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Sentinel staff report–
How best to address homelessness, under-performing schools, and a lack of entertainment options in Citrus Heights were among more than a dozen questions posed to the five candidates running for city council during an election forum held Wednesday night at city hall.
While agreeing on many issues, like the need to build up reserves for the City budget and bring more entertainment to Citrus Heights, candidates differed on questions like how to address homelessness and if Citrus Heights should consider pursuing a charter school.
Treston Shull and Porsche Middleton, who would be new faces on the council, often brought a more critical tone and new ideas to addressing issues – while current council members up for election, Steve Miller, Jeannie Bruins and Al Fox, largely had a more positive view of the City while acknowledging change and adaptation would be needed in the coming years.
Throughout the two-hour Chamber of Commerce Political Action Committee-sponsored candidate forum, Middleton, who currently serves on the City’s Planning Commission, tended to highlight economic development as her top priority, while Bruins focused on education — proposing the formation of a charter school or even a new school district for Citrus Heights. Shull distinguished his campaign with repeated calls for a “one-day permitting process” to stimulate economic development, while Fox focused his comments on “smart growth” and credited past City leadership for “doing it right.” Mayor Miller largely praised the City’s current approach to problem-solving and addressing issues, but said more could be done.
The most sharp area of contrast between the candidates was seen in addressing a question about blight, where both Middleton and Shull were critical of a recent 4-1 vote by the city council to pursue a $500,000 mandatory inspection program for rental housing in the city. The other three candidates all voted for the program last month, citing a need to proactively ensure safety and reduce blight.
Highlights from each candidate’s response to questions on several local issues are included below, along with a full video recording of the forum. The Sentinel will also be publishing a series of future articles with more full answers from each candidate on a variety of local issues.
How should homelessness be addressed in Citrus Heights?
Bruins: ” I think that we need to continue doing what we’re doing and doing more… We have to expand our resources, continue to work with our [Homeless Assistance Resource Team] to continue to fully fund our Navigator program, which has become a star program in this region.”
“…One of the things that we are doing now, and I totally support it, is that we are working hand-in-hand with the region to address homelessness on a larger scale because the homeless do not know boundaries.”
Miller: “Believe it or not, we’ve actually reduced the [homeless] numbers — and coincidentally we’ve also reduced property crimes… and really, the biggest complaints I hear is the homelessness and the drug use in our parks, and we need to take back our parks.”
“…In the past, the County had a park ranger and I think that handled a lot of issues in our parks. And I’m proposing that we actually put together park resource officers that can focus on the parks much like our school resources officers focus on our schools.
Shull: “[W]hen we actually offer more services here in the city, we’re actually drawing more homeless people into the city. So we need to try to focus on helping the homeless that are homeless not because they want to be but because they either lost their housing because they can’t afford it, they have mental problems, or they have drug issues.”
“…[F]or the people who are here who are homeless just because they wanna be homeless and don’t wanna do anything, we need to enforce our laws on them very strictly and try to push those people out of Citrus Heights because they’re not doing anybody any benefit and it’s a waste of our resources to be doing anything with them.”
Fox: “There are some homeless issues that I think we don’t talk about enough. We have our resident homeless. They’re Citrus Heights residents; some of them don’t wanna change… Then we have those who are willing to change… But then we have a problem with transient homeless… They’re the ones that are breaking into your cars, taking change out of the cigarette butt container in your car. Those are the ones we hear about.”
“…It is not an overnight program that we can solve, but it’s one we need to continue working on.”
Middleton: “I wanna focus on some of the issues that we can solve, which is that 30% regionally of the people who are homeless in our region are veterans. They suffer from PTSD, they don’t have an ID card. They can’t get the services that they need. So that is one way that we know that we can fix that because the County is offering mental health services to those individuals… to make sure that we’re able to serve them and get them off the streets and into homes because they have benefits.”
“…I also encourage people to join a neighborhood watch. Our neighborhood association is very fortunate that we have a very strong neighborhood watch and I would encourage everyone to get involved with their neighborhood associations and develop one.”
What would you do to partner with the school district to improve education?
Bruins: “I agree that our school system does not serve our community well. It’s often referred to as the weakest link in our chain of economic development.”
“…We have been trying to partner with our school district, and we will continue to do that… but I also believe that we need to step outside the box and partner with other entities, such as other large charter schools who will hear what we have to say… I feel its time for us to take another direction, and partner either with other charter schools, or other entities, to bring an alternative model of education to Citrus Heights.”
Miller: “Parents in Citrus Heights, not only do they send [their kids] outside the district, but just outside our city limits to schools that the school district’s paid more attention to. Even with the bonds that we’re paying on for monetization, our schools are falling apart.”
“…I’m very disappointed in the school district. Jeannie is correct, maybe a charter school is the way to go. Maybe our own school district. When we didn’t get the services from the county, we formed a City to provide for ourselves. And that may take some doing, but it’s always a possibility.”
Shull: “I’ve actually met with the San Juan Teacher’s Association and… they don’t think the test scores are bad because the education system in San Juan School District is bad, but it’s because they still offer the open enrollment system… as soon as parents start to see better test scores at one school, they’ll take all those kids out of that school, and send them to the one that they think has better test scores. It’s not a matter of the education system at San Juan School district. It’s a matter of being involved parents.”
“…I have an open mind for endeavors like [a new charter program], but we can’t just look at the school district and go, ‘Hey, we’ve tried to work with them. They haven’t worked with us. We’re just going to go out and do our own thing, and leave them behind.'”
Fox: “Parents, parents, parents. That’s the core need that we have to have in Citrus Heights — if we’re going to see change in the school districts… It’s not the city council. It’s not individual members of the council. It’s the parents working with us to make that happen. There’s a lot of things we can do. There’s a lot of options and opportunities.”
“…[A] lot of it is out of our control. But it’s definitely something we can work with. We have to see change; we have to see improvement.”
Middleton: “As a parent, I feel this issue deeply… I’m one of those parents that has to send their child just right outside the border to a school in Orangevale, because I want my son to be able to walk out of second grade, able to read at grade level. It’s about building partnerships and I’m all for that. I’m all for trying to build a bridge where you can build one.”
“…But if it’s not possible, we must be willing to explore all opportunities and options. Whether that’s going the route, as our council members say, of forming a charter school. Or forming our own school district. I don’t know; but I know that what we’re doing now is not working.”
What does a diverse Citrus Heights economy look like for you in the future?
Shull: “[O]ne thing that I’ve heard in the community is that we are an entertainment dead-zone. So Citrus Heights has a lot of restaurants, a lot of places to eat, places to shop, but we don’t have any entertainment.”
“…The first thing we need to do is the expedited permitting process. We need to let developers and businesses know they can come into the community, they can get a permit in one day, and redevelop the entire city if that’s what they need to do. They should be able to look at existing structures and go, ‘how can we look at this,’ and go, ‘we could turn this into an entertainment hub.'”
Fox: “Online is becoming the way most people are doing business, but that doesn’t mean brick and mortar shops are going away. It means they’re going to be smaller. It means they’re going to be a little more diversified in some areas.”
“…In terms of entertainment, absolutely, we’re in the center of an area which we could draw a lot of people, and serve as a regional draw for them if we plan this right — and if we do it with a proper suppliers, vendors, and companies.”
Middleton: “Someone put on Facebook, ‘less food, more fun.’ And I agree with that sentiment where we need to become more family friendly. That’s part of our branding at this point. ‘Solid roots, new growth,’ we’re trying to bring in those new families into our community.”
“…It means mixed-use developments. You might have businesses on the bottom floor, and then homes, or condos, or even law offices, or something on the top area — it’s thinking outside the box.”
Bruins: “It’s true that brick and mortar is going away. The big box, the shopping center, diversification includes mixed-use. We’ve been working on that for a number of years. We need to kick-start that into a higher level.”
“…We need to be ready to go up because we can’t go out.”
Miller: “I believe we’re over-retailed… I plan to work with local investors, and developers, key players in the Sacramento region to look at getting a local ownership group for our mall. And what I envision, and envision for the rest of the city, is things like a permanent farmer’s market — an enclosure over the top, we can be there at 108 degree days, and in the rain. A green space that could be used for concerts and such at the mall, providing for entertainment… we’d have ice skating there, and I see possible mixed-use and housing creeping into the mall area.”
Editor’s note: Complete answers from all candidates to these questions, and others, can be viewed below in a full video recording of the Aug. 29 forum. Additional answers from candidates will be covered in future stories on The Sentinel leading up to the November election. Click here to subscribe to The Sentinel and get all our local stories delivered to your inbox each Thursday and Sunday.
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