 4 general election, Lane is joined by three other challengers: security consultant Roger Gaylord, magazine editor Chad Vander Veen and consultant Sandra Lunceford. The three candidates receiving the most votes will win at-large seats on the council.

During a recent debate held by the League of Women Voters of Sacramento County, some challengers criticized the incumbents for taking campaign contributions from developers.

Miklos received almost half of his $7,400 in contributions from development interests, according to his finance report. Most of the donations were for the $150 maximum allowed to individual candidates under a city ordinance.

Miklos said donations don’t influence him: “$150 will never buy my vote.”

Howell collected almost a third of her $8,000 in contributions from development interests, most of them for the maximum amount, according to her report. All of Morin’s campaign contributions came from himself, according to his report.

Howell said the suggestion that she is beholden to developers is off the mark. She said she has routinely voted against projects or asked developers to make improvements.

The three incumbents have been endorsed by the Folsom Chamber of Commerce. Miklos said some of his most important accomplishments have been to build parks and improve the efficiency of city government.

“When I first came to Folsom, I had to go to eight counters to get my business permit,” he said. “Now you go to one.”

During the recent debate, the incumbents cited a number of recent improvements to the city, including millions of dollars spent on streets and a parking garage in the historic district and the recently unveiled Johnny Cash Overpass and Trail, a 2.5-mile pedestrian and bike path in honor of the country music star who revived his career with a performance at the town’s prison.

Restaurants, bars and entertainment venues in the historic district have attracted plenty of visitors and new business. But not all residents embrace the changes, particularly those who live in the area or near it.

Complaints about noise from patrons of the district’s many bars are common. Residents have found it more difficult to find street parking.

Lane, who lives in the area, criticized the incumbents for failing to address parking problems in Historic Folsom Station, an area anchored by Sutter Street and perched above the American River.

“We were promised that we would get parking (permits) from Steve Miklos. We have got nothing. We got an entertainment ordinance and that has not helped,” she said.

Miklos said the public would never support the cost of permit parking in the district, as Lane and others have advocated. He said city staff consulted Sacramento officials and found that permit parking could cost Folsom $250 per permit for administrative and enforcement costs, and that only a small number of residents wanted permits.

Howell added that the council has other reservations about using parking permits, such as how residents would handle parking for guests.

Miklos and Howell said a new district ordinance, which requires live entertainment to cease by 11 p.m. or midnight on certain nights of the week, has reduced nuisance problems in the historic district.

Challengers and incumbents also clashed over the future of 3,500 acres south of Highway 50 annexed by the city two years ago. The area is sited for more than 10,000 homes, as well as businesses.

As the drought has dropped Folsom Lake to low levels, Lane and other challengers have questioned whether the city has enough water to sustain those projects and fulfill the needs of existing residents.

Lane said this year that she voted against 13 of the plans when they came before the Planning Commission. She said the drought has increased since the city completed water projections for the project a couple of years ago.

One early plan called for piping in water from the Natomas Central Mutual Water Co., which serves farms in northern Sacramento County and southern Sutter County, in what would be an expensive form of conveyance.

But Folsom has since decided it has enough existing supply to serve the newly annexed area because water use has declined in recent years and the city expects to use just over half of its water allotment by the end of the year, Howell said. City leaders do not believe that violates Measure W, a 2004 measure that said the city could not reduce the water available for current residents.

Call The Bee’s Brad Branan, (916) 321-1065. Follow him on Twitter @BradB_at_SacBee.