The story of Elk Grove is the story of growth — in population, in amenities, in notoriety and, by extension, in traffic congestion.
Managing it all has never been more important. And so, in the Nov. 6 election, residents of this diverse city of 172,000 just south of Sacramento should vote for candidates with the expertise, experience and, critically, track record of cooperation to move the city forward.
To do that, we recommend incumbents Pat Hume and Stephanie Nguyen for the City Council. Both have been instrumental in bringing a number of high-profile projects to fruition and in setting the stage for future discussions over workforce development.
For mayor, we recommend City Councilman Darren Suen. Along with Steve Detrick, whose term on the council doesn’t expire until 2020, Hume, Nguyen and Suen share a common vision for the future of Elk Grove.
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The same can’t be said for the current mayor, Steve Ly. For a number of reasons — some of which are in dispute, including personality conflicts and a dust-up over whether to elect council members by district — he has found himself on the outs of the city’s political ecosystem. He is even endorsing the candidates challenging Hume and Nguyen.
Two years ago, the headlines about Ly were glowing. Voters had just made him the nation’s first Hmong-American mayor — a significant feat since he arrived in the United States as a young refugee with no money and no knowledge of English.
Fast-forward to today, though, and the entire City Council has opted to back his challenger, Suen. So has Planning Commissioner Kevin Spease, who ran against Ly for mayor in 2016, school board President Nancy Chaires Espinoza, the Elk Grove Chamber Political Action Committee, Elk Grove Police Officers Association and Sacramento Area Firefighters Local 522.
Ly dismisses the endorsements. Instead, he touts his accomplishments of bringing a Costco, an aquatic center and a new animal shelter to Elk Grove and says he wants to build a biotech center and a hospital. If re-elected, the mayor insists he would have no problem governing because “everything heals after a campaign.” We aren’t so sure, though.
Besides, Suen is an excellent candidate. In addition to having the confidence of his colleagues, he is a civil engineer with expertise in land use, transportation and flood management — all things that will serve Elk Grove well as it grows.
If elected, Suen wants to build an employment center that would be attractive to South Bay businesses and an anchor for the biotech and biomedical industries. The goal is to grow beyond being just a bedroom community for government workers. Suen also wants Elk Grove to play a leading role in creating a regional, multimodal transportation system, and find a way to hire enough cops to keep up with population growth.
A third candidate for mayor, Tracie Stafford, is a political outsider with promising ideas, but little experience. She should consider running for City Council first, perhaps for the seat Suen will vacate if elected.
Meanwhile, District 2, which covers rural eastern Elk Grove, Old Town and Sheldon, is in good hands with Hume, who was first elected in 2006 and says this will be his last term if re-elected. He, too, is focused on improving transportation, particularly by completing the extension of Kammerer Road to improve access to Highway 99 and Interstate 5. He also sits on the Regional Transit board and is pushing for a multimodal station that would bring in light rail from Sacramento and passenger rail from the Bay Area and Central Valley.
Andres Ramos, an attorney and educator who helped organize the city’s first Multicultural Festival, is challenging Hume. He has good ideas about reducing sprawl and ensuring Elk Grove remains racially and ethnically inclusive. But he needs a broader platform.
In Council District 4, which covers the East Franklin, eastern Laguna, Madeira, and Laguna Ridge communities, Nguyen has been pushing workforce development for the city’s youth. The executive director of the nonprofit Asian Resources Inc., she was appointed to the council to fill Ly’s seat. Going forward, Nguyen has called for a more collaborative relationship with other cities in the region, more family-friendly amenities in her district and a better transportation system.
Her challenger is Orlando Fuentes, a director of the Cosumnes Community Services District. He is focused on increasing the city’s stock of affordable housing and reducing traffic.
While these races have all attracted good candidates with good ideas, the best team for Elk Grove is already on the City Council.