FROM THE NEWS-LEDGER — MAY 28, 2014 –
Last week, the News-Ledger brought you an interview with Norma Alcala, who is running for the Yolo County Board of Supervisors. This week, we offer this chat with Oscar Villegas, who hopes to keep that seat.
This race is part of the June 3 ballot.
By Steve Marschke
“This job is not one you can just sort of stumble into,” Oscar Villegas told the News-Ledger on Saturday. “You really need to understand the issues, the personalities, the different government components and the complexity of the issues. My ability to ‘not complicate the simple issues’ and to ‘not simplify the complex issues’ is important.”
Villegas, took a seat on the Yolo County Board of Supervisors this year to represent Clarksburg and most of West Sacramento in “District 1.” It was a governor’s appointment, made to fill a vacancy made when Michael McGowan moved on to other things.
Villegas feels he’s made a good start on the board, and deserves to be re-elected on Tuesday’s ballot.
Challenger Normal Alcala, a fellow Democrat, has criticized Villegas for “double dipping” as both a paid full-time county supervisor and full-time employee of the state. But Villegas told the News-Ledger he is no longer a full-time state worker.
“What I’m doing right now is working part-time for the state, and full-time for the county,” he commented. “I don’t see myself increasing my time with the state.”
“I also have two full-time staff in my (board of supervisors) office.”
Villegas has always lived in West Sacramento. He grew up in the Bryte neighborhood in the city’s northwest, attending local schools and then Christian Brothers High School. He earned a degree in criminal justice from Sacramento State.
He said he has volunteered his time coaching Little League and soccer, working with Meals on Wheels and being civically involved. Twenty-two years ago, he married Katie Villegas, who is now a member of the local school board and the executive of the Yolo County Children’s Alliance. They have two kids and live in Southport, “a mile south of the Pheasant Club.”
“I have always been active,” said Oscar Villegas. “My first date with Katie was actually walking precincts for (Yolo Sheriff) Bob Martinez. I said, ‘What are you doing Saturday,’ and she said, ‘nothing.’ I said, ‘Great, I’m walking precincts – why don’t you join me?’”
During college in the 1980s, Villegas said he was doing school projects on the issue of whether what was then “East Yolo” should become a city. He looked at the government studies and reports, concluding it should.
It did, actually. The neighborhoods of “East Yolo” became West Sacramento in 1987.
Villegas eventually served on the city’s planning commission (he was appointed first by Wes Beers and then by current mayor Christopher Cabaldon), and then served as a city councilman for 13 years.
“We’ve worked very well together,” he said of Cabaldon. Villegas has not, though, endorsed council colleague Mark Johannessen in Johannessen’s current run for state assembly.
Villegas now works as a field representative for the state board of state and community corrections, working with local governments helping to train corrections personnel.
That job meshes a bit with one of Yolo County’s big current issues, called “realignment.” That’s a move by the State of California to move some state prisoners into local jails, and let some prisoners out of jail under supervised programs. It’s meant to combat state prison overcrowding. Villegas said Yolo County is doing an effective job so far trying to manage this process and prevent some of these released prisoners from re-offending.
“Our communities cannot afford to find out that the policies the county has instituted have not worked, and we have this perpetual recidivism, and it’s unsafe,” he commented.
To that end, Yolo needs to study which classes of prisoners need to be targeted for services and support to prevent them from committing new crimes.
“Now, you have the sheriff, the D.A., the public defender, the probation department and the cities all working together to figure out how you are going to manage this population if more people are going to be let out into our communities rather than in jail. . . What are the best chances to provide those programs so they don’t recidivate and cause new crimes?”
Villegas said he is opposed to the governor’s “tunnel” proposal for the water system. But does he have a favored alternative?
“Storage is a big (alternative), and there is no question there is a need statewide for water, and for a better way to manage our water,” he answered. “I don’t know if there is any one option right now that is going to serve everyone’s needs.”
Yolo County’s government is now recovering from drastic budget cuts during the recession. That trimmed county services. He’s cautiously optimistic things are now on the mend.
“One of the things it’s easy to forget is that one of the county’s core responsibilities is being that safety net for when people are struggling for whatever reason,” said Villegas. “Whether you’re in need of mental health services, or substance abuse help or job search services – there’s a range of things that happen in the course of your life.”
“I know, because my family had to use it when my father was laid off from the railroad,” he said. “It was a struggle for my parents. I remember specifically having to use food stamps to purchase our meals at the end of the day. I want to make sure that. . . people know we’re here and (help) as easy to access as possible.”
Villegas said he supports the county’s policy goals of preserving agricultural land and trying to avoid development on the acres that separate Yolo’s individual cities.
“That’s the culture and philosophy of the board, but it’s tough,” he said. “It’s not easy to do that. But I agree, that’s certainly the right policy and I certainly subscribe to that.”
So far in his shortened first term, Villegas feels he has brought a “pragmatic” approach to the Yolo board of supervisors and that he’s “been embraced” by his new colleagues. He feels that it has helped that he already had a rapport with various leaders in the region.
“To be able to pick up the phone and talk to a supervisor in Sacramento or a supervisor in Solano County, or the mayor of a city here in the region is how you get things done,” said Villegas. “I feel very confident I can pick up the phone and have that conversation.”
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