Voting for two Visalia City Council seats – the first in city history to be decided by district instead of citywide – will take place in November.
Under a settlement in a California Voting Rights Act lawsuit, the city established five districts. Candidates and the voters who elect them must reside in the districts.
Two districts are in play this year: District 1 covering north central Visalia and part of central Visalia, and District 2 covering southeast Visalia.
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District 1 is an open seat because Councilwoman Amy Shuklian is not seeking re-election. Shuklian won election in June to the Tulare County Board of Supervisors.
Seeking the seat are Adam Peck, a member of the Visalia Planning Commission, and Phil Cox, the District 3 Tulare County supervisor who lost to Shuklian.
Cox, 59, who was elected to the Board of Supervisors in 2004 and re-elected twice, previously served on the council.
Shortly before the filing period closed, Cox moved into District 1. He said he and his wife, Connie, had always planned to move and downsize their home after raising a family of seven children.
Cox said he offers experience.
“Who has the contacts? Who can get the job done?” he asked. “I’ve got the résumé to get the job done.”
Crime and road repair are two major issues, Cox said.
Even though you don’t hear about it, we’ve had several gang-related shootings and stabbings.
Phil Cox, Visalia council District 1 candidate
“Even though you don’t hear about it, we’ve had several gang-related shootings and stabbings,” he said. “We’re having an uptick (in crime). Priority No. 1 is to put more police officers on the street.”
Additionally, southeast Visalia needs a fire station, he said.
He favors Measure N, the proposed citywide half-cent sales tax on the ballot that the council promised will fund police, fire and roads if it passes by the required 50 percent plus one vote.
The city must spend more on road maintenance, he said. Visalia gets $2.5 million a year from Measure R, a countywide sales tax for transportation, but spends a lot of it on bike paths and trails, he said.
“Let’s use that $2.5 million in local Measure R money to focus on roads,” he said.
There are more homeless in Visalia because the city has become “the dumping ground for other cities; we need to stop that,” he said.
He favors restoring the restroom at Lincoln Oval Park because the homeless urinate in public.
Publicly funded housing for the homeless is not workable because of the cost, he said.
Peck, 46, grew up in a rural subdivision east of Visalia where Dust Bowl migrants settled. He has a bachelor’s degree in sociology from Fresno State and a master’s degree in public administration.
He is the executive director of the Workforce Investment Board, a county agency.
I don’t think we’re in danger of falling into chaos, but we’re in danger of losing our ‘jewel of the Valley’ position.
Adam Peck, Visalia council District 1 candidate
Peck has served 11 years on the Visalia Planning Commission and has been chairman for three years. He also served on the Citizens Advisory Committee.
He supports Measure N. “It’s locally controlled money that can’t be taken from us by the state,” Peck said.
The Police Department needs more officers because the city has grown, he said.
“We’ve had tens of thousands of additional calls for service and no additional officers,” he said. “I don’t think we’re in danger of falling into chaos, but we’re in danger of losing our ‘jewel of the Valley’ position.”
The homeless issue requires coordinated action, Peck said.
“The city’s approach of a group coming together is the right one,” he said. “Some folks need emergency aid, some folks have substance abuse or mental health issues. Some people need a law enforcement approach.”
The City Council should use federal Community Development Block Grant funds to provide housing for homeless who are screened in advance “so they can get back on their feet,” he said.
On economic development, “the city is doing a good job to grow manufacturing jobs,” he said. “The city should really focus on what existing businesses need and what new businesses need. Everything is made easier when people have good access to a job.”
He favors more coordination with Visalia Unified, adding that he has two children, ages 15 and 11.
“It’s been a while since we have had a council member with school-aged children,” he said. “The schools are a big part of the identity of neighborhoods.”
Councilman Bob Link, 79, a retired downtown business owner, is seeking election to a fifth term.
“Some people would say that’s too long, but it brings with it some history,” he said.
Homelessness is the No. 1 complaint from the public, he said.
We’ll make mistakes, but if you don’t do anything that’s a mistake.
Bob Link, Visalia council District 2 candidate
“It’s a multifaceted problem,” he said. “It takes money, and it takes a community that looks at it as a priority.”
He favors using federal housing money to work with community groups on providing housing.
“We’ll make mistakes, but if you don’t do anything, that’s a mistake,” he said.
He supports the Measure N sales tax proposal because the city will need up to 30 additional officers over the next 10 years. An oversight committee will verify the money is spent as intended, he said.
The city already has Measure T, the quarter-cent sales tax for police and fire, but “it’s too confining” and can’t be used to buy body cameras, for instance, he said.
For water conservation, the city bought land east of town where imported water can be sunk into the aquifer, he said.
Adam “AA” Arakelian, 58, is a retired Visalia Fire Department firefighter whose colleagues urged him to seek election because he always kept up on city politics.
It’s time for a new vision.
Adam Arakelian, Visalia council District 2 candidate
Arakelian said he has “a lot of respect” for the incumbent, but “it’s time for a new vision. He still sees it as a small town; I see it as a growing city.”
The city’s traffic planning is a failure, he said. The city approved permits for 600 new homes in northwest Visalia, but the roads can’t handle the traffic, he said.
“At Demaree and Goshen, you sit through three lights,” he said.
Another example, he said, is how a new school was built at a dead-end street but no through street was built for years, potentially tying up emergency responders if traffic jammed the road, he said.
Arakelian said he does not like the idea of additional taxes but will vote yes on Measure N because it will fund police and fire.
“I’m going to be damned sure it’s used for what it is supposed to,” he said.
On the homeless issue, Arakelian said that as a firefighter he frequently rescued homeless people in medical distress.
“They’re vagrants, they aren’t homeless,” he said. “They don’t want to change their ways.”
The city must aggressively discourage panhandling and be cautious about spending money on housing for the homeless, he said.
The city must also do more for road upkeep, he said.
Susanne Gundy, 74, is a retired program manager at the county health department. She has a degree from UC Berkeley and a master’s degree in German.
“I want to be a voice for everyone,” she said. “The city is extremely well-run, but I want to shake it up a bit.”
Gundy had a run-in with the city when the animal control division euthanized her dog after it killed a neighbor’s pet.
I want to be a voice for everyone.
Susanne Gundy, Visalia council District 2 candidate
The process that the city used to declare her dog a vicious animal “was an awful ordeal, and I’d like to see it changed,” she said.
She said she’s running for the council seat to bring attention to issues, including the homeless. She has spoken with many homeless people while walking her dog.
“Nobody wants to be homeless,” she said. “Our services are inadequate. We rely too much on the Rescue Mission.”
The city should start a program to fund showers and restrooms for the homeless, she said.
“We could have something like a KOA,” she said. “I’d like to see a solar-powered campground.”
She said she favors Measure N because “we can hire more police officers, and we need one new animal control officer.”
She also favors allowing commercial marijuana growing for the tax revenue.
“Visalia needs to update our ordinance and benefit from the decriminalization of marijuana,” she said.