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Updated Sept. 22, 7:17 a.m.–
A survey of likely voters who attended a Monday-night Citrus Heights city council candidate forum narrowed a field of eight candidates down to four — with attendees notably naming the youngest candidate in the room among their top picks.
Asked to list the top three candidates who stood out for their performance during the two-hour forum, attendees repeatedly named Vice Mayor Jeff Slowey and 26-year-old Marcel Weiland among the top performers of the evening. The only other two candidates to make it into the “top three” list of any of the dozen attendees interviewed by The Sentinel were Planning Commissioner Rick Doyle and businessman Tim Schaefer.
While Slowey, Doyle and Schaefer all hold significant experience, the surprise candidate of the night was Weiland, who is lesser-known and half the age of most of the eight candidates running. With only one exception, the dozen people interviewed all included Weiland in their top three list, often referring to him as “the young guy” and commenting positively on his youthful perspective.
“He is young, but he didn’t talk like he was young,” said 77-year-old Susan Allen, who listed Weiland in her top three, along with Vice Mayor Jeff Slowey and Planning Commissioner Rick Doyle. Asked why she named Weiland, Susan and her husband Forrest both called him “articulate,” and said he “didn’t waffle on any of the questions.”
The 26-year-old Weiland grew up in Citrus Heights near Tempo Park, was homeschooled, graduated from Santa Clara University, served as a legislative analyst with former state Assemblyman Tim Donnelly, and currently works as a director at a financial tech company in Auburn. His experience includes competing in speech and debate during his high school and college years, earning a degree in political science, and notably running against then-state Senator Darrell Steinberg for a senate seat in 2010 at the age of 20.
While making it into the “top three” in the minds of many forum attendees, Weiland faces a tough challenge as voters ultimately have to narrow their choices down to the top two, with only a pair of seats up for election on the five-member city council this November. Candidates Slowey and Doyle will make for a tough race, as each have many more years of local leadership experience, are well-funded, and boast a long list of endorsements.
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Schaefer also poses a credible threat and boasts a long history of neighborhood association involvement, formerly serving as the vice president of the Residents’ Empowerment Association of Citrus Heights (REACH), which hosted the Sept. 19 candidate forum. The 55-year-old ran for city council in 2014 on a “Save City Hall” platform to oppose the plan to tear down and move the old city hall, but lost the election by a margin of about 800 votes.
[Learn more about REACH: Neighborhood groups REACH out to connect Citrus Heights residents ]
Candidate Bret Daniels, who previously served on the council for six years, has also demonstrated past leadership and an ability to win elections — but wasn’t mentioned by any of the attendees interviewed by The Sentinel.
Forum attendee Jayna Karpinski-Costa, who serves as president of the SOAR Neighborhood Association, named Schaefer in her top three list, along with Slowey and Weiland. Others like Kathy Kellogg said she had a hard time narrowing the list down to three.
“Gosh, there was so many good ones — only three?” asked the 60-year-old, who told The Sentinel she was still undecided about who to vote for. Kellogg ended up listing Slowey, Doyle and Schaefer, citing their experience, but added that Weiland would be a good pick “if you put him with someone who has experience.”
While Weiland’s youth played a big role in likely voters’ minds, Doyle’s experience won the respect of many attendees interviewed afterward, with his record as a 39-year resident of Citrus Heights and a six-year member of the City’s planning commission. He also boasts the endorsement of the entire city council, outgoing Sacramento County Supervisor Roberta MacGlashan, and all but one of his fellow planning commissioners.
Vice Mayor Slowey also earned respect from attendees as the only incumbent in the race, running on his record as a 13-year veteran council member and taking credit for helping Citrus Heights operate as a city with no debt. “If you like what’s going on in the city, I had a big part to do with a lot of that,” he said in his opening statement.
[Watch the entire candidate forum: https://youtu.be/J4yJZTv8xNk ]
The remaining three candidates in the race are restaurant manager Michael Nishimura, engineering consultant Porsche Middleton, and Construction Board of Appeals member Amor Taylor. The trio will face a difficult time getting their message out as they are the only candidates who chose not to pay the $700 cost to include a 200-word candidate statement in the November election sample ballot, which is direct-mailed to each voter.
The trio were also the only candidates who signed a campaign finance form declaring they do not intend to raise or spend more than $2,000 in the election. A review of the past two Citrus Heights city council elections found that winning candidates have all raised over $10,000 — with some candidates spending over $20,000.
Candidates will have a second chance to win over more voters at another forum set for Oct. 6, hosted by the Citrus Heights Chamber of Commerce at San Juan High School.
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On the Issues
The Sept. 19 candidate forum was attended by about 70 people and featured a series of 13 rapid-fire succession questions by moderator Matt Lesenyie, who teaches at UC Davis and is a Ph.D. candidate. Topics ranged from code enforcement, to development approaches and how to stimulate community involvement.
Candidates took seats at chairs usually occupied by city council members during council meetings, each hopeful their answers would bring them one step closer to a four-year seat in the same chair. While many answers lacked specific action plans and uncovered only mild disagreements among the candidates, several issues drew a bit more heated and diverse comments from the eight candidates.
Daniels, 56, who is a former Sacramento County Sheriff’s deputy and former Citrus Heights council member, distinguished himself with a focus on law enforcement, advocating for more officers on the streets and calling public safety the “number one role of government.”
He also criticized the city for failing to listen to the community at times and called an idea floated by Commissioner Doyle to consider new residential dwellings on top of businesses “crazy.” Daniels also took aim at the high cost to taxpayers for Regional Transit services, claiming it would be cheaper to pay for Uber or Lyft to drive RT riders around.
>> Learn more: “Meet Bret Daniels, candidate for Citrus Heights city council”
Middleton, 32, spoke most passionately on education and said when she moved to Citrus Heights two years ago with her family and two small children, she “almost didn’t settle here because of the school system.” She, along with Slowey and Schaefer, made the case that improved schools would attract young families to the city, which in turn would reduce blight and enhance the economy.
A question about past neighborhood involvement brought out the strengths of Doyle, Slowey, Taylor, Daniels, and Schaefer, while the rest admitted to little or no past involvement in their neighborhood associations. Schaefer served as the past vice president of REACH and also helped lead other neighborhood groups and efforts. As an opponent of new taxes, he questioned whether Measure B would actually repair roads in Citrus Heights and also criticized the new city hall project for draining reserves that could have been spent on roads.
Schaefer also took a controversial jab at Middleton for saying she didn’t attend her neighborhood association meetings because she was working and had small children at home. “The meetings are once a month,” he said. “One time a month, that’s it… it’s not that hard to go to a meeting — it’s a great experience.”
Weiland staked out homelessness as his top issue to address, calling it a “growing issue” that would only get bigger and more expensive to address in the future. He cited a police department study that found over 30 percent of calls for service to the Citrus Heights Police Department are homeless-related and said more collaboration needs to be done with private organizations and groups like the Homeless Assistance Resource Team and food closets. As the youngest candidate running, Weiland also said he would be the best candidate to represent the next generation and the future of Citrus Heights.
Nishimura, 53, listed homelessness and the condition of public streets as his top issues during the forum. He spoke positively of how the city is currently run and said he would continue what is already being done by the City, stating that the image of Citrus Heights has improved over the past 20 years. Regarding traffic, Nishimura advocated accessibility to businesses and voiced concern about people avoiding shopping at Sunrise Mall due to traffic on Greenback Lane and Sunrise Boulevard.
Taylor, 51, listed homelessness and public safety as her top issues, and also praised the work of faith-based communities in Citrus Heights. She said she began serving on the Construction Board of Appeals due to the her knowledge of construction and access, as a person with a disability. She envisions a city with more shopping areas and businesses to compete better with Roseville.
>> Learn more: “Meet Amor Taylor, candidate for Citrus Heights city council”
Slowey, 55, called Citrus Heights “the best-kept secret in Sacramento County” and spoke positively of a “city awareness” campaign effort to brand the city as an attractive place to live, work, and play. The current councilman and vice mayor stressed the importance of good schools as the top issue to fix in Citrus Heights and said the San Juan Unified School District could “do better.” He also acknowledged the growing problem of homelessness in the city, but said, “you’re not gonna solve it in Citrus Heights, you’re going to solve it regionally.”
>> Learn more: “Meet Jeff Slowey, candidate for Citrus Heights city council”
Doyle, 72, focused on code enforcement several times during the forum, calling blight in the city “a cancer.” Although cautioning that “we certainly do not want to be the gestapo,” Doyle said the police department could host a code enforcement month where code violation issues in neighborhoods could be cracked down on using smartphone picture submissions. He also said the City’s economic development should be “more proactive than reactive,” in order to attract new businesses and developments, like the Dignity Health medical office building set to be built in place of the old city hall.
>> Learn more: “Meet Rick Doyle, candidate for Citrus Heights city council”
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