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Citrus Heights Chamber PAC endorses Weiland, Slowey for city council

Jeff Slowey, Marcel Weiland, Citrus Heights
Vice Mayor Jeff Slowey, left, and Marcel Weiland, were both endorsed by the Citrus Heights Chamber of Commerce PAC this week. // CH Sentinel

The Citrus Heights Chamber of Commerce PAC announced its sought-after endorsement in the local city council race on Friday, naming Vice Mayor Jeff Slowey along with Marcel Weiland as “the best choices to maintain the success of Citrus Heights.”

The endorsement from the city’s largest local business political action committee (PAC) also came with a donation to both Weiland and Slowey of $1,750 each — a significant amount in a local race where winning candidates have spent as little as $8,500 to win in recent years.

“I’m a big supporter of the Chamber, so I’m always happy to get the support of the Chamber,” said Slowey, reached by phone for comment Friday night. The three-term councilman said he’s also received the Chamber PAC’s support in prior elections, calling the endorsement “probably one of the better ones” sought by candidates in local races.

Weiland, also reached by phone Friday, said he was “absolutely thrilled” to get the endorsement and called it a significant win for his campaign that promises “a lot of momentum” and the ability to reach more voters by direct mail. The 26-year-old also said the Chamber PAC’s support was a “coveted endorsement” to receive, calling it “a stamp of approval from the business community in Citrus Heights.”

Commenting on the PAC’s other endorsement in the race, Weiland spoke highly of Slowey and said he would be “beyond pleased to serve with him on the city council.” Although Slowey has already endorsed another candidate, Planning Commissioner Rick Doyle, he said “Marcel is well-spoken and he represents the younger people of the community.”

Asked to comment why the Chamber PAC endorsed the two candidates out of a pool of eight people running, PAC Chairman Ray Riehle said the 15-member committee found Slowey to be “a pretty easy choice,” citing his leadership and experience. He said Weiland’s endorsement required “more thought,” but highlighted “his youth, energy and tone,” as well as his local background growing up in Citrus Heights.

Riehle also said key endorsement considerations included if the candidate is engaged in the community, has vision and creativity, and can articulate their message well.

“When I consider candidates for office I want to know that they can deliver their message effectively,” the chairman told The Sentinel on Saturday, noting that some of the candidates could benefit from training at a Toastmasters speech club meeting. “Not only should they speak well at a council meeting, but they also need to be able to represent the interests of Citrus Heights in other settings.”

As previously reported on The Sentinel, both Slowey and Weiland were also the top fundraisers in the last pre-election campaign disclosure period and both have ranked highest among likely voters surveyed at two recent forums. Since then, several candidates have reported additional donations over $1,000, including Doyle reporting a $1,000 donation from King’s Casino Management Group and $2,000 from former Phoenix Casino president Jack Cunningham. Those extra donations now put him among the top two fundraisers of the candidates, putting Weiland in third place for fundraising.

>> Prior story: Slowey, Weiland dominate funding in latest Citrus Heights council election filings

The forum & issues:
The Chamber of Commerce, along with its PAC, also hosted and sponsored an Oct. 6 candidate forum at San Juan High School, following 20-minute endorsement interviews with each participating candidate the prior day. Candidate and former councilman Bret Daniels declined to participate in the Chamber PAC’s interviews and also didn’t show up at the candidate forum.

In an email statement to The Sentinel, Daniels cited campaign finance disclosures that indicate at least one PAC committee member contributed to, or helped, both Slowey and Doyle’s campaigns. He called the PAC’s activity a “corrupt process” and claimed the endorsements were already set to go to Slowey and Doyle — although Doyle did not end up getting the endorsement.

The Thursday-night forum was sparsely attended by about two dozen attendees, with each candidate being asked a series of questions on various local issues and background topics from Riehle, the moderator and PAC chairman. Following the forum, a Sentinel survey of over half the attendees found the top performers of the night to be Slowey and Weiland, with close runners up being Doyle and businessman Tim Schaefer.

The same four were also named the top picks by likely voters surveyed at a Sept. 19 candidate forum at city hall.

>>Likely voters list 4 top candidates after Citrus Heights council forum

Measure B
Slowey and Weiland differed on their response to a question on whether they would support Measure B, with Weiland taking a “reluctant yes” position, arguing that infrastructure maintenance costs “accelerate exponentially” down the road, if delayed. Slowey said he is “on the fence 100 percent” and accused Regional Transit of mismanaging funds. He also expressed concern that the measure allows for a percentage of RT funds to go into a general fund after 5 years, rather than to specific uses.

Doyle said he would “probably vote for it,” while Schaefer expressed concern about the measure’s higher sales tax driving business out of the county. None of the seven candidates at the forum took a firm position against Measure B, with restaurant manager Michael Nishimura, engineering consultant Porsche Middleton, and Construction Board of Appeals member Amor Taylor all taking positions in support of the half-cent sales tax measure.

While candidates often lacked specific plans of action in response to questions, the topic of homelessness brought out some differences, although all were united in saying more could be done.

Doyle cited a police survey which identified 192 people associated with homelessness in the city and said homeless navigators — paid staff who connect homeless with resources — are “the way to go.” He advocated a “hand up” approach to homelessness, rather than a “hand out” approach, and said help should be available to those who want it.

>> Related: CHPD: over 30% of calls to police dept. are homeless-related

Weiland also spoke positively of the homeless navigator program and additionally advocated supporting private organizations that serve the homeless, highlighting a “day porter” program in Roseville as a model. The program pays homeless individuals $10 an hour to pick up trash, direct visitors, and improve cleanliness in the area. The program is funded by a downtown business association and a partnership with The Gathering Inn.

Taylor advocated for a “winter sanctuary program” currently being developed by the Homeless Assistance Resource Team (HART) in connection with local churches. The program seeks to enlist the help of churches in the area to offer a weekly rotating location for up to 20 homeless individuals during the winter, providing them with a warm meal, showers, shelter and connection to resources.

Slowey rejected the idea of a homeless shelter, commenting “as far as a homeless shelter in town, I will not and do not support that; because I think if you build it — they do come.” He also highlighted his vote to double the navigator funding, stating an initial success rate of over 50 percent documented in the city for navigators connecting homeless to resources and housing.

Middleton said there should be more done in the area of educating the community on how to interact with homeless, citing an example of police telling her, “Don’t give them money, you’re encouraging them to stay.” She said educating the community is of equal importance to programs that can help homeless get off the street and into housing.

>>Related: Citrus Heights seeks to address area homelessness

Nishimura seemed to comment positively on ordinances that allow police to crackdown on camping and panhandling, but balanced his comment by saying, “you have to remember these people have rights, we can’t just round them up and put them in jail.”

Schaefer said a family member of his has been chronically homeless for 25 years and does not want help. He cited the example as a “microcosm” of what he sees happening in society and said homeless will always be around. He advocated “finding a way to manage” the homeless in order to minimize the cost on society, as well as help transition those willing to get off the streets.

Economic development
Nishimura said the new Dignity Health medical building should help boost other businesses in the area, commenting with a smile that Tugboat Fish & Chips at Greenback Lane and Fountain Square Drive is “suddenly gonna become one of the primo lunch spots.” The Elephant Bar restaurant manager said he’d also like to see similar redevelopment happening on Auburn Boulevard, along the lines of the Sunrise Marketplace facelift. He also said a new venue would be good for events and would draw business.

Schaefer, who led the fight against moving city hall and has questioned the cost of the nearly $22 million new city hall project, expressed some skepticism that the yet-to-begin Dignity Health medical building project would ever be built. He cited a September financial report by the health group showing a $238 million net loss for the past fiscal year, and spoke positively of a new hotel in the location instead, with nearby access to events at the community center. He also said the city is lacking in office buildings for businesses seeking to locate in the region.

Weiland advocated a proactive approach to attracting new businesses by “creat[ing] a pitch that is both relevant to the business and very convincing based on the strengths of our city and the strengths of our region.” He also said the city has an opportunity to specifically attract tech startups and said the city has “a proven model” with strong retail and “should build on that success.”

Middleton said a hotel would be “a good idea,” as well as fiber optics to attract high tech jobs, and advocated a type of convention center for events, but cautioned that the ideas should be examined carefully for “feasibility” and community support. She also referenced Weiland’s comment on a strong retail model already at work in the city and said “we don’t need to recreate the wheel.”

Slowey said he would not advocate more retail and instead said he’d like to see more medical industry jobs in the city. He also called the now-empty old Sylvan Middle School a “prime piece of real estate that we might have an option of purchasing.” He advocated that the city purchase it, if it becomes available, “so that we could control exactly what goes on there.” The veteran councilman also commented that “cities don’t create jobs,” and said the role of a local policy maker is to “create policies in places where businesses want to move to.”

Doyle also supported new medical jobs, staking out his support for the Dignity Health medical building and saying the city should do more to attract medical industry jobs, as a fast-growing industry. He also favored the idea of a new hotel in place of the old Kmart on Auburn Boulevard and said the city’s economic development department “needs to be more proactive than it has been, instead of reactive.”

Taylor said she’ll be part of the Auburn Boulevard revitalization, with personal plans to bring her own frozen yogurt franchise to one of the empty pads in front of Costco and Walmart next year. She also said Citrus Heights is struggling with a “city identity” and spoke highly of Roseville’s Vernon Town Square as a model for events and activities.

>>See full profiles of all eight candidates: Meet the 8 candidates running for Citrus Heights city council

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