With Mayor Gary Davis and Councilman Pat Hume running unopposed, Elk Grove voters are focusing on the City Council candidates in District 4. It says something special about this fast-growing city that what voters see is America’s diversity – a Latina, a Hispanic man and immigrants from Pakistan and Laos.
Of the four, Nancy Chaires, chairwoman of the city Planning Commission, is the best prepared to step into the job. She has seven years on the planning commission, plus time as a staffer in the state Assembly and state Department of Education, giving her a leg up in knowledge of government in general and Elk Grove in particular.
She is well positioned on what all the other candidates agree is Elk Grove’s most crucial and continuing challenge – the imbalance between the number of jobs and residents. The city of 160,000 wants to be far more than a bedroom community for Sacramento.
There’s obviously work to do in adding good jobs. Elk Grove’s economic development director recently left unceremoniously after council members scolded him for getting out-hustled by his regional competitors.
Also, the city has expensive projects on the drawing board. Last month, the City Council agreed to build a $17 million aquatic center. In August, it spent $4.4 million to buy 100 acres for a potential soccer complex. Council members will need to pay close attention to keep those projects on track. On those and other issues, Chaires can hit the ground running.
The second most qualified contender is Steve Ly, who is on the Elk Grove Unified School District board and is one of the few Hmong elected officials in Northern California. While he obviously wants the best for Elk Grove, it’s not as clear how quickly his experience will transfer to City Hall.
Daniel Jimenez, a first-time candidate, owns a cake shop with his wife and offers a consistent message – that small businesses must be freed from red tape and fees. He just doesn’t have the experience yet. Nayyar Sarfaraz, who works in IT for the city of West Sacramento, needs more seasoning before seeking elected office.
This seat – representing East Franklin, Laguna Ridge and other neighborhoods between Franklin Boulevard and Highway 99 – doesn’t have an incumbent running because of a political scuffle. Davis gave up the seat to become Elk Grove’s first elected mayor. When the council deadlocked 2-2 on who should fill the vacancy, it appointed former city schools chief Robert Trigg in January 2013 as a caretaker to avoid the $550,000 cost of a special election.
That brings up one concern about Chaires, who has had a falling out with the mayor over what transpired. Davis backed her for the appointment, but is now supporting Ly. The mayor says he switched because Chaires privately raked him over the coals for not voting for a special election, demonstrating to him that she put personal political ambition ahead of the city.
Chaires adamantly denies that version of events, and says she consistently opposed spending money for a special election. She told us that she’s a “grown-up” and is not one to hold grudges.
If she’s elected, residents have to hope so. There’s a risk, but it doesn’t trump her potential to be a good council member.