Life After Salinas
Two candidates vie for the Latino swing vote.
Thursday, March 2, 2000
Board of Supervisors, District 1
Crime, jobs and housing top the issues in the District 1 race between Salinas City Councilmember Fernando Armenta and political consultant Paul Fickas, who are vying to replace departing Simon Salinas, who is running for Assembly. (See story, this issue.)
As the unofficial Board of Supervisors seat reserved for Latinos, the District 1 spot will likely go to that candidate who best positions himself as heir apparent to Salinas.
"The issue for most people is who can keep performing the way Simon has been performing," says Juan Uranga, executive director of the Center For Community Advocacy, a farmworker support organization. "People know the results Simon has been getting and the kind of coalitions he has formed, and whichever candidate can do the same and deliver that message in a believable way is likely to win."
What that means is that Fickas must overcome Armenta''s support in his home district of east Salinas, while Armenta must broaden his support among moderate Latinos beyond his district and widen his appeal beyond Latino voters generally.
"What people on the street are looking for is the kind of leadership that can organize themselves into viable neighborhoods to take back control," notes Uranga. "They''re looking for someone to connect with people at the street level to develop strategies.
"There is a dire need for affordable housing, and that issue will resonate with voters," adds Uranga. "In some neighborhoods in east Salinas, there are three to four families per unit. There is incredible overcrowding."
The significance of affordable housing problems, and the concomitant crime problem, is not lost on Fickas, who, in his first run for elective office, is emphasizing those issues. While acknowledging that there is little direct action he could take as a county supervisor to help reduce crime in Salinas, he feels his contacts in Sacramento can help fund and coordinate countywide efforts to reduce crime.
"In my district, crime is No. 1," says Fickas, "and while I may not have direct control, I believe in collaborating with law enforcement and developing regional solutions to what is a regional problem.
"People feel disenfranchised and don''t trust politicians," add Fickas. "The way to get trust back is to show something for the taxes people pay. I have to find creative ways to provide resources and work with the city."
In terms of the "trust" issue, Fickas, if he wins, may have opened himself up to questions of conflict of interest by having accepted more than $42,000 in cash contributions for his election bid from many key players in the ag industry.
In terms of growth, jobs and housing, Fickas is proposing strategies to bring high-tech to the Salinas Valley, while avoiding the pitfalls experienced in San Jose. "Why can''t we get a piece of that economic pie? I''m not talking about paving over the Salinas Valley, but training people who live here. No job in Salinas pays enough to buy a new house."
Fickas supports fixing and upgrading infrastructure before allowing much new growth. He prefers looking at projects on an individual basis, and would oppose urban growth boundaries. He supports on-site affordable housing for all new projects.
While counting on the Latino vote to give him the edge over Fickas, Armenta concedes there''s a perception that he''s too confrontational and interested solely in the needs of his constituents, particularly farmworkers, at the expense of agriculture and business interests.
"There''s a price tag on my head from big growers in the Valley," says Armenta, "but if you look at my record, I''ve grown and matured a lot politically. I don''t wave a flag. I''ve learned to be team player. I''ve voted for projects I thought should benefit the city. However, once in a while I will look at a development issue or program and remind myself why I am up here."
Armenta says his philosophy is much broader than just affordable housing. "I''m not total pro-growth or against. We have to be smart about growth and look at the total perspective. There can''t be massive projects that allow big developers to compromise this county. When we see growth, will it be for those who can buy expensive homes, or will we spread the wealth and have growth that provides for those who want to work and live here?"
In the view of Salinas Mayor Anna Caballero, victory in District 1 will likely go to the candidate who best articulates a broad, regional approach to solving our problems while balancing the needs of individuals with the community-at-large.
"It''s easy to get emotional and take a one-issue position, then fail to consider all the other needs of the community," says Caballero. "That has to do with trying to protect one interest group at the expense of everyone else. There has to be common values, and then we''ve got to be on the cutting-edge of how do it.
"It is crucial that we try to develop a plan for the future that looks at growth and residential, industrial and economic development on a regional basis," adds Caballero. "It''s critical there be individuals on the board that understand the region and have a real commitment to working with the cities.