To mark its 20th year as a city in 2016, Citrus Heights adopted a new slogan: “Solid roots. New growth.”
The need for a rebranding effort reflects the steep challenges ahead for the City Council. It also makes the Nov. 6 election, with three council seats up for grabs, even more consequential.
Vice Mayor Jeannie Bruins, first elected in 2002, and Mayor Steve “Sparky” Miller, a councilman since December 2005, will provide the continuity and experience the city requires. Voters should choose them.
For the final spot, it’s a close call between Albert Fox, a former chairman of the city planning commission who was appointed in May 2017 to succeed the late Mel Turner, and Porsche Middleton, who was appointed to the city’s planning commission last year after running for council in 2016.
But Middleton gets our nod, in part, because the city’s leadership could use some diversity and because her emphasis on inclusiveness is crucial to the city’s future.
The fifth candidate on the ballot, Treston Shull, has the endorsement of Sue Frost, a former Citrus Heights mayor and current Sacramento County supervisor. But he’s not as well-versed in the issues in the city as the other contenders. He’s also not always on the same page with them, which could lead to more friction on a City Council already dealing with Bret Daniels, whom it censured in June over a complaint of stalking an ex-girlfriend.
While there should always be a full debate, Citrus Heights needs a cohesive council to figure out some thorny issues facing the city.
A big one is finding the right project to give new life to Sunrise Mall, the 46-year-old, 1.1-million square foot retail center that has lost customers to newer developments in Folsom and Roseville. In July, a year-long effort to add a pop-up amphitheater faltered. More broadly, the council must be more innovative in its attempts to attract more diverse economic growth to the city of 88,000.
A second challenge for Citrus Heights is the increasingly tense relationship with the San Juan Unified School District. Bruins and Miller have been outspoken in their complaints about students attending schools outside of the city because they have better offerings – and about the possibility of bringing in a charter school if the situation doesn’t improve. It is not good for parents or students if the council and school board are at odds, so this relationship must be repaired.
Another big task for the next council is to prepare for a windfall of cash coming under the tax deal with Sacramento County that was part of incorporation. Starting in fiscal 2022-23, Citrus Heights will get to keep all of its property tax revenue, so it will get a projected boost of as much as $5 million a year.
The council must make sure not to squander the money. If voters repeal the state gas tax increase through Proposition 6 on Nov. 6, some of the cash may need to go to paving residential streets.
It’s encouraging that Bruins, Miller and Middleton are talking about being frugal and building reserves – another reason why they are the best team to move Citrus Heights forward.