Visalia council candidates support new projects

The Fresno BeeOctober 16, 2013 

No breakout issue has emerged in the Visalia City Council election, but the overall theme is the pace of city projects as it emerges from recession.

Three incumbents are on the ballot for the Nov. 5 election, and at least one is certain of re-election because there are only two challengers. In Visalia, candidates run citywide rather than in districts, and the top three vote-getters win.

One-term incumbent Steve Nelsen, 64, won four years ago on a promise to fight newly drawn flood maps that forced thousands of homeowners, including himself, to buy costly flood insurance.

Nelsen has since branched out into other issues.

"I was an outspoken critic on Cal Water," he said, referring to California Water Service's proposed rate increase that has yet to be ruled on.

He said he also opposed putting a sales tax measure on the city ballot.

If re-elected, Nelsen said, he'll press for more money in the city budget for road repairs, and he favors building a new fire and police department headquarters when the emergency dispatch center is built in east downtown.

One-term incumbent Warren Gubler, 56, said the city survived the recession -- "Mooney Boulevard looked like ghost town" -- by changing zoning policies so businesses would locate in Visalia.

"We infilled Mooney Boulevard by about 700,000 square feet of good commercial businesses," he said.

The city made it through the recession, but "we haven't raised your taxes, although some did try," he said. "We tightened our belts."

If re-elected, Gubler said, he would consider upgrading the Visalia Convention Center and building a civic center in east downtown Visalia. "I'd like to see if we can afford a civic center," he said, noting that the city would have to borrow several million dollars for the project.

Incumbent Greg Collins, 63, said this will be his final election bid.

Collins served on the council from 1978 to 1991, returned in 2005 and lost re-election four year ago. When a vacancy occurred two years ago, he won voter approval to fill out the term that expires this year.

"The economy has improved, we have been able to restore the reserve, give the employees a raise and set aside money for capital improvement projects like road paving," he said.

If re-elected, Collins said, he would work on developing east downtown with city projects such as the planned dispatch center, a linear park, a street extension, and perhaps a new police and fire headquarters.

"Moving to east Visalia, this has been a 30-year process," he said. "Maybe we'll be moving some dirt over the next year."

The council must devote time to understanding the city's homeless issue, he said, and fight neighborhood blight in the city's central core using code enforcement and other strategies.

Challenger Vincent Salinas, 63, is the sole Hispanic candidate in the field. He was born and raised in Visalia and has been on the Visalia Planning Commission since 2004, and is a former council member in the Bay Area city of Newark (1991-1995.)

Visalia has been slow to address the homeless issue, he said.

"It's in the city charter," he said. "It says we're supposed to help the indigent." But the city "put a band-aid" on the homeless issue and "is shoving it off on the nonprofits," he said.

Although the city is committed to building a new 911 dispatch center, "the City Council is hesitating" on a new police and fire administration building, he said.

The business community wants Visalia's yet-to-be-hired economic development manager to both attract new companies and help existing businesses with expansion issues, Salinas said, and he agrees with that.

The city also needs to reach out to higher-end retailers. Macy's came to Visalia and others can too, he said.

He also said he favors switching to district elections.

Challenger Michael Brown, 33, a lawyer and energy consultant for small businesses, moved to Visalia last year because it's his wife's hometown.

"My campaign really is about smart growth," he said. "There's a lot of empty lots in Visalia."

He urged better city planning: "Visalia is headed toward (being like) Fresno. I'd like to keep a good sense of community, as well as defend your constitutional rights."

Parts of downtown are stagnant, he said: "I'd bring in artists to revitalize the area."

He urged the city to set a goal of bringing technology companies to the area "so your sons and daughters can work here."

Visalia City Council candidate bios

Michael Brown

Age: 33

Occupation: Attorney, energy consultant

Education B.S., California Polytechnic State University, San Luis Obispo; J.D. University of San Francisco School of Law

Family: Married

Endorsements: None

Greg Collins

Age: 63

Occupation: Self-employed city planning consultant

Education: B.S., University of California, Santa Barbara

Family: Married, two children

Endorsements: None

Warren Gubler

Age: 56

Occupation: Attorney

Education: B.A., Brigham Young University

Family: Married, five children, one grandchild

Endorsements: Tulare County Sheriff Bill Wittman, Tulare County Association of Realtors

Tulare County Republican Party

Steve Nelsen

Age: 64

Occupation: Produce marketing company owner

Education: B.A., Cal State Fullerton

Family: Married, five children, 14 grandchildren

Endorsements: Tulare County Association of Realtors, Visalia Police Officers Association, Visalia Firefighters Association

Vincent Salinas

Age: 63

Occupation: Business consultant, Small Business Development Center

Education: Four years of college, studied administration of criminal justice

Family: Separated, four children, three grandchildren

Endorsements: Visalia Police Officers Association; Tulare County Supervisor Allen Ishida; Former Visalia Mayor Don Landers


Vote Nov. 5

Some voters in Fresno, Kings and Tulare counties have the opportunity to participate in off-year general elections. The highest-profile November races are in Visalia, where City Council and school board seats are up for a vote. It's also an election year for many special districts around the central San Joaquin Valley — but there are only a handful of contested races; most have uncontested candidates and, in some cases, no candidates. Madera County doesn't have any general elections in this cycle.

Important dates

Last day to register to vote: Monday

Last day to request a vote by mail ballot by mail: Oct. 29

Polls open: 7 a.m. to 8 p.m. Tuesday, Nov. 5

Election offices

Fresno County

2221 Kern St., Fresno

Details: or (559) 600-VOTE (8683)

Tulare County

5951 S. Mooney Blvd., Visalia

Details: or (559) 624-7300

Kings County

1400 W. Lacey Blvd., Hanford

Details: or (559) 582-3211, ext. 4401



Reach the reporter at (559) 441-6104 or

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