Local Elections

Elk Grove candidates reflect diverse, ambitious city

Nancy Chaires, who could be named to the Elk Grove City Council, District 4, at the Jan. 23, 2013, council meeting.
Nancy Chaires, who could be named to the Elk Grove City Council, District 4, at the Jan. 23, 2013, council meeting.

The candidates running for a seat on the Elk Grove City Council reflect today’s Elk Grove: young and professional, ambitious and diverse, focused on the community and its future.

Planning Commissioner Nancy Chaires, bakery owner Daniel Jimenez, school board trustee Steve Ly and IT professional Nayyar Sarfaraz are competing on the ballot for the District 4 open seat. A fifth candidate, Charles Shanks, qualified as a write-in candidate. They work for cities, own small businesses and help shape school and planning decisions.

They live in a bedroom community that has become Sacramento County’s second-largest city, but are concerned about crime and other issues that come with growth. Their city is home to a young, talented, financially stable workforce, but they see too many of their neighbors driving out of town to work and play. They want Elk Grove, in one candidate’s words, to become a destination for its own residents.

Whoever wins the seat will represent a district that could potentially reshape the future of Elk Grove. Bounded on the north by Laguna Road, east by Highway 99 and south by Kammerer Road, District 4 is home to the city’s Southeast Policy Area and the long-delayed outdoor retail project now known as the Outlet Collection.

In the Southeast Policy Area alone, the city anticipates nearly 4,800 homes for about 17,000 residents; three elementary schools; more than 21,000 jobs clustered around the office and industrial trades; and a town center, retail and parks.

Chaires and Ly are the political heavyweights in the race, racking up campaign contributions and endorsements. Ly has raised $98,521 this year through Sept. 30, while Chaires has collected $70,787, according to campaign finance records.

Ly has endorsements from Elk Grove Mayor Gary Davis, California Hmong PAC and industry group Region Builders. Chaires has support from the Elk Grove Chamber of Commerce, United Food and Commercial Workers 8 and state Superintendent of Public Instruction Tom Torlakson.

District 4 candidates are focused on bringing jobs and businesses to a bedroom community competing for employers with Rancho Cordova, Folsom and Roseville. Most are calling for a more aggressive and focused economic development plan to attract new businesses and keep the ones that are already here.

“We were born fully formed as a bedroom community,” Chaires said, calling economic development the city’s “most important issue long-term. But as a city, we need to look at the long-term sustainability of the community,” she said.

Chaires, 35, said that means building on the city’s growing health care presence, creating jobs tied to higher education and attracting business to the Southeast Policy Area to “fully be competitive with other cities.” That also means drawing a clear road map for a new economic development director to attract and retain businesses.

“The most important thing we need is clear, consistent guidance. That wasn’t necessarily there in the past. We need a specific plan to support and retain businesses,” Chaires said. “We have a well-educated population, the income level is fairly high. It’s a matter of educating people in the region of what Elk Grove really is.”

School trustee Ly, 40, said he was compelled to run by students who asked, “Where do we find jobs in Elk Grove?”

He criticized city leaders’ economic development record as unfocused and unfinished and said he would focus as much on infill as new commercial development. He said he would work to attract health care and green-energy employers.

“We’ve got to finish more of the things we’re doing – fill in commercial space, bring businesses in, be attentive to customer service, offer rebates and incentives (to businesses),” Ly said. “We have the safest city in Sacramento County. We have a top-tier school district. We have to bring quality jobs. We have to lobby for green jobs and health care and medical jobs. These are the two current booming industries. Elk Grove has so much potential, but we’re not achieving that potential. It has to happen now.”

Small-business owner Jimenez, 33, said recruiting businesses and creating jobs in the city must extend beyond tech and health care to industrial and other sectors. The government construction project manager-turned-bakery owner said the city must work more closely with businesses as well as state and federal representatives to draw firms to Elk Grove.

“I understand job creating isn’t easy, (but) I’m accustomed to living, thinking, working to not just survive, but thrive and put my feet forward,” Jimenez said. “We need to be advocating on the state and federal level to help us as our city grows and to take off the ties that bind business.”

Taking a jab at Chaires and Ly, Jimenez said, “I don’t have ties to labor or out-of-state money, but I have ties to the people on the front line.”

But Sarfaraz, 36, said attracting business to the city is only one element, explaining he would push for a strong business development and retention program to grow and keep businesses in the city. Saying business attraction and retention “depends directly on the safety of our neighborhoods,” Sarfaraz said he would work with neighborhood groups and police to help ensure Elk Grove is attractive to business.

“We know there’s an imbalance between jobs and housing. The city that did a good job in one part failed to do a good job on the other. To fix this issue won’t happen right away, it will take time. We don’t want to stop developing. We want to look forward,” Sarfaraz said.

Shanks, 72, is a write-in candidate for the council seat who said he will be an advocate for the city’s seniors and disabled, if elected. Shanks, who is blind, calls the groups his “first priority in Elk Grove.”

Shanks wants to improve the city’s e-tran transit system to better accommodate seniors and disabled residents.

“I don’t let my blindness hold me down. I’m all over this city,” he said.

He also is calling for a closer partnership among the city, neighborhood groups and Elk Grove Unified School District to keep children and teens engaged, proposing to set aside funding for teen summer work programs.

“We have a great city here in Elk Grove,” he said. “We can get more accomplished if we work together.”

Call The Bee’s Darrell Smith, (916) 321-1040.